Tamron’s latest super-zoom lens for Canon and Nikon APS-C-format DSLRs covers a 22.2x zoom range and includes up to 2.5 stops of camera shake correction.
Judged subjectively, central sharpness ranged from acceptable to excellent across the zoom range.
Apart from chromatic aberration (which should be correctable in modern cameras), most other aberrations were handled quite well and distortion, though moderate, is easily corrected. The small amount of vignetting we found should have little or no impact on most shots.
Mechanically, the lens provided smooth and controllable zooming, very little zoom creep and the ability to fine tune focusing manually. Autofocusing was almost silent and the in-built stabilisation provided a reliable couple of f-stops of shutter speed compensation.
Combine these advantages with weather protection and a physical size that is both compact and light and Tamron’s 18-400mm f/3.5-6.3 Di II VC HLD lens has a lot going for it.
Announced in late June 2017, Tamron’s 18-400mm f/3.5-6.3 Di II VC HLD lens (Model B028) provides a welcome extension to the 18.8x zoom range of the 16-300mm f/3.5-6.3 Di II VC PZD Macro lens we reviewed in July 2014. Like that lens, it’s designed for APS-C DSLR cameras. The 22.2x zoom ratio covers angles of view equivalent to 28.8-640mm on Canon EOS 7D camera we used for our tests. On a Nikon DX DSLR its equivalent focal length is 27-600mm.
Side view of the Tamron 18-400mm f/3.5-6.3 Di II VC HLD lens (Model B028) without the lens hood. (Source: Tamron.)
The optical design of this lens is quite complex, with 16 lens elements in 11 groups. Tamron has included specialised LD (Low Dispersion) glass elements and aspherical lens elements to counteract defects like chromatic aberrations and distortion and arranged them to achieve good optical performance from such a compact super-zoom lens.
The optical diagram for the lens showing the position of the exotic elements. (Source: Tamron.)
Weighing approximately 710 grams, this lens has a lightweight and compact design plus user-friendly features for amateur photographers. It is supplied with front and end caps plus a petal-shaped lens hood that can be reversed over the barrel when the lens is not in use.
Who’s it For?
Like all extended-range zoom lenses, the Tamron 18-400mm lens is designed for photographers who prefer not to change lenses but want the ability to cover a wide variety of subject types. Its relatively compact size and light weight will make it a useful all-in-one lens for travellers and the ability to zoom in to an angle of view equivalent to 640mm on a 35mm camera will be good news for birdwatchers and wildlife photographers.
This lens will focus to within 45 cm, which provides some scope for shooting close-ups, particularly at longer focal length settings. However, its reproduction ratio of 1:2.9 doesn’t provide true, life-size magnification.
The f/3.5-6.3 maximum aperture range will limit the usability of this lens in dim lighting. However, the built-in VC (Vibration Compensation) system should provide up to 2.5 stops of shake correction, which will partly compensate for the reduced light reaching the sensor.
It will also provide some stability for the viewfinder image, although it won’t make the view any brighter. Unlike mirrorless cameras, which have brightness-adjustable EVFs, DSLR viewfinders are optical and brightness is not adjustable.
Leak-proof seals throughout the lens barrel provide some protection when shooting outdoors, although Tamron doesn’t claim the lens is weatherproof. While an electromagnetic diaphragm system has been a standard feature in Canon-mount lenses, it has now been added to lenses with a Nikon mount, providing more precise control over the iris diaphragm that determines lens apertures. This lens is compatible with Tamron’s TAP-in Console, which provides a simple way to update firmware and customise various lens functions.
Build and Ergonomics
Build quality is up to Tamron’s usual high standards and above average for the price of this lens. Robust plastics have been used for much of the construction of the lens barrel and the metal bayonet mount fitted snugly onto the camera body we used for this review.
The outer barrel on the 18-400mm lens has the same matte finish as other recent consumer-level lenses from Tamron. A new barrel design uses three extending inner barrels that add roughly 105 mm to the overall length with the zoom ring’s rotation. Each has its own cam to ensure it moves smoothly.
Two angled views of the Tamron 18-400mm f/3.5-6.3 Di II VC HLD lens (Model B028) showing how the barrel extends for the 400mm focal length. (Source: Tamron.)
The inner barrel rotates slightly as the zoom ring is turned. Attaching the lens hood adds roughly 60 mm to the overall length.
After moving the zoom ring towards the front of the lens barrel in the 16-300mm lens, Tamron has gone back to a more conventional layout with the 18-400mm lens. The focusing ring is 14 mm wide and located at the front of the outer barrel, with the 59 mm wide zoom ring just behind it.
