Tamron SP150-600mm f/5-6.3 Di VC USD


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    Tamron SP150-600mm f/5-6.3 Di VC USD

      In summary

      The Tamron SP 150-600mm f/5-6.3 Di VC USD would rate recommendation on the basis of its price alone, all other factors being equal. Its closest competitor is Sigma's 150-500mm f/5-6.3 APO DG OS HSM, which has a similar AF drive mechanism and optical stabilisation. But it covers a shorter range and its coatings aren't up to the standards of Tamron's eBAND coatings.

      Sigma also produces a significantly longer lens, the 300-800mm f /5.6 EX zoom, which is more than half a metre long – without lens hood – and weighs 5.88 kilograms. Its price tag is in excess of AU$10,000, which puts it beyond the reach of all but the most dedicated (and cashed-up) specialists.

      Canon and Nikon each produce telephoto zoom lenses but both have maximum focal lengths of 400mm, although with maximum apertures ranging from f/4-5.6. Neither company releases RRPs in Australia but Canon's EF 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS USM is selling for a little less than AU$2000, while Nikon's AF-S 80-400mm f/4.5-5.6G ED VR Nikkor lens sells for around $3200.

      Tamron also produces a 200-500mm f/5-6.3 Di LD (IF) lens, which is an older design that lacks Vibration Compensation, USD silent focusing and eBAND anti-reflective coating. It's selling in the major Australian online stores for between AU$1600 and AU$1700.

      This makes the Tamron lens, which the local distributor says buyers should “expect to pay” $1399 for, something of a bargain. If you shop around, you may be able to get it from a local online re-seller for as low as AU$1200.

      The new lens is about 30 mm longer and 715 grams heavier than its predecessor and its close focusing distance is 20 cm longer. Given the longer range and cheaper price, that’s a pretty impressive achievement.

       

      Full review

      Tamron's SP150-600mm f/5-6.3 Di VC USD is one of the longest zoom lenses available for 'full-frame' and APS-C format DSLR cameras, covering a 4x zoom range. As a Di lens, it can be used on both 'full frame' and cropped sensor bodies. Its focal length range is equivalent to 225 to 900mm with APS-C models from Nikon and Sony and 240 to 960mm on Canon cameras. This new lens was released first with a Canon mount, enabling us to test it on our Canon EOS 5D II body. Nikon and Sony mounts will follow. 

      The new Tamron SP150-600mm f/5-6.3 Di VC USD lens, shown without the supplied lens hood. (Source: Tamron.)

      The optical design of this lens is necessarily complex, with 20 elements in 13 groups. The front group contains three LD (Low Dispersion) glass elements (two in the first group, one in the third) for enhanced optical correction effectiveness, enabling the lens to compensate for on-axis aberrations at the telephoto end.
       

      The optical diagram for the Tamron SP150-600mm f/5-6.3 Di VC USD lens, showing the positions of the LD elements. (Source: Tamron.)

      Tamron's eBAND (Extended Bandwidth & Angular-Dependency) coating and conventional BBAR (Broad-Band Anti-Reflection) have been applied to suppress internal reflections and minimise flare and ghosting. The nine-bladed iris diaphragm closes to a circular aperture for attractive bokeh.

      Tamron's VC (Vibration Compensation) system uses three voice coils for lenses with Canon and Nikon mounts. The driving coils activate the shake-compensating VC lens group electromagnetically via three ceramic ball bearings, which support them with minimal friction.

      Stabilisation isn't included in Sony mount versions as it's built into the DSLR bodies. Interestingly, no claims are made for the system's performance beyond a statement that it creates 'greater opportunities for handheld ultra-telephoto photography'.

      The USD (Ultrasonic Silent Drive) AF drive in the lens claims to deliver 'high torque, very fast response times, and very low noise'. Full-time manual over-ride is possible in AF mode.

      Who's it For?
       The obvious targets for this lens are sports and wildlife photographers, particularly birders, who are looking for a long telephoto lens at an affordable price. There aren't many 600mm lenses for DSLR cameras that fall into this category – or near it.

