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Tamron 150-600/5-6.3 Di VC USD Review

by Bob Atkins, February 2014 (updated March 2014)

photography by Bob Atkins


The Tamron 150-600MM F/5-6.3 Di VC USD (review) is Tamron’s latest (and longest) telephoto zoom. It will presumably replace the Tamron 200-500/5-6.3, since the two are close in price and the 150-600 is better in just about every respect. The 200-500 currently sells for around $950, while the launch price of the 150-600 is $1069. This new lens is unique in that it’s the only telephoto zoom currently available that reaches 600mm. The only other similar products under $2500 are Sigma’s 150-500/5.6.3 and 50-500/3.5-6.3, Canon’s 100-400/4.5-5.6, and Nikon’s 80-400/4.5-5.6. There is also a Sigma 200-500/2.8, but at a price of $26,000 and a weight of 35lbs, it isn’t a true comparison. Sigma also has a 300-800/5.6 (13lbs and $8000) which makes the 200-500/2.8 look like a lightweight bargain.

Of the affordable telephoto zooms, the Tamron 150-600 is “king of the hill” as far as focal length goes.


Who is it for?

A 150-600mm zoom is ideal for sports and wildlife work. Though the Tamron lens isn’t particularly fast (f5 at 150mm and f6.3 at 600mm), the relatively slow speed isn’t a real problem due to modern DLSRs yielding good images at higher ISO settings. The fastest 600mm lens you can buy is f4, which is 1-1/3 stops faster.

This lens is meant for telephoto work, with the option of using shorter focal lengths if your subject comes close. If you mostly work at the shorter end of the range, there are smaller, lighter and cheaper options (e.g. a 70-300/4-5.6 zoom).

Though the Tamron 150-600 has optical stabilization, you’ll probably want to use it on a tripod most of the time to ensure you get the best possible image quality. Though it’s “only” 4 pounds, it does start to feel heavy after shooting with it handheld for a while.

Tamron 150-600/5-6.3 Operation

The SP Tamron 150-600/5-6.3 Di VC USD has full frame coverage (Di), optical stabilization (VC), and a silent ultrasonic motor (USD). The “SP” designation indicates that it’s one of Tamron’s “super performance” premium lenses. It utilizes 3 low dispersion (LD) elements for chromatic aberration suppression and eBAND (Extended Bandwidth & Angular-Dependency) coatings to reduce flare and ghosting. Tamron states that it has “Moisture-resistant construction,” though no specifications on that are provided. This usually means the lens is OK for brief use in light rain or drizzle, but you probably wouldn’t want to try using it unprotected in a downpour. A bayonet mounting hood is supplied with the lens and it takes front mounted 95mm diameter filters. The warranty is 6 years.

Tamron 150-600/5-6.3 DI VC USD Specifications

Focal Length 150-600mm
Maximum Aperture F/5-6.3
Minimum Aperture F/32-40
Angle of view (diagonal) 16°25’ – 4°8’ (full frame)
10°38’ – 2°40’ (APS-C)
Lens Construction 20 elements in 13 groups
Minimum Focus Distance 106.3 in (2.7m)
Maximum Magnification Ratio 1:5
Filter Size 95mm
Maximum Diameter 105.6mm
Length 10.1 in (257.8mm)
Weight 68.8 oz (1,951 g)
No. of Diaphragm Blades 9 (circular diaphragm)
Standard Accessories Lens hood, detachable tripod mount
Compatible Mounts Canon, Nikon, Sony

For anyone used to shooting with one of the manufacturer’s 600/4 lenses, the Tamron 150-600 will seem small and light, though those new to telephoto lenses might not agree. However at just over 10 inches long and weighing a little over 4 pounds, it is about as small as a 600mm lens gets.

The tripod mount has a friction grip with no detents. It can be easily removed for easier hand-holding if desired. The mount grips the lens well, with no apparent movement of the lens barrel when it’s attached to a solid tripod.

Focal lengths are marked at 150, 200, 250, 300, 350, 400, 450, 500, and 600mm. There’s a zoom lock at 150mm which can be used when carrying the lens to prevent it from accidentally extending. If the lens is pointed vertically up, the zoom will return to 150mm and if it is pointed vertically down, it will extend to 600mm. The zoom does not “creep” with the lens at a 45 degree angle up or down.

