Times, They are A Changing
About a year ago my hopes were that Sigma would update the very long in the tooth 300-800mm lens. After working it for a week I came to the conclusion that it was heavy, slow, and a bit soft on the last 100mm (probably more a result of vibration). A redesign is in order to bring the lens in line with newer technologies. As of late Sigma and Tamron have made a charge towards the front in lens performance. Manufacturer lenses are getting very expensive and the demand for mid range super telephoto lenses is increasing. I don’t believe there is any genre more demanding of a super telephoto than bird photography so for me personally, midrange is where the scale begins. Today my attention turns to the new Tamron 150-600mm f5-6.3 lens. I don’t see where the Nikon mount version is shipping just yet but I know there are some Cannon copies in circulation. Borrow Lenses is showing availability for both versions in May. I will for sure try one out then and report in-depth about performance but for now I am going to give everyone a bit of an overview of the lens based on the specs and images currently available.
First, let me say that I for the most part use the Nikon 300mm f2.8 lens and consider it to be the best telephoto lens made, bar none. I also currently own the Tamron 200-500mm f5-6.3 zoom that I have had for a number of years. While I don’t use it much these days I have made tens of thousands of bird images before the 300mm came along. It is a good lens but has some drawbacks and is well, pale in comparison to the Nikon 2.8. Tamron did some good things with the new lens, the 600mm reach is a grabber that will get the attention of any bird photographer but they also added a lens based focus motor and vibration reduction. Both are pretty much required these days. Those three things cover a lot of area but I can tell you from the experience of the 200-500mm that there can be a very narrow operating window with telephoto zooms. The 150-600mm still has a very short minimum focus distance suggesting that its window may be similar to the older lens and that would be very sharp in close on the long end. F6.3 is good with f8 a little bit better. Sharpness and color are very good 10′-50′ (yes, that is feet!), after that sharpness falls off.
One of the things that bugs me is the bravado that comes from the pre-release press. I suppose the intent is to get folks excited about the new product but lying, or just a hares breath short of it, is not cool. All new design. No, not really. The new lens looks very much like the previous, so much so that I thought the press photos were the old lens. New Adjustment ring rubber. No. Same rubber just with some micro grooves cut in it. I guess you just don’t mess with perfection. Then there is the big one, the all new redesigned tripod mount. There was nothing wrong with the old one, it worked fine, does, because that is what is on the new one. A couple of improvements I suppose with a couple of finger ridges to make hand holding comfy. Here is a little tip world, when hand holding a long lens rotate the mount to the top and cradle the lens just like you would any other lens. No ridges required. I really want this to be a good lens, it would fit in my scheme very well and I hope it is close to the hype.
I have seen a number of photos made with the new lens, some of them birds and I can say without hesitation they are horrible. Not because of the lens, and I will leave it at that. Here are some, a video review, and the one decent image I could find. A little advice to Tamron, if you want to sell your lens to nature and wildlife people, in particular birding, push early copies of the lens to photographers who have those skills. I am just saying!!
I don’t doubt that the new Tamron 150-600mm lens is a big improvement and it may indeed find its way into my bag but there are a couple of things they would have done different. The zoom range is just way to big. I am sure it is a great selling point but I would rather have it around 300mm on the short side. Internal focusing is also something I really want to see. If those two thing were in place I would most likely consider buying one at 3 times the current price.
I guess I will find out just how good it is when I can use one in a couple of months.