Tamron 18-300mm f/3.5-6.3 Di III-A VC VXD (Model B061) lens
A lot of engineering technology and design has gone into the development of Tamron’s 18-300mm f/3.5-6.3 Di III-A VC VXD lens. With its 16.7x zoom ratio, it’s currently the longest all-in-one zoom lens available for Sony’s cropped-sensor cameras, which makes it an important addition to the choices available for an important market sector.
Its overall performance is so much better than we expected at such an affordable price. We recommend it to those seeking a ‘do-everything’ lens for general photography. It’s not perfect – perfection is elusive in this category which is dominated by size, weight and price criteria. But it’s certainly an excellent performer in its category.
First announced on July 21, 2021, the Tamron 18-300mm f/3.5-6.3 Di III-A VC VXD (Model B061) lens is designed for use on cropped-sensor (APS-C) cameras and is available in Fujifilm X and Sony E mount versions. We were provided with the Sony E version for this review and it was tested on our Sony α7 II camera. This has the effect of reducing the resolution of the images we used for our Imatest measurements as well as our tests shots. Fortunately, lens speed and depth of field are not affected.
Side view of the Tamron 18-300mm f/3.5-6.3 Di III-A VC VXD (Model B061) lens without the supplied lens hood. (Source: Tamron.)
When you fit an APS-C lens to a Sony full-frame camera it automatically crops the frame from 6000 x 4000 pixels (24 megapixels) to 3936 x 2648 pixels (10.3 megapixels) because the image circle of the APS-C format is smaller. The resulting image frame will cover focal lengths equivalent to approximately 27mm to 450mm in 35mm format, so you get a worthwhile extension of the zoom range, at the cost of resolution.
The optical design of the 18-300mm f/3.5-6.3 Di III-A VC VXD lens showing the positions of the exotic glass elements. (Source: Tamron.)
The optical design of this lens is quite complex, with 19 elements in 15 groups, as shown in the diagram above. A well-balanced arrangement of three hybrid aspherical elements and four LD (Low Dispersion) lens elements helps to suppress most common optical aberrations.
The proprietary Vibration Compensation system works well with Sony’s built-in sensor-shift stabilisation to minimise the effects of camera shake when slow shutter speeds are used. It uses a free-floating element, which is controlled by two gyroscopic sensors that measure the horizontal and vertical vibrations allowing it to compensate effectively and enable shutter speeds as slow as 1/40 second to be used at the 300mm focal lengths.
Autofocusing is driven by two VXD (Voice-coil eXtreme-torque Drive) linear motors, which operate almost silently and can lock onto subjects quickly and accurately. This lens has a minimum focus of 15 cm at the 18mm position, where it can provide a half-life-size maximum magnification ratio and 99 cm at 300mm (with a 1:4 reproduction ratio).
The moisture-resistant construction and fluorine coating on the front element allows this lens to be used outdoors in inclement conditions. A zoom lock switch is provided to prevent unwanted lens extensions, although the review lens showed no signs of slackness in this respect. It comes with a petal-shaped lens hood plus front and rear caps.
Who’s it For?
It’s not exactly clear who this lens was designed for since the last APS-C camera Sony released was the ZV-E10, which is essentially designed as a vlogger’s camera so the 16.6x zoom range would probably be more than most users need. It’s not the best match for any of Sony’s α7 or α9 cameras or even the Alpha 1 (where the high resolution might be useful).
The older α6100, α6400 and α6600 cameras, which have been around since 2019, are probably the best candidates for this lens – although they’re getting a bit long in the tooth. Owners of those cameras will find this lens ticks all the boxes as a general-purpose lens for travel and everyday photography for those who want a single lens that can accomplish a multitude of tasks. It’s also cheaper and has a longer range than Sony’s 18-200mm f/3.5-6.3 OSS LE lens while offering similar lens speed and stabilisation.
As a walkaround lens, the Tamron 18-300mm is light enough to be useful and it’s just small enough to be relatively inconspicuous, making it good for street and sports shooting. Its weather resistance would also make it good for shooting wildlife and birding.
However, landscape photographers may find the 27mm equivalent wide end of the range a bit tight. Architectural photographers will need to make sure the in-camera corrections are enabled since without them this lens is not distortion-free. Without the corrections it’s also prone to chromatic aberration, as demonstrated in the Samples section of this review.
