Conclusion - Pros

  • Tremendous all-in-one versatility
  • Class leading 18.8x zoom ratio
  • 24mm equivalent wide-angle
  • Sharp at shorter focal lengths
  • Swift and quiet PZD autofocus
  • Effective VC image stabilization
  • Handy close focusing capability
  • Improved, weather-resistant build 
  • Compact and light, considering the focal length range

Conclusion - Cons

  • Reduced sharpness at longer focal lengths, especially at the edges
  • Slow maximum apertures
  • Autofocus less reliable towards long end of the zoom
  • Plentiful chromatic aberration, prodigious at 200-300mm
  • Strong distortion throughout, both barrel and pincushion
  • 'Focus breathing' reduces focal length at close range

Overall conclusion

Jack of all trades - and pretty good at quite a lot of them. A superzoom is not the obvious choice for studio still-life, but when stopped down there's good detail across the frame, with punchy contrast. No aberrations corrections have been applied. Canon 7D, 100mm, 1/4 sec, f/11, ISO100.

Superzooms have always been a compromise, basically trading their extraordinary focal range and corresponding versatility against reduced image quality and higher maximum F/numbers. With the Tamron 16-300mm F/3.5-6.3 Di II VC PZD Macro, that summary still holds, so it's not a game-changer. But Tamron has done a good job, by both improving the specification and addressing weak spots, so the proposition is certainly more appealing now.

Compared to the previous Tamron 18-270mm F/3.5-6.3 Di II VC PZD, the focal length range goes up, now spanning 16-300mm (24-450mm equivalent) with the extra width at the wide-angle end probably being the most useful. The 18.8x zoom ratio leads the class. As usual, the term 'macro' doesn't compare to a true macro lens, though the ability to frame a subject only 6cm (2.4 in) across is very handy. Basically, there's nothing much this lens can't have a pretty good go at, when traveling light on a typical day trip, and often beyond.

Mechanical improvements are most welcome. The manual focusing ring is much better positioned closest to the camera, now with full-time manual override. Autofocusing is improved, well up to most tasks, but performance drops considerably at the long end where the F6.3 maximum aperture impedes most DSLR AF systems. Tamron's VC image stabilization is very effective, going some way to off-setting the modest maximum apertures available. While this new version is 90g heavier (20%) and half an inch longer than its predecessor, it's still compact and manageable, and the whole package is better put together, including 'moisture-resistant' build and sleeker styling. 

At the wide-angle end, sharpness is very high, right to the corners from f/5.6. At 16mm (24mm equivalent) it's wider than any other superzoom. There's obvious barrel distortion and CA visible in this uncorrected image.

Canon 7D, 16 mm, 1/100 sec, f/8, ISO 100.

From the same viewpoint, the extraordinary 18.8x focal length range zooms in to reveal small details. The Tamron is not so sharp at the longer 300mm end (450mm equivalent), though it's mostly the edges that suffer and the centre stays acceptably crisp. CA is prominent in this uncorrected image.

Canon 7D, 300 mm, 1/50 sec, f/8, ISO 100.

But there's a fairly long list of downsides too, with image quality at longer focal lengths being perhaps at the top. Sharpness is very high at the wide end when stopped down a little, right across the frame, and that's great for landscapes. At F8, high edge-to-edge sharpness is available up to 100mm or so, but then there's a notable downturn with the edges in particular taking a hit. From 200-300mm, edge sharpness is never very good, not helped by the plentiful levels of chromatic aberration present, but to be fair it stays crisp in the centre. It looks as if Tamron has prioritized central sharpness, on the basis that this is most likely where the main subject will be at longer settings - and as a very rough generalization, that's probably true.

Presumably Tamron has also assumed that software will be used to correct aberrations, and they are certainly intrusive without it. As mentioned, CA is almost always present, and distortion too, but both can be fixed with a mouse-click. Vignetting is not an issue.

There's no such cure for 'focus breathing' - the reduction in focal length at closer focusing distances. All internal focusing lenses do it to some extent, as it delivers good close-up capability without the attendant increase in physical lens length, but Tamron has been unusually greedy here (details in the review). Focus breathing is not often a problem, but if you need maximum focal length at close range, with subjects like small garden birds perhaps, then it can be.

The Final Word

For maximum focal length range - the superzoom's calling card - the Tamron 16-300mm F/3.5-6.3 Di II VC PZD is in a class of one. There's not much in it though, and all its main rivals (listed in the introduction) have quite similar optical designs and performance, the same upsides and downsides. Prices are broadly similar too, though they vary from country to country. But when pressed to choose, by a short head, then the Tamron is just a little bit better all round: it has the highest spec, in the nicest package, with the most capable and rounded performance.

Richard Hopkins has spent a decades-long career in the photo press, and UK members may recall him as editor and publisher of Practical Photography in the 1980s and 90s, when it was the biggest-selling photo magazine in Europe. Equipment reviews have always been a passion and he introduced the first MTF (Modulation Transfer Function) lens tests to consumer publishing.

Richard's love of photography began at school where he was lucky to have a very knowledgeable teacher, before going on to the London College of Printing. "I enjoy every aspect - the art and the science, the challenge of a new subject, exploring creative techniques, and using quality equipment. What I shoot often depends on the gear I'm testing, so it could be portraits or landscape, studio or street, sport, macro or bokeh hunting. There's never a dull moment."