Lens Review Tamron SP 150-600mm f/5-6.3 Di VC USD

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Tamron SP 150-600mm

Tamron SP 150-600mm f/5-6.3 Di VC USD was tested in April 2014.  The version of the lens tested is for the Canon DSLR mounts and it is compatible with both crop and full frame sensor bodies. The lens is also compatible with Nikon and Sony bodies.

On a Canon crop factor camera body the lens provides a field of view equivalence of 240-960mm. The lens has fast, silent focusing, Vibration Compensation and eBAND (Extended Bandwidth and Angular-Dependency) lens coating in addition to the conventional BBAR (Broad-Band Anti-Reflection) coating. These coatings are designed to reduce flare and ghosting, and to increase contrast. The lens has a moisture-sealed construction, and has 20 lens elements in 13 groups including three low dispersion (LD) elements and an iris diaphragm with nine rounded aperture blades.

What is in the box

The lens, a large lens hood, a removable tripod mount collar and a large fold out guide  or manual.

Specifications of the lens tested

  • Focal Length (full frame): 150-600mm
  • Aperture Maximum: f/5.0-6.3 Minimum: f/32.0-40.0
  • Camera Mount Type: Canon EF Format
  • Compatibility: 35mm Film / Full-Frame Digital Sensor, Canon (APS-C), Canon (APS-H)
  • Angle of view: 16° 25′ – 4° 8′
  • Minimum focus distance 8.86 ft (2.7 m)
  • Maximum reproduction ratio: 1:5
  • Lens elements/groups 20/13
  • Diaphragm blades: 9
  • Filter thread front: 95 mm
  • Dimensions (DxL): 4.16 x 10.15 in (105.6 x 257.8 mm)
  • Weight: 4.30 lb. (1.95 kg)

Handling and Features

This is a fairly large lens compared to the Canon 100-400 f/4-5.6 push-pull L series lens, and weighs 4.3 pounds as compared to the Canon 100-400 at 3.2 pounds. Tamron have used high quality plastics for the lens barrel in order to keep the weight down. Had this lens been made as an all metal construction, it would be much heavier and would not be as well balanced.

Tamron SP 150-600mm extend to 600 mm

The lens extend to 600 mm

The lens was tested using a Canon 5D Mk III and a Canon 7D. I found the lens reasonably well balanced while hand holding. It does get to be a bit of a strain during extended shooting so a tripod with a smaller gimbal style tripod head is advisable.

Switches on the Lens Barrel

Switches on the Lens Barrel

The lens is equipped with tripod mount, footed lens collar. An Arca Swiss style long lens plate was mounted for all tripod based testing.

The lens has three switches; each is a two position switch which is flush mounted on the lens barrel. The switches have a positive click and an audible feedback when operated. The switches are for: Autofocus/Manual focus, Vibration Compensation on or off, and focus limit. A lens lock at 150mm is also provided.

Lens Zoom Creep

The lens barrel tends to zoom creep over an extended period of time when positioned at an acute angle downward .  There is also some zoom creep when pointed directly upward.  The greater the angle the greater the creep. Extending an index finger to grip the lens barrel just beyond the zoom ring prevents any creep when the lens is handheld. Tamron has provided a lens barrel lock that will keep the lens locked in the 150 mm focal length position.  This is good during transport but Tamron should have considered making the lens lockable at all the major focal length positions.

Focusing

The autofocus is fast and fairly accurate. The lens uses a USD (Ultrasonic Silent Drive) focusing motor. The lens barrel has a two-stage focus limiter switch with a full and a 15 meter (49.2 feet) to infinity limited range. This is a very nice feature that prevents the lens from hunting through the whole focus range particularly when the subject is beyond 15 meters.

