This morning I was fortunate in that I was loaned a Tamron SP 150-600mm F/5-6.3 Di VC for a couple of hours. The lens is well made and feels very good in the hands. I won't go over it's technical specs as they're all on Tamron's website. Before we get into this I'm not a professional lens tester. If you want that then go over to DP Review. If you want the impressions of a serious amateur shooter then read on.
This is a full on lens, it's key features are that it is a zoom with 150 out to 600mm which is quite staggering on the full frame body I use. It is f/5 at 150 and runs out to f/6.3 at 600mm. What does this mean? Basically the lens gets a bit darker as you zoom out meaning your depth of field will change during zoom. For my uses this isn't a big deal and I spent nearly the entire time today at 600 shooting fruit bats and birds by the Yarra River at Bell Bird Picnic Area (look for Bell Bird Park Kew if you're using Google Maps).
The lens resembles a bazooka when fitted with it's hood and extended to the 600mm zoom range. It's not a heavy beast so the SLIK head coped with it's weight easily. It's pretty well balanced where the foot mounts to the lens.
First up I wanted to see how sharp the lens was when hand held at the full 600mm, which is a great test of the VC (Tamron's image stabilisation). The image below is a clump of grass on a river bank which is about 10m below and 20m vertically from where I was standing. It was quite windy near the river and this grass was moving quite a bit. At 1/1000th this is impressively sharp for hand held. My general focal length times 2 guideline would want this lens at 1/1200th at 600mm so I'm very pleased at it's performance at this speed. This shows that the VC is pretty damn good. Being able to hand hold a 600mm is pretty cool as it is. Nice smooth bokeh and an impressively shallow depth of field at f/6.3. I've got a 400mm that I cannot hand hold so to be able to do it on a 600 is amazing.
Next up, I wanted to look at chromatic aberration. A lot of large range zoom lens are pretty awful but I'm pleased to say I had to pixel peep before it became obvious with this lens. This is a clump of leaves poorly lit on a cloudy day with the brown background of the Yarra River.
At 1:1 I I was just starting to see some touches along the edges but quite unnoticeable unless you really go looking.
I had to go to stupid lengths and pixel peep to really find the evidence, finally I could see it plainly but really, who zooms in this far to see individual pixels. I can see a lot more in the way of sensor noise than I can in the leaves.
So onto the subjects of the moment, the whole point of such a large zoom is nature photography. On this day I was chasing fruit bats along the river where they roost. The well lit shot has amazing sharpness, something I'm not accustomed to in such a large range zoom. I have to see that to my eyes it's as good as I experience with my L series lenses. The colours and light are faithfully captured. The bokeh even at f/6.3 is smooth and graduated even though some of the branches in the background are physically close to the bats.
So how does it do with more colourful subjects? Fortunately there was a curious Lorikeet hanging around over head watching what I was doing. Finally the sun came out and I got to shoot the Lorikeet around 10m above my head (looking for an opportunity to crap in my beard no doubt). Shooting nearly straight up into the bright sky the lens did an awesome job of capturing the colour of the moment. I have brightened the shadows a touch reduced the highlights and tweaked the clarity. I'm very happy with the outcome of this shot.
The final question in my mind having been wowed by the other outcomes was, how well can it track movement and maintain focus on the continuous fast moving object? Can it keep up with a fast flying fruit bat? In the situation I was in today the verdict is nearly, although I have to say I've had the same lack of success with Canon's native lenses in this location so it's not just the Tamron it's also the 5Dii. I think in a place where you were tracking the flying object against a clean background that the lens and camera would do a great job of focus tracking and would nail it. In today's situation where there are trees across the river the camera struggled to keep focus on the very fast moving bats. To me this image is acceptable, to a bat watcher it might not be. The body is in focus but the face is just a little bit out.
For a last image, one thing I found very cool about this lens was it's emulation of a good old fashioned brass barrel lens for the out of focus areas, in a busy area like the tree below with the Lorikeet I love what happened to the out of focus elements.
So in conclusion, would I race out and buy one of these? Well, yes frankly. At $1200 to $1300 depending on your preferred lens source it's well worth the money. There is no equivalent in Canon's range let alone in that price tag. For the money you're getting a really stunning piece of glass. I suspect I may just have to flog off some of my excess gear so I can have one.
I can see myself using glass like this for motor racing as I usually head to the Philip Island Moto GP and World Superbike Championships and this would be able to be carried on the bike as put away it's very manageable for bag miserly people like me. Events such as fun runs (e.g. The Colour Run - you can get the shot without getting covered in camera destroying powder) and major fitness events like Tuff Mudder.
On my coastal crawls I wouldn't be surprised to find myself hunting for shots of seals dolphins and whales from shore and perhaps the occasional surfer. When those awesome lunar events such as eclipse, harvest and blood moons come up this is the lens for the moment. Being a fairly light weight I carried it comfortably off the tripod for around an hour without support.
To be clear Tamron have not paid me to write this nor am I getting a freebie. I'm just impressed with the lens. Good going Tamron.
There is some bad news if you shoot with a Nikon, sadlywhile there is a Nikon version of this lens its very hard to get. This is a shame because while I shoot with Canon I've spent time with Nikon bodies and they're great kit, some things such as the lightness of their mirror and shutter mechanism even in the big full frame bodies means less movement during shooting and this lightness is wonderful compared to the clunk of the Canon throwing around a mechanism the weight of a Mini Cooper inside its body.
If you were shooting with the Sony A7 you could use the EF adaptor and mount this lens but the balance might be a bit off as the heavy DSLR would be giving some of that neutral balance around the mount point.