My career as an elitist prime glass snob has come to an end after real-world professional work using an unexpected lens choice showed me the error of my ways.
After years of reaching for only fast, fixed focal length lenses from my gear bag, last year I gambled on a pre-order for, of all things, Tamron’s 18-300mm f/3.5-6.3 superzoom for Fujifilm mirrorless cameras. Upon arrival, despite being impressed with its initial appearance and build, I wanted to reserve my judgement for real-world torture testing. Ultimately, I would forgo my usual two-body, two-prime lens solution for use on a commission to document a major local festival, and that choice opened my eyes to the wonderful utility of a modern superzoom lens.
In the past, I had always looked down my nose on not only all-purpose superzoom lenses, but even some of the higher-end zooms on the market, thinking the purpose-built design of a quality fast prime elevated my ability as a photographer to do my job with a high level of polish.
What I came to realize is that the Tamron 18-300mm f/3.5-6.3 may have sacrificed some things that I was used to getting from lenses like my beloved Fujifilm XF 35mm f/1.4, but the outright flexibility, functionality, and even the image quality left me feeling like I was, in fact, better prepared for a pro event like festival documentation.
Let's take a step back and look at what makes this lens a winner in my book. I would like to say that I am not the type to be overly dependent on reviews, preferring my own hands-on experience, so when I saw the lens announcement, I was curious. More than anything else, I was curious how well Tamron’s first Fuji lens would integrate in the Fuji system. I had been a Tamron fan in the past, loving their high-end primes like the epic Tamron SP 35mm f/1.4, and even though this was no prime, new entries into Fuji’s limited third-party lens support always excite some, so I rolled the dice and pre-ordered the lens, which would arrive about a month later.
I was skeptical on whether the new Tamron lens, which had been well-received as a Sony E-Mount lens when it was initially released, would appease me when I had been accustomed to the outrageous quality and character of my Fuji primes. My two biggest concerns were if I would suffer much from its slower aperture range and if the image quality would be up to my standards for professional work.
When I first started dipping my toes into digital photography, my aging legacy Canon crop bodies really needed sharp, fast glass to minimize the drawbacks of the platform, with high-ISO noise being high on the list of things that needed to be reduced to get good results from the sensor. Even after upgrading to a full frame Canon DSLR with chunkier EF glass, I always gravitated towards fast primes like the Sigma 50mm f/1.4, but the system upgrade was a lot heavier and more unwieldy, making me miss my smaller crop bodies. Discovering Fuji X System, with its excellent high-ISO noise handling, lineup of brilliant lenses, and smaller, more compact setup was a match made in heaven. Despite the excellent noise-handling capability, falling in love with some of Fuji’s killer f/1.4 primes, and the awesome in-body stabilization from my X-H1 and X-S10, I rarely tested its true limits. With the arrival of the Tamron 18-300mm, I tentatively had to boost my ISO in darker settings and was immediately relieved to find the sensor handled it in stride. With this new knowledge and increased confidence in the camera to make up for the lack of giant iris openings blasting light onto my sensor, my first major concern about using the lens in a professional setting was satiated. I was aware any extreme low-light shooting would require a switch to my fast lenses, but the built-in lens stabilization (branded Vibration Control, or VC, in Tamron-speak) was pretty effective, so the lens still had some increased capacity for shooting in the dark if your subject was fairly static. All in all, the lens was shaping up to be extremely well suited to my photojournalism and professional event coverage.
After doing some initial testing to confirm I didn’t have any big issues with my copy of the lens and that the image quality was usable, I was pleased to find out the lens was actually pretty sharp. Only at the very farthest reach of the lens was I seeing any real breakdown in image quality when shooting it with the f/8 aperture I so commonly used for daylight documentary work, and zooming back out to about 270mm or so seemed to fix this for me fine, leaving an insanely usable range of 18-270mm at my fingertips. That crazy zoom range combined with its VC tech, confident autofocus, and awesome 1:2 reproduction ratio at the 18mm end made this a potent tool as a single-lens solution. I found, much to my delight, that at 230mm, the Tamron actually outperformed my Fuji XC 50-230mm zoom, which many people praise for punching above its weight class. This testing had satisfied my second concern, confirming that the lens was indeed capable of producing professional images, and I decided my next paid event commission would be its first major testing grounds.
The day of the Scandinavian Festival in Ephraim City, Utah came, and as the official event photographer, I was eager to put the lens through its paces in this real-world setting, shooting alongside the second and third shooters I had contracted to assist me with the weekend-long job of capturing the festival for use by the city. With a non-stop schedule packed with events like concerts, games, races, and other fun stuff that attracted many thousands of attendees, the festival began, and the glut of subject material became a meal for my superzoom setup.
Shooting on my Fujifilm X-S10, I kept the camera locked on continuous autofocus the whole time and was immediately pleased by my ease of focus and tracking as the weekend went on.
By the time the weekend was over, I had shot substantially more than 1,000 photos, and my keeper rate was extremely high. When culling photos after the job, I realized the incredible zoom range had truly allowed me to capture more great photos and utilize a widely varied range of compositions and scene arrangements. The essentially unmatched flexibility of the lens unlocked possibilities that would have been much rarer using my usual two-body combo with a 56mm f/1.4 and a 23mm f/1.4. I had no problem moving with the flow of the event as it happened thanks to that flexibility, and I found myself wondering if previous coverage could have been improved upon had I gave a superzoom a try for event jobs in good light like the Scandinavian Festival was.
Happily, the city was extremely pleased with the photos they hired me to capture, and I felt good about my newly discovered confidence when it comes to venturing into superzoom territory. Since then/ I have photographed several more well-suited jobs with the lens, and it continues to surprise me with its capable performance.