Field Testing Tamron's 150-600mm f/5.0-6.3 Proves a Positive Experience

Field Testing Tamron's 150-600mm f/5.0-6.3 Proves a Positive Experience

Tamron's VC technology can't be beat: it's simply the best option out there for any type of optical stabilization. I can't live without it when it comes to video, and it's so good it often makes using a steady cam unnecessary. Common complaints with Tamron is often the build quality and sharpness, so let's see how their latest super zoom, the 150-600 f/5-6.3 handled a wildlife shoot.

I first want to address the design change here that you likely noticed. Tamron ditched the traditional gold ring that adorned their previous lenses in exchange for a sleek all-black design that, dare I say, looks an awful lot like their main competitor. They'll have to forgive me here for drawing conclusions on the similarity, it's just so obvious I can't ignore it. What the design didn't do that Sigma has done is go with higher-quality materials for the build, instead sticking to their guns on plastic. This has it's pros and cons.

On one side, the mainly plastic build is far lighter than anything pro-level that Sigma has recently produced. This lens weighs in at just under 5 pounds, while the Sigma 120-300mm f/2.8 weighs in at a colossal seven and a half pounds. That's nearly double the weight for half the zoom range. Since nature photographers, the market Tamron was aimed at with this lens, basically come armed with what they can carry on their backs, every pound of weight needs to be worth it. In that regard, the Tamron is winning here. I was able to easily carry it, my tripod and a camera with a battery pack without feeling much stress at all.

On the other side, I don't feel like this lens can really take much of a beating. The plastic shell seems almost fragile in comparison to lenses I've reviewed lately, and it most certainly feels more cheaply built. I guess that's what I have to sacrifice for light weight.

What doesn't feel cheap about this lens is the focusing and zooming rings. I'm happy to report that the slick and loose rings I've experienced on other Tamron lenses is not present here. It feels smooth and precise, which I like a lot.

fstoppers tamron 150-600

Though the lens does not have the new Piezo Drive that's designed for smaller lenses, it does have the new USD AF system which is designed for larger lenses that require more torque. As such, the autofocus motor was pleasantly snappy and accurate. I have had issues with Tamron the autofocus motor and accuracy in the past, and I have to say that, for the most part, the feature was greatly improved here.

However, there were cases where the lens focus speed and accuracy let me down. When my subject was moving and I was zoomed at 600mm (max), the lens often back-focused or was unable to quickly adjust to my focus point as the subject moved. This resulted in a great many blurry photos, which is frustrating. The main point of this lens is nature photography and subjects aren't going to just sit around and wait for you to get the shot. So, though improved, the accuracy and speed did leave something to be desired.

This lens stops down to an incredible f/40, just in case you're planning on shooting the surface of the sun. That said, it doesn't perform the greatest at f/40, as you can probably imagine. In fact, if you're not shooting between f/8 and f/10 it doesn't really perform well at all. But man, if you nail a shot at f/8 it comes out stellar.

That leads me to the variable aperture, which is a pain. I'm normally a manual shooter. I like to set everything up for the light, then shoot at that point for a while until the light changes. I understand that in the shifting environment of wildlife photography, shooting at Aperture Priority is actually pretty necessary. The problem here is that shooting in aperture priority anywhere between f/5 and f/6.3 can cause you to over or underexpose a shot, depending on a zoom shift during a shot and where you placed your shutter speed. I have a lot to think about during a shoot like this. The environment isn't always ideal, my subject is moving, I have seconds to get the shot, my shoulders hurt, I'm adjusting framing, assuring the focus point, and firing off shots. What I don't need added to that list is remembering that I zoomed in from 200mm to 600mm, and my previous aperture of f/5.6 has now adjusted to f/6.3, throwing off my exposure and ruining my shot. By the time I've noticed this has happened, the time it takes me to adjust my shutter speed and reshoot makes it too late for me to get that shot. This is extremely irritating.