Manual focusing is reasonable as the focus ring is damped and very smooth. The position of the manual focusing ring could be improved as the lens collar comes in the way. For hand held operation it is preferable to rotate the collar 180 degrees or remove it entirely. Manual focus adjustments can be made in Auto or Manual focus modes as Full Time Manual is fully supported. The minimum focus distance is 8.9 feet/2.7 meters provides a magnification of 1:5. A focus window provides distances in meters and feet from the minimum focusing distance to infinity.

The front filter tread is 95mm and the front element does not rotate while focusing. This is a welcome feature, particularly for polarizing and split/graduated ND filter use.

TESTS

Micro Focus Calibration Tool

Micro Focus Calibration Tool

I set up the lens to test auto focus accuracy. Using a LensAlign Mk II micro focus adjustments were made at 150mm and 600mm. At 150mm no adjustment was needed while at 600mm a -5 was needed to correct for some back focusing.

The Ultrasonic Silent Drive (USM) motor in the lens is very quiet when focusing and the speed is comparable to the Canon 100-400mm f/4.05.6 IS L lens. At 600mm the lens first retracts to the closest focus distance before extending to the focus on the distant subject. Overall it does not affect the focus speed, as this phenomenon is controlled by the camera body. This issue was prevalent using both camera bodies.

Manual Focus

As mentioned earlier the manual focus ring is in an awkward position for my liking. The total rotation is 120 degrees and very manageable at shorter focal lengths but is not as well tuned at focal lengths greater than 450mm, and focus appears to have a slight lateral shift.

Once focus is established on a subject, varying the focal length does not maintain focus. Refocusing is required for any change in focal length.

Autofocus

The lens was tested using the most accurate center focus point on the Canon 5D MarkIII as well as the focus assist group.

With both bodies the “One Shot” (AF-S on Nikon) and “AI Servo” (AF-A on Nikon) focus methods performed well from focal lengths of 150mm to 400mm. At 500mm through 600mm the lens did not track well in AI Servo mode due to the high magnification, but was fine in One Shot (AF-S) mode. The lens was erratic, and if it dropped focus lock on the subject it rarely recovered to lock on again. Re-focusing was the only way to track a moving subject again. The loss of tracking is more apparent for subjects that are approaching the lens and less problematic for subjects moving left to right, or vice versa.

Vibration Compensation

Overall performance of image stabilization was very good. At focal lengths of 150 through 500 the lens maintains stability 2 to 3 stops below the hand held shutter speed guideline of 1/focal length as the minimum shutter speed. Hand holding at ISO 200 while looking through the viewfinder, one notices an image shift when the VC (IS) motors kick in.

Here are some images of the full moon (cropped and sized to the same frame size) Settings used were: ISO 250, f/6.3, at 1/400th of a second, at focal lengths of 600mm, 500mm, 400mm and 300mm. The VC (IS) functions very well and is a pleasure to use.

Focal length 300 mm

Focal length 300mm

Focal length 400 mm

Focal length 400mm

Focal length 500 mm - some chromatic aberration is visible

Focal length 500mm – some chromatic aberration is visible

Focal length 600 mm - some chromatic aberration is visible

Focal length 600mm – some chromatic aberration is visible and there is a slight drop in sharpness

Test Results

All controlled environment testing was done in the studio with constant lights and and a test chart as shown below.

lens sharpness chart

The Sweet Spots

f/8.0 from 150-250mm:  at 300mm there is a loss of sharpness both in the center, as well as on the edges. At 400-600mm the center is sharp with some fall off toward the edges.

During tests, f/11 was found as a good aperture from 300-600mm. At 600 mm the edge fall off is pronounced, but that is also a factor of chromatic aberration. At the widest aperture in the 150-300mm range the lens has better overall sharpness from 200-300mm than at 150-200mm.

Aperture settings of f/8 through f/11 provide the best performance across the frame on a full frame sensor. f/5.6 through f/6.3 are good in the center. On a crop factor camera like the 7D the edge sharpness is acceptable in the f/6.3 to f/8.0 range at focal lengths of 300mm and higher while f/5.6 to f/6.3 is acceptable at focal lengths 300mm and below.

