Photographing Cormorants with the Tamron 150-600mm VC

Over the past week or so I’ve been out taking a lot of images to prepare for my upcoming review of the Tamron 150-600mm VC lens. At this point it looks like my review will be completed and up for Photography Life readers to see at the end of June.

In advance of the full review I thought another very short article with a few more sample images may be of interest. This article has some photos of cormorants taken at a large nesting colony that is located just off Eastport Drive adjacent to the Hamilton harbor in Ontario. This is a favorite photo site of many area bird photographers. In this area you can also find black-crowned night herons, a wide variety of gulls, the occasional swan, and if you scan for small, fast moving birds…you can also spot the odd kingfisher.

The following images were all taken this morning with the Tamron 160-600 VC with my Nikon D800. If you’re like me when I first started out trying to photograph birds it was a major accomplishment just to get a large bird like a cormorant centered in the frame with a decent exposure…as in the following image:

Cormorant (1)

Capturing a more interesting wing position can add a bit of drama to an image.

Cormorant (2)

Photographing a bird carrying something, in this case nesting material, can help an image tell a bit of a story.

Cormorant (3)

Combining an interesting wing position with nesting material can give a shot a bit more appeal.

Cormorant (4)

Remember to watch bird nests to see if anything is happening…or if a feeling is being generated…like the sense of anticipation in this image.

Cormorant (5)

When we are out photographing nature…life happens before our eyes.

Cormorant (6)

To see more images taken with the Tamron 150-600mm VC lens click on this YouTube video image/link:

YouTube link here

Here’s a few shooting tips that you may find useful if you visit the cormorant colony on Eastport Drive by Hamilton harbour…or when photographing birds/cormorants in general.

  1. Try to plan your visit so you are not shooting into the sun. This is a killer, especially when shooting dark coloured birds like cormorants. A visit to the Hamilton cormorant colony is best done in the morning.
  2. Birds are creatures of habit and they will typically use the same approach to their nests. This will help you determine a good shooting position and pick out individual flying birds that are likely to land on the tree on which you are focusing.
  3. Cormorant (7)

  4. Cormorants will often fly low to the surface of the water…then swoop up to their nests pumping their wings very hard. Near vertical positions are often achieved and can make for very interesting images…especially if the bird is carrying nesting material.
  5. Cormorant (8)

  6. Setting your camera with a single focus point can be helpful when using a long telephoto lens as it can help to keep your subject bird in focus as it is approaching the area where you are planning to take your AF-C bursts.
  7. Cormorant (9)

  8. Be patient and don’t fire your burst too early. Wait until the bird is filling about 35-40% of the frame then fire.
  9. If you are in tight quarters where birds appear quickly, it can be helpful to pre-focus on the approximate area where you are planning to take an AF-C burst. This will often help your camera acquire focus faster and lead to more successful bursts.

Watch Photography Life at the end of June for my full review of the Tamron 150-600mm VC lens.

If you want to get the Tamron 150-600mm lens, you can pre-order it through B&H for $1069. B&H will ship it as soon as they receive it!

Article and all images Copyright 2014, Thomas Stirr. All rights reserved. No use, reproduction or duplication including electronic is allowed without written consent.

Comments

  1. June 23, 2014 at 11:26 am

    Some great shots, Thomas! You’re obviously making that lens work well for you :)

    • 13
      ) Thomas Stirr
      June 23, 2014 at 7:41 pm

      Hi Alpha Whiskey,

      Thanks for the kind words….much appreciated! The more I shoot with the Tamron 150-600 VC the more I have been enjoying it.

      Tom

  2. 2
    ) Marsha Henderson
    June 23, 2014 at 11:47 am

    Great shots, really peaking my interest in this lens. Also, a visit to this birding spot. I would be interested in more details. Is there a birding club or site that provides information?

    • 14
      ) Thomas Stirr
      June 23, 2014 at 7:47 pm

      Hi Marsha,

      Thanks for your positive comment. There may be a birding club in the Hamilton area…I’m not a member of any clubs so I’m not the best person when it comes to that kind of information.

      This nesting site is along the road (Eastport Drive). Many bird photographers park their cars and simply shoot from the side of the road. The shoulder on the bay side is quite narrow and not that safe, so I would recommend parking on the other side of the road where you can pull off past the paved shoulder and onto the grass.

