Today we will be taking a look at the most recent telephoto zoom lens by Tamron and one in several lenses of this category that we will be reviewing in the near future.
We had this lens for a number of months now and using it on both our A7R IV and our new Sony A1 and we shall share our experience with both cameras.
As usually do, we shall start with the design and build of the lens before we move over to performance and give you our final verdict.
The Tamron 150-500mm f/5-6.7 DI III Super Zoom Telephoto
Build and design
The lens has a very complex design including no less than 25 elements in 16 groups with a whooping 5 low dispersion elements one extra-low depression element and 2 hybrid aspherical elements.
The lens also includes the BBAR-G2 (Broad-Band Anti-Reflection Generation 2) coating for reduced ghosting and flare. It also has fluorine coating in the front to make cleaning the lens easier.
The lens is very well built with what seems to us like mostly metal design with a few areas of plastic and of course rubber (aside from the ton of glass inside obviously).
Size and weight
While not being an extremely long lens for its focal length when closed down at just under 22cm (8.6″) it does extend considerably to about 29cm (11.4″) when fully extended and the hood will add another 6.5cm (2.5″).
Weight is a different story and this lens like almost all other 500mm+ zoom lenses is pretty heavy tipping the scale at just under 2kg (4.4lbs) with the collar, hood, and front cap.
The lens has two rings. A thin ring for the aperture and a much thicker ring in the front for the zoom. The thin aperture ring is fairly sensitive and positioned well to easily work with one finger and it has only a slight forward and backward movement unlike a number of inexpensive telephoto lenses we used in the past.
The large zoon ring has pretty decent friction to it and it turns to the right. Going from 150mm to 500mm requires about 90 degrees of turn. On our unit, there was no lens creep.
By pulling the zoom ring you can also lock it at any focal length which is an interesting addition, although it can be a bit confusing in some situations.
Buttons and switches
On the left, the lens has four switches: focus limiter, AF/MF switch, image stabilization on/off, and a switch for its different modes. On the right, you have a lock that prevents the lens from opening during travel.
The focus limiter has three modes – full, 3m to infinity, and 15m to infinity. The AF and VC (or vibration compensation in Tamron’s lingo) both have on/off modes and the VC switch has three modes:
- Mode 1 normal stabilization.
- Mode 2 is for panning.
- Mode 3 is stabilization for easier framing.
From our brief testing mode 3 does seem to help a little with framing when shooting moving subjects through the viewfinder.
Lots of switches and options
The lens is fully weather-sealed with a rubber grommet at the lens mount and special weather-sealing inside the lens.
The lens only comes in an E-mount and works well with both full-frame and APS-C Sony bodies where it has an equivalent focal range of 225-750mm on 35mm.
The back of the lens with the rubber grommet
The lens comes with a 6.5cm deep plastic hood with grooves inside. The hood is reversible but only for storage as the hood covers most of the zoom ring in this way. The front of the hood just like the front of the lens is rubberized.
The Tamron has a rounded seven-blade diaphragm and just in case you were wondering, here are the different apertures values at different focal lengths of the lens:
- 150mm – f/5
- 200mm – f/5.6
- 300mm – f/5.6
- 400mm – f/6.3
- 500mm – f/6.7
The lens has an 82mm front filter thread (written in superfine print on one of its sides, we prefer this text to be clearly marked in the front). Also noteworthy is that Tamron made the front part with some rubber coating with the front element a little bit recessed to prevent scratches to the glass and to allow placing the lens vertically on a table even without a cap.
82mm front filter thread
The lens comes included with a detachable heavy-duty metal collar which has an Arca Style base with a 1/4″ thread in the center and two smaller threads on the sides. It also has metal strap attachment holes which is a nice touch.
Despite all of these the collar is the one design aspect of the lens that we don’t really care for, and that is based on our use of the lens over the past few weeks mostly hand holding it.
First, the collar is too short if you want to carry the lens by holding it which we often did. This is true even with our fairly small hands. Even worse, it is too close to the lens so our fingers barely fit and larger hands will not fit at all.
The biggest design flaw has to be the locking knob. It is placed in the worst possible location which if you carry the lens with your left hand (which we often did as the lens is heavy and we switched hands all the time) will just keep cutting into it.
We want to see Tamron (or maybe a 3’rd party manufacturer) come up with a longer, lower Arca leg with a different locking mechanism. This will improve the usability of the lens considerably in our opinion.
The collar requires re-design
The lens uses Tamron’s VXD or Voice-coil eXtreme-torque Drive which is a fancy name for the company’s linear motor focus mechanism used in this lens and the company’s 70-180mm lens.
In action, this motor proved to be silent, and when attached to our Sony A1 also very fast. As for accuracy, we did get a few misses here and there (Scott Dumas recently compared the lens to the Sony 100-400mm and got a fairly big difference in focus accuracy between the two lenses in favor of the Sony, however that lens is, of course, shorter and significantly more expensive).
Turning the image stabilization on has a visible effect on the image as viewed by the user especially in mode 3 which tries to mimic using the lens on a tripod. Other reviewers claim between 2-3 stops of stabilization with the lens, we can’t really be sure but it sounds about right (much of it depends on how stable you are with the lens handheld and we are not very stable).
As we normally do, we tested the sharpness of the lens using our special large professional Imatest high-end chart. Testing sharpness with our chart with this type of lens is very complex and even our studio which is over 17m/55ft long it is not long enough for a full chart test at 500mm.
