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