Is This the Only Camera Lens You'll Ever Need? Fstoppers Reviews the Tamron 18-400mm f/3.5-6.3 Di II VC HLD

Is This the Only Camera Lens You'll Ever Need? Fstoppers Reviews the Tamron 18-400mm f/3.5-6.3 Di II VC HLD

With recent advances in third-party lens tech and glass quality, Tamron’s new 18-400mm f/3.5-6.3 Di II VC HLD superzoom lens with its small form factor and incredible versatility just might be the best travel and walk around lens for APS-C cameras to date. With a price of $650, this could easily replace two or even three lenses for some users. But who exactly is this lens for?

This lens is specifically made for APS-C Canon and Nikon DSLR cameras and pairs well with the smaller lighter form factor of these cameras. The wide range of versatile shooting conditions this lens is capable of combined with the small form factor for such a long zoom range is what makes this such a contender for the only lens you need. 

Versatility

The Tamron 18-400 lens has an incredible equivalent focal length of 28-640, giving you the ability to shoot landscapes as well as sports and wildlife. This is a huge advantage for anyone who, like me, doesn't want to carry my 70-200mm with me when I’m out on the town or on vacation. With the extra reach at 640mm, it opens you up for some really impressive shots that you probably couldn't get with your kit lens or favorite prime. I own both a 150-600mm lens and 400mm. At over four pounds each they only get brought on shoots that I know I absolutely have to have them and even then only if I know that weight won't cause me more problems.

For example, I used both to photograph the eclipse last year which resulted in some amazing images. When I got the 18-400mm the first thing I did was take it outside to see what kind of shots of the sun I could get had I used it for the eclipse. I was blown away by the images of the Sun and Moon both straight out of the camera and cropped in. With this lens, anyone who had envy of all the great shots of the eclipse online could have taken their own beautiful images. 

To test just how useful the zoom range was I decided to spend the day bouncing around several of the amazing museums we have here in Boston. I wanted to put myself in a situation where I could only carry my camera all day with no bag or other lenses and see if I felt I couldn't get the shots a typical tourist might shoot. 

Example of 18mm and 400mm from the same spot.

The massive rooms with their incredibly high ceilings in the MFA are home to several equally massive 30-40 foot paintings. These are some of my favorite rooms at the MFA and crowds of people stand staring up at these beautiful works of art. Standing back and shooting wide I could easily capture the scale and awe of both the paintings and the onlookers. While still being able to quickly zoom in and capture close-ups from across the room of unsuspicious patrons. I don't typically shoot macro images but I found that with its minimum focusing distance of 17.7” and a magnification ratio of 1:2.9. Even at 400mm, I could get impressively sharp shots of some of the insect exhibits. This is something I just can't do with the lenses I carry when traveling abroad and could see being very useful and would love to try in a colorful street market. 

Build Quality

Similarly to my review of the Tamron 10-24mm lens. The 18-400mm f/3.5-6.3 is part of their new modern design aesthetic. These new lens designs, in my opinion, are worlds better than older generation lenses. Sleek lines and smooth transitions really make it look more professional and high-end. Mostly made of hard plastic it still feels solid in your hand. It has a moisture-resistant construction with a dust gasket on the lens base plate. Though it safe to say I wouldn't want to be caught in the rain. With a weight of 1.5 lbs, it's a little heavier than older superzoom lenses. However, you are getting considerably more from the extended 400mm range and Vibration Compensation (VC) for such little weight. There are three switches, VC, AF, and a zoom Lock all strong with no wiggle. The barrel movement feels a little stiff but smooth overall with no sign of creep when held upside down. When fully extended it stands about as tall as a standard 70-200mm lens. Inside the lens, there are 16 elements in 11 groups and seven rounded blades which made for decent bokeh, though I've never really been one to be that picky. It includes the new pinch style lens cap which I don't understand why a lens today wouldn't come with and works with Tamron’s TAP-in console system for fine-tuning focus. 