The leading edge of the zoom ring is stamped with focal length settings for 18mm, 35mm, 50mm, 70mm, 100mm, 200mm, 300mm and 400mm. They line up against a white mark on the 5 mm wide fixed section of the barrel between the two rings. Both rings carry finely-ridged grip bands, the focusing ring using moulded plastic, while the zoom ring is rubberised.
The focusing ring can be turned through about 45 degrees when the lens is installed on a camera and power is switched on. The zoom rotates through a slightly wider arc but presents slightly more resistance than the focusing ring. This lets users switch quickly between wide-angle and telephoto positions.
Rearwards of the zoom ring is a 25 mm wide fixed section of the barrel, which carries the AF/MF and VC on/off sliders. A zoom lock is also provided on this section of the barrel. A 4 mm wide metal band separates this section of the barrel from the lens mount, the inner section of which carries seven gold-plated contacts for communicating with the camera.
The lens hood has a standard bayonet fitting and was easy to attach and remove. The lens was a comfortable fit and well-balanced on the EOS 7D we used for our tests and while it may not be too heavy to use on smaller DSLRs, its size alone makes it more suitable for larger cameras.
As usual, we were unable to use our Imatest tests on focal lengths longer than 200mm in 35mm format so the results presented cover just over half of the available zoom range of the lens. Fortunately, it delivered some surprisingly good results for a lens with such an extreme zoom range, although edge softening was noticeable at all focal lengths (the worst occurring with the 18mm setting). JPEG contrast was also lower than we see with most lenses, although this is easily correctable when you shoot raw files.
We obtained the highest JPEG resolution with the 35mm focal length at an aperture of f/5.6, where resolution slightly exceeded expectations for the 18-megapixel sensor in the EOS 7D camera we used for our tests. This focal length setting appears to be the optimal focal length for the review lens since the other focal lengths we tested fell short, with the 50mm and 70mm focal lengths being closer to the mark than the others.
Diffraction had little effect on resolution until between f/10 and f/11, after which resolution dropped sharply. The graph below shows the results of our tests.
Lateral chromatic aberration ranged between low and moderate levels with the best performance occurring at the 18mm focal length. In the graph below, showing the results of our tests, the red line separate ‘negligible’ and ‘low’ CA, while the green line marks the border of the ‘moderate’ CA band.
Interestingly, the Imatest results were not reflected in our test shots (JPEGs), although some coloured fringing was visible along contrast margins. But assessing it was complicated by the visible softening that occurred towards the periphery of the frame, particularly with longer focal lengths.
Backlit subjects were handled quite well for an extreme-zoom lens, although the review lens wasn’t totally flare-free. Even when a bright light source was outside the frame we found instances of flare artefacts and veiling flare, although the latter could be effectively corrected in raw files. Examples are shown in the Samples section below.
Autofocusing was quite fast, thanks in part to the sophisticated AF system in the EOS 7D. However, it was quite dependent upon having bright enough ambient lighting. In low light levels and with low-contrast subjects we noticed some hesitation. This would be problematic when recording movie clips.
The review lens exhibited obvious barrel distortion at the 18mm focal length, which segued into slight pincushioning at 35mm. The pincushion distortion remained relatively stable through to 200mm, after which very little distortion was apparent.
Vignetting was barely noticeable at the widest apertures to 100mm (inclusive) with a gradual increase in the rest of the zoom range. Fortunately, neither fault would be a cause for concern in modern cameras that provide in-camera peripheral illumination and distortion corrections. And it’s easy to correct raw files with current file conversion software.
Not unexpectedly, bokeh was better at longer focal lengths than shorter ones, despite having access to wider aperture settings. The smoothest bokeh occurred at 400mm, where it was possible to achieve very attractive results when backgrounds were evenly-lit. However, we found some outlining of highlights in unevenly-lit backgrounds, although overall performance was remarkably good for an extended-range convenience zoom lens.
All zoom lenses involve some degree of compromise, usually in speed and optical performance. The longer the zoom range, the more compromises one should expect so it was gratifying to find the performance of the review lens better than anticipated, given its 22.2x zoom range. No lens of this type can be seen as perfect – or even close to perfection.
Judged subjectively, central sharpness ranged from acceptable to excellent across the zoom range, with confirmation coming via our Imatest tests. Photographers who don’t require edge-to-edge sharpness at wide-to-medium apertures should have little to complain about in this respect.
