LensVid Exclusive: Tamron 16-300mm F/3.5-6.3 Di II VC PZD Lens Review
Several weeks ago we received one of the latest lenses from Tamon – the 16-300mm F/3.5-6.3 Di II VC PZD – the longest zoom lens for DSLR currently on the market. We had a chance to spend some time with the lens and here is our take on it.
Specs and background
The new Tamon 16-300mm F/3.5-6.3 Di II VC PZD was introduced back in February 2014, it comes in 3 different mounts for Nikon, Canon and Sony A (we tested the Nikon version with our D7100). The lens covers APS-C sensors and has the widest focal range of any DSLR lens to date – 16mm-300mm – or almost 19x zoom. The aperture is somewhat less impressive – f/3.5-f/6.3 but it does allow the lens to stay quite small – just under 100 mm (3.94″) when closed and weighing just 540 g (1.19 lb).
The Tamon 16-300mm F/3.5-6.3 Di II VC PZD closest competitors are the two Nikon lenses – the new, smaller and lighter AF-S DX NIKKOR 18-300mm F/3.5-6.3 ED VR (with a similar aperture to the Tamron but less wide angle), and the older and much heavier (and faster) AF-S DX NIKKOR 18-300mm f/3.5-5.6G ED VR introduced back in 2012. There are of course other “all-around” long zoom lenses from Sigma and Tamron itself but if your a looking for maximum zoom and maximum versatility – these are your main options.
This is actually the first time that we are reviewing a Tamron lens here on LensVid and we were quite pleasantly surprised by the good build quality of the 16-300mm F/3.5-6.3 Di II VC PZD. Despite the fact that this is not a professional (or even semi pro) lens, it was pretty well made (it is manufactured in China), the zoom and focus rings feels good with nice tolerance and feel (the focus ring is narrow but doesn’t have any unpleasant movement like we have on the old Nikon 18-105mm for example). The 16-300mm F/3.5-6.3 Di II VC PZD has a metal mount unlike some cheap kit lenses.
Focus, stabilizer and macro capabilities
Focus – as you might expect from a very long all around zoom lens the focus is not the strongest area of this lens. To be honest it was also not the strongest side of the AF-S DX NIKKOR 18-300mm f/3.5-5.6G ED VR we tried last year as well. At the end of the day the AF on the Tamron 16-300mm isn’t that bad, and for most day to day shots the AF is does the job – just don’t expect to shoot too much fast action sports with this lens.
Stabilizer – Tamron VC (Vibration Compensation) system does work and from our testing it seems to provide at least 3 stops of stabilization (Nikon new generation stabilizer are better, especially the one on the new 70-200mm f/4, but its a much more expensive lens). One thing we discovered that has to do with the stabilizer is the fact that on our specific test lens when the stabilizer kicked in we saw a jump in the viewfinder. This apparently happened to other Tamron users on other lenses with the new VC technology. Tamron apparently claims this is normal behaviour – we are not sure but we much rather prefer the “normal” behaviour of the Canon, Nikon (and Sigma) stabilization systems.
Magnification – we were pleasantly surprised by the macro capabilities of the Tamron 16-300mm F/3.5-6.3 Di II VC PZD – although this isn’t a dedicated macro lens (Tamron does sticked the word Macro at the end of the lens name but this doesn’t mean much), it does offer a pretty decent magnification – just under 1:3 (a dedicated macro lens typically offers 1:1 magnification ratio).
Using the Tamron 16-300mm F/3.5-6.3 Di II VC PZD we were able to capture objects located onlly 9 cm from the front of the lens and were able to fill the frame with a 6 cm wide object. For comparison sake our Nikon 105mm Macro lens was able to fill the frame with a 2.1 cm object from 13 cm.
Before we take a look at some of the tests that we performed, a word about having the right expectations. All around lenses are always a sort of a compromise and typically the longer ones have more flaws than the shorter ones. The Tamron 16-300mm is the most ambitious all around lens to date and so we should keep that in mind when looking at its optical performance.
