For nature and wildlife photographers, as well as sports shooters, the appeal of a long zoom is undeniable. Most lenses in this category have a long end of 400mm. Well, not the Tamron 150-600mm f/5-6.3. With a very attractive upper focal length of 600mm, it got a lot shooters interested when it first came out. But does it really stand a chance against other, much more expensive 600mm lenses? Let's have a closer look.
Generally, I don't trust lenses that combine a lot of focal lengths. I think of them as compromises in terms of build and image quality, so naturally, I was curious to find out of if that's the case with this lens. From a build perspective, this is not a small lens by any means. In fact, it's quite longer than both the Canon 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6 L IS USM II and the Nikon 80-400mm f/4.5-5.6G AF-S VR, but then again, you do get an extra 200mm. If you compare it to a fixed 600mm though, this is a more compact lens that is a lot more attractive to carry.
The body of the lens is largely made of plastic, but that's very common these days, so it shouldn't raise any eyebrows. Even so, this is a pretty well built lens. Anything built in this focal range is made for outdoor use and that means weather sealing is an absolute must. This lens is weather sealed, so it should have no problems functioning in hostile environments.
The zoom ring is fairly smooth and it rotates camera clockwise, which will seem very familiar to Nikon users. The lens comes supplied with a metal tripod mount, and although you can shoot this lens handheld, we recommend using a tripod and monopod for long time use, as it will reduce the risk of damaging your lens mount and it won't kill your left arm.
Overall, the build quality doesn't feel like a compromise, but it's also not quite up there with Canon and Nikon.
It's no use having a 600mm if the focusing doesn't perform well. I'm happy to say the Tamron 150-600mm performs reasonably well at all focal lengths. It will have trouble with subjects moving quickly towards the camera and it does tend to go focus hunting, even in good lighting conditions. While this can be frustrating, overall focus speed and performance are good and after you use the lens for a while, you'll ignore any downsides.
The number one concern with any lens is image quality. This is where most long zooms get it wrong. The Tamron 150-600mm f/5-6.3 VC performs pretty well. The sweet spot is between 300mm and 400mm. The lens is sharpest between these focal lengths, especially at an aperture setting of f8. Its softest spot is at 600mm and f6.3, but it's still not soft enough to be laughed at. The best results you'll get at this focal length will come by using an f-stop range of f8-f11.
Between 150- 300mm, overall detail is good throughout the entire frame, but again, you will need to close the aperture down one stop to get the best results.
Chromatic aberration is fairly low, but it does increase with focal length, reaching its maximum at 600mm. One question that comes to mind is why Tamron didn't stop this lens at 500mm. It would have made more sense, especially if you consider the difference in image quality between 500mm and 600mm.
Probably one of its strongest points is the Vibration Compensation system. It works by using three coils that activate the shake-compensating VC lens group electromagnetically via three ceramic ball bearings. The system does make a significant difference, especially if you shoot the lens handheld at 600mm. However, you're still going to need a fair amount of light and as with other lenses so far, no image stabilizing system is a match for a monopod.
In a nutshell, this is a very capable lens that packs a punch for the money. At little over $1,000, it has a lot going for it: very long focal range, good build quality, reasonable speed and good image quality. It might not be the choice of a pro sports shooter, but it costs a lot less than other 600mm lenses and it's a lot smaller. It will get you those amazing bird and wildlife shots if you put it to work, and ultimately, that's what matters the most.
Read more specs about the Tamron 150-600mm f/5-6.3 Di VC USD here.