Pincushion Distortion

There is a slight amount of pincushion distortion through the entire focal length range of this lens. This distortion however, is minimal and very easily corrected using lens correction in Adobe Camera Raw or in Lightroom.

Edge Exposure Fall Off

Only visual testing was conducted for this test. The lens handles light fall off very well. It is most noticeable at f/22 but does not pose a problem at f/20. On the 7D body the frames captured at f/22 were acceptable with no cropping applied. f/20 is a very safe aperture for maximum “Depth of Field” and minimum edge fall off.

Chromatic Aberration

There is fringing at apertures of f/16 through f/22 at focal lengths of 400-600mm. Progressively getting pronounced as the focal length increases, it should be noted that though there is chromatic aberration it is not bad compared to other lenses in this class and could be considered low.

Chromatic aberration at 300 mm

Chromatic aberration at 300mm

Chromatic aberration at 400 mm

Chromatic aberration at 400mm

Chromatic aberration at 500 mm

Chromatic aberration at 500mm

Chromatic aberration at 400 mm

Chromatic aberration at 600mm

Pros and Cons

Pros

  • Great value for the price point
  • Very good build quality
  • Well damped focusing
  • Center sharpness throughout the range
  • Very quiet operation
  • Very good Vibration Compensation (Image Stabilization)
  • Low distortion and chromatic aberration

Cons

  • Position and rotational direction of focusing ring
  • Image shifting when VC (IS) engages
  • Edge sharpness fall-off at 600mm on a full frame body
  • Focus speed decreased at longer focal lengths

Conclusion

You might conclude from this list of cons, and some of the criticism, that the Tamron 150-600mm is not exceptional, but that would be very wrong. There are very few perfect lenses and the issues should be taken under consideration based on their significance for type of photographer who will use this lens, and the type of photography they do with it. This lens is a great performer, and the price point just can’t be beat. Used properly, and keeping its small limitations in mind, this lens will deliver excellent images and is a highly recommendable lens. It is an ideal hand holdable lens for nature and sports photographers.

Sample Images

Canon 7D, Tripod, ISO 250, f/9, 1/640 sec. As shot.

Canon 7D on tripod, at 600mm, ISO 250, f/9, 1/640th. As shot.

Image as above cropped to fill frame.

Image above, cropped to fill the frame.

Same image cropped to show head detail - crop size 280 x 187 pixels then zoomed to 600 pixels (Greater than 2X magnification)

Same image cropped to show head detail – crop size 280 x 187 pixels then zoomed to 600 pixels (Greater than 200% magnification)

_MG_8911-5

Canon 7D, at 500mm, hand held, ISO 2000, f/6.3, 1/125th

_MG_8801-2

Canon 7D, at 450mm, hand held, ISO 250, f/6.3, 1/1000th

_MG_8808-3

Canon 7D, at 600mm, on tripod, ISO 250, f/6.3, 1/200th

Image as above cropped to fill frame.

Image above, cropped to fill the frame.

Canon 7D, at 600 mm, hand held, ISO 250, f/6.3, 1/800 sec.

Canon 7D, at 600mm, hand held, ISO 250, f/6.3, 1/800th

A recent press release from Tamron announced  – TAMRON WINS TIPA AWARD 2014 FOR SP 150-600MM F/5-6.3 DI VC USD (MODEL A011) “BEST EXPERT DSLR LENS” These awards are presented each year by the Technical Image Press Association (TIPA) to top photo and imaging products.

Summary
Review Date
Reviewed Item
Tamron SP 150-600mm f/5-6.3 Di VC USD Lens
Author Rating
4.5

Read more from our Cameras & Equipment category

Shiv Verma is a published photographer, educator and technologist and lives in Wrentham Massachusetts. He is an avid wildlife and commercial photographer and conducts photo workshops and tours worldwide. You can check out more of his work. His book "Time-Lapse Imagery" is available in the iBook store Time-lapse Imagery You can check out more of his work on his website.

