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.
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
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.
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!