The Tamron SP 150-600mm F/5-6.3 Di VC USD is one of a select group of supertelephoto zooms for full frame SLRs that reaches or exceeds 400mm focal length, while still being reasonably portable. This type of lens is the tool of choice for small or distant subjects when large heavy primes are impractical, ranging from birds and wildlife, through sports, to aircraft and the like. The Tamron's trump card over its closest competition (the Sigma 150-500mm F5-6.3 DG OS HSM and the various 400mm telezooms from the camera makers) lies in its longer focal length - at 600mm full zoom, it'll let you get your subjects that bit larger in the frame.
Tamron announced the lens at the end of 2013, which means it's the most modern in its class, and therefore, in principle, has the most up-to-date optics. It includes several features that are more-or-less essential to this type of lens - optical image stabilization (which Tamron calls Vibration Compensation, or VC for short) and an UltraSonic Drive motor for fast, silent autofocus (hence USD). It also comes with a collar for attachment to a tripod or monopod; at almost 2kg (4.3lb) in weight, you're probably not going to want to shoot it hand-held for long.
One point worth noting is that the lens has a decidedly slow maximum aperture, starting at F5 and dropping to F6.3 at full telephoto. This is the price you pay for getting such a long zoom range at all; Sigma's 150-500mm offers the same aperture range, and the camera manufacturers' closest equivalents tend to max out at 400mm F5.6. However with the high-ISO capability of modern sensors, this is no longer so limiting as it might have been just a few years ago.
The Tamron isn't just for full frame cameras: it can also be used on APS-C SLRs, on which if offers a huge 225-900mm equivalent range. If you're thinking of going on safari, or even just to your nearest airshow, this makes it a hugely tempting prospect. Of course this long zoom comes at a price - at around £950 / $1070, it's notably more expensive than the older Sigma. However it starts to look like a bargain when you realize how much Canon, Nikon or Sony are asking for their 400mm telezooms.
- 150-600mm focal length (225-900mm equivalent on APS-C)
- F5-6.3 maximum aperture
- 'Vibration Correction' optical image stabilization
- 'UltraSonic Drive' autofocus motor
- Available in Canon EF, Nikon F and Sony Alpha mounts
The Tamron's 600mm focal length is the longest in its class, so if it's absolute reach you're after, it has a clear advantage over other lenses currently on the market. The Sigma comes closest, with the camera manufacturers all offering 400mm instead. Canon's 100-400mm is now looking distinctly long-in-the-tooth, while Nikon and Sony have both recently updated their contenders. Click the links for full details on each lens.
- Tamron SP 150-600mm F/5-6.3 Di VC USD - £950 / $1070 (announced November 2013)
- Sigma 150-500mm F5-6.3 DG OS HSM - £740 / $ 870 (announced January 2008)
- Canon EF 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS USM - £1255 / $1700 (announced November 1998)
- Nikon AF-S Nikkor 80-400mm f/4.5-5.6G ED VR - £1950 / $2700 (announced March 2013)
- Sony 70-400mm F4-5.6 G SSM II - £1600 / $2000 (announced February 2013)
All of these lenses offer ultrasonic focus motors, and the Canon, Nikon and Sigma also have optical stabilization. Sony's excellent 70-400mm doesn't, as the company's Alpha mount SLRs use in-body sensor-shift image stabilization instead.
Lens test data (APS-C)
We think the Tamron is just as likely to be used on higher-end APS-C cameras like the Canon EOS 70D, Nikon D7100 and Sony SLT-A77 II as it is on full frame, so in this report we'll be looking at how it performs in lab testing on both formats. It doesn't do too badly on APS-C, but is somewhat weak at the long end, with relatively low sharpness and quite high levels of lateral chromatic aberration.
|Sharpness||Sharpness is highest at 150mm, and progressively decreases as you zoom in; by 600mm the lens isn't especially sharp at all. In general you'll get the best results on stopping down to F8, light permitting. In context though, the Tamron's performance isn't too different to the other lenses of this type aside from the Sony 70-400mm, which is unusually good at the telephoto end.|
|Chromatic Aberration||Chromatic aberration is distinctly high at 600mm, with strong red-cyan fringing at the edges and corners of the frame. It's not so bad at shorter focal lengths, and is very low indeed at 300mm. Note that while most Nikon SLRs will compensate for this in their JPEG processing, Canon and Sony cameras won't.|
|Vignetting||Vignetting is very low, as usual for a full frame lens used on APS-C.|
|Distortion||Distortion is low, which again is normal for a full frame lens on APS-C. There's a little pincushion distortion at all focal lengths, but it's unlikely ever to be a problem.|
While the Tamron may not be at its best at 600mm, none of the other lenses we're looking at reach that long at all. So to make a fair comparison, we have to look at how they match up across their shared focal length range. For example, in these tests the Sigma 150-500mm F5-6.3 DG OS HSM is no sharper at 500mm than the Tamron is at 600mm. Meanwhile Canon's ageing EF 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS USM simply can't keep pace with the Tamron's far more modern optics; it's simply not as sharp when compared like-for-like on the EOS 7D.
Compared to the recently-announced Nikon AF-S Nikkor 80-400mm f/4.5-5.6G ED VR, the Tamron manages to keep pace optically across the shared zoom range - there are some small differences in measured sharpness here and there, and the Tamron has slightly higher CA at 400mm, but overall the lenses are more similar than different. The only lens that comes out noticeably ahead in any way, in fact, is the Sony 70-400mm F4-5.6 G SSM II, which offers spectacular sharpness wide-open at 400mm.
This lens review uses DxOMark data thanks to a partnership between dpreview.com and DxO Labs (read more about DxOMark and our partnership with DxO Labs). DxOMark is the trusted industry standard for independent image quality measurements and ratings. DxOMark has established this reputation with its rigorous hardware testing, industry-grade laboratory tools, and database of thousands of camera, lens and mobile test results. Full test results for this lens can be found at www.dxomark.com.