Tamron SP 150-600mm f/5-6.3 Di VC USD G2 Model A022 lens
The focal length range of this lens makes it most suitable for sports and wildlife photographers and birders, in particular, will find its fast autofocusing and effective stabilisation advantageous if they are looking for a long lens that can be used hand-held.
An important advantage the new lens has over its predecessor is the ability to customise the focus limiter settings to ensure faster focusing when shooting birds in flight or anticipated sports action.
While we feel this lens is best suited to cameras with ‘full frame’ sensors, it can also be used on cropped sensor cameras, where it covers the equivalent focal lengths of 225-900mm with Nikon and Sony cameras or 240-960mm on Canon’s APS-C bodies. Nikon owners should note this lens is only compatible with cameras that support an electromagnetic diaphragm (which includes most models released since 2009).
Although significantly more expensive than the original model, like its predecessor, the second-generation Tamron SP 150-600mm f/5-6.3 Di VC USD G2 is superior to its predecessor in optical performance and has better stabilisation.
It represents very good value for money, particularly if you’re prepared to shop around locally.
The new Tamron SP 150-600mm F/5-6.3 Di VC USD G2 lens, which was announced at the beginning of September, replaces a previous lens with the same focal length and maximum aperture ranges that we reviewed in March 2014. The G2 (second generation) lens has better weather sealing and its optical and mechanical designs have been upgraded to improve performance and functionality and slightly reduce its minimum focusing distance and maximum magnification ratio.
Side view of the Tamron SP 150-600mm F/5-6.3 Di VC USD G2 lens without the supplied lens hood. (Source: Tamron.)
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. We took our sample shots ““ including those taken with the two teleconverters ““ with the new lens on the same Canon EOS 5D II body as we used for the original lens.
The optical design of this lens consists of 21 elements in 13 groups and includes three low-dispersion (LD) lens elements to minimise axial and transverse chromatic aberrations. Their positions are shown in the diagram below. The iris diaphragm has nine rounded blades, which close to produce a circular aperture.
The optical diagram for the Tamron SP 150-600mm F/5-6.3 Di VC USD G2 lens showing the positions of the low-dispersion elements. (Source: Tamron.)
Tamron has added eBAND (Extended Bandwidth & Angular Dependency) coating to improve light transmission and suppress internal reflections, including light reflected off the camera’s image sensors. Fluorine coatings on the front and rear elements prevent the accumulation of dust and grease and make the lens easy to clean.
Tamron’s VC (Vibration Compensation) system for lenses with Canon and Nikon mounts uses three driving coils that move the shake-compensating VC lens group electromagnetically, based on signals from three steel ball bearings. The lens element that compensates for vibration is held in place only by the steel balls, which support them with minimal friction.
Tamron claims an effective shake compensation equivalent to 4.5 stops, based on CIPA (Camera & Imaging Products Association) specifications, when using it in VC Mode 3, which prioritises the stabilisation of the captured images over steady viewfinder images. Stabilisation isn’t included in Sony mount versions as it’s built into Sony’s DSLR bodies.
The lens is supplied with front and rear caps, a lens hood and removable tripod collar plus a soft carrying pouch.
Who’s it For?
The focal length range of this lens makes it most suitable for sports and wildlife photographers and birders, in particular, will find its fast autofocusing and effective stabilisation advantageous if they are looking for a long lens that can be used hand-held. An important advantage the new lens has over its predecessor is the ability to customise the focus limiter settings to ensure faster focusing when shooting birds in flight or anticipated sports action.
While we feel this lens is best suited to cameras with ‘full frame’ sensors, it can also be used on cropped sensor cameras, where it covers the equivalent focal lengths of 225-900mm with Nikon and Sony cameras or 240-960mm on Canon’s APS-C bodies. Nikon owners should note this lens is only compatible with cameras that support an electromagnetic diaphragm (which includes most models released since 2009.
Build and Ergonomics
Like the original Tamron SP150-600mm f/5-6.3 Di VC USD lens, the G2 lens is relatively large and heavy and better suited to professional and pro-sumer ‘full frame’ 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.
It’s even more solidly constructed than its predecessor. Whereas the previous lens had a high-quality plastic barrel, the new lens has a metal barrel with improved dust- and moisture-proof sealing at all interfaces where components join. The front section of the barrel has curved surfaces that are designed to sit comfortably in the palm of the user’s left hand, while giving an ‘upscale appearance’.