      Faster lenses have much higher prices. For example, Canon's EF 600mm f/4L IS II USM lens is priced at more than US$12,700; Amazon has Nikon's AF-S 600mm f/4.0G ED VR II SWM lens listed at US$10,299. Sigma's 200-500mm f/2.8 APO EX DG lens, which is 1.66 f-stops faster than the review lens at the shortest focal length and 2.33 stops faster at maximum telephoto zoom has a listed price of US$25,999. And that doesn't bring weight into the equation. (The Sigma 200-500mm lens weights 15.7 kilograms.)

      Build and Ergonomics
       Being a relativelylarge and heavy lens, the SP150-600mm f/5-6.3 Di VC USD is better suited to professional and pro-sumer camera bodies than entry-level DSLRs. It was well-balanced on the EOS 5D Mark II camera we used for our tests, thanks to its strategically-positioned tripod mount. But not quite as comfortable or easy to manage on the EOS 40D.

      You can sit the larger camera with the lens attached on a stable support and be confident it will remain in place and steady enough to shoot with, which is convenient when you want to take a quick shot and don't have a tripod at hand. However, the size and weight of this lens make it best suited to tripod mounting – and you'll need a sturdy and stable tripod with a professional quality head.

      We found nothing to complain about the build quality of this lens. According to Tamron, it is moisture-resistant and you can easily feel the rubber sealing gasket if you run a fingertip around the lens mount.

      Although the barrel is made mainly from polycarbonate plastic, it is high-quality and there are no gaps to be seen where components join. The overall finish is first-rate and all the necessary components are of a decent quality and well designed to augment the lens.

      Without the hood attached, the barrel measures just under 260 mm in length. Fitting the hood adds a further 102 mm. The overall weight with the hood and tripod collar fitted is just under two kilograms to add to the weight of your camera body.

      The inner barrel at the front of the lens is threaded for 95 mm filters, while the outer barrel has a bayonet mounting for the lens hood, which is covered when the hood is in place.  The barrel flares gently outwards from about 25 mm back from the hood mount.

      The zoom ring is located about 80 mm behind the front of the lens. It's roughly 65 mm wide, with most of its surface covered by a ribbed, rubber-like coating, which provides a secure and comfortable grip. The inner barrel extends by approximately 77 mm as you zoom in from 150mm to 600mm, giving the lens a total length of roughly 440 mm at the 600mm setting.

      The trailing edge of the zoom ring is stamped with focal length settings for 150mm, 200mm, 250mm, 300mm, 350mm, 400mm, 450mm, 500mm and 600mm, which are lined up against an index mark on the short section of the barrel behind the zoom ring. This is fixed in place and carries a small zoom lock slider plus a narrow  tungsten silver brand ring. You really need that zoom lock as the lens will extend due to zoom creep if it's carried hanging downwards.

      Behind this is the focusing ring, which is 25 mm wide and carries a rubber-like cladding with slightly thicker ridges than the zoom ring. They're easily distinguished by touch. A distance scale is inset into the barrel just aft of the focusing ring, with indicators in feet and metres, ranging from the close focusing limit of 2.7 metres to infinity.

      Three sliders are located around the left hand side of the barrel in line with the distance scale. The top one is the AF limiter, which has two positions: Full and 15 m to infinity, the latter for minimising hunting when shooting distant subjects.

      Below it is the focus mode switch with positions for AF and MF, the former supporting manual focus over-ride. The final slider switched the image stabiliser, which has two positions: on and off.

      The tripod collar fits onto the barrel just behind this control panel and is secured with a large locking screw positioned at the junction between the collar itself and the base plate. The base plate has a single mounting socket, which is metal lined and located close to the centre of the plate.

      There's an index line on the collar, which lines up against a mark on the lens barrel to enable users to orientate the collar correctly. The ultrasonic AF drive is located in this section of the lens.

      According to Tamron's website, this lens should be supplied with end caps, the hood, the detachable tripod mount, instruction manual and warranty paperwork plus a product key for the Silkypix Developer Studio 4.0 for Tamron that is available as a free download. Frankly, we would have preferred a protective carrying case (which would be really useful) to the software (which isn't).

      Performance
       We only ran our normal Imatest tests on this lens on the 'full frame' EOS 5D II camera body because a lack of space made it impossible to test more than the shortest focal length on a body with an APS-C sensor. And even with the 5D II, we couldn't cover the full focal length range of the lens so some of our comments are based upon subjective assessments.

      Most test shots were also taken with the EOS 5D II. However, we also used a cropped-sensor body (the EOS 40D) for some of our shooting tests, as indicated in the sample images below.

