Tamron SP 150-600mm f5.6-f6.3 VC Lens Review
Away back in the distant past in the days of film, 1988 to be precise, I acquired my first SLR camera. It was a Minolta X300 and came with a Tamron lens. Fast forward twenty eight years and so much has changed. We now have the luxury (and kids trust me it is a luxury!) of the ability to take virtually limitless numbers of images each and every day we venture out with our super high tech DSLRs. Last year my friends at Ffordes Photographic in Beauly summoned me in to their store for a chat. Crossing the threshold of their store is a very dangerous thing for someone like me, as the rows upon rows of lenses, cameras and shiny, exciting gadgets call out to me “buy me, just hold me, I need a kind and loving home to go to!” but in this instance I managed to resist making a purchase (a first) and had a chat with the guys. They pitched an idea to me which I thought would be a great challenge; to test some of the latest lenses available from Tamron. Being a Canon prime user I must admit I kind of look down upon the third-party lenses as something I would never consider using. I agreed to the challenge and off I went with a bag full of lenses, thinking how can I test these in the best possible way? I decided the best option would be to just do what I would normally but use the lenses provided, to make the test more realistic to what the everyday person would use. So, I ‘borrowed’ my wife’s Canon 7d Mk2 (a 'prosumer' camera), instead of using my 1DX, which wouldn’t give a true and accurate representation to what is achievable to everyone. For what I do in my day-to-day work the Tamron SP 150-600mm f5.6-6.3 VC is the lens that is most suited to me. My Canon 600mm f4 is my preferred weapon of choice and I absolutely love it, except for the back-breaking weight of the brute.
The Tamron 150-600mm on the 7d Mk2 with its 1.6 crop sensor magnification gives a true focal length of 240mm-960mm and for any budding wildlife photographer this is more than adequate. So on to the test and my thoughts and conclusions. At 1951g this lens has a good sturdy feel to it. It’s bulky enough without being overly heavy, but for those with weaker arms a monopod would make a good investment. On the other hand the lens hood does feel a little bit on the flimsy side. The barrel used for zooming the lens is in and out is in a good intuitive position and has a lovely smooth action; the same applies for the focus ring. The control switches have a positive ‘click’ to them.
In the field depending on the subject and circumstances I normally use a combination of a beanbag and tripod. This helps with the stability and can aid in lowering the shutter speed to way below what would be achievable by hand-holding, the image below was taken at 160th of a second using a tripod.
As I’ve mentioned earlier to make this test as fair as possible, rather than putting the lens through a series of performance tests, I’d just go out and use it in exactly the same manner to which I’d use my other kit. Most of my time is spent photographing Ptarmigan and Mountain Hares in the Cairngorms so naturally this was the logical place to start. Immediately it became apparent to me that the flexibility of the zoom was going to be a huge advantage over my fixed prime lenses; to be able to zoom in and out to the equivalent of 4x magnification. This came in particularly handy when photographing the hares. Most lenses have what’s referred to as a ‘sweet spot’ and this is an aperture that is fairly wide open (allowing more light in and gaining the fastest shutter speeds). On this lens at the 150-300mm focal range this is f7.1 and at the longer focal range it’s f8. This is one of the only drawbacks to this lens, as shooting at f8 with a camera with low-noise ISO capabilities will in low-light conditions mean your shutter speeds will be fairly low, but the good news is that the ‘vibration control’ (VC) really helps combat this. For the vast majority of photographers considering this lens, this won’t be a major concern as most leisure photographers won’t put themselves into the more challenging low-light conditions us ‘pros’ do! To summarise, if you are looking to improve your wildlife photography and are on a limited budget and are looking for a versatile lens to learn the ‘craft’ of wildlife photography, then this is ideal. Considering this Tamron lens sells for less than ten percent of the price of my large Canon prime lens it punches well above its weight in performance, and it far exceeded my expectations. I just wish I’d had one when I was in the earlier stages of my photography career. I also gave a very brief test of the Tamron 70-200mm f2.8 on a very dull and drizzly morning at a Black Grouse lek, and all I can say about this lens is WOW! It was fast at focusing and the images came out razor sharp. The only minor niggle is that the barrel for zooming in and out is at the front of the lens, and this isn’t ideal when working in a hide with scrim netting as your hand has to reach forward of the scrim netting to adjust the focal length, but if you can live with that, this lens has superb optical qualities. If you are thinking of entering the wonderful world of wildlife photography I run both residential and day long photography workshops in and around the Cairngorms. These are aimed at all abilities from novices to professionals, and details can be found on my website. I’d love to see you up here one day soon.
Professional Wildlife Photographer & Photo Guide.