Build and Ergonomics
Build quality is generally very good and the overall finish and design of the lens looks very smart and attractive. The review lens felt solid in use, although we found it a very tight fit on the Sony α7 II camera we used for this review, which made changing lenses quickly a bit of a challenge.
The front element is approximately 50 mm in diameter and recessed a little to allow for a threaded rim that allows 67 mm diameter filters to be fitted. The outer edge of the inner barrel has a bayonet fitting for the supplied lens hood, which is made from hard black plastic.
Zooming from 18mm to 300mm extends two inner barrels and lengthens the lens by a little over 75 mm. Fortunately, the front element doesn’t rotate, enabling angle-critical polarising and graduated filters to be used without hassles.
At the front of the outer barrel is the zoom ring, which is 47 mm long and carries a 36 mm wide band of ribbed rubber-like cladding that provides a secure grip. The trailing edge is free of ribbing and carries index marks for the 18mm, 35mm, 50mm, 79mm, 100mm, 200mm and 300mm focal length positions. The zoom ring turns smoothly, tightening up a little between the 100mm and 300mm positions.
Behind the zoom ring is a fixed section of the outer barrel that carries the zoom lock (although we didn’t need to use it since the review lens showed no signs of zoom creep). There’s no AF/MF or IS On/Off switch since both functions are controlled by the camera. The lens also lacks distance and depth of field scales.
Autofocusing is also controlled by the camera but manual focus over-ride in AF mode does not appear to be supported. The focusing ring is located aft of the zoom lock band. It’s roughly 12 mm wide and entirely clad in thin rubber-like ribbing. It turns through 360 degrees when power is off and lacks hard stops at each end of the focusing range.
Behind the focusing ring is a 15 mm wide section of the lens barrel that carries the branding and name of the lens. The barrel then slopes gently inwards before flattening out for 12-13 mm to end with a metallised band that indicates the lens mount. A vertical rubber flange seals the interface between the lens and the camera to keep out moisture and dust.
The supplied, petal-shaped lens hood is easy to fit and remove. It can be reversed over the front of the lens for transport and storage.
Nobody should expect extended-range zoom lenses to match the performance of prime lenses – or even shorter zooms. Add in the fact we had to review the lens on a full-frame camera – the Sony α7 II – on which the 1.5x frame crop reduced resolution to only 10.3 megapixels.
So while images taken with the camera and lens looked sharp and had decent colour reproduction, they weren’t of stellar quality. But we found them to be good enough to make A4-sized prints and reproduce well on both monitor and TV screens – and that will meet the expectations of most potential buyers of this lens.
Although we disabled the in-camera corrections for all Imatest testing, most of our test shots are based upon ARW.RAW files, rather than JPEGs, in order to show them to the best advantage. Raw files have also been used for assessing vignetting and rectilinear distortions.
The highest resolutions we obtained in our Imatest tests were with mid-range focal lengths and mid-range aperture settings, with the best performance at 70mm f/7.1. Some softening was detected in test shots from 200mm on. As shown in the graph of our test results below, edge softening was also common at wider apertures, while diffraction began to take effect between f/8 and f/11.
Lateral chromatic aberration ranged between mostly low (for the 35mm , 50mm and 70mm focal lengths) to moderate (for 18mm and 100mm), ranging into the serious band for the 150mm focal length. In the graph of our test results below, the red line separates ‘negligible’ and ‘low’ CA, the green line marks the upper boundary of the ‘low’ band and the purple line marks the point at which CA becomes ‘serious’.
The high levels of chromatic aberration were confirmed by test shots that showed visible coloured fringing along high-contrast boundaries. However, since this aberration is easily corrected in-camera this won’t be an issue for most potential users.
It’s impossible to design a relatively lightweight and affordable extended-range zoom lens that is totally free from aberrations so we expected to find both vignetting and rectilinear distortion in uncorrected files. Vignetting was present at the widest aperture settings across the entire zoom range, becoming a little more noticeable at the widest and longest focal length settings. Stopping down by between one and two stops tended to make it much less visible at all focal length settings.