Without the hood attached, the barrel measures just over 260 mm in length. Fitting the hood brings the overall length of the lens up to approximately 360 mm. The overall weight with the hood and tripod collar fitted is just over 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 outer barrel bulges gently outwards before straightening just before the hood mount.
The zoom ring is located about 80 mm behind the front of the lens. It’s roughly 57 mm wide, with a 50 mm wide ribbed grip band starting about 5 mm behind its leading edge. The inner barrel extends by approximately 78 mm as you zoom in from the 150mm to the 600mm position, which rotates the barrel through approximately 120 degrees.
A feature of the G2 lens is the new FLEX ZOOM LOCK mechanism, which lets users lock the zoom ring at any position by pushing the zoom ring forward. Pulling the ring back allows the ring to be freely turned again. This mechanism provides a quick way to set the zoom at a precise focal length and unlock it quickly when required.
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 25 mm wide section of the barrel behind the zoom ring, which is fixed in place and carries a small zoom lock slider. We had no problems with zoom creep when carrying the lens pointing downwards, even when the zoom lock was off.
Behind the fixed section of the lens is the focusing ring, which is approximately 24 mm wide. The leading two thirds of this ring carries a rubber-like cladding with slightly thinner ridges than the zoom ring. They’re easily distinguished by touch.
A small distance scale is inset into the outer barrel just aft of the focusing ring, with indicators in feet and metres, ranging from the close focusing limit of 2.2 metres to infinity. Unfortunately, it’s quite difficult to read in anything less than bright daylight.
Four 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 three positions: Full, 10 m to infinity and 10 m to 2.2 m, for minimising hunting when shooting subjects at different distance ranges.
Below it is the focus mode switch with positions for AF and MF, the former supporting manual focus over-ride. The next slider switches the image stabiliser on and off, while the final slider is used for selecting the stabilisation modes.
Three VC modes are provided:
VC MODE 1 is the standard mode that aims to strike a balance between the stability of the viewfinder image and the stabilisation effects.
VC MODE 2 is used exclusively for panning.
VC MODE 3 prioritises the stabilisation of the captured images over the stabilisation of the viewfinder image.
The tripod collar fits onto the barrel just behind this section of the lens barrel. It is secured with a large locking screw positioned at the junction between the collar itself and the base plate. There’s an index line on the tripod collar, which lines up against a mark on the lens barrel to enable users to orientate the collar correctly.
The base plate is an Arca-type compatible foot that has two metal lined mounting sockets, positioned about 30 mm apart straddling the centre of the plate. The new lens weighs 60 grams more than its predecessor which won’t matter when it’s used on a tripod and will probably make little difference when the lens is hand-held.
The lens is supplied with end caps, the cylindrical HA022 hood, the detachable tripod mount, instruction sheet, tips on using the lens and warranty paperwork plus a voucher for a special rate on the ‘Adobe Creative Cloud Photography plan’ (a significant improvement over the product key for the Silkypix Developer Studio 4.0 for Tamron that was provided with the previous lens). An Allen key and two safety lock screws are also provided for securing the tripod collar foot when using an Arca-Swiss camera platform or clamp.
This lens is compatible with Tamron’s ‘TAP-in’ Console, which is used to customise the lens to suit individual photographers’ preferences. We were unable to review this feature.
Tamron has designed two teleconverters to match the optics of the new SP 150-600mm G2 and they were supplied for us to review with the lens. Both teleconverters are solidly built and they have similar dust- and moisture-resistant construction to the SP 150-600mm G2 lens, with special seals at every joint and seam.
The TC-X14 and TC-X20 teleconverters. (Source: Tamron.)
Physically, the design of both teleconverters is identical, although the TC-X20 is almost twice the length of the TC-X14. Once again, the model for the Canon mount is larger than the Nikon model, with a maximum diameter of 69.8 mm, length of 66.8 mm and weight of 360 grams.
Each consists of a cylindrical barrel made of die cast aluminium with a brass bayonet mounting plate on the camera side and a stainless steel bayonet on the lens side. An index mark at the front to assist attachment of the lens and another one at the back for mounting the combo on the camera. There’s also a lens release lock that must be held down when removing the teleconverter from the lens.
