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Gear Reviews

New Tamron 150-600mm: A Budget Wildlife Photographer’s Dream Lens

By Anthony Thurston on February 1st 2014

We have talked about the new Tamron 150-600mm f/5-6.3 lens a few times now since its release. The new lens, pricing in at just over $1,000, looks to appeal to hobbyist and semi-professional wildlife photographers who need the extreme reach of 600mm at a reasonable price. But how well does the lens stack up against the competition?

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We already linked to one other report by the guys over at LensRentals which seem to conclude that the new Tamron 150-600mm is a great alternative to similar Sigma (150-500mm) and Canon (100-400mm) offerings. But, how does the Tamron compare to the expensive primes lenses?

A review, in Japanese, takes a look at how well it compares to Canon’s range of primes from the 300mm F/2.8L IS II w/ x2 Extender , 500mm F/4L IS II w/ 1.4x Extender, and the 800mm  F/5.6L IS. That is some serious glass that the Tamron is up against, but surprisingly it holds up pretty well for being a variable aperture lens and at a fraction of the price. You can checkout the full google translated review here, but you can continue reading here for some of the highlights that I took from the review.

Tamron 150-600mm Auto Focus

Auto Focus, this is a key question when looking at such a cheap lens and a 3rd party lens as well. But, out of the 4 lenses tested, the fastest AF (averaged out) was the 800mm F/5.6 at .78 seconds to achieve focus, followed by a tie between the 500mm F/5.6 (with the extender) and the Tamron 150-600 at .88 seconds to achieve focus. The 300mm F/2.8 with the x2 extender was the slowest at 1.22 seconds to achieve focus. That was tested on the full frame Canon 6D, a camera not known for the best AF in the world, so that is pretty impressive. All of the lenses, but particularly the Tamron, were much slower at AF when tested on a crop sensor Canon 7D. The Tamron averages 1.25 seconds to achieve focus on the 7D.

Tamron 150-600mm Image Stabilization

This is one area where the Tamron lags behind the expensive prime lenses. While the expensive Canon prime lenses were pretty consistent in their stabilization, it is apparent that the Tamron – in this review at least – ranged from great to pretty bad.

tebure150-600

Just for reference here is the is test sheet from the Canon 500mm F/4, as you can see it is much better than the Tamron.

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Tamron 150-600mm Overall Image Quality

Still, given the Tamron’s price I would not expect it to keep up with the expensive glass in every regard. So, now that we have looked at some of the technical things, how does it compare in straight up image quality? In a few words, very well.

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Take a look at some of the image sample below, shot on a Canon 6D with the Tamron 120-600mm.

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It is my opinion that while the expensive primes do edge out the Tamron, they do just that – EDGE OUT the Tamron. For me this new Tamron is simply a no brainier for any wildlife photographer who does not simply need the extra 5-10% performance that the primes afford you.

It is also pretty clear that the Tamron equals 500mm F/4 and beats the 300mm F/2.8 with the extenders, so everyone saying that you should just do that can quietly leave the room. Seriously, why would you spend so much extra money on those lenses when you can get 90-95% of the performance for a small fraction of the price (unless you are a pro using that needs the extra performance for a job)? I can’t say that I see a reason to do so.

I am more and more impressed with this new Tamron the more I read about it. The Canon mount was supposed to start shipping out on January 17th, but on the B&H website it is still listed as pre-order only. But, I can tell you this, when I get my tax returns back this new Tamron lens is pretty high on my list of possible purchases.

[review content & images via Trinity Lumberton]

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Anthony Thurston is a photographer based in the Salem, Oregon area specializing in Boudoir. He recently started a new project, Fiercely Boudoir to help support the growing boudoir community. Find him over on Instagram. You may also connect with him via Email.

Q&A Discussions

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  1. Jeff Morrison

    It took me 4 months to get my lens but boy was it worth the wait….

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  2. ke

    I find it interesting that some people have problems shooting birds, as I have been shooting racing motorcycles moving at 160mph with no problems. Turn off vc when panning and you get great results. I am using a Canon 70d and the only thing that I can fault, is that when shooting in Al servo, you will only get a couple of pin sharp shots in a burst. However, I usually only want one per set any way, so nothing to lose sleep over.

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  3. Danny

    How does the tamorn 150-600 compare in size to the sigma 150-500? a little bigger, lot bigger, ???

