Earlier this year, and after a lot of waiting, we finally had a chance to test the super zoom telephoto Tamron SP 150-600mm F/5-6.3 Di VC USD. Here is the result of over three months of use.
As the Tamron has been tested and reviewed all over the internet, we decided to do something special and took the lens into the field and shot the entire review outdoors in the wild in one of our favorite nature reserves in Israel.
Before we talk a bit about where we shot this video lets talk about the general characteristics of the Tamron SP 150-600mm F/5-6.3 Di VC USD:
- Optical structure – 20 elements in 13 groups.
- ED elements – 3 ED elements.
- VR (image stabilizer) – around 3 stops.
- Focus system – MF/AF (Full-time manual focus).
- Lens coating – eBAND Coating.
- Minimal focusing distance – 2.7m.
- Macro magnification – 1:5.
- Length – 257mm (10.1 inches).
- Weight – 1950 grams.
- Filter – 95mm.
- Mounts – Canon/Nikon/Sony A.
- Collar – included.
- Price – $1070 (on Amazon).
Shooting in the wild – Hula Lake Park
If you love shooting birds in the wild, Hula Lake Park (in Hebrew Agamon Hahula) is a must visit site in Israel and internationally acclaimed bird watching park. What is so special about Hula Lake you ask? well, lets start with the unbelievable number of birds that pass over (and in many cases also land) in this area around the year – no less than 500 million migratory birds do a round trip to and from Africa from Europe (some also go to Asia) and Hula Lake is strategically located at a junction between the 3 continents.
There is an interesting back story to the lake but as this is a lens review we will just let you check it out on your own if you are interested, but we definitely do suggest you stop by if you visit Israel.
From a photographic point of view the lake is an excellent place to test a super telephoto lens such as the Tamron SP 150-600mm F/5-6.3 Di VC USD. You get the option to shoot birds both near and far, in the air, on the ground and even in the water, both in small numbers and in very (very) large groups – as you can see in the video.
Migrating birds in and over the Hula Lake Park
The Tamron SP 150-600mm F/5-6.3 Di VC USD is pretty well made, especially for such a relatively inexpensive lens. It might not be on the level of the Nikon 80-400mm which we reviewed last year (which cost almost 3 times as much), however it is not that far behind.
The focus ring on the Tamron SP 150-600mm F/5-6.3 is pretty smooth with no bad free movement. The zoom ring has some friction – this is both good and bad. It is good as over time the ring will loose friction and move too loosely so starting with quite a bit of friction is actually good. On the other hand in the beginning it might feel a bit too hard to turn – of course it may just be our sample lens.
The Tamron SP 150-600mm F/5-6.3 Di VC USD on the left (hood next to it) vs. the Nikon 80-400mm – both open
The lens has a pretty well made metal collar – our opinion is that if you are serious about this lens you might do well to replace the original collar with a longer one. Tamron itself has a longer one (we didn’t try it so we can’t comment on how helpful it is). There are other longer collars on the market which you might want to check out. We also highly recommend you look into a gimbal for this lens.
The hood is made of fairly cheap plastic but it works and it is hard to ask for more in this price range.
The lens does have a travel lock which is a useful feature if you need to carry the lens and does not want it to open in the bag.
AF and VR
The AF speed of the Tamron SP 150-600mm F/5-6.3 Di VC USD is not the fastest in the category. The Nikon 80-400mm for example was noticeably faster (although it is a shorter lens). Despite that we were able to capture quite a few birds in flight and if you are using the focus limiter the focus can actually be kind of quick. As for accuracy, we didn’t ran into any problems that are worth mentioning.
The image stabilization is a different story. We encountered Tamron’s VC when we reviewed the Tamron 16-300mm F/3.5-6.3 Di II VC PZD last year. On both lenses we noticed what can only be described as a “jump” in the viewfinder of the camera when the VC kicks into play. This is a bit annoying to be honest but you more or less get used to it after a while.
The original collar – a longer optional version is available
As for the actual effectiveness of the VC mechanism – the way we see it especially at 600mm you will want to be shooting at relatively fast shutter speed with this lens anyway (almost all of our images were shot at speeds of 1/600 seconds or faster). The effectiveness of the VC is probably at least 1 stop less than what we tested on the Nikon 80-400mm and even more than that when compared to the super great VR found on the Nikon 70-200mm f/4 lens, but it is still better than no VR at all.