The TC-X14 teleconverter provides 1.4x magnification but reduces the effective aperture by one f/stop. Its optical design consists of six elements in three groups. The Canon model is slightly larger than the Nikon model, with a maximum diameter of 70 mm, overall length of 34.1 mm and weight of 205 grams.
The diagrams above show the optical construction of the TC-X14 and TC-X20 teleconverters. (Source: Tamron.)
The TC-X20 teleconverter provides 2x magnification but reduces the effective aperture by two f/stops. Its optical design consists of nine elements in five groups and includes one LD (low dispersion) lens element.
Each teleconverter is supplied with front and rear caps and a soft carrying pouch.
Both teleconverters are designed to work with the autofocusing functions in the camera and lens they fit between. But, because they reduce the light passing through to the viewfinder they can be difficult to focus ““ and that’s where having manual focus over-ride in AF mode is particularly useful.
We found the degree of magnification they provided (particularly with the 2x converter) was too great to hand-hold the camera and lens at longer focal lengths. Even when the lens and camera were tripod mounted, we only managed to get about one in four shots really sharp and with the subject correctly positioned in the frame.
We weren’t able to run our objective Imatest tests with the two teleconverters due to insufficient space in our testing set-up. All comments relating to their performance will, therefore, be subjective.
Late in the testing period we were loaned an EOS 5D Mark IV and decided to run the Imatest tests with the lens on that body to see whether it would be capable of meeting the requirements of cameras with high-resolution sensors. As before, we only ran our Imatest tests with the ‘full frame’ camera body because a lack of space made it impossible to test more than the shortest focal lengths achievable with this lens. For focal lengths beyond this range, our comments are based upon subjective assessments.
Our Imatest tests showed the new lens came very close to meeting expectations for the EOS 5D Mark IV’s 30-megapixel sensor, which is no mean achievement for a lens of this type. Once again, the highest resolution was obtained with the 150mm focal length at f/6.3, two-thirds of a stop down from maximum aperture. 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 within the ‘negligible band for the three focal lengths we were able to test. Although we turned off in-camera corrections, some automatic correction may still have been applied by the camera, although 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.
Subjective assessments of test shots showed them to be slightly sharper and more contrasty straight out of the camera than similar shots taken with the previous lens on the EOS 5D II body. The differences were greatest at focal lengths beyond about 300mm.
Fast autofocusing was possible in bright sunlight but, as with the previous lens, in dim lighting and with low contrast subjects, hunting was common. However, with the 600mm focal length setting we found it easier to track moving subjects when hand-holding the camera and lens and using the viewfinder to frame shots than we had with the original lens.
Adding the teleconverters proved to be challenging and it was virtually impossible to obtain sharp, correctly-composed images unless the equipment was tripod mounted ““ and we needed a very solid tripod with a pan/tilt head to get any shots that were really sharp. We don’t believe a monopod would handle the combined lens, converter and camera even under optimal conditions.
Another essential factor for obtaining sharp shots is to select the correct focusing range with the focus limiter. By reducing the distance over which the lens has to hunt, your chances of getting a quick focus improve dramatically.
Without the teleconverters, it was possible to shoot with the lens and camera hand-held, provided light levels were high. We found the stabilisation system to be very effective, particularly in VC Mode 1, which also stabilises the viewfinder image and were able to shoot at 1/80 second with the 600mm focal length when the camera was hand-held and get more than 70% of shots acceptably sharp.
As with the previous lens, the 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. Even at shorter focal lengths, the bokeh remains attractive at wide apertures.
Vignetting was pretty consistent at the widest aperture settings throughout the zoom range, with edges and corners being a noticeably darker than the centre. The darkening vanishes about a stop down from maximum aperture. Most modern cameras provide internal processing for correcting this problem and it’s easy to fix during post-capture editing.
As with the previous lens, slight pincushion distortion was evident 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. This problem is also correctable in-camera and easy to fix at the editing stage.
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.)
Although significantly more expensive than the original model, like its predecessor, the second-generation Tamron SP 150-600mm f/5-6.3 Di VC USD G2 is superior to its predecessor in optical performance and has better stabilisation. It represents very good value for money, particularly if you’re prepared to shop around. We found several online re-sellers offering it at AU$1599 for both Canon and Nikon mounts, which is roughly $300 less than you’d pay if you imported it through an off-shore re-seller ““ and that’s without shipping and insurance.