  • madhushanka

    anyone tried it with Canon 60D

  • jim

    Hi, how would this lens compare to a Sony 70-400mm G?

  • Hi Jim,
    This is tough question as I have not used the 70-400mm Sony Lens but looking at the specs it is faster by 1 stop but that vanishes when you consider DOF on the crop factor body. Sony does make superior products and the “G” designation gives it what Sony calls the Gold Standard. I would suggest you look at some of the reviews on-line. I do use the Sony A7R with a few of the Sony lenses and any of the “G” series and the Sony Zeiss lenses are top drawer.

  • jim

    Hi Shiv,

    Thanks for the reply! I’m struggling to find a lens for my A77 that will be good for wildlife on a budget in the UK! I have been using a Minolta “Beercan” 75-300mm and it’s been good to get me started ( here are some shots with it: https://www.flickr.com/photos/128482349@N03/ ) but now I would like to get something a little better and with a longer reach. Seems I only have 3 options, the Tamron 150-600mm at 900GBP that you reviewed (very well I have to say), the sigma 150-500mm at 700GBP OR for 600 GBP more the Sony 70-400mm at 1550 GBP. Is this lens really the extra money?

    Any advice would be great! Also, you mentioned about DOF on the crop factor body, what exactly do you mean by this (I’m pretty new to photography). Many Thanks!

  • jim

    Many thanks Shiv, really apprechite it. ๐Ÿ™‚ Need to keep saving!

  • Ann Evans

    I am looking at buying the Tamron 150-600 lens to use with my Canon 50D for wildlife photography (amateur enthusiast). Has anyone used this lens with the 50D? Thanks!

  • Hi Ann, This lens will work with all EOS APS-C sensor cameras – the 50D being one. I have not tested it on the 50D but because the camera is relatively old it may not be the best for focus tracking when shooting moving subjects. This is a camera function not a lens issue. Clearly this lens will outlive the camera.

  • Start a piggy bank – you will get there.

  • Michael O

    I’ll be dead by then.

  • Anjan

    Hi Shiv,
    Nice review. I got this lens on Oct 2014 & used it on Nikon D7100. But to my dismay, there was a focus problem anywhere above 300mm right from day 1 ! No amt of in camera focus correction worked ! The issue was whenever I’m focusing above 300mm (irrespective of hand holding or tripod mounted with vc turned off) the camera will lock the focus (even in single shot mode) but the final pic will be slightly out of focus… I tried it on Nikon D90 as well & the same thing happened. Suspecting the lens to be faulty, i took it to the tamron service center. They tried to fix it but can’t. Then they decided to change the lens & surprisingly the new lens with upgraded software gave the same issue on D7100 & D90 as well !!! I failed to understand this. But I saw people using it nicely with Nikon D7000 ! ? Finally just recently I changed my camera & got a Canon 7D MK II. Now my question to you is – should I change this Tamron 150-600mm to canon mount or look for other options like the new sigma 150-600mm Contemporary (not the sports model) to use with my new canon as Sigma has better vibration control option for panning to catch action. Or should it be better to go for the new canon 100-600mm II compromising the additional focal length ? Pls help me with ur expert opinion as I’m badly stuck & heartbroken. Thanks… Anjan.

  • Anjan

    Just a correction Shiv,,, It’s canon 100-400mm II & not canon 100-600mm II ,,, Typo error… ๐Ÿ™‚

  • Denise Flay

    I have this lens and used on my Sony A77 SLT. I love the quality of the full 600 zoom when taking bird photos. The only down side for me personally is the weight if not using a tripod.