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  4. James Tandem

    Unfortunately, this lens is not weather sealed, and after using the lens for two weeks outside, the amount of internal dust was atrocious. Regardless of being meticulous and using a blower at all times, the lens quickly absorbed dust onto the frontal glass element internally, including moisture, via the cork-screw barrel that retracts into the upper chamber. Additionally, image stabilization for action shots (specifically bird shots) is not reliable. Even though the proper autofocus point speed and tracking can be adjusted in the Canon 5D Mark III to compensate for the lag, shutter speed has to be at least 1/2500th of a second in order to prevent motion blur for hand held shots (coupled with f/6.3 on a cloudy day and ISO 1000-2000, this creates photos worthy of entry level DSLR bodies and stock lenses – which means not good!). Unlike the Canon 100-400mm f/4-5.6 L lens, which has 2 modes of image stabilization and creates very fast and stable shots, the Tamron 150-600mm lens only has an on/off switch with no stabilization mode selection. Gimbal shots are naturally improved, but AF adjustment at 15m to infinity is still sluggish when trying to focus on objects 200ft and further. Tamron teleconverters are not compatible with this lens as Tamron engineers have officially discontinued all TC’s and did not design this lens with the 1.4x or 2x in mind. Calling Tamron technical support confirmed that both converters should not be used with the lens, as unpredictable results can occur and are not guaranteed to work properly. Static shots are amazing with excellent optical clarity; nevertheless, I need a fast and reliable lens for shooting Ospreys, Eagles, King Fishers, Herons, etc. Sorry everyone, but this lens is not quite the “big white killer” that many individuals thought that it would turn out to be. I too thought that this was the lens that would allow me to save several thousand dollars; however, I have now returned the Tamron 150-600mm lens for a full refund and consequently have to save up in order to purchase the real Canon 600mm f/4.0 L II (weather sealed, improved pre-set focus ranges, stabilization modes, etc.). I am not even going to touch the “Sigmonster” 800mm f/5.6, given that it too is not weather sealed and that other professional birders have complained that the focus ring breaks over time, has a fragile body shell, and is extremely sluggish to maneuver; being confined to a gimbal for the majority of the time.

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  5. G Pierson

    been seeing allot of people saying “its only f5-6.3, gonna need allot of light” . I’v several times rented a 500mm f4 L, and shoot mostly f8 and f11 with it.

    Tamrons VC is outstanding, with the 150-600 being much lighter then Canons 500mm and 600mm L, handheld looks doable for the tamron.

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  6. Scott

    I have used Tamron products with great success for decades. Since high school in fact.
    I have also sold their products while working for a local camera shop, with very little complaints.
    I also have been teaching photography for almost 2 decades. I recommend Tamron products to my students who want good quality products and save some money.
    There is nothing like the Six Year Warranty, made themselves, and still using Metal Lens Mounts that is all great selling points.
    The professional 1.5X tele converter has helped many of my customers and students-especially those using Canon EOS.
    I have been using both amatuer and professionally Minolta MD equipment, but also Pentax K and Nikon AI & AF over the years.
    I own the Tamron 100-500mm f-5.6 Adaptall lens. It has been a great friend and work horse through out the decades. It is the primary long lens that I have used, my exhibits and photograph sales attest to the quality of the lens.
    I own the Minolta MD, Pentax/(Advanced Ricoh Etc.), and the Nikon AI mounts for this lens along with the 1.4X and 2X Adaptall teleconverters.
    I was very impressed by the current 100-500mm AF f 5.6-6.3 when I first saw it at the Jacob Javitts show. It focused very quick, was very sharp etc.I recommended it to many people including purchasing one for my sister inlaw.
    I have borrowed it several times; using it both on my Nikon 8008S, 8008, and on her N-90. The speed of the lens is a little slower than mine, but it is probably half the weight. I have acheived some great results also.
    I did have some trouble focusing it (AF) especially at an airshow last year and doing wildlife. I generally had to switch to manual focus, point at something near by-focus-than switch back to auto-focus. It really was annoying on stationary wildlife (EX) a Northern Cardinal nest while I was in a blind and on a tri-pod, also slowly walking White-tailed Deer.
    The Auto-focus like I said hunted or would go slightly out of focus than would not return to focusing. That should not bother me since I am use to manually focus most of the time anyway. Even with my Nikon 8008S and Tamron 28-200mm Super II Macro I still focus manually most of the time!
    The one thing I do not like is the position of the focusing ring. I am use to the focusing ring being either up by or part of the Focal Length ring, so the control is done with the left hand. Usually the left hand supports the long lens, rotates & controls the focal length ring and also rotates and controls the focus ring.
    I have a hard time with the position of the manual control focus ring on this AF 100-500mm lens. It is positioned where the f-stop ring should be–right next to the camera body. With my left hand supporting the lens and controlling the composition/focal length I now have to try and focus with my right hand. My right hand should only be used to fire the shutter and adjust shutter speeds etc.
    Now I have to try to use my middle or ring finger to focus and my index finger to correct exposure and fire the shutter.

    I hope on this new 150-600mm AF lens they have corrected these problems.

    Because I am looking at the Nikon D-800 body and I really want this lens to go with it.

    If not I will use my tried and true, tested, (bullet proof) 100-500mm f5.6 Adaptall lens with the 1.4X teleconverter.

    What no Pentax mount?????!!!!!!!!!!