I measured the focal length of the Tamron 150-600 when zoomed to its longest focal length and focused at infinity by several methods. The average length was around 590mm, which is in good agreement with marked 600mm. Typically, lenses are expected to be within 5% of their nominal focal length. The Tamron 150-600 is within 2%.

The maximum aperture is f5 between 150mm and about 230mm, f5.6 between about 230mm and about 410mm, and f6.3 between about 410mm and 600mm. AF speed varied with focal length. Measured AF speed on the test bench in bright light on an EOS 7D from infinity to close focus (2.7m) was 0.3s at 150mm, 0.33s at 250mm and 400mm, and 0.41s at 600mm. There is a focus limiter which restricts focus to 15m. Focus time for 15m to infinity at 600mm is 0.23s. Focus slowed in very dim light and at 600mm, it takes 1.5 seconds to rack focus from infinity to close focus (2.7m) in essentially zero light. AF operation was silent, which prevents disturbing wildlife or drawing attention to the lens.

In field use, AF with the lens using the central focus zone of an EOS 7D was generally fast, positive, and accurate. No AF microadjustment was needed for best focus. On a few occasions, with made-made subjects featuring strong geometric patterns, AF would fail to lock. However, on the same subjects, Canon prime lenses of the same focal length also have difficulty, so I’d attribute those AF problems mostly to the camera, not the lens. The Canon prime lenses do have fewer problems and AF is slightly faster. This may be due to the Canon lenses being faster (f4-f4.5) and the fact that the Tamron 150-600 is f6.3 between about 410mm and 600mm, which is technically outside Canon’s limit of f5.6 for AF.

On natural subjects, there were very few times that the AF didn’t lock onto the subject and there was very little focus hunting. Overall I’d rate the AF system of the Tamron 150-600 (when used on an EOS 7D) as pretty good.

There is a two position slide switch for focus mode with AF and MF positions. In the AF position, full time manual focus override is available, so you can adjust focus manually after AF if you wish without switching back to the MF mode. The focusing ring does not rotate during autofocus.


Tamron 150-600 at 600mm (with hood) on EOS 7D

The supplied lens hood attaches to the lens with a bayonet style fitting. Once mounted, it becomes difficult to rotate a polarizer attached to the front of the lens. The previous Tamron 200-500 had a clever mechanism which rotated both the filter and hood via an adapter ring that could be attached to the front of the lens, but this feature has not been carried over to the 150-600 lens.

Optical image stabilization (VC, Vibration Compensation) appears to work well. I found that I could be reasonably sure of a sharp handheld image down to around 1/80s. Over a sequence of images, I found approximately 20% to be soft, 20% to be as sharp as with a tripod, and the other 60% were sharp (but not quite as sharp as a tripod shot). Without VC, at 1/80s, I couldn’t get any acceptably sharp shots. Even the best images without VC were worse than the worst of the shots with VC on. Even at shutter speeds as low as 1/20s—with VC on—I could get an occasional sharp image (maybe 10-15% of the time).

The rule of thumb for sharp images with a handheld lens is a minimum shutter speed of 1/focal_length, so for a 600mm lens that would equal 1/600s. The magnifying effect of using an APS-C camera can be considered to modify that to approximately 1/800s. In that case, a shutter speed of 1/80s corresponds to a stabilization of about 3 1/3 stops. Overall, I’d rate that as an effective and very useful degree of stabilization.


50% crop, Tamron 150-600 at 600mm, f6.3. 1/1250s, ISO 1250, EOS 7D

In terms of sharpness, I found the Tamron 150-600 to be surprisingly good, even zoomed all the way out to 600mm. It is the only telephoto zoom that goes to 600mm, but even at 500mm it features the best sharpness for the dollar that I’ve yet seen. The sharpness may fall off very slightly at 600mm, but still it’s a sharp lens by any standards, especially if you shoot it at f8.

There is some chromatic aberration at the edges of the frame (both APS-C and Full Frame), but though visible on high contrast edges, it’s not particularly intrusive in normal use and it can be minimized via digital correction. Image sharpness held up even at the edges of the frame, especially when used on an APS-C DSLR. The above images are 100% crops from the original frames. The 2.8 line group in the image represents just over 73 lp/mm resolution at the sensor (close to 2200 lwph).


