Tamron 150-600mm Review: The ultimate hobbyist wildlife lens?

The Amazon Photography fairy has been visiting again! Been fun testing out this inexpensive super telephoto lens for you guys!
The Amazon Photography fairy has been visiting again! Been fun testing out this inexpensive super telephoto lens for you guys!

The Tamron 150-600mm lens in Nikon mount has been incredibly popular since its announcement.  For months it couldn't be kept in stock.

The reason that the lens is so popular is because it's the first high quality supertelephoto lens that has been offered at a good price. Other lenses, like the Bigma (Sigma 150-500), have always been far more of a compromise in image quality.

WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW

The Tamron 150-600mm is awesome.  Seriously, I'm impressed and I've reviewed enough lenses that I don't get impressed very often.

I've always enjoyed wildlife photography and frequently rent the “big boy” supertelephoto lenses to shoot in Yellowstone, but those lenses cost $10,000 and up, so I've never gotten into it seriously because it was out of my reach.  I've tested many of the cheap supertelephoto lenses and just couldn't get over the lack of sharpness.

The Tamron 150-600mm is going to dramatically change the landscape of wildlife photography.  Wildlife photography is now a possibility for millions of photographers because of this one lens.

Despite my excitement over this lens, I also need to burst a few bubbles if you are expecting too much.  The focus is slow, and you won't be able to shoot in early morning or late evening light due to the very slow aperture.

Also, there is competition on the horizon.  Sigma has released their competitor to this lens, which looks quite attractive as well, though it is more expensive and a lot heavier with very similar image quality.

That being said, if you've considered dabbling in wildlife photography but haven't found a supertele at a reasonable price–look no further.

I shot this wide open at 600mm, and it's still respectably sharp.  Never seen that from a $1,000 supertele before this lens.
I shot this wide open at 600mm, and it's still respectably sharp. Never seen that from a $1,000 supertele before this lens.

IMAGE QUALITY

Sharpness:  I had heard this lens was quite sharp before purchasing it, but “sharp” is a moving standard.  My question was if it is sharp enough to see all the individual hairs on feathers when I shoot birds.  To me, that’s the standard of “sharp” for a wildlife lens.

I was  pleasantly surprised by the sharpness of the Tamron 150-500mm.  It exceeded my expectations.

Sharpness is difficult to quantify because it depends largely to what it is compared.  I certainly wouldn’t say this lens is “sharp” when compared to a 70-200mm Canon or Nikon at 200mm.  I certainly wouldn’t say this lens is “sharp” when compared to an 85mm f/1.4 from just about any company.

But if you realize what you’re shooting—a superzoom supertele that is incredibly lightweight and inexpensive—it’s tough not to be pleasantly surprised with how sharp this lens is.

Vignetting:  I always snicker a bit with vignetting (darkening of an image around the edges and especially the corners).  Photographers hate to see a lens that vignettes, and then we use Lightroom to add a vignette to 99% of our photos.

This lens does vignette, and quite a bit.  But like I said, that’s more of a feature than an issue as far as I’m concerned.

Color:  Nothing jumped out at me as far as color is concerned.  Seemed to be on par with most other lenses.

Contrast:  I was pleasantly surprised by the amount of contrast I got from this lens.

I have used the Nikon 600mm f/4 lens (over $10,000) many times and have always found it to be lacking contrast, but I found this Tamron handled it better.  Now to be clear, this lens is no where near the quality of the 600, but for contrast I think it did well.

With all supertelephoto lenses I’ve used, I find myself increasing contrast and clarity far more in Lightroom than with other lenses.  I did increase contrast and clarity with this lens as well, but not as much as I usually need to.

Chromatic aberration:  Probably the worst subject on earth for showing chromatic aberration (a strange green or orange stroke showing around areas of very high contrast in an image) is a white Ibis or Egret against a dark out of focus background.

I spent a couple days shooting these birds and didn’t notice any chromatic aberration.  That’s commendable and a really nice feature for bird photographers.

I haven’t done any lab tests at all with this lens yet, so I wouldn’t say there is no chromatic abberation, but to not see it around an Ibis is a good sign.

Flare:  Seemed on par with what I’ve seen from other supertelephoto lenses.  I spent one morning shooting into the sun and didn’t notice any issues.

I'm surprised that I haven't heard other reviewers complain about the sluggish autofocus on this lens.  It isn't horrible, but it's slow compared to what I'm used to.  Getting the bird in flight shot like this was more challenging than normal for me.
I'm surprised that I haven't heard other reviewers complain about the sluggish autofocus on this lens. It isn't horrible, but it's slow compared to what I'm used to. Getting the bird in flight shot like this was more challenging than normal for me.

BUILD QUALITY & DURABILITY

The build quality was slightly disappointing from the “I’m gonna show this sucker off at the camera club” perspective.  The lens appears to be made of somewhat cheap plastic.

