When Tamron first released the Tamron SP 150-600mm f/5-6.3 VC a few years back, it caused quite a commotion in the industry (the Model A011, but for simplicity’s sake, I’ll refer to it going forward as the G1). The G1 allowed consumers to get into wildlife photography without spending thousands of dollars on a super-telephoto prime lens. Its price point was a little over a thousand dollars.
Tamron SP 150-600mm F/5-6.3 Di VC USD G2 Super-Telephoto Prime Lenses
It was not only very affordable, but it also had an unexpectedly high level of sharpness. It was far sharper than most of us anticipated a lens with that price range to be. After that, Sigma released not one, but two 150-600mm zooms a few months later, and then Nikon entered the game a year later with its Nikon 200-500mm zoom. Nikon is currently the market leader in this category.
The Tamron 150-600mm f/5-6.3 VC was an excellent lens in terms of optics; but, it had problems with the autofocus freezing up when used with Nikon cameras. Additionally, it was a true dust pump due to the lengthy barrel extension and the absence of weather sealing. In spite of this, I have decided to maintain the lens because of its low weight, excellent image stabilization, and overall suitability for hand-holding.
With the Tamron 150-600mm f/5-6.3 VC, I was able to access areas that I normally wouldn’t bring a prime lens of either 500mm or 600mm to. It focussed quite rapidly and followed birds in flight with a level of success that was satisfactory. In general, it helped me get a number of images that I otherwise wouldn’t have been able to get.
Still, those AF freeze-ups irritated the hell out of me, so when Tamron announced a new 150-600mm zoom lens (designated the G2 for Generation 2) that was weather-sealed and boasted improved autofocus performance, I jumped at the chance to field test one despite the increase in the manufacturer’s suggested retail price (MSRP), which was $1,399.
In addition, Tamron has produced specific teleconverters of 1.4x and 2x magnification for use with this lens. I tested the 1.4x (MSRP $419), but I didn’t bother with the 2x because it would let in so little light (f/13 maximum aperture at 1200mm) that I doubt it would autofocus even in bright light, and at f/13 the viewfinder would be so dark that it would make manual focus difficult, forcing you to use live view, which isn’t ideal for wildlife photography. I tested the 1.4x instead of the 2x because it would let in so little light that I doubt
Important New Elements and Refinements
The following is a summary of the most important new features and upgrades available on the Tamron SP 150-600mm G2:
- The G2 flaunts an updated optical formula that consists of a staggering 21 components organized into 13 groups; three of these elements are low-dispersion glass.
- The new AF system is reported to be more efficient than the one it replaces (which was pretty fast already)
- 2.2m minimum focusing distance – 1:3.9 maximum magnification for close-ups
- 4.5 notches of decrease in vibration, with a selection from three VR modes (Tamron calls their vibration reduction VC, for vibration control)
- eBAND coating is what Nikon refers to as their Nano coating, whereas Tamron’s version is called eBAND coating.
- a coating of fluorine on the front element
- Full protection from the elements
- Electromagnetic diaphragm
- Tripod collar with grooves that are compatible with Arca-Swiss systems
- Metal lens barrel
- Console for updating the firmware and customizing the AF and VC settings that may be tapped in as an option.
Wow, it appears like Tamron has done a fantastic job of paying attention to the needs of the industry and is now providing all of the cutting-edge benefits that customers need. But have they fulfilled their promises? Let’s find out.
Construction and Human Factors
The construction is solid, and the lens maintains a decent balance on all of the bodies I’ve tried it with right out of the box (Nikon D500 with and without the battery grip, D810, and D4s). Instead of using plastic for the lens barrel, Tamron opted to use metal. This may be a selling factor for some people, but personally, I don’t think it makes a difference in terms of whether or not I receive the shot. My one criticism of the construction is that the switches do not have a sufficient amount of positive resistance.
On the G1, there was a very clear click, and switching modes seemed intentional and positive. On the other hand, in order to press them into position, it helps to pull the camera away from your face. If you gaze through the viewfinder, the G2’s buttons and dials are more intuitively laid out and easier to operate. A very light touch is all that is required to switch modes. But it’s this little touch that causes difficulties when you accidentally move the focus limiter to the wrong range and lose a photo because the lens won’t focus beyond a particular distance. This light touch is what causes problems.
These four switches (VC mode, VC on/off, AF/MF, and focus range limiter) have mild action, which gives the impression that the switches are inexpensive. I’ve found that using the focus button on the back of the camera makes the AF/M switch superfluous. As a result, I’ve had to resort to taping it in place after accidentally switching to manual focus several times.
Due to their location on the lens barrel, the AF on/off and focus limiter switches appeared to be bumped more frequently than the VC mode and VC on/off switches. This was the case even though all of the buttons have the potential to be accidentally moved out of position.