When this lens hits, the sharpness is outstanding. However, that sharpness is limited to a short aperture range. I was personally unsatisfied of anything past f/14, but I can say it does stay pretty consistent after that up until it hits f/40.* But given the variable aperture nature of the lens, this is rather limited and could be frustrating to many of you. I would have rather had the lens keep a very consistent sharpness throughout the aperture and zoom range. If Tamron had nailed this, I would have heaped the praise on this lens and forgiven all other misgivings. I'm disappointed, to say the least.

However, when all is said and done, I was pleasantly surprised with the 150-600mm lens.

Though the variable aperture cut into my ability to shoot in low light and caused me to miss a few shots early on with the lens, once I got the hang of the glass I started to smile at my shots. I was able to shoot at generally lower shutter speeds because of the Tamron VC. As usual, it's stellar and helped keep a sharp image even when I was at max zoom. I highly recommend against shooting this hand held, but using it with a monopod or tripod will yield really great results. In any case, the VC most certainly helps, because any movement of the lens is very visible at 600mm.

Click Images Below for Larger

tamron 150_600 f 5 - 6.3 review 1
1/100 sec, f/6.3 ISO 640

tamron 150_600 f 5 - 6.3 review 2
1/500 sec, f/5.6 ISO 1000

tamron 150_600 f 5 - 6.3 review 3
1/640 sec, f/6.3 ISO 640

tamron 150_600 f 5 - 6.3 review 4
1/1000 sec, f/6.3 ISO 200

tamron 150_600 f 5 - 6.3 review 5
1/1250 sec, f/6.3 ISO 100

Sometimes the lens back-focused, which is what is visible in a couple of my finished shots above. But that could just be my copy (and I wasn't the first user of this lens, as it is a review unit). I'm willing to give the benefit of the doubt to Tamron here, because when the lens hits, it hits beautifully. This is my favorite shot of the day, and if I can get one great shot out of a couple hours out, I feel like it's been a good day. The 100% crop is pristine.

crop 100 percent tamron 150_600 review

What I liked:

Light weight for zoom range
Vibration compensation is, again, unmatched
Fast, quiet autofocus
In the right range, it's very sharp

What could use improvement:

Variable aperture is a pain
Plastic build feels cheap
Backfocuses on occassion, autofocus can also miss
Not crisply sharp at all apertures
Little pricey for performance

The Tamron 150-600 f/5-6.3 is far from a flawless lens, but if you learn to work within it's boundaries it will reward you with stellar imagery. It's light weight and excellent Vibration Compensation motor make it a fine addition to the burgeoning outdoor photographer's pack, but I won't say it's for the seasoned shooter. The variable aperture, small sweet spot of sharpness and somewhat questionable plastic build prevent it from being in that category, in my opinion. But for a little over $1000, it's hard to argue with the possibilities that the zoom range offers. When the lens hits, it knocks it out of the park and for that I applaud Tamron's efforts. This lens is a far step above many of the Tamron lenses I've tested in the past.

*I had taken sharpness samples to share but after I sent the lens back to Tamron, I realized the card I had shot onto was corrupted, therefore I can't share my samples unfortunately. Sorry everyone!

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14 Comments

Keep in mind that using the biggest aperture is going to produce softer images every time and also makes your dof small enough to make it harder to get good focus. Also, were you shooting in AI Servo (or the nikon equivalent). Subjects, especially animals move.

I'd also be interested in knowing if you shot these with a monopod. Handholding this lens would make things just that much more hard to get a good sharp image.

Jaron Schneider's picture

1) Of course. This was where it was sharpest.
2) Yes, of course.
3) Tripod. I even state that in the review.

Was just curious, didn't mean any offense. It's just important to know those types of variables. I must of skipped over the tripod bit.

Jaron Schneider's picture

Sorry if that came off as gruff! No gruffness intended. Just a busy morning :)

" while the Sigma 120-300mm f/2.8 weighs in at a colossal seven and a half pounds."

While giving you roughly two more stops of light!

"Sometimes the lens back-focused, which is what is visible in a couple of my finished shots above. But that could just be my copy..."