Image Quality

With any super zoom lens, there are going to be sacrifices to get that 22x zoom factor. Typically sharpness at the long end of its range is where this is most evident and the 18-400mm is most definitely sharpest at 18mm edge to edge. At around 100mm you start to see a loss in edge sharpness while stopping down to f8 does help, center sharpness seemed to hold up just fine throughout. This lens won't win any awards for its sharpness at 400mm but in real-world applications, I see no issues with the details I was able to get. (See Moon 100% crop) I wouldn't hesitate to print something even up to a 16x20 in size.

Left: 18mm, Right: 50mm

Left: 200mm, Right: 400mm

There is visible distortion especially at the wide end with some pincushion distortion starting around 50mm. It’s not ideal but as long as you are shooting in raw it is easily fixed later in Camera Raw or Lightroom. The same goes for the noticeable chromatic aberration. If you are the type of photographer that spends their time pixel peeping these issue might have more weight for you. But given just how well software can correct for these things today In most use cases the average photographer shouldn't let them out weight the overall versatility of this lens.  

What I Liked

  • Vibration Compensation (VC) especially at 400mm
  • TAP-In USB Console compatible
  • Overall design aesthetic
  • Insane 18-400mm range
  • Overall image quality in real-world usage

What I Didn't Like

  • Variable aperture is always a disappointment but for its range, I think it's reasonable
  • No true weather sealing
  • Although easily fixed the pincushion distortion amount was surprising

Conclusion

So who is this lens for? Purchasing any super zoom lens can be a hard decision. Is the appeal of an all in one lens worth the tradeoffs in things like sharpness, chromatic aberration, and distortion? For anyone that cant afford two to three lenses or just doesn't want to deal with carrying them then I think you would be hard-pressed to find a better lens with the quality, versatility, and price this has. 

I’m blown away by just how much detail you can see in the 100% crop of the moon photo I shot. Or how close I could get to an object shooting at 400mm for macro shots. Being able to get what I typically think of as specialty shots like these from a lens that can also shoot such a wide range is really impressive

I’d say this lens is for anyone who is looking for something better for family photos while traveling or at sporting events. Anyone looking to get past the 200mm range for a decent price for the occasional wildlife or shot of the Moon. Someone who is looking to upgrade from a kit lens or get more variety of shots while out shooting. If you're pixel peeping and looking for the sharpest details at 400mm than you might be disappointed, and I’m willing to bet you already knew that. However, if you're the photographer that doesn't need the best of the best but would rather have one lens to capture all those epic adventures while still enjoying being in the moment. This lens is probably for you. 

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9 Comments

Make it for Sony. I need cheap light shitty long lens for travel where noone cares.

Metabones IV/V or Sigma MC-11.

Ted Chen's picture

Would those adaptors work with this lens? the MC-11 is EF to E mount, and this Tamron was meant for the EF-S mount.

Who is Noone and why does he care so much about your vacation photos?

Is This the Only Camera Lens You'll Ever Need? With it being 18mm at the wide end the answer is a resounding 'No'. Plenty of people need wider than that. Some even much wider.

Michael DeStefano's picture

Very true, plenty of people also need a true macro, 600mm, f1.2, and complete weather sealing. Of course, if you need any of these things you probably aren't looking for a highly versatile all in one lens like this and I'm guessing you already know that.

John Sammonds's picture

an 18-400 lens is not a 28-640 lens on any crop factor lens it only adjusts the angle of view, it will not zoom in from 18 to 28 mm all it is is you are viewing at 18 mm is a 24 mm crop. no zoom

Michael DeStefano's picture

"equivalent focal length" is what I said and is what you get. As in if you compared it to a shot on a FF camera it would look like 28-640. This is stated on the lens details straight from Tamron.

M Devino's picture

The Tamron 18-400 has been my walking-around lens since it came out last summer. My photos are not fantastic but that's me not the lens. If I need something wider I grab my Canon 10-18. It's great for "one-lens-does-all" like the urbex stuff I shoot.