At 150mm wide open at f/5 sharpness in the center is good, for maximum sharpness you need to be somewhere between f/8 and f/11. Corner sharpness is surprisingly good even with open and you see very little improvement closing down.
Center sharpness at 150mm – f/5 (top left), f/8 (top right), f/11 (bottom left), f/16 (bottom right)
Corner sharpness at 150mm – f/5 (top left), f/8 (top right), f/11 (bottom left), f/16 (bottom right)
At around 300mm wide open at f/5.6 sharpness in the center is already very good, for maximum sharpness you might need to be around f/8. Corner sharpness is also very good wide open with a little improvement closing down.
Center sharpness at 300mm – f/5.6 (top left), f/8 (top right), f/11 (bottom left), f/16 (bottom right)
Corner sharpness at 300mm – f/5.6 (top left), f/8 (top right), f/11 (bottom left), f/16 (bottom right)
At 500mm wide open at f/6.7 sharpness is very good in the center with very little to gain at f/8. We could not get the edges of our chart at this long focal length in the studio but the edges that we could get seem OK wide open and best at around f/11 or so.
Center sharpness at 500mm – f/6.7 (top left), f/8 (top right), f/11 (bottom left), f/16 (bottom right)
Corner sharpness at 500mm – f/6.7 (top left), f/8 (top right), f/11 (bottom left), f/16 (bottom right) – [*note that we could not see the very edge of the chart in this case as seen with the other focal length]
Minimum focus distance (sharpness close up)
The Tamron is very interesting when it comes to close-up performance. We tested with manual focus and got the following results:
- 150mm = 58cm
- 500mm = 162cm
The official min focus is 60cm (at 150mm).
Field curvature is very high at 150mm and still very much visible wide open at 500mm so the center of the frame might be very sharp but the corners will look completely blurred. This can actually be a nice effect if you are shooting a butterfly for example but it is not always something you might want, so keep this in mind.
Close up at 150mm – f/5 (left) and f/8 (right) notice the field curvature on the edges
The official maximum macro magnification of the lens is 1:3.1 which is pretty impressive for this type of lens.
Close up at 500mm – f/6.7 (left) and f/8 (right)
The lens seems to exhibit very low levels of breathing which is good news for video shooters.
We were very impressed with the CA performance of the lens both at 150mm and at 500mm in the center and at the edges, and we saw no visible longitudinal chromatic aberrations in our tests.
CA test at 150mm – f/5 (left) and f/8 (right)
CA test at 500mm – f/6.7 (left) and f/8 (right)
At 150mm with the hood, you can certainly see some flare but at 500mm it is fairly well controlled and you need to be aiming right at a light source to get flare in this way.
At 150mm you have a ton of darkening in the corners wide open with the camera correction turned off. Slowing down to f/8 seems to remove almost any trace of Vignette.
Vignette test at 150mm – f/5 (left), f/8 (center) and f/11 (right)
There is less Vignette at 500mm at f/6.7 but if you want it gone completely you will need to go down to f/10 or f/11.
Vignette test at 500mm – f/6.7 (left), f/8 (center) and f/11 (right)
From our test, we could not see any significant barrel or pincushion distortion at any of the focal lengths (there might be a very slight pincushion at 150mm but it is minimal).
When it comes to Bokeh, things are a bit complex with this lens. You of course get a ton of pretty smooth background separation especially at 500mm as you would expect, but the Bokeh balls are mostly oval even close to the center of the frame pretty much up to f/10. On the bright side, there are no real onion rings.
Bokeh test at 500mm – f/6.7 (left), f/8 (center), f/10 (right)
We shot several thousand images with the lens on both the Sony A7R IV and our new Sony A1 and you can see a few examples here (no edits were done on any of the images only crops).
Tamron had done a great job with this lens providing a very welcome long telephoto zoom alternative to Sony’s own glass just in between the 100-400mm and 200-600mm variants at almost half the price (the Sony 100-400mm is the more expensive of those two).
Although from our personal perspective as avid bird shooters we would much rather have a smaller lighter 500mm f/5.6 prime, similar to the Nikon PF lens, it seems that at the moment all manufacturers focus on long zoom lenses which keeps them large and/or extendable and way too heavy for our taste.
Personal preferences aside, this lens is well built, has a solid set of features and controls, we especially liked the ability to lock the lens at any focal length and mode 3 on the stabilizer seems to show promise.
When it comes to optics the lens really surprised us with a solid performance at all focal lengths even wide open reaching peak performance at f/8 or f/11.
Tamron’s long telephoto zoom for E-mount
On the negative side, besides the fairly considerable although far from uncommon weight and occasional miss-focus, we really think that the collar requires a complete redesign, especially if you have any plans on carrying the lens in your hand for any period of time.
It is also worth noting that if you were considering this lens for use with teleconverters, don’t. As far as we can tell only Sony native lenses support teleconverters at this point. Also worth noting is that on our A1 we are limited to about 15 fps of continuous shooting with the lens while with some native Sony glass we can go all the way up to 30 fps with an electronic shutter
Update: we did some more testing and got 105 images in 5 seconds on the A1 or about 21fps which is really nice for a non-native lens. However, this was done in the most optimal conditions with MF and very high shutter speed so we can’t really guarantee that you will be able to repeat this in a real-world situation.
The longest Tamron E-moutn lens to date
Tamron has positioned the lens very competitively against the two existing Sony options and it is currently priced at $1400, we will have to wait and see what sort of answer Sigma will bring to the table (update: just as we finished this review Sigma announced their 150-600mm lens which we hope to review soon – see here).
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