After this clarification – how did the Tamron 16-300mm F/3.5-6.3 Di II VC PZD perform?
We compared the lens to the closest one that we had at the time – the Nikon AF-S VR Zoom-Nikkor 70-300mm f/4.5-5.6G IF-ED which has the same maximum focal length although it has a much smaller zoom (and a 5/.6 max aperture). We were most interested in the performance of the 16-300mm on the long telephoto side (but as you will see we also made some tests on the wide side). You can see the results below:
On the right – the Nikon, on both cases we set our camera to f/8 @300mm – notice the difference in sharpness of the numbers (click to enlarge)
A different image this time the Nikon on the left, both images were shot at f/7.1 @300mm – notice the difference in sharpness of the car plate (click to enlarge)
The same image- this time the Tamron at f/9 @300mm – notice the difference improvement in sharpness (click to enlarge)
Final comparison image – Nikon on the right – notice the metal mesh – both at f/6.3 @300mm (click to enlarge)
What you can clearly see from all these images is that the Nikon is sharper in a noticeable way wide open – however, stopping down the Tamron to about f/9 (and even f/11 from our experience) does make quite a bit of change – although the Nikon is still a bit sharper.
Vignetting – We tested the way the Tamron handles Vignetting @16mm wide open (f/3.5) – you can see the result for yourself:
Barrel distortion – we were not surprised to find quite a bit of barrel distortion – but this is to be expected from this type of lens at 16mm and can be corrected in post:
Chromatic aberration – We did notice quite a bit of CA on some of our images and this is definitely one of the weaker points of this lens.
At the end of the day the image quality of the Tamron 16-300mm is pretty decent – especially when stopped down – it might not be on the level of the Nikon 70-300mm and if you are looking for just the longer telephoto range there are other inexpensive options out there but for an all around lens with such a flexible range it really isn’t bad as we think you can see from this image (and many more in the gallery below).
On the left – full image – on the right 100% crop
The Tamron 16-300mm F/3.5-6.3 Di II VC PZD is an impressive technological achievement. It is currently the longest zoom lens on the market with a very impressive 16mm wide angle and a 300mm max range – giving it close to 19x zoom. Besides the zoom range the Tamron is very well made and does not feel cheap at all. It is also small, light and compact and pretty ideal for taking on a trip if you need a very flexible focal range but don’t want to carry more than one lens.
The versatile nature of the Tamron 16-300mm F/3.5-6.3 Di II VC PZD doesn’t come without its price though. Despite the fact that the image quality isn’t half bad when you consider the daunting nature of designing such a long zoom lens, it still falls short of cheaper zoom lenses (such as the Nikon 70-300mm we compared it to), although to be fair it does improve considerably when stopped down.
Talking about stopping down, this lens isn’t as fast as the (long, heavy and expensive) Nikon AF-S Nikkor 18-300mm F3.5-5.6G ED VR and despite the only 0.3 stops difference, you have to remember that even f/5.6 is not ideal at 300mm. When considering that fact that in order to get maximum sharpness you will need to stop down to f/9 or even f/11 you quickly realize that this lens will be difficult to shoot with in some situations when not in bright sunlight.
What we liked
- The longest zoom lens for DSLR cameras on the market (almost 19x zoom with a very wide angle – 16mm).
- Very good build quality.
- Small, light and compact (when closed).
- Very good macro capabilities (not a substitute for a real macro lens but pretty good for a lens of its type).
What we liked less
- Mediocre image quality wide open with a lot of Chromatic aberration (stopped down there is a significant improvement at f/9-f/11).
- There is a jump in the image in the viewfinder when the VC (Tamron image stabilizer) kicks in (this is apparently not a malfunction according to Tamron).
- Slow aperture (f/6.3 from 200mm onwards) – not ideal for low light images.
Here are a few images we shot with the Tamron 16-300mm F/3.5-6.3 Di II VC PZD using our Nikon D7100. Images were not changed in any way besides a cropping.
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We would like to thank Twenco for supplying us with the lens for testing.