Therein lies a potential problem with Tamron, consistency. Your images look quite good, yet Tony Northrup had less sharp images, even compared to a 400mm Canon on a teleconverter:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1fmMG5jgDwk

A while back I bought the Tamron 24-70 f/2.8, and I was surprise how ratty it looked at the 24mm end. I brought it back. Thinking about it later I thought perhaps I had a bad sample. Sure enough, testing another one out at PhotoPlus Expo showed that copy to be very good. This was frustrating to me, as I really wanted that lens, yet I didn't want to go through a merry-go-round of copies just to get a good one.

So you may very well have gotten a copy with focus issues. I had none with the 24-70, and Northrup didn't appear to have any. I absolutely loved the VC and overall build quality of the 24-70, but was totally bummed about the IQ. I believe quality control is an area Tamron really needs address better.

Jaron Schneider's picture

Yeah give em the benefit of the doubt on this one.

Tony Northrup's picture

I felt like my pics were as sharp as any I've seen from the lens (check the full sized images using the download link in the video)... it's not as sharp as a prime, but is that a surprise?

HI Tony, I really liked that video.
I want to post your review on my blog and I was wondering if I can use your images. or if you prefer you have them posted sonewhere and I could link back to them (my prefernce - large images takes space).

Hope to hear from you.
Shani.

With a prime on a teleconverter it is. ;-) Nonetheless there does appear to be a QC issue at Tamron. I wouldn't say they're alone on this issue, but it's there.

It is not fair for you to criticize that this is a variable aperture lens. It is by design, not by flaw. Review the product for what it is, not what you prefer. Might as well complain about how it is not a good wide angle lens. It is not good practice to state criticism for deliberate design, unless you are making a direct comparison. Fixed aperture is your personal preference, and not a flaw or negative of this product.

I'm wondering what camera you shot with for this test… seems like you must have been shooting full frame…?

I'm sad to say that I had the opportunity to side by side test this Lens at the weekend. Firstly I strapped this Tamron to my Nikon D700 whilst strapping my Sigma 150-500mm OS version to my Nikon D3x. Both camera's had identical settings. Albeit the D3 is double the pixels so after a complete test I reversed the mountings and carried out the same tests in the the same light again. Firstly the Tamron's Stabilisation system on my Tamron was instantly noticeable as being pooh!! My Sigma locks on to its target instantly were as the Tamron only seems to work at 150mm. The moment you try to get and zoom out of it, it almost feels like it has stopped working. Build quality is on par with Sigma in as far as to say, both are Okay......not the best but Okay. Now clarity wise, again the sigma pips the Tamron by a margin. Now don't forget this is in Nikon Fitment. There has been a delay in releasing a Nikon version of this lens, quite a long delay so maybe the first ones are just not up to the job? Tamron have been under huge pressure to get the Nikon fitment out to the retailers so maybe they just haven't nailed it yet, who knows but certainly the one I had was not clear. This first image was taken at 20ft at between 150-200mm f8 1/320sec and in good light. There is no reason why this should not have been spot on. It was sitting on a tripod with remote shutter release. Judge for yourself. If I was buying one, Id be tempted to wait for the Nikon one until it has been sorted out.

Your pictures looks great. I like my Tamron 150-600mm lens. It works fine with my Canon 60D and 70D. The price for this lens is giving a chance for people to discover the joy in wildlife photography. My interest for wildlife photography increased when I bought this lens. I have taken some pictures of a leopard here: http://wp.me/p2FVnw-d5 it was taken far away but I still think the pictures look great even at 600mm.

Marco Waagmeester's picture

On a variable aperture lens like this one, I like to shoot at at least one stop smaller aperture then the lens maximum aperture to prevent the shift in aperture over the zoom range. So in case of this slow lens I would shoot at f/8 at all focal lengths, which is also the sharpest tested aperture of this Tamron. Modern DSLR's get pretty good high ISO performance and they can easily cope with this smaller aperture.