Tamron SP 150-600mm F/5-6.3 Di VC USD Review
Who wants a giant lens? To be honest, I never thought I would need anything beyond my 300mm prime lens until one day I had one of my music passes turned down by a festival company and I had already accepted the job from a magazine, so I had to go shoot the event without a pass. I did a bit of searching around and everyone keeps telling me that I need to go with one of the Nikon lenses, no other lens will match up to them. I have dealt with this Nikon/Canon fanboy crap for years. Most of it comes from amateur photographers with very little professional working experience, who spend their whole life on the internet, trolling everyone who does not have the same gear as them. At the time, Tamron SP 150-600mm F/5-6.3 Di VC USD lens had only just come out and I could not find any reviews for it, just some test videos of the lens at a photo show. The lens looked a little slow starting at f5.6 and going to f6.3 but I decided to take a chance and I ordered it.
The lens arrived the next day in a giant box and I was super excited to try it out. I really have never shot beyond my 300mm prime lens on a DX body before so the idea of hit 600mm on my full-frame camera really excited me. Even thinking of 900mm on my DX camera sounded completely insane.
The box is your typical Tamron box from their modern lens. The grey box with the lens securely packed in cardboard and plastic. The lens comes with a lens hood and a manual, which I have never opened. Who really reads lens manuals?
Taking the lens out of the box, my first impression was that this was heavy, but most of the weight was towards the back end of the lens which was great. There is nothing worse than a front-heavy lens. It makes the camera difficult to use if it is front heavy and the lens keeps wanting to point down. Having the weight near the base of the camera means that you control the weight much better. The lens is designed completely out of plastic, like all the new Nikon lens but it does feel strong. There are two rubber rings on the lens body, one for zoom and one for focus. Pretty standard stuff to be honest. The lens has a metal tripod collar that you could take off if you were crazy, and it feels really tough. Since I have gotten this lens, I have a BlackRapid FastenR permanently attached in the tripod socket and whenever I use this lens, I carry the lens and camera on my Blackrapid, connect to the lens collar. The lens mount is made out of metal and it has a rubber gasket to give some weather sealing. There are three switches on the lens, one for auto-focus, one for focus limit and one for VR and a final switch further up on the lens to lock it from lens creep when you are walking around.
Even though the lens is completely made out of plastic, and I have read some stupid reviews(AKA Ken Rockwell who is the biggest idiot in photography) who states that this lens will snap in half if it is dropped. Well, I have used this lens for over 3 years now, I have dropped it, been pushed around in mosh pits, bumped it against steel fences and it still works beautifully. Plastic lens bodies have an advantage over steel lens bodies when it comes to the larger lens. The bodies can absorb more impact before they break. Take the Nikon 24-70 F2.8, that lens is famous for snapping into two pieces if you drop it and it has a metal body. Just because you rent a lens for one weekend and use it, does not mean that you are qualified to give a review about it.
Using this lens is fantastic. It hands very well, especially if you consider how big it is. Zooming in and out is easy, and the zoom lens provides just enough friction and feedback so that you know what is going on. It is hard to keep your frame though, if you zoom in from 150 to 600, as that is a huge jump in focal length. Holding the lens is easy enough, I usually hold onto the lens collar and you can easily handhold this lens while shooting as long as you are strong enough. The lens weighs about 2kg and attached to my D3S, I guess the total would be around 4 kg. I am a pretty strong guy and I have used this lens for an entire day of shooting with little problems. My shoulder did hurt that evening, as it had gotten a good workout, but it is still completely manageable. I have never used this lens with a tripod or monopod, I don’t like to restrict my shooting with them, so I cannot tell you the lens handles on one of those.
The lens barrel can extend very far when you are shooting at 600mm. This makes the lens look massive. Especially with the lens hood on it. The biggest problem when shooting at 600mm and a lens hood attached is that you got to watch your shooting environment. It is easy to hit something with the lens if you are not used to it. Now before I go into the image quality, auto-focus and VR, I preface this with a warning. I am not into shooting wildlife or birds. I grew up in South Africa and I saw all the birds and wildlife I could ever want to see, so the last thing I want to do is shoot them now. If you like shooting birds or wildlife, good for you but I cannot tell you how this lens would work for you as I have never tried that type of photography and I most likely never will.
I have used this lens a lot during the last three years now and I have shot thousands of photos with this lens. I think I am qualified to give my opinion on this lens. This lens is another “work only” lens for me. I have only ever used this lens once outside of work and that was in my own backyard one evening. Most of my usage of this lens has been in music festivals or shooting inside theaters. So basically live events. I wanted to shoot some sports with this lens, but getting a sports pass has proved to be very difficult in China. So let’s start this off by looking at the image quality.