      The highest resolution in our Imatest tests was obtained with the 150mm focal length at f/6.3, two-thirds of a stop down from maximum aperture. Although the figure didn't quite reach expectations for the camera's sensor, it came close enough to produce a very acceptable level of sharpness, with acceptable edge and corner softening. The results of our Imatest tests for the three focal lengths we were able to measure are shown in the graph below.

       

      Lateral chromatic aberration was well controlled for such a high-magnification lens and we found no visible coloured fringing in test shots. In the graph of our Imatest results below, the red line marks the boundary between 'negligible' and 'low' CA, while the green line separates 'low' and 'moderate' CA.

       

      We noticed a slight drop in image sharpness towards the 600mm focal length setting in shots taken with both cameras. However, focal lengths up to about 300mm delivered impressive sharpness and plenty of contrast.

      Autofocusing was fast and accurate with the review lens, provided light levels were high enough and there was sufficient contrast in the subject for the lens to lock onto. In poor lighting and with low contrast subjects, hunting was common and it could take a second or so for the lens to lock on – and even then you will probably need to use AF area selection and select the area carefully when the main subject is off-centre.

      Tracking movement wasn't quite as easy as we anticipated and we found it difficult to keep the subject in the frame – and sharp – when recording bursts of shots following moving birds. We obtained few sharp images with the lens on the EOS 5D II but none with the EOS 40D, which magnifies the field of view by 1.6x.

      We recognise the shooting technique to achieve a high percentage of sharp image requires lots of practice. Unfortunately, the combination of camera and lens was a bit heavy for hand-held use, we didn't have a gimbal-style tripod head and we haven't had enough practice for this type of shooting.

      Setting the focus limiter improves your chances when shooting in indifferent lighting conditions and/or if subject contrast is low, particularly with longer focal length settings. But even when there was plenty of light, we found slight hesitation when the lens was forced to change focus quickly between near and distant subjects.

      With smaller – and more normal – adjustments to focusing distance, the lens responded quickly enough to satisfy most potential purchasers, although slight hesitation often occurred with the longer focal lengths. With static subjects, the lens could record plenty of detail.

      Stabilisation was very effective, enabling the lens to be hand-held at shutter speeds as slow as 1/160 second and get more than half of the shots sharp. The stabilisation of the viewfinder image makes it easier to compose shots, particularly when the subject isn't moving.

      Depth of field is very shallow with longer focal lengths and, if you shoot with the lens wide open, the plane of sharpness is very narrow. This results in smooth bokeh that is very attractive and provides superb separation of the subject from the background.

      Both rectilinear distortion and vignetting were relatively low – but clearly visible. Distortion was in the form of pincushion distortion. It was present throughout the   focal length range, although you probably wouldn't notice it in shots unless they contained straight line running parallel to the image frame.

      Vignetting was most evident at the extremes of the zoom range, with edges and corners being a slightly over a stop darker than the centre. The darkening vanishes about a stop down from maximum aperture. Both problems are is easily corrected, either with in-camera processing or during post-capture editing.

      Backlit subjects were handled very well, thanks to the generous lens hood. We were unable to force the lens to flare, even when a bright light source was on the edge of the frame. (Shooting directly into the sun is unwise, due to the high magnification this lens provides.) A small area around the bright spot showed a slight loss of contrast; the remainder of the frame retained the full dynamic range expected from the subject.

      Conclusion
       The Tamron SP 150-600mm f/5-6.3 Di VC USD would rate recommendation on the basis of its price alone, all other factors being equal. Its closest competitor is Sigma's 150-500mm f/5-6.3 APO DG OS HSM, which has a similar AF drive mechanism and optical stabilisation. But it covers a shorter range and its coatings aren't up to the standards of Tamron's eBAND coatings.

      Sigma also produces a significantly longer lens, the 300-800mm f /5.6 EX zoom, which is more than half a metre long – without lens hood – and weighs 5.88 kilograms. Its price tag is in excess of AU$10,000, which puts it beyond the reach of all but the most dedicated (and cashed-up) specialists.

      Canon and Nikon each produce telephoto zoom lenses but both have maximum focal lengths of 400mm, although with maximum apertures ranging from f/4-5.6. Neither company releases RRPs in Australia but Canon's EF 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS USM is selling for a little less than AU$2000, while Nikon's AF-S 80-400mm f/4.5-5.6G ED VR Nikkor lens sells for around $3200.