But don’t worry, your friends will still be impressed when you zoom out and small villages across the world fill the frame.

However (and it’s a big, fat, significant “however”), I wouldn’t want it any other way.  If this lens were made of the textured “feels like steel but it’s actually plastic” plastic, then it would cost slightly more and weigh a lot more, and I wouldn’t make that trade off.  The lightweight feel of this lens is fantastic, and in my opinion worth the tradeoff in looks.

This isn’t to say the lens isn’t durable.  Really, durability can only be tested long term looking at a lot of lenses and I don’t have that information yet.  A lens that looks tough on the outside may not be any more durable than a cheap plastic looking lens.  It all depends on what’s on the inside of the lens keeping the glass elements in their proper place.

One negative about the lens is that I found the zoom ring to be too stiff for my taste.  In fact, I missed a few shots because the zoom ring was stiff enough that I couldn't smoothly track a bird, zoom, and keep my focus point on the bird at the same time.  It's not a deal breaker, but it was a little annoying at times.  The lens is still new, so it may loosen up over time.

INPUT FROM OTHER REVIEWERS

  • Chelsea and Tony Northrup noted that the Tamron shows only a tiny reduction in sharpness compared to the Sigma, but that the Tamron is much easier to hand hold.
  • Thomas Stirr noted that the autofocus for him performed very well and he had no issues with it.  I wish I had the same experience…
  • Bob Atkins praises the lens's image stabilization.
  • Bryan Carnathan notes that this lens is a little softer when zoomed in further than 500mm.

WEIGHT

One of the specs that I have ignored for a long time in selecting lenses is the weight.  I used to be of the opinion that photography equipment was just downright heavy and there was no sense complaining about it, but lately lenses have started to come out in much lighter versions, and I can feel a huge difference in how my back feels after a long day of shooting.

Now, weight plays a significant role in what lenses I buy.

The Tamron 150-600mm doesn't disappoint.  Its overall weight is 4.3 pounds (1.95kg), which is the exact weight of an average size brick used for building a home.  If you're more of a dog person, that's about the same weight as a chihuahua.  If carrying around a brick on the end of your camera all day sounds bad, consider the weight of the comparable Sigma 150-600mm lens, which is over 2 pounds (1kg) heavier).

Is it hand-holdable?  Absolutely for most photographers, although by the end of a 3 hour shoot with the Tamron I did find myself leaning the lens against the railing at the bird preserve to save holding the weight.

I was able to get this shot of the bird walking through a tiny slit of warm light reflecting on the water because the lens is light enough that I could hand hold and move around easily.  The photographer near me with the huge 600mm f/4 on a tripod may have gotten a shot 5% sharper than mine, but good lighting wins every time.
I was able to get this shot of the bird walking through a tiny slit of warm light reflecting on the water because the lens is light enough that I could hand hold and move around easily. The photographer near me with the huge 600mm f/4 on a tripod may have gotten a shot 5% sharper than mine, but good lighting wins every time.

VERSATILITY

The versatility of this lens is unmatched for long lens photographers.

While I was shooting on Bunche Beach one morning, I watched another workshop instructor walk past (he walked right through my shot and scared my bird away, but he waved “hi” as he did so as if that made it okay).  He was shooting a heavy 600mm f/4 lens and couldn’t maneuver the camera between shots to place the bird in the good light that was burning off with the morning sun.

On the other hand, I had ditched my tripod because there was enough light and this lens is light enough to shoot handheld.  I could easily move all around to get the bird placed right in the good spot of light reflecting in the water.

His image may have looked sharper, but what photographer would give up great light for 5% more sharpness?

PRICE

Check the current price on Amazon.com, but it's usually around $1,100 (US dollars).

I’ve mentioned several times in this review that I’m thrilled with the price of this lens.  However, I made the mistake of calling this lens “cheap” on our Facebook page and several people called me out on it.  If you aren’t used to paying extreme amounts for lenses, then I’m sure this lens will seem out of reach.  But if you’ve already sold a kidney and a small child to buy a 70-200, or you’ve seen what supertelephoto lenses cost, you’ll be over the moon when you see the price tag on this lens.

Screen Shot 2015-05-22 at 8.45.23 AM

I can appreciate that photography is not a cheap hobby, but this is the first time I've seen a lens anywhere CLOSE to the $1,000 price point that can consistently produce publishable professional work for casual wildlife photographers.  If you're a full time wildlife pro, you'd use something else, but for pro photographers who dabble in wildlife or if you're a hobbyist who can spend a little on gear, then this lens is a STEAL of a price!

COMPATIBILITY

The lens that I tested was in Nikon mount, but this lens is also available in Canon mount.

This lens works on both full frame and crop sensor Nikon cameras and has its own focus motor, so it will work on any Nikon camera under the sun.

On a crop sensor camera, this lens becomes the equivalent of a 225 – 900mm lens.  One of the workshop attendees tried the lens on a Nikon D7200 (crop sensor camera) and the result was absolutely stunnning detail of a burrowing owl.