All the images above were shot at the same festival, and I had no pass for the festival, so I was shooting at 600mm from the back of the crowd. This was the first time I had used the lens and I was ecstatic about the quality of the images I was getting. I always shoot in manual mode, but to shoot in manual mode with a variable aperture lens is a pain. When you zoom in, you have to keep adjusting exposure as your aperture is constantly changing. So I set the aperture to f6.3 and treated the lens as an f6.3 lens most of the time. I shot for three days like this at the festival and it worked incredibly well. At night, I would ride the lens a little harder and I would keep trying to get the smaller aperture for my zoom range, but in the daytime, I just left the lens at f6.3 and I got great results.
I am perfectly happy with the image quality of this lens, and I have never had an editor come back to me and tell me that my image is too soft for them to use.
Focusing on this lens is really good once you got a focus lock. It tracks the subject very well, but sometimes gaining focus at the long end can take about 1 second unless you are using the focus limiter which speeds up this lens at a lot at the long end. I have never shot with a lens as long as this before so I am not sure if that is normal but compared to my other lens that is incredibly fast, this just felt a little slower to me. I never miss a shot with the lens, but I just felt like I was waiting for the lens to focus sometimes while I was shooting. The lens focused on the same on all my camera bodies, I never felt like the lens was faster on any of my cameras.
The biggest test that I put the auto-focus through was when I shot the Scorpions world tour. They started their world tour in China, it was there first to live show on the tour and they were super pumped on stage with 55,000 people watching them. Those old men ran around the stage like 18 year old and a lot of photographers were struggling to get any shots. The Tamron SP 150-600mm F/5-6.3 Di VC USD handed the situation beautifully and I was very happy with the performance of the auto-focus and the images I got from the lens.
I can honestly say that I managed to get shots with this lens that no one else could have gotten with a 70-200 lens. The added focal range was a huge benefit to me at my work. In an industry where you got to deliver images very quickly, getting the shot as close to perfect in camera helps so much. You could shoot at 200mm and crop in during editing but that all takes valuable time which you don’t have when you are trying to edit 300 photos in one hour. So what about the VR of this lens. Is it any good?
The VR on this lens is incredible. Most photographers know the old adage, you keep your shutter speed faster than the focal length. So you should always shoot faster than 1/600 at the long end of this lens. Well, I have broken that old adage with this lens many many times. The image above with the moon was shoot on Christmas Eve. It was supposed to be the last full moon on Christmas for 15 years so I wanted to take a shot of it. I quickly found that shooting at 600mm was too short to get a good shot, so I put the lens on my Nikon D5200 and I shot the image at 900mm. I handheld the shot at f6.3 at 1/60th of a second. If anyone told me that they took a sharp photo of anything handheld at 900mm with a 1/60th of second shutter speed, I would tell them that they are lying. I was sure I would need a tripod for the shot but it was so cold outside that I did not want to set it up. But this is not the first time I have used slow shutter speeds with this lens. I routinely shoot shows at 1/200s when it is really dark and I have had no problems either. So I can say with complete confidence that the VR on this lens is incredible. Tamron VR system on their new lens is unbelievable good. I strongly feel that Tamron VR system is much superior to that of Nikon at the moment.
The last four images were all shot at 600mm with a shutter speed of 1/320. You cannot ask for anything else from your lens. The auto-focus on the lens is quiet though, so if you need to shoot in a quiet environment, then this lens will work great for you.
So is this the perfect lens, I would have to say no. For the price, this lens is fantastic. It is a beast. The performance is incredible and I have no regrets buying this lens. I wish the lens had a little more metal in its construction, but that would just make me feel a little better. The biggest disappointment for me with this lens is weather sealing. The lens is water resistant but it is not weather sealed and I would not recommend using this lens in heavy rain. The lens barrel is rather large and I have a sneaking suspicion that water could get into the lens if it is raining hard. If Tamron had made this lens weather resistant, then this would have been a perfect lens for me as I could shoot in the rain with it, but as it stands right now if it starts to rain heavily, I put this lens away.
So who is this lens for? I would say event shooters, sports shooters who cannot afford the insanely expensive Nikon gear and maybe wedding shooters if you are shooting from the back of the church. As for wildlife and bird photographers, sorry. I cannot help you out, as I have no idea what you require from a lens. But I would recommend buying this lens if you need to get to the 600mm range. I have never once been sorry that I bought this lens, and if you buy it, I am pretty sure you will feel the same way. But if you hand hold this lens like I do then your back and your shoulders may curse you. Fair warning.