      The Centre for Inland Waters building has some cormorant nesting boxes adjacent to it (west side I believe)…the colony that I was shooting is about a mile or so down the road…closer to the city of Hamilton. If you get a map of Hamilton the colonies are basically from just east of the Burlington Bay bridge then running west towards Burlington Street.

      The cormorants arrive in the spring, usually mid April or so, and migrate south in the late fall.

      Tom

      • 19
        ) Thomas Stirr
        June 23, 2014 at 8:23 pm

        Oops!!! Should be from just west of the Burlington Bay bridge…then running east towards Burlington Street.

        Tom

  3. 3
    ) Wings42
    June 23, 2014 at 11:51 am

    A stunning series. At 71 yrs old (though quite fit) I don’t think I could handle the weight of that lens-camera combo. I’m considering switching to a 4/3 mirrorless with a 300 mm lens to get the reach without as much weight and bulk.

    • 18
      ) Thomas Stirr
      June 23, 2014 at 8:21 pm

      Hi Wings42,

      Thank you very much for your comment….glad you enjoyed the images!

      The Tamron 150-600 VC does have some heft to it…but it actually isn’t as bad as people think. With some good cradling technique between shots (this will be included in my review btw) the lens can be hand-held for a number of hours without too much problem. I was photographing for most of the day today with my brother-in-law, who is in his late 60s…he was shooting the Tamron with his D7000 for about 6 hours…and he’s not a ‘big’ guy.

      Having said that, I can certainly understand the attractiveness of a 4/3 mirrorless set-up. The quality of many of the cameras in this category is very good, as is the picture quality.

      Tom

  4. 4
    ) Prasad Np
    June 23, 2014 at 11:56 am

    beautiful pictures.. .and very handy tips. But most of all I had no idea US had Cormorants, we have a lot of them here in India in most inland lakes

    • 20
      ) Thomas Stirr
      June 23, 2014 at 8:28 pm

      Hello Prasad Np,

      Thanks for the comment!

      I also did not realize how widely distributed cormorants are around the globe. They are actually quite plentiful.

      Tom

  5. June 23, 2014 at 12:07 pm

    Looks good. Useful context in the article. Huge zoom range and maybe a touch slow. I’ll be interested to see the article.

    I used to have a Tamron 200-500mm thirty years ago. That wasn’t a very good lens but I imagine this one is night and day to it, perhaps due to computer aided design.

    • 21
      ) Thomas Stirr
      June 23, 2014 at 8:30 pm

      Hi Murray,

      The 150-600 VC is a bit slow (f/5-f/6.3) which does pose some limits in lower light conditions with moving subjects. In good light the lens is a very solid performer.

      Tom

  6. 6
    ) William Jones
    June 23, 2014 at 12:25 pm

    Nice shots. If I might make a request or two: Could/would you please list the settings for the shots (speed/aperature/ISO)? Also, if you have gotten your V3, and the lens works on it, how about a few shots with that combo? The “reach” with that combo would be 405-1,620.

    Thanks,
    WEJ

    • 15
      ) Thomas Stirr
      June 23, 2014 at 8:03 pm

      Hi William,

      All the shots in this article were taken at f/8. Except for the fifth image which was taken at ISO-400, the balance were all taken at ISO-800.

      Even when I’m not shooting at maximum zoom I always shoot birds in flight with my D800 set in DX crop mode. This allows me to composure individual shots much more effectively.

      Shutter speeds, focal length and EFoV are as follows for all images:
      Image 1: 1/2000, 260mm, efov 390mm
      Image 2: 1/2000, 250mm, efov 375mm
      Image 3, 1/2500, 300mm, efov 450mm
      Image 4, 1/1250, 240mm, efov 360mm
      Image 5, 1/1000, 240mm, efov 360mm
      Image 6, 1/640, 550mm, efov 825mm
      Image 7, 1/2000, 260mm, efov 390
      Image 8, 1/2500, 280mm efov 420
      Image 9, 1/2000, 300mm, efov 450mm

      After numerous delays with the Nikon 1 V3 I ended up cancelling the one I had on order, as well as the 1 Nikon 70-300 lens. I had previously sold my V2 and was planning on using the proceeds towards the V3. I had some rush client video work and because of the V3 delays I had to re-purchase a V2….so as far as ‘upgrading’ my Nikon 1 gear….I’ll be waiting for the future V4.

