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Tech info: 600mm at f/6.3 for 1/250 sec. I should have cranked the ISO a bit in order to get a slightly faster shutter speed, but cold hands and a bird that doesn’t like to stand still prompted me to try my luck at 1/250 sec. This was handheld and the VC seems to have done a very solid job counteracting my very shaky hands. The image was shot as a JPEG and looks a bit flat, but I was also shooting into a bright background (with the hood in place) so it may have picked up a bit of haze. Stan Horaczek

Back in September, Tamron announced that it would be updating its 150–600mm super-tele zoom lens, bringing it into its high-end SP-series lineup. I have been shooting with the new SP 150–600mm f/5–6.3 Di VC USD G2 lens for a little while now and, so far, it seems like a worthy upgrade.

The lens itself looks a bit different from the original version, picking up some of the design cues from Tamron’s SP series, including the silver ring around the mount. It still feels rather massive when you pick it up, but inside it has a new optical configuration that Tamron has promised is good for image quality and “overall performance.” It has also gotten some new coatings to help fight ghosting and flare.

Tech info: 200mm at f/5 for 1/125 sec. The tree is in direct sunlight while the cliff in the background is in partial shade. Stan Horaczek

First Impressions

Having used the first iteration, I found the new lens pretty similar on picking it up. Everything from the huge front element to the massive lens hood feels familiar and well laid out. It has a very substantial tripod collar that’s easy to get in and out of tripod lockdowns. It does have a new addition, however, in the form of a zoom lock that allows you to lock the lens at any focal length by pushing the zoom ring forward. That comes in very handy since the heavy internal barrel extends when zooming, which can lead to lens creep if you’re not careful.

The focusing action feels very quick. Lenses like this tend to hunt a bit in complicated focusing situations, and that was true here, but it was nothing out of the ordinary. Focusing with a really long lens is a skill in and of itself. The actual focusing motion is fast, silent, and very smooth. It would be nice to have some buttons on the barrel the way Nikon does to help remember preset focus points or lock focus on the fly, because that can help getting things focused faster, which can matter a lot during sports or wildlife photography.

The new coatings certainly seem to help in terms of flare, which is easily minimized in some direct-light situations. I do, however, recommend using the hood whenever possible, since that huge front element needs the shade if you want to create a contrasty image. I found my Raw files to be rather flat, which sounds like a negative but is actually welcome for shooters who edit from Raw and like a neutral starting position.

Tech info: 840mm (with 1.4X teleconverter) at f/14 for 1/200 sec. Testing out the image stabilization with the teleconverter attached, I was pleasantly surprised with the results I was able to get when going handheld at such long focal lengths. Stan Horaczek

The bokeh looks nice and clean without any real graininess or ugly patterns in the highlights. The long length really lets you obliterate backgrounds into blur if you want to zero in on a subject. It’s not often that you find f/6.3 giving you depth of field that’s too shallow, but with this long tele I had it happen, which took a little adjustment.

I did notice some vignetting, especially when wide open and toward the telephoto end of the zoom range. It’s not egregious and frankly, it’s not unexpected, but it is noticeable, especially in situations such as pictures of the open sky.

One of the big new upgrades comes in the form of the Vibration Compensation system, which I found to be excellent. I shot most of my images handheld and could get some great results as long as I paid attention to the VC modes (there are three to pick from depending on the circumstance) and did my best to keep my own hands steady.

Tech info: 210mm (with 1.4X teleconverter) at f/14 for 1/125 sec. Stan Horaczek

Our full lab test of this lens is coming soon, but until then, enjoy some sample images and some more impressions.

All sample images were shot with a Canon EOS 5D Mark III DSLR. Some were shot in native JPEG while others were shot in Raw. Only slight (+/–1 stop) exposure adjustments have been made with no other edits, then exported through Adobe Photoshop Lightroom. If you’d like to download the huge, full-resolution images for closer inspection, you can do so at this Flickr gallery.

