It’s not all that long ago that a 150-600mm zoom would have been a big, bulky – and pricey – beast indeed. Plus the optical performance may not have been all that much to write home about either, which is why any photo-grapher who regularly needed supertelephoto capabilities took the prime route. In reality, however, you need to be doing a lot of business to justify investing in, say, a 400mm f2.8 or a 600mm f4.0 supertelephoto prime. So how about spending $2200 to get not just 600mm, but 500mm, 400mm, 300mm, 200mm and 150mm… all in the one comparatively physically manageable lens?
So what’s the catch? Well, in the world of optical design, there are always compromises, and a supertelephoto zoom like this is always going to be comparatively slow compared to a prime lens, especially when the focal range is also long. But it’s those large-diameter elements that make an f2.8-speed 300mm or 400mm so expensive… and so big.
And the question has to be asked – is a maximum aperture range of f5.0-6.3 such an issue in these days of ever-improving high ISO performances, especially from full-35mm format sensors? The depth-of-field isn’t quite as shallow, but in reality from 300mm to 600mm, it’s already wafer-thin anyway.
Going back to the subject of size, the new Tamron 150-600mm zoom is a biggish lens, but it’s a case of swings and roundabouts – from 150mm to 200mm it’s bigger than a prime equivalent, and at 300mm it’s probably line ball compared to an f4.0-speed prime. However, from 400mm to 600mm it’s a whole lot more compact – and lighter in weight – than the prime big guns. If you’re going to be mostly using it in the 300mm to 600mm range then you’re definitely ahead here, not to mention the state of your bank balance. Consequently, the pros still pretty convincingly outweigh the cons.
As one of Tamron’s ‘G2’ models (short for Generation 2), the new 150-600mm f5.0-6.3 is a complete re-do of the previous model, both internally and externally. As far as the latter is concerned, the styling has been given a more contemporary look with a smoother profile, matte black finish and flush-fitting control rings. The aluminium alloy barrel is weather sealed, and this protection extends to a substantial gasket around the lens mount and a fluorine coating on the exposed face of the front element. This is a fairly expansive piece of glass so we’re not sure that you’ll really want to leave it exposed – even if 95mm diameter screwthread filters aren’t cheap – but if you do, the fluorine coating is designed to repel both moisture and grease. Obviously weather-proofing is an important feature for a lens that’s going to be primarily used outdoors and in situations where moisture and dust could well be issues (but, frankly, if this is often going to be the case, buy that protective filter).
At the other end of the barrel, the Tamron 150-600mm is fitted with a very beefy tripod-mounting collar which is made from magnesium alloy to help save weight. As on the G2 70-200mm f2.8 zoom, the quick-release plate is the Arca-Swiss type which is arguably the closest thing there is to a standard fitting in the tripod world. The rails-and-clamp configuration certainly allows for quick and easy attaching and detaching, plus there’s an additional weight-saving because you don’t have to fit a separate plate.
The lens barrel rotates within the mount’s collar and the whole assembly can be detached, although tripod – or at least monopod – usage is going to be hard to avoid with this lens in some situations. However, it is equipped with Tamron’s ‘Vibration Compensation’ (VC) optical image stabilisation which is claimed to give up to 4.5 stops of correction for camera shake.
Theoretically then, shooting at 600mm, you should be able to hand-hold the lens at shutter speeds down to around 1/30 second, but there is the not-so-little matter of the zoom’s size and weight to consider too. It’s often just going to be a whole lot more comfortable to have the lens on a tripod or monopod, especially when you’re shooting for long periods of a time. At ten grams under two kilograms, the G2 150-600mm zoom isn’t excessively heavy, but over time it will start to feel like it. However, the image stabilisation means a monopod is a good compromise, providing some physical support without compromising your mobility and, in fact, actually better than a tripod for techniques such as panning. Tamron’s VC system offers a panning mode (which turns off correction in the horizontal plane), and it’s possible to be a whole lot smoother with your tracking action when the lens is rotating on a monopod. There are actually three VC modes – the other two are for full correction, but with the option of full-time operation (so the stabilisation effects can be seen in the viewfinder) or only during an exposure. Incidentally, optical image stabilisation isn’t provided on the Sony A-mount version of this lens, as all Sony’s camera bodies have sensor-shift stabilisation.
Separate switches at the rear of the lens barrel are provided for VC on/off and mode selection plus there are three more for AF/MF switching, limiting the autofocusing range and a zoom lock… so both the Nikon and Canon mount versions have a total of four. There’s a conventional zoom lock – mainly to prevent zoom ‘creep’ when the lens is being carried – plus a much cleverer ‘Flex Zoom Lock’ which is engaged by pushing the zooming collar forward. It then locks at whatever focal length it’s positioned at, and you simply pull back to return to free rotation. It’s both quick and effective.
The focus limiter switch has three settings for Full, ten metres to infinity
or 2.2 metres to ten metres. Both of the shorter range settings speed things up considerably if you’re only working at these distances, and the limiter will come in especially useful when you’re shooting close-ups.
In The Elements
The optical construction of the 150-600mm G2 comprises 21 elements in 13 groups, with three of these made from glass with extra-low dispersion characteristics to help reduce both axial and lateral chromatic aberrations.
Tamron’s ‘BBAR’ (Broad-Band Anti-Reflection) and ‘eBAND’ (Extended Bandwidth and Angular-Dependency) multi-coatings are used to minimise internal reflections and ghosting with strong light sources.
There’s a nine-blade diaphragm to give smoother out-of-focus effects.
The 150-600mm is compatible with Tamron’s current 1.4x and 2.0x teleconverters, which boost the focal range to 210-420mm and 300-1200mm respectively while reducing the maximum aperture range by one and two stops respectively. Full autofocusing capabilities are retained and, importantly, the minimum focusing distance remains unchanged.