  • marinsd

    I bought this lens a few weeks ago and am using it on a Sony a7m2 with the LA-EA4 adapter. Very impressed so far, using it for both wildlfe (https://www.flickr.com/photos/marinsd/sets/72157651888478501/) and sports (http://s1092.photobucket.com/user/hofendis/media/KickIt365/KickIt365-110_zps81pfbhds.jpg.html)

  • fazekma

    Very good review Shiv! We have been using the Tamron for the past 8 months and agree with your findings on aperture sweet-spots and the pros and cons. For wildlife photography this lens is hard to beat in terms of price to performance. We photograph on African safaris and have also found the lens able to withstand the hot and dusty conditions. A few readers have asked about comparisons with Sigma lenses – we did a comparison here http://www.kruger-2-kalahari.com/tamron-vs-sigma-150-600.html that readers may get some value from. It will also be interesting to compare the Tamron to the new Sigma Contemporary lens that has been launched.

  • The Tamron is better then the old Sigma 150-500 and the 50-500mm lenses. Just look how many of these older lenses are now appearing in shops and online for sale as photographers are going for the Tamron (or Sigma Sport) 150-600 lenses.

  • Satyajit

    Hi Shiv – in that case, which ultra zoom telephoto would you recommend for an older Canon 7D? Would like to use it primarily for wildlife photography and still debating between this lens and the older Sigma 150-500 lens and the newer Sigma 150-600 Contemporary lens.

  • Dorothy Crawford

    would this lens fit a 700d

  • Deb Picha Tracy

    Will this work with the 6D ?

  • Yes it will. The lens is fully compatible with all Canon full frame and crop factor bodies.

  • Yes it will.

  • Deb Picha Tracy

    Thank you My mistake it is a 60D but I assume it still is ok

  • Ettienne Rossouw

    Hi Ann, that is my exact combination, works pretty well on the older camera. I only use it for Wildlife and landscapes. This was taken just after sunrise, was impressed with the sharpness in low light. 400 iso and 213mm

  • Sorry I missed your comment earlier Thanks for the feedback and your comparison.

  • scott61

    I just won this lens on Ebay today. Have used a friends lens just a little bit before buying this one. I have not received it yet, but I have a Canon EX ii extender coming. You mentioned in another response to a question about extenders that this lens is incompatible with all extenders. When you say incompatible do you mean it just won’t fit, or that the AF won’t work, or what exactly did you mean? Thanks for the great review as it helped me to decide to go ahead and give the lens a try.

    If I don’t like it I’ll send you a bill for my purchase price! ๐Ÿ™‚ LOL!

    Thanks,
    Scott

  • Hi Scott,
    The image degradation and focusing speed are the real problems so I suggest you use the lens without any teleconverters. Canon 1.4X or 2X – will make you unhappy when used with this lens. Full AF with lenses that are f/2.8 not slower lenses is what is recommended.

  • scott61

    Thanks for the quick reply. I was bidding on a Canon 100-400 and the seller also had the extender listed. I placed one bid early on the extender, but after a few days I didn’t win the lens, but got the extender. So, I guess I’ll sell the extender on Ebay as I have no other lenses that will work with it.

  • Roger Waters

    Hello sir.. I have a Canon 1100d dslr.. Will tamron 150-600 Work properly on my camera.. Since it’s only 12.2 mp… Will I be able to take good birding pics.. Please reply

  • This lens will work on all Canon DSLRs. As far as bird photography, this lens is superb. Your camera will be fine but a lot will depend on your technique if you want birds in flight.

  • RayL

    I’ve had this lens for a week and these are just a few test pics using a Canon 70D. So far i have to say I am thoroughly enjoying the Tam 150-600 and hope to use it often, I’ve worked as a pro photog but am currently just taking pics for my enjoyment.

  • Ankur Sharma

    I love Sigma 150-600 sports…. see some sample i clicked with Nikon D750 http://www.ultrawidelife.com/samples-from-sigma-150-600mm-f5-6-3-dg-os-hsm-sports-lens-with-nikon-d750/

  • Lukรกลก Fendek
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