Tech info: 213mm at f/5.6 for 1/400 sec. Shooting in JPEG garnered some interesting results, many of which were a bit flatter than I expected. Stan Horaczek
Tech info: 483mm at f/6.3 for 1/640 sec. The branch is in full sun, while the background is a mix of shade and sun. Stan Horaczek
Tech info: 150mm at f/5 for 1/250 sec. This is a scenario made for lens flare, and you can see the lens does a valiant job fighting it off. The flare surrounding the sun itself is to be expected, but I was more curious about what would show up in other areas of the frame. As you can see, there’s a small amount in the bottom left corner, but it’s manageable. Stan Horaczek
Tech info: 600mm at f/6.3 for 1/160 sec. Again, I’m relying on the Vibration Compensation here, but things are pretty sharp, even with that long focal length. This was shot about as close as you can get with the lens at 600mm to maximize background blur, which is rather pleasing. The dark red berries are also rendered nice and neutral. Stan Horaczek
Tech info: 273mm at f/5.6 for 1/400 sec. There’s a ton of very fine detail in this image, with lots of edges and contrast. Stan Horaczek
Tech info: 250mm at f/5.6 for 1/1600 sec. It’s not the most exciting picture, but this image is mostly to compare to the photo that follows it, which was shot at a much smaller aperture. You can see that it renders background blur rather nicely. Stan Horaczek
Tech info: 256mm at f/11 for 1/320 sec. You can see that even at f/11, this distance and focal length renders a pretty blurry background while maintaining lots of sharpness on the subject itself. Stan Horaczek
Tech info: 600mm at f/6.3 for 1/320 sec. One of the things I hear about a lens like this is that it’s not “fast” enough, but even I was a little surprised by how shallow the depth of field can get at 600mm. Here, you can see that only some of the plants are in focus and the background is completely obliterated into a smokey fog. Stan Horaczek
Tech info: 309mm at f/9 for 1/640 sec. Stan Horaczek
Tech info: 309mm at f/14 for 1/320 sec. This is basically the same shot as the previous frame, only taken with a smaller aperture to give it more depth of field. Stan Horaczek
Tech info: 600mm at f/10 for 1/400 sec. I like this lens for detail shots because the shallow depth of field helps make the subject stand out, but the close distance with a long focal length helps the background appear closer. The lens does an impressive job rendering those little threads. Stan Horaczek
Tech info: 600mm at f/6.3 for 1/1000 sec. Shot almost straight up, there was a lot of bright sky behind this branch full of berries, but the enormous hood seems to be doing a good job fending off the sun, which is coming from camera left. The specular highlights also look rather nice. Stan Horaczek
Tech info: 600mm at f/6.3 for 1/1000 sec. I wanted to send the background into total mush here and the 600mm focal length helped quite a bit in doing so. The edges of the letters are a good test for the sharpness, which seems just fine here. Stan Horaczek
Tech info: 500mm at f/6.3 for 1/4000 sec. This is a tricky scene with a translucent subject and some heavy backlight. I pushed it a stop in post, but you can see how the lens resolves the very tiny threads. Stan Horaczek
Tech info: 600mm at f/6.3 for 1/200 sec. It took me a little while to start trusting the VC to handle such long focal lengths, but here I got a very sharp image at 1/200 sec at the telephoto end. Overall, the image rendered pretty flat, with a histogram that didn’t touch on either side, but that’s just fine as a starting point for an edited image. Stan Horaczek
Tech info: 600mm at f/6.3 for 1/250 sec. This is another attempt to squeeze some flare out of the lens, but it does a good job keeping flare in check. One thing to notice here is the lack of chromatic aberration in the frame. I’d expect some in this kind of scene with lots of very high contrast edges, but the lens does a rather excellent job, with no fixing in post. Stan Horaczek
Tech info: 600mm at f/6.3 for 1/640 sec. Another high-contrast scene with lots of fine edges and bright colors. Again, the scene is rendered fairly neutral, but there’s lots of room left in the file for editing. Stan Horaczek