Rectilinear distortion ranged from obvious barrel distortion at 18mm through to visible pincushion distortion at 300mm. The least visible distortion occurred at 35mm and 50mm, with pincushioning increasing gradually thereafter. Both vignetting and distortion are effectively removed by in-camera corrections and easily dealt with when raw files are converted into JPEG or TIFF format.
The review lens handled backlighting surprisingly well and produced some nice 14-pointed sunstars when stopped right down. A few flare artefacts were present is direct contre-jour shots but little in the way of veiling flare, representing good overall performance.
Close-up performance was also very good and bokeh was mostly smooth and attractive. We found slight traces of outlining around bright out-of-focus highlights in some shots – but you had to look for them as they weren’t very obvious.
Autofocusing performance was mostly good, although the lens tended to hunt a bit with low-contrast subjects at the longer focal length settings. This is to be expected given the zoom range and relatively slow speed (f/6.3) at 200mm or longer. Focus pulls were smooth and silent and we didn’t see any noticeable focus breathing while zooming in or out.
The built-in stabilisation is a real advantage in this lens and we were able to use shutter speeds as slow at 1/40 second with the 300mm focal length and get more than half of the shots nice and sharp. In bright conditions, we could shoot at 300mm with the lens stopped down beyond f/8 without difficulties.
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Picture angle: degrees
Lens construction: 19 elements in 15 groups (including elements)
Lens mounts: Sony FE (APS-C)
Diaphragm Blades: 7 (circular aperture)
Weather resistance: Yes, 7 rubber gaskets, fluorine coating on front element
Focus drive: Compatible with proprietary Fast Hybrid AF
Stabilisation: Yes, VC mechanism
Minimum focus: 15cm at 18mm; 99 cm at 300mm
Maximum magnification: 1:2 at 18mm, 1:4 at 300mm
Filter size: 67 mm
Dimensions (Diameter x L): x 125.6 mm
Weight: 620 grams
RRP: AU$1199; US$699
Distributor: Blonde Robot; (03) 9023 9777
Based on JPEG files taken with the Sony α7 II camera.
Based on ARW.RAW files recorded simultaneously and converted into TIFF format with Adobe Camera Raw.
Vignetting at 18mm f/3.5.
Vignetting at 35mm f/4.0
Vignetting at 50mm f/4.5.
Vignetting at 100mm f/5.6.
Vignetting at 200mm f/6.3.
Vignetting at 200mm f/6.3.
Rectilinear distortion at 18mm.
Rectilinear distortion at 35mm.
Rectilinear distortion at 50mm.
Rectilinear distortion at 100mm.
Rectilinear distortion at 200mm.
Rectilinear distortion at 300mm.
18mm focal length, ISO 100, 1/320 second at f/11.
300mm focal length, ISO 100, 1/400 second at f/11.
18mm focal length, ISO 100, 1/1000 second at f/9.
300mm focal length, ISO 100, 1/500 second at f/9.
Two crops from different parts of the above image, magnified to 100%, showing slight softening at the longest focal length.
18mm focal length, ISO 100, 1/640 second at f/10.
300mm focal length, ISO 100, 1/500 second at f/10.
Close-up at 18mm focal length, ISO 100, 1/2000 second at f/3.5.
Close-up at 300mm focal length, ISO 100, 1/1000 second at f/6.3.
Crop from the above image, magnified to 100%.
Stabilisation test at 300mm focal length; ISO 100, 1/40 second at f/6.3.
Crop from the above image, magnified to 100%.
Backlit portrait; 300mm focal length, ISO 100, 1/100 second at f/6.3.
Sunstar produced by contre-jour lighting at f/22; 18mm focal length, ISO 100, 1/80 second.
18mm focal length, ISO 100, 1/250 second at f/10.
Crop from the above image enlarged to 100% showing purple fringing.
300mm, ISO 100, 1/160 second at f/10.
218mm focal length, ISO 100, 1/320 second at f/8.
30mm focal length, ISO 100, 1/800 second at f/8.
96mm focal length, ISO 100, 1/200 second at f/6.3.
140mm focal length, ISO 200, 1/8000 second at f/22.
- Build: 8.9
- Handling: 8.9
- Image quality: 8.6
- Autofocusing: 8.8
- Versatility: 9.0