The original Tamron SP 150-600mm f/5-6.3 Di VC USD is still on sale and its street price has fallen from AU$1399 when we reviewed it in March 2014 to less than AU$1000. Sigma released a 150-600mm f/5-6.3 lens with similar specifications to the original Tamron lens in September 2014 but we haven’t reviewed it. It’s street price is around AU$1100. Optional 1.4x and 2x teleconverters are available for this lens.
Canon has a faster (f/4 constant) 200-400mm lens with a built-in 1.4x extender, which we reviewed in October 2013. It’s currently selling for around AU$12,000. Nikon’s longest telephoto zoom is the AF-S Nikkor 200-500mm F5.6E ED VR, which was released in late 2015. It has the advantage of a constant maximum aperture and its street price varied between AU$1899 and AU$1500 when this review was published.
Picture angle: 16 degrees 25 minutes – 4 degrees 8 minutes (for full-frame format); 10 degrees 38 minutes – 2 degrees 40 minutes (for APS-C format)
Minimum aperture: f/32-40
Lens construction: 21 elements in 13 groups (including 3 LD lens elements)
Lens mounts: Canon, Nikon and Sony (without VC)
Diaphragm Blades: 9 (circular aperture)
Focus drive: USD (Ultrasonic Silent Drive)
Stabilisation: Yes, 4.5 stops (CIPA Standards compliant), with VC MODE 3
Minimum focus: 2.2 metres
Maximum magnification: 1:3.9 at 600mm
Filter size: 95 mm
Dimensions (Diameter x L): 108.4 x 260.2 mm (Canon mount)
Weight: 1,990 grams (with tripod mount)
Standard Accessories: Lens front and end caps, HA022 lens hood, tripod mount, soft carrying pouch
Distributor: TNS Distribution Australia, (02) 9975 0900, www.tnsconnect.com.au
Based on JPEG files from the EOS 5D Mark IV camera.
Vignetting at 150mm.
Vignetting at 300mm.
Vignetting at 600mm.
Distortion at 150mm.
Distortion at 300mm.
Distortion at 600mm.
400mm focal length, ISO 200, 1/640 second at f/8.
600mm focal length, ISO 200, 1/640 second at f/9.
600mm focal length with 1.4x teleconverter, ISO 400, 1/500 second at f/9.
600mm focal length with 2x teleconverter, ISO 1600, 1/500 second at f/11.
‘Super’ moon photographed with 600mm focal length, ISO 320, 1/500 second at f/7.1.
‘Super’ moon photographed with 600mm focal length plus 1.4x teleconverter, ISO 800, 1/640 second at f/8.
‘Super’ moon photographed with 600mm focal length plus 2x teleconverter, ISO 800, 1/400 second at f/11.
550mm focal length with 1.4x teleconverter; ISO 200, 1/640 second at f/9.
Close-up; 600mm focal length, ISO 200, 1/50 second at f/7.1.
Close-up; 600mm focal length, ISO 200, 1/100 second at f/6.3.
Smooth bokeh in close-up at 600mm focal length ,600mm focal length, ISO 100, 1/250 second at f/6.3.
Bokeh at 300mm focal length, ISO 100, 1/200 second at f/5.6.
Stabilisation test; 600mm focal length, ISO 1600; 1/80 second at f/6.3.
Strong backlighting; 600mm focal length, ISO 200, 1/1000 second at f/11.
600mm focal length, ISO 200; 1/2000 second at f/6.3. (Note the vignetting in the corners of the frame.)
Crop from the above image enlarged to 100%.
Crop of an edge showing little or no coloured fringing.
600mm focal length with 1.4x teleconverter; ISO 400; 1/640 second at f/9.
600mm focal length, ISO 400; 1/640 second at f/7.1.
500mm focal length, ISO 200; 1/500 second at f/8.
600mm focal length, ISO 100; 1/320 second at f/9.(Panned to follow subject with stabiliser in VC MODE 2 position.)
500mm focal length, ISO 200; 1/500 second at f/11.
RRP: AU$2,199; US$1,399
- Build: 9.0
- Handling: 8.6
- Image quality: 8.6
- Versatility: 8.6