Tech info: 600mm at f/6.3 for 1/1250 sec. This shot of the open sky demonstrates some of the light falloff that happens when shooting wide open, especially at the long end. Lightroom didn’t have a lens profile to get rid of it at the time of publishing, but I’m assuming one is coming fairly soon and will help get rid of the vignette. The airplane is very sharp, though. Stan Horaczek
Tech info: 150mm at f/5 for 1/1600 sec. There are lots of little specular highlights in the background of this image to give you an idea of the bokeh shape across the frame. Predictably, it flattens out around the edges and is nice and circular as you approach the center. Again, this image came out flatter than I would have expected, which can be a plus in a scene where there’s both shade and direct sun. Stan Horaczek
Tech info: 150mm at f/9 for 1/100 sec. I know that this lens is meant for shooting things that are far away, but I genuinely liked it for detail work. The histogram on this lens is impressively even, despite lacking just a little bit on the bright side. I would typically add some contrast in post. Stan Horaczek
Tech info: 483mm at f/6.3 for 1/2000 sec. There’s no bird in this shot, but it’s a typical setting where you might otherwise find a bird. The pine needles are a good opportunity to see how the lens resolves very fine lines, many of which intersect. Stan Horaczek
Tech info: 600mm at f/6.3 for 1/250 sec. Another detail shot at 600mm. The compression makes the object (part of a rain chain) look rather flat, but it also completely nukes the background into blur. Stan Horaczek
Tech info: 450mm at f/6.3 for 1/160 sec. I wouldn’t typically shoot a portrait at 450mm, but then again, this isn’t exactly a portrait. That bush behind the statue is actually very close, but it falls outside the depth of field. That’s one of the strong suits of this lens—it can really reach through a scene and pick out a subject to be isolated. Stan Horaczek
Tech info: 210 mm at f/7.1 for 1/80 sec. This frame was actually shot with the 1.4X teleconverter attached because it wasn’t a planned image. It’s sharp despite the slow shutter speed. Worth noting, though, that I had to use the center focus point and then recompose because of the loss of maximum aperture due to the converter. Stan Horaczek
Tech info: 210mm (with 1.4X teleconverter) at f/7.1 for 1/100 sec. Another shot with the teleconverter shows a very flat Raw image that needs an edit before it’s ready to share. This is fine for shooting Raw, but less ideal for shooting JPEGs and sharing right away. Stan Horaczek
Tech info: 840mm at f/11 for 1/200 second (on a tripod) This is as long as it gets with the 1.4x teleconverter in place and the lens zoomed all the way to the telephoto setting. The Albany, NY skyline is roughly 15 miles away from my location and at a much lower altitude. You can get lots of detail out of the buildings (which happened to be in a sliver of direct sun while the rest of the landscape was under cloud cover). There’s pretty considerable environmental haze going on over such a long distance. Stan Horaczek
Tech info: 552mm at f/11 for 1/100 second (mounted on a tripod) This was within the lens’s regular range, but I didn’t want to switch out the teleconverter, so I left it on for this shot. In this case, there’s lots of contrast, so the flatter rendition helped keep everything in check for the final edit. Stan Horaczek
Tech info: 210mm at f/7.1 for 1/160 second Is this thing practical as a portrait lens? Not really. Will it work? Absolutely. It’s actually a rather unique look if you can find the right space with an interesting background that’s far away. Stan Horaczek
Tech info: 840mm at f/9 for 1/50 second (mounted on a tripod) The view of the rising moon was pretty spectacular but we encountered some serious haze because of the long distance. Still, there’s nothing that can quite replace that long focal length look. Stan Horaczek
Tech info: 256mm at f/7.1 for 1/100 second I shot this one handheld with the teleconverter attached because sometimes that’s how you have to shoot a scene if you’re not expecting it. There’s solid detail in the moon as well as the landscape. Stan Horaczek
Tech info: 150mm at f/7.1 for 1/25 second Honestly, I expected this to be a dud frame the second I realized the slowness of my shutter speed, but I was very impressed by how sharp it ended up. Stan Horaczek