Hand held, Tamron 150-600 at 600mm on EOS 7D, ISO 1600, 1/400s @ f6.3
[This area was about 3000 × 2000 pixels in original image]

At shorter focal lengths, performance was even better. At 300mm, chromatic aberration was very well-controlled and sharpness was slightly higher when tested using resolution targets. Wide open (f5.6) at 300mm, I measured over 80 lp/mm on the Canon EOS 7D sensor. That is very good.

Conclusions

I’d say that the Tamron 150-600/5-6.3 is the best value you can get in a telephoto zoom. It is sharp throughout the focal length range with good contrast. It has no direct competitors, but even if it only had the 150-500mm range, I’d still say it would be a very strong contender for the best value lens. No, it can’t quite compare to a fast Canon 300mm, 500mm, or 600mm primes in terms of focusing speed, overall image sharpness out to the full frame corners, and CA elimination, but it’s a small fraction of the price, size, and weight of those prime lenses. Furthermore, it’s a zoom.

Right now, if I wanted a long telephoto zoom lens at a reasonable price, the Tamron 150-600/5-6.3 VC USD would be the lens I’d buy.

Alternative Products

There are both manufacturers and 3rd party telephoto zoom lenses, but I still think that the Tamron 150-600 is the best bang for the buck right now, with good optical quality, 600mm, and a very reasonable price.

Tamron 150-600MM F/5-6.3 Di VC USD
Price as low as $1069.00 from 1 retailers
$1069.00

Tamron 150-600MM F/5-6.3 Di VC USD (review).


Text © 2014 Bob Atkins. Photos © 2014 Bob Atkins.

Article revised March 2014.

Readers' Comments


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Siegfried Gust , March 13, 2014; 09:04 P.M.

Thanks for the review. I have the 200-500 and am pretty happy with it. But on occasion 500mm is a bit short for some wild life. So this lens is on my wishlist for later.

robert c. anderson , March 14, 2014; 08:55 P.M.

thank you, thank you, thank you...........This will be the lens I have been waiting for..........

I have a Tamron 70-300 and it's superb (my only complaint being that it won't take a tripod ring mount (i bought a canon ring of the right dimension but found that the slight pressure it puts on the plastic of the lens barrel "binds" it).......and i spend most of my time between f7.1 and f11, and have given some thought to a multiplier which would eat into it anyway, so, the 6.3 is no sweat.......

this information is sincerely appreciated

David Ralph , March 15, 2014; 09:32 A.M.

I am curious if you have an opinion as to the relative sharpness at its long end compared to the other third party long lenses, without naming names.  The reputation of some of the others is that they are "soft" at the long end.  But, the whole reason for getting a long zoom is to use it at the long end.  There are sharper and cheaper and lighter alternatives for the mid to short range of all of the long zooms, as you noted for the Tamron.  Thanks

 

Bob Atkins , March 15, 2014; 09:59 A.M.

I didn't do any side-by-side tests with other long 3rd party telephoto zooms because I didn't have any available - but based on previous tests I've done I'd say the Tamron 150-600 is at least equally sharp at 500mm (in fact probably sharper) and, of course, none of the others offer 600mm.

matt haber , March 16, 2014; 09:19 P.M.

Thanks for the fine reveiw, Bob. Do you know if the warranty is transferable?

Bob Atkins , March 20, 2014; 12:26 P.M.

Technically no. The warranty reads:

"...The Warranty shall not extend to anyone other than the original purchaser of the lens or the person for whom the lens was purchased as a gift. This Warranty is valid only in the Continental United States, Alaska, and Hawaii, and is valid only upon presentation of a valid proof of purchase from an authorized Tamron dealer (valid proof of purchase must be a dated bill of sale that includes price, model and serial number of lens and/or when fully completing Tamron’s Online Warranty Registration at www.tamron-usa.com)...."

Dominick Marino , April 12, 2014; 02:56 A.M.

Thanks Bob.  You answered my questions.  Currently advertised, the lens grabbed my attention for travel purposes.  Wonder if I can add 4+ pounds to my backpack.   But, maybe I'll lose the 100-400.  

John Lane , April 13, 2014; 02:49 P.M.

Any one have an idea of when this lens will be available to fit a Nikon?


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