      Tamron also produces a 200-500mm f/5-6.3 Di LD (IF) lens, which is an older design that lacks Vibration Compensation, USD silent focusing and eBAND anti-reflective coating. It's selling in the major Australian online stores for between AU$1600 and AU$1700.

      This makes the Tamron lens, which the local distributor says buyers should “expect to pay” $1399 for, something of a bargain. If you shop around, you may be able to get it from a local online re-seller for as low as AU$1200.

      The new lens is about 30 mm longer and 715 grams heavier than its predecessor and its close focusing distance is 20 cm longer. Given the longer range and cheaper price, that’s a pretty impressive achievement. 

       

      SPECS

      Picture angle: 16°25′- 4°8' (for full-frame format), 10°38′- 2°40' (for APS-C format)
      Minimum aperture: f/32-40
      Lens construction: 20 elements in 13 groups (including  three LD elements)
      Lens mounts: Canon EF, Nikon AF, Sony A mount
      Diaphragm Blades: 9 (circular aperture)
      Focus drive: USD ( Ultrasonic Silent Drive)
      Stabilisation: VC ( Vibration Compensation)
      Minimum focus: 2.7 metres
      Maximum magnification ratio: 1:5
      Filter size:  95 mm
      Dimensions (Diameter x L): 105.6 x 257.8 mm
      Weight: 1951 grams (including detachable tripod mount)
      Supplied accessories: Cylindrical lens hood, detachable tripod mount, front and rear caps

       

      TESTS

      Based on JPEG files from the EOS 5D Mark II camera.

       
       

      SAMPLES

       
       

      Vignetting at 150mm.
       
       

      Vignetting at 300mm.
       
       

      Vignetting at 600mm.
       
       

      Distortion at 150mm.
       
       

      Distortion at 300mm.
       
       

      Distortion at 600mm.
       
       

      EOS 5D Mark II camera, 150mm focal length, ISO 100,  1/500 second at f/9.
       
       

      EOS 5D Mark II camera, 600mm focal length, ISO 100,  1/640 second at f/6.3.
       
       

      EOS 40D camera, 150mm focal length, ISO 100,  1/500 second at f/8.
       
       

      EOS 40D camera, 600mm focal length, ISO 100,  1/400 second at f/7.1.
       
       

      Closest focus; EOS 5D Mark II, 150mm focal length, ISO 100,  1/320 second at f/7.1.
       
       

      Closest focus; EOS 5D Mark II, 600mm focal length, ISO 100,  1/400 second at f/6.3.
       
       

      Forced flare with a bright light source in the corner of the frame. EOS 5D II; 150mm focal length, ISO 100,  1/640 second at f/11.
       
       

      Two shots from a sequence of birds in motion, taken with the EOS 5D II; 500mm focal length, ISO 200,  1/500 second at f/7.1.
       
       

      Three shots from a sequence of birds in motion, taken with the EOS 40D; 500mm focal length, ISO 800; 1/1000 second at f/8.
       
       

      Shallow depth of field at 600mm with the EOS 40D; ISO 200,  1/320 second at f/6.3.
       
       

      Shallow depth of field at 600mm with the EOS 5D II; ISO 100,  1/160 second at f/6.3.
       
       

      EOS 5D II; 329mm focal length, ISO 400; 1/160 second at f/5.6.
       
       

      EOS 5D II; 273mm focal length, ISO 400; 1/800 second at f/10.
       
       

      EOS 5D II; 600mm focal length, ISO 400; 1/250 second at f/6.3.
       
       

      EOS 5D II; 600mm focal length, ISO 400; 1/640 second at f/9.
       
       

      EOS 5D II; 428mm focal length, ISO 100; 1/160 second at f/8. (Panned to follow subject movement.)
       
       

      EOS 5D II; 552mm focal length, ISO 100; 1/320 second at f/7.1.
       
       

      EOS 5D II; 600mm focal length, ISO 200; 1/250 second at f/8.
       
       

      Rating

      RRP: n/a MSRP: AU$1399; US$1069

      • Build: 9.0
      • Handling: 8.3
      • Image quality: 8.5
      • Versatility: 8.3

       

       

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