If you use these combos on an ‘APS-C’ format D-SLR (at 1.5x), you end up with 315-630mm and 450-1800mm!
The G2 model is also compatible with the Tap-In Console USB dock which enables firmware upgrades and small adjustments to either the autofocusing or the VC image stabilisation.
In terms of size, the 150-600mm G2 looks bigger than it really is, perhaps because of the way the barrel flares out towards the front-most element. Park it alongside the typical 70-200mm f2.8 zoom and there’s actually very little difference in the diameter, while the length is only around a couple of centimetres more. Our ‘resident’ AF-S Nikkor 70-200mm f2.8 – with an Arca-Swiss mounting plate fitted – tipped the scales at 1810 grams, so the Tamron 150-600mm is only 180 grams heavier… and that’s in return for a whole lot more optical firepower.
In the field, then, it’s a surprisingly comfortable lens to use and handle (and you can save 210 grams by taking off the tripod mounting collar). It feels well-balanced on both the mid-sized and larger full-35mm D-SLR bodies so shooting hand-held is completely feasible – ably assisted by the optical image stabilisation – but, as noted earlier, the total weight is likely to become an issue over time. Given both sports/action and wildlife photography often involve having the camera all set up and ready to go but then waiting around for the action to actually happen, using a tripod is going to be an inevitability with this lens. That said, if you do need to use it in a ‘run-and-gun’ situation, it really can be done… even when shooting at 600mm.
ABOVE/BELOW: Test images shot at 150mm (top) and 600mm (bottom) illustrate the considerable capabilities that are packed into a zoom that is only marginally longer than a 70-200mm f2.8 model.
With its revised optical design (which includes one more element than the previous model) and new manufacturing techniques with tighter tolerances, the G2 150-600mm telezoom delivers improved performance in a number of areas. Maintaining uniformity of sharpness (i.e. from centre-to-corner) is always a challenge with zooms covering long telephoto focal lengths, but Tamron has done a pretty decent job here.
Overall sharpness is good at 150mm through to 200mm, but the corners are even better between from 200mm to 400mm, while there’s some softening between 500mm and 600mm. At this extreme telephoto end of the zooming range you haven’t got a lot to play with in terms of stopping down before diffraction starts to compromise sharpness. Nevertheless, at f8.0 and f11, the sharpness fall-off at 600mm is reduced by a little and overall, again images look nicely crisp, assisted by a nice amount of contrast. A 600mm prime telephoto is always going to deliver better performance in terms of sharpness, but you’ll pay dearly for it and, in real world terms, the Tamron does a commendable job here. The zoom’s vignetting – brightness fall-off at the frame’s corners – is very slight across the focal range when shooting at the widest apertures, but is virtually eliminated by stopping down.
Likewise for lateral chromatic aberrations – although colour fringing can be quite marked in the corners of the frame at the longest focal lengths, the correction for axial chromatic aberrations appears to be more effective so the effect is minimal. Some pin-cushion type distortion (i.e. the inward bending of straight edges) is present across the focal range, but is never particularly pronounced and won’t be noticeable at all if there are no straight lines positioned near the edges of the image frame.
Given the Tamron’s 150-600mm’s focal range and length, the imaging performance – particularly the various corrections – can be considered outstanding, and turns what looks like fabulous potential on paper into an even more fabulous reality.
Having a supertelephoto capability in your lens arsenal used to be expensive, particularly so if you only really needed to use it on occasion. So when it comes as part of a zoom’s ‘package’ – and an affordable zoom at that – it’s very big bonus.
Additionally, Tamron’s 150-600mm G2 offers the extra versatility of very useful close-up capabilities and optical image stabilisation giving up to 4.5 stops of correction for camera shake. That it’s so manageable in terms of size and weight – and also delivers excellent optical performance for a very long telezoom – increases the possibilities in terms of applications beyond all the obvious ones. It also allows you to make the most of shooting situations… exploring the supertelephoto world without the usual physical demands and restrictions. Here, then, a little (extra) goes a very long way indeed.
Tamron SP 150-600mm f5.0-6.3 Di VC USD G2 (Model A022)
Format: Full-35mm digital sensors or 35mm film. The focal range is equivalent to 225-900mm on an ‘APS-C’ format D-SLR (with a 1.5x focal length magnification factor).
Angle-of-View: 16.25 to 4.8 degrees (diagonal on 35mm format).
Construction: 21 elements/13 groups.
Minimum Focus: 2.2 metres (across the focal range).
Maximum Reproduction Ratio: 1:3.9 (at 600mm).
Aperture Range: f5.0-6.3 to f32-40.
Overall Length: 257.7 mm.
Maximum Diameter: 108.4 mm.
Filter Diameter: 95 mm.
Weight: 1990 grams (with tripod mount).
Lens Mount(s): Canon EF, Nikon F (G-type AF) and Sony A.
Features: Weather-proofed barrel and mount, fluorine coating on the front element’s external surface, built-in ‘Vibration Compensation’ optical stabilisation (three modes, Canon and Nikon mount versions only), three LD (low dispersion) glass elements, ‘eBAND’ multi-coating, ‘USD’ ultrasonic ring-type autofocusing drive, internal focusing group, nine-blade diaphragm, zoom lock, focus limiter switch, continuous manual focusing override, tripod mounting collar with Arca-Swiss quick-release plate. Bayonet mount lens hood and soft carry pouch supplied. Compatible with the optional Tamron Tap-In Console for applying firmware upgrades, TC-X14 1.4x teleconverter and TC-X20 teleconverter.