Tamron SP 150-600mm G2 Side Switches
A full zoom requires around 160 degrees of rotation, which for me equates to two excellent twists (might take three if your fingers are shorter than mine). The movement of the zoom ring is consistent and there are no areas that seem overly restrictive. If you really need to zoom in or out quickly, you may grab the front of the barrel and push or pull it in the desired direction using your thumb and index finger.
When I had the G1, I didn’t do this because I was afraid that it would push additional dust into the inside of the lens. As a result of the G2’s improved weather sealing, this should be of less consequence. When using the push-and-pull approach, it appears like there is an increased amount of resistance the further you zoom.
In addition to the new Flex Zoom Lock, there is also a switch for locking the zoom. The zoom lock switch is only functional at a 150mm setting. The Flex Zoom Lock allows the barrel to be locked in place at any focal length by requiring only a little outward pull on the zoom ring. This was a feature that I personally did not enjoy since it was simple to lock the barrel inadvertently and not notice it; as a result, you may find yourself in a scenario where you want to zoom in but you are unable to do so.
I have no doubt that I will become accustomed to this with continued use, and I can see how it could be useful in certain situations, such as when panning, when you don’t want the focal length to change from image to image, and when chimping, when you want to raise the lens back up for the next shot of the same subject. The lens has a little zoom creep, most noticeable between 150 and 300 millimeters. When you get above 300 millimeters, you have to really move around for it to creep.
The ring that controls the manual focus is likewise quite smooth, but I wish it were wider and more obvious where it is located. While I am hand-holding the lens, I like to support it with the tripod foot; nevertheless, the focus ring might be difficult to grasp when the lens is in this position. It is much simpler to grasp the focus ring if you first stabilize yourself by grabbing the lens barrel.
As with Canon, the focus scale reads from close (to the left) to infinity (to the right), but Nikon reads the other way around. I don’t blame Tamron for making this manufacturing option because Canon outsells Nikon, but I do wish they would implement the same direction focusing on all systems. Canon has a larger market share. Obviously, this would result in an increase in the cost, maybe above and beyond what customers are willing to pay for such a product.
In comparison to the G1, the tripod foot represents a significant advancement. It is more extensive, providing space for each of my four fingers (the G1 had room for just 3 fingers). In addition to this, it contains grooves that are compatible with Arca-Swiss. At long last, a lens maker has adopted this layout, which has served for a significant amount of time as the industry standard. This ought to function well with screw-lock tripod heads in the Arca-Swiss type. The fit was really uncomfortable with my Really Right Stuff fast release, which was used.
Really Right Stuff machines all of their equipment to their own specifications, and I’ve noticed that Arca-Swiss plates from other manufacturers don’t always mate well with Really Right Stuff, sometimes being too tight or too loose. Really Right Stuff machines all of their equipment to their own specifications. It would appear that there is either a lack of consensus over the precise width of the Arca-Swiss standard or that the problem at hand is one of the manufacturing tolerances.
In contrast to its predecessor, the G1, the tripod foot of the G2 has two screw holes rather than just one. This is another advantageous change. Therefore, even if you attach a tripod plate with two screws to it, that connection will not twist in any way.
When the camera is placed on a tripod, rotating the lens in its collar can be a difficult task depending on how well-balanced the tripod is and if a heavy or light body is attached to the camera. This is true of tripod collars in general, with the exception of those that use roller bearings. You will often only find such collars on high-end lenses that cost more than ten grand.
When it came to attaching and removing the lens hood on the G1, the process was rather complicated. The hood of the G2 may be attached quickly and easily. To put it in reverse for storage can be a bit of a hassle, but it’s nowhere like as difficult as the G1.
Weather-Sealing for the Tamron SP 150-600mm G2 Lens
After shooting with this lens for a period of four months, there does not appear to be any significant dust within, indicating that the weather sealing appears to be effective. As can be seen from the image on the right, Tamron did a decent job of protecting the lens from the elements by applying a weather seal. In comparison, the G1 would gather a significant amount of dust after the same amount of time had passed.
Initial thoughts and reactions
My initial experience in the field was less than ideal. When I was out shooting, it felt like the G2 had a lot more trouble keeping focus than my G1. I had purchased the TAP-in console in the hopes that it would allow me to fine-tune certain aspects of the camera, such as the AF speed (Sigma’s similar dock allows you to do this), but as it turns out, the only things you can do with it adjust the settings for the AF focus limiter switch (and some VR settings) and upload new firmware.
I wasn’t thrilled about the fact that I was losing photos because I had to hunt for focus, but when I came back to my house and put up the photographs, I was impressed with how sharp they turned out. In addition, the more I used the lens, the more I became accustomed to it, and the less hunting it did as a result of the tweaks I made to my technique.