If you’ve been looking for a long telephoto lens for less than £1000, odds are you’ve been disappointed. Until now that is, as the new Tamron SP 150-600mm f/5-6.3 VC USD boasts an impressive zoom range and just sneaks in under the £1000 bracket.
This lens replaces Tamron’s 200-500mm f/5-6.3 model, and with an equivalent APS-C range of 233-930mm has an even greater reach if you’re using a crop sensor camera. So what has changed in the last four years of development? Firstly Tamron has added image stabilisation, allowing sharp handheld images at slower shutter speeds. This is a very welcome addition on a lens this long. Tamron has also added USD (Ultra Silent Drive) for fast, silent focusing, crucial for helping you stay undetected when shooting wildlife.
Weighing in at 1951g, you can shoot handheld with this lens, but for use over extended periods of time a tripod or monopod is necessary. With hood attached, the lens has a maximum length of 45cm. Constructed of 20 elements in 13 groups, the Tamron 150-600mm has a lot more glass than its predecessor. Using Tamron’s eBAND coating, ghosting and flare has been minimised, and the lens’ 9-blade design is great for creating smooth bokeh.
In testing the lens found focus fairly quickly and quietly, and full-time manual fine-tuning is possible with autofocus engaged. With its two-stage focus limiter, the lens can be successfully stopped from hunting through its whole range in difficult focusing conditions, so focusing is much speedier.
As focal length is increased the inner barrel of the lens extends, which could cause dust contamination as air is sucked into the outer barrel. The inner barrel also suffers from lens creep, which is where it slowly extends out under gravity, often while hanging around the neck. However, there is a barrel lock to stop this happening. The Tamron is available in Nikon, Canon and Sony mounts.
We put the 150-600mm through its paces in the studio against our lens test charts. Overall it performs well, with good image quality across most of its range and virtually no chromatic aberration at any aperture or focal length. At 150mm with the widest aperture, the lens does suffer from strong vignetting but this can easily be corrected in post-processing. At the lens’ sweet spot of f/11 it’s relatively sharp across the frame. However, once fully extended to 600mm the lens becomes softer at all apertures. It is useable at f/11 but at f/6.3 this softness becomes increasingly severe. With a minimum focusing distance of 2.7m it’s impossible to fill the frame when shooting smaller objects, making it unsuitable for macro and smaller wildlife subjects.
The 150-600mm f/5-6.3 zoom is the longest lens Tamron has ever built and at less than £1000 it offers exceptional reach at a very competitive price. While image quality is very good on the whole, it’s worth bearing in mind that it starts to drop slightly at the more extreme focal lengths. But with prices for decent ultra telephotos at a premium, this lens offers real value for money. If you’re on a budget and don’t have several thousand pounds to spend on a lens, this is a fantastic option.
- Street price: £739 (As of June 2016)
- Maximum aperture: f/5-6.3
- Minimum focus distance: 270cm
- Filter size: 95mm
- Weight: 1.95kg
- Visit: www.tamron.eu/uk
This review was first published in the May 2014 issue of Practical Photography - download back issues here.