WHAT DO ALL THE ACRONYMS MEAN IN THE LENS NAME?

 

TECHNICAL SPECS

Focal length: 150mm to 600mm (Claimed)

Physical length: 10.1 inches (256mm)

Aperture: Variable aperture (What's a variable aperture?)

Lens Mounts:  Nikon FX, Nikon DX, Canon EF, Canon EF-S, Sony A (This means it works on crop or full frame Canon or Nikon cameras, as well as Sony A mount cameras)

Glass:  Elements in  Groups (Are more elements and groups better?)

Weight: 68 oz

Vibration Reduction:  Yes

Focus Motor: Silent wave (Faster and quieter than older motors)

Filter size: 95

Diaphragm: 9 circular blades (How many aperture blades is best?)

Minimum focus distance: 2.7mm

tamrom150-600mmNikon

 

 

10 thoughts on “Tamron 150-600mm Review: The ultimate hobbyist wildlife lens?”

  1. I have this lens for Canon and it is very impressive. I had the “Bigma” and this lens is by far sharper, lighter and performs better. I’ve not used either of Sigma 150-600 lenses (Sport or Contemporary) but I’ve heard they’re not bad just heavier.

  2. I have used this lens (TAMRON 150-600MM) for about two or three months now (Canon mount). I love it. The auto focus is notably faster then my old Sigma 50-500 and the picture sharpness is also better. I recently got a Tamron 2x Teleconverter and have used it with this lens and am really enjoying the reach. Yea I lose F-stops but I shoot a lot is open bright light and it really does not bother me. I would recommend it to anyone who wants a reliable supper telephoto lens.

  3. Just as a point of clarification regarding my review of the Tamron 150-600 f/5-6.3 VC telephoto zoom lens. I did my review with a Nikon D800 and I had no focusing issues whatsoever. I did detect some focus lag with older Nikon bodies. It was not too noticeable when photographing static subjects, but was more apparent when trying to capture birds in flight. The initial ‘review sample’ of the lens demonstrated some focus lag with a D7000 but a number of months later when I purchased my own copy the focus lag on that same D7000 body was greatly improved. I suspect that the firmware on the Tamron 150-600 had been updated from the time that I used the ‘review sample’ of the lens.

    Tom

  4. “If you’re more of a dog person, that’s about the same weight as a chihuahua. ” – now that’s just funny!

  5. I rented this lens for my fall trip to Grand Teton National Park. It performed very well, and I was able to get some very up-close and personal shots of big moose and spritey pronghorn. I would highlight, however, that you need to make sure you have a GOOD solid tripod that can handle the weight. This lens, plus my 70D, put my traveler tripod (Manfrotto BeFree) to the test. Sandbags or an arm heavily draped over the lens did the trick.

    As with most lenses, I found the extreme ends of the range to be the most soft. However, this lens on my crop sensor also gave me extra reach! So I was still able to get fairly crisp images at the 600mm end. It also performed well in video mode. The zoom and focus rings on the one I rented both ran smoothly. However, I also used the Manfrotto 502HD Pro Flat Head Base which definitely made it easier.

    Definitely a great lens for wildlife. Also, not bad for other uses especially at the $1,000 mark.

  6. Rodrigo Abello

    Unbelievable lens for its price.
    I have quite a few glasses …….but cannot find one that is as cost-effective as this one.

  7. I have been shooting with this lens for several months. I have found it to exceed my expectations every time I take it out. To be certain, I am impressed by the fact that it cost one tenth of some of the lenses I have coveted for many years. Though the cost is higher that what some people would call a cheap lens, it is a very good value. I have rented high end canon lenses in the past, and I can not see a discernible loss in quality from those lenses. I have used the lens successfully as a hand held, when that’s the only way to follow the action, but as with every lens in any collection, it would often be better to use a tripod.

  8. Mohan Nath Hathnapitiya

    What agreat lens? Now I mainly use this lens for my nature photography. With my Nikon D700 the results are superb.I shoot with my nine years old Nikon D200 and the results are unbelievable. Mohan-Sri Lanka

  9. I have been confusing myself for some time now,do I go for the classic Canon L series 100-400 mk 2 and a 2x converter,or the Sigma 150-600(or the sport version)or the Tamron 150-600 for my bird photography?????
    After reading your review I think it is going to be this comparatively cheap Tamron,Thank you so much for focusing(excuse the pun)my mind for me I’ll let you know how I get on

  10. Purchased the Tamron 150-600, had some issues that Tamron cleared up, (at 600mm image was out of focus even when manual focus done), however, when using POL filter still can not get a sharp picture when out at 600mm, subject is out of focus, any advice on what could be cause or what I can do to eliminate this issue? I use POL filter a lot in daytime outdoor shooting with my other lenses and frustrated that I can’t use on the 150-600mm. Other than that I have high regards for all my Tamron lenses.

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