    Out of the big four camera manufacturers Nikon, Pentax, Canon, MInolta. If any one of the four I would not make is Minolta(Sony).
    Sorry Minolta I used you for decades But what you did to your loyal customers when you went from Minolta MD to Minolta AF. Then what you did with the I-series flashes. Etc. Etc. Also a sell out by merging with Konica first then selling out to a electronics company like Sony (especially with the notiariety with priortizing their products)

    Pentax is also the photography teaching tool in schools for half a century.
    Pentax is also the most versatile of all the brands.
    With the Pentax K-mount system, a customer could use Ricoh and Chinon products.
    With Pentax a customer can go from the old Spotmatic system, K-mount, K-AF mount, Medium Format, and now Digital all with a few adapters.

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  7. dav68

    i always laugh when i read comments from people who clearly know nothing about using a telephone lens or shooting wildlife. Most wildlife shooting you will stop down to creat some depth of field to have your subject entirely sharp. so at 6.3 its plenty fast. second vr matters because many wildlife shooters will rarely use a tripod. I have some big primes and still think this lens will be a no brainer even if it is to just have as Small light alternative

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  8. Richard Sloan

    Why would image stabilization matter? A lens this long would pretty much have to be used on a tripod, where image stabilization would be turned off in any case.

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    • Warren Marshall

      I use a Sony 70-400 G lens, usually on a monopod. But I have used hand-held shots with it on my Alpha 77 at effectively 600mm, in good light. The results have been excellent, due in no small measure to the camera’s good anti-shake. In any case, a tripod, as attractive as it sounds, is generally impossible to use in opportunistic shots which make up much of wildlife photography.

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  9. NoobBlaster

    Useless lense unless your shooting a D4 & only in optimal lighting conditions.

    Its only f/5.6 @ 150mm closing to f/6.3 as soon as you zoom.

    You are gonna be pushing your ISO & fighting the light.
    In my wildlife photography the best images have come at dawn/dusk or challenging forest lighting, the exact conditions this lense will fail in.

    If you shoot summer sports in full sun than you may enjoy this lense lol.

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    • GNM

      Hi – just pre-ordered the Nikon version for my D3s. I have a Canon 6d which as far as I am concerned, 11 focus points, does not meet the mark for focus, despite seeing tests with this 5D body and the Tamron lens. The 6d is slow…..on focus but good in low light focusing. You don’t mention what body you are shooting with and I would expect this lens is possibly for people (like me) to cover sports and other local games – funding their own photography. Some of the reviews compare to pro primes which really isn’t fair (I do have some – Canon and Nikon) and I have missed good shots where I stuck a f4.5 500mm on the camera, but was too near to compose a decent shots. I’m looking for a lens that is light, one that I can get in and use without the main optics being too big and obstructive and that in Photoshop, I can bring up to a standard that is acceptable. The price looks right, the reviews look good, the warranty is there and if when I receive it, it does not meet the mark, then I will sell it. ISO – I judge the camera body on ISO before I buy.
      N

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  10. Bill Emmett

    I now own a Tamron 200-500mm lens, but it does not have VC, and less reach than the new 150-600mm SP with VC. The 200-500 give really sharp images of static subjects it is hard to give it up, but with VC, and the extra 100mm it will be a dream come true. As far as comparing this Tamron SP 150-600mm lens to Canon primes does not do the Tammy justice. I wouldn’t expect the Tamron to keep up with a prime “L” quality lens. Although, the Tamron does in many of the tests. So, my new Tamron SP 150-600mm shipped last Friday, so I’m watching for that brown truck.

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  11. Mike

    Wow. Looks like my safari trip can’t come soon enough!

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  12. Rui

    Hi. Thanks for taking the time to write about this lens.
    What is your opinion on this lens vs the SIGMA 150-500 or 50-500 or even the 120-400.
    I’m thinking of an alternative to my SIGMA 70-200 with 2.0 TC that I use to shoot surf.
    Other alternatives would be the NIKON 80-400 D or Tamron 200-500.

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    • Anthony Thurston

      Hi, I actually just tested out the Sigma 150-500mm this last week and I can say that it is a fairly solid lens as well. It can be a little slow to focus and a little soft at 500, but overall it is a great option. Especially at $899 or whatever crazy deal B&H has on it right now.

      I have not been able to use this new Tamron myself yet, waiting on a review copy, so I can’t really speak to how they compare directly other than to direct you to the other post we linked in in which it is compared to the Sigma and Canon over at the lensrentals blog.

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    • Chuck Eggen

      I have the new Nikon 80-400mmG. So far I love it. It’s not going to produce the bokeh of a 2.8 prime but for the money it’s a great lens. AF is super fast. As fast as my Nikon 70-200mm G.

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  13. Zach Blackwood

    I’m debating between this lens and the Sigma 85 1.4 I’m in need of a great portrait lens, and in need of a longer telephoto. So I can’t decide right now which route to go with part of my tax return either. I probably won’t know until I have both in my cart and check out with only one since they will server very different needs.

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    • Anthony Thurston

      I am having a similar dilemma. Though I am stuck between a new 70-200 2.8 or the new Tamron.

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    • SM

      I would love to see a portrait shot at 600mm hahahahahahaha

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  14. JORY

    For the Price this is a no brainer. Just like the fabulous 24-70vc and 7-200vc, Tamron has done it again.

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