As we shall see in this section, the Tamron SP 150-600mm F/5-6.3 Di VC USD performed very well in all of our test.
Vignetting – We used the D810 for this test and were pretty happy to see that there was very little difference between the lens in f/6.3 and f/8 (not too surprising actually). At any rate there is very little vignetting both wide open and stopped down as you can see.
D810 + Tamron SP 150-600mm F/5-6.3 Di VC USD @f/6.3 – vignetting
Tamron SP 150-600mm F/5-6.3 Di VC USD – very minor pincushion @150mm
Tamron SP 150-600mm F/5-6.3 Di VC USD – almost no pincushion @600mm
Chromatic aberration – We didn’t notice too much CA in most situations.
As you will be able to see in a moment, the sharpness of this lens is very good – even at the maximum focal length of 600mm which for us was the main focal length that we used (we said that many times before but we would much rather have a prime 500mm or 600mm f/5.6 or f/6.3 than this type of zoom lens – but that is a different issue).
Wide open at 600mm it is not super sharp, but you can get workable images with it depending on how you shoot, what you shoot and how far it is. First lets start with some test images – they were shot from a distance of about 10 meters (30 feet or so) on a tripod with a timer. As you will see below – most of the images are cropped to 100%.
Full test image – Tamron SP 150-600mm F/5-6.3 Di VC USD – @600mm f/6.3
100% crop right – Tamron SP 150-600mm F/5-6.3 Di VC USD – @600mm f/6.3
100% crop center – Tamron SP 150-600mm F/5-6.3 Di VC USD – @600mm f/6.3
100% crop left – Tamron SP 150-600mm F/5-6.3 Di VC USD – @600mm f/6.3
100% crop right – Tamron SP 150-600mm F/5-6.3 Di VC USD – @600mm f/8
100% crop center – Tamron SP 150-600mm F/5-6.3 Di VC USD – @600mm f/8
100% crop left – Tamron SP 150-600mm F/5-6.3 Di VC USD – @600mm f/8
100% crop right – Tamron SP 150-600mm F/5-6.3 Di VC USD – @600mm f/11
100% crop center – Tamron SP 150-600mm F/5-6.3 Di VC USD – @600mm f/11
As you can see at f/8 we see improved sharpness, at f/11 we more or less the same IQ as f/8. Here is a real world image at full size and in 100% crop – you can clearly see the level of details – this image was shot at 600mm, f/6.3 @1/400.
It should come as no surprise after reading (and watching) all of this, that we feel that the Tamron SP 150-600mm F/5-6.3 Di VC USD is a great lens. When compared to the older generation of long zoom telephoto lenses such as the Sigma 150-500mm F5-6.3 APO DG OS HSM which we tested here last year – the Tamron really shines especially when it comes to image quality.
Huge front element
Now, it is important to remember that this lens (and this goes for the entire class of relatively slow long telephoto lenses) are more or less restricted to shooting in good lighting conditions. This is not a lens for low light shooting and even afternoon or early evening is going to put a lot of strain on your camera sensitivity (remember you will typically be shooting moving subjects with a very long focal length – a tripod will help but only to an extent as it will do nothing with your subject). On the other hand, if you do want a faster aperture at this focal length you are looking at 10x the money (at least), so realistically speaking, for most users there is no faster 600mm lens to consider.
What about the new Sigma 150-600mm f5-6.3 dg os hsm Contemporary lens? well, we are hoping to get it for a review later this year and see how well it compares to this lens so stay tuned.
What we liked:
- Very good image quality (especially stopped down to about f/8).
- Decent build quality.
- Nice feel to the focus ring (with Manual focus over ride).
- Comes with a decent metal collar (Tamron has a longer optional one).
What we didn’t care for:
- Big and heavy (we would much rather have a 600mm f/5.6 prime).
- Daytime only lens (at 600mm you will have to shoot at f/8 and for most wildlife photography you will also need fast shutter speeds, limiting the functionality to very good lighting conditions).
- Viewfinder “jumps” when VC kicks in.
- Less than stellar focus speed (improves when the focus limiter is used for targets beyond 15m).
All the images in this gallery were taken with the Tamron SP 150-600mm F/5-6.3 Di VC USD and a Nikon D7100 and D810. The images have been cropped but not retouched in any way.
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We would like to thank Twenco for supplying us with the lens for testing.