Apart from chromatic aberration (which should be correctable in modern cameras), most other aberrations were handled quite well and distortion, though moderate, is easily corrected in modern cameras. The small amount of vignetting we found should have little or no impact on most shots.
Mechanically, the lens performed exactly as it we expected it to, providing smooth and controllable zooming, very little zoom creep and the ability to fine tune focusing manually. Autofocusing was almost silent and the in-built stabilisation provided a reliable couple of f-stops of shutter speed compensation.
Combine these advantages with weather protection and a physical size that is both compact and light and Tamron’s 18-400mm f/3.5-6.3 Di II VC HLD lens has a lot going for it. Even though it’s a relatively pricey lens, for the money and the convenience it provides, it qualifies for our Editor’s Choice award.
It’s early days for this lens and very little discounting has occurred so far, although you may be able to save between AU$20 and $100 by shopping online. The B&H price comes in just below the best local price with shipping included. But we think most Aussies would be better off shopping locally to gain the benefits of Australian consumer protection laws and have a chance to get some essential hands-on time with the lens before purchasing. This is a product you should handle and test before you purchase it.
Picture angle: 75 degrees 33 minutes to 4 degrees (for APS-C format)
Minimum aperture: f/22-40
Lens construction: 16 elements in 11 groups (including aspherical and ED lens elements)
Lens mounts: Canon EF-S, Nikon DX (for APS-C format cameras)
Diaphragm Blades: 7 (circular aperture)
Focus drive: HLD (High/Low torque modulated Drive) micro motor
Stabilisation: Yes, 2.5 stops (CIPA Standards Compliant)
Minimum focus: 45 cm
Maximum magnification: 1:2.9
Filter size: 72 mm
Dimensions (Diameter x L): 79 x 123.9 mm (Canon); 79 x 121.4 mm (Nikon)
Weight: 710 grams (Canon); 705 grams (Nikon)
Standard Accessories: Lens front and end caps, petal-shaped lens hood (HB028)
Distributor: Blonde Robot, (03) 9023 9777, www.blonde-robot.com.au
Based upon JPEG files taken with the Canon EOS 7D camera.
The images below were captured as raw files with the Canon EOS 7D.
Vignetting at 18mm f/3.5.
Vignetting at 35mm f/4.
Vignetting at 50mm f/5.
Vignetting at 70mm f/5.
Vignetting at 100mm f/5.6.
Vignetting at 200mm f/6.3.
Vignetting at 300mm f/6.3.
Vignetting at 400mm f/6.3.
Rectilinear distortion at 18mm.
Rectilinear distortion at 35mm.
Rectilinear distortion at 50mm.
Rectilinear distortion at 70mm.
Rectilinear distortion at 100mm.
Rectilinear distortion at 200mm.
Rectilinear distortion at 300mm.
Rectilinear distortion at 400mm.
18mm focal length, ISO 200, 1/320 second at f/8.
400mm focal length, ISO 200, 1/80 second at f/8.
Close-up at 400mm focal length, ISO 200, 1/1000 second at f/6.3.
Close-up of the same subject at 18mm focal length, ISO 200, 1/1000 second at f/6.3.
400mm focal length, ISO 200, 1/400 second at f/6.3.
Backlighting; 18mm focal length, ISO 200, 1/400 second at f/8.
Backlit subject;18mm focal length, ISO 200, 1/320 second at f/10.
Veiling flare at 135mm focal length, ISO 200, 1/250 second at f/9.
Veiling flare at 400mm, 1/200 second at f/7.1 – JPEG image.
Veiling flare at 400mm, 1/200 second at f/7.1 – from CR2.RAW file converted and corrected in Adobe Camera Raw.
Flare artefacts;18mm focal length, ISO 200, 1/160 second at f/8.
Flare artefacts;70mm focal length, ISO 200, 1/1250 second at f/10.
246mm focal length, ISO 200, 1/500 second at f/9.
Crops from either side of the above image showing slight coloured fringing and edge softening.
Backlit close-up from CR2.RAW file; 400mm focal length, ISO 200, 1/1000 second at f/6.3.
Smooth bokeh with evenly-lit background;400mm focal length, ISO 200, 1/250 second at f/6.3.
Outlined highlights in close-up with unevenly-lit background: 400mm focal length, ISO 200, 1/400 second at f/6.3.
70mm focal length, ISO 200, 1/400 second at f/8.
50mm focal length, ISO 200, 1/320 second at f/8.
RRP: AU$999; US$649
- Build: 9.0
- Handling: 8.7
- Image quality: 8.7
- Versatility: 9.0