      NOTE: The Tamron 150-600 VC is NOT recognized when mounted on a Nikon 1 camera. For anyone looking for a long zoom that works on the Nikon 1 camera line you should probably investigate the Sigma 150-500.

      Tom

      • 16
        ) Patrick O'Connor
        June 23, 2014 at 8:09 pm

        I don’t understand how shooting in DX crop mode allows you to compose more effectively. Are you using the crop outline as some kind of guide? I must be missing something. Well…beyond the obvious things I’m missing: common sense, money, charming personality,… You know, that sort of thing. :-)

        • 22
          ) Thomas Stirr
          June 23, 2014 at 8:38 pm

          Hi Patrick,

          When shooting with a DX body I find it much more difficult to locate a bird in flight, even when using ‘two eyes open’ technique….the bird just seems to suddenly pop into the frame and I find it difficult to get my framing etc. the way I want it.

          When shooting The Tamron 150-600 VC with my D800 in DX crop mode I have the advantage of seeing the sky from a 600mm full frame perspective…and have the DX crop mode outline as a guide on my viewfinder. This allows me a bit more time to pick up the bird in flight….and frame it where I want it within the DX crop outline. Since the DX crop with the D800 produces a 15mp image I find this more than large enough for larger sized prints…and I often don’t have to crop the resulting images much, if at all.

          Tom

          • 24
            ) Patrick O'Connor
            June 23, 2014 at 8:54 pm

            Ohhh. I didn’t realize you were comparing it to shooting with a DX camera. I thought you meant D800 in FX mode vs D800 in DX mode. Another case solved by the tenacious, Inspector Jacques Clouseau! :-)

  7. Avatar of Joe Hayashibara
    7
    ) Joe Hayashibara
    June 23, 2014 at 12:30 pm

    Nice! I am REALLY interested in this lens as well. How has the focusing performance been so far?

    • 17
      ) Thomas Stirr
      June 23, 2014 at 8:13 pm

      Hi Joe,

      Focusing with my D800 has been terrific. I have no complaints what-so-ever with the D800. My brother-in-law has a D7000 and there is a noticeable focus speed lag when shooting with a single focus point. It is better when multiple focus points are used in auto-focus mode. Trying to shoot birds in flight with a D7000 using one focus point is a challenge.

      I also met a few folks when shooting the images for this article who owned D3100, D3200 and D7100 bodies. I’m not sure how they had their cameras set so I cannot comment in an in-depth way….but there was a definite focus lag with the D3200 but it would focus….I couldn’t get the D3100 to focus….and the D7100 was very fast.

      I have read that some Canon shooters had issues with focus lag with some of the older bodies. I heard that some firmware updates from Tamron fixed many of these issues. Since I don’t shoot Canon I’m not up-to-speed on this issue.

      The Canadian distributor for Tamron did mention to me that ‘current’ Nikon DSLR bodies, i.e. 18-24 months old, should be able to focus with the 150-600 VC. The more cross type focus points that are used, the increased likelihood that the focusing will be better.

      Tom

  8. 8
    ) Patrick O'Connor
    June 23, 2014 at 2:30 pm

    Can only add to everyone’s comments. I, too, am really interested in this lens so anything you can tell us is much appreciated. Thanks a lot!

    • 28
      ) Thomas Stirr
      June 23, 2014 at 9:59 pm

      Hi Patrick,

      I’m working hard on the full review…and doing my best to have it up here at Photography Life by the end of June.

      I may have another short article with some additional sample images taken with the Tamron 150-600 VC for our great readers at Photography Life…it really depends if I can juggle it with my other work load.

      Tom

  9. 9
    ) Susan
    June 23, 2014 at 2:37 pm

    I pre=ordered this lens for my Nikon D700 for photographing wild horses. I keep being told a D800 would not be the best action camera for me, more like the D4s or more affordable the D7100. But looking at your images you did well with this lens and the D800. What settings do you use to capture tack sharp action images without blowing out the sky or subject matter? I struggle with that more then I would like to admit.

    • 25
      ) Thomas Stirr
      June 23, 2014 at 9:38 pm

      Hi Susan,

      It is certainly true that the D800 is not known as an ‘action camera’ in any sense of the term. In DX crop mode the D800 shoots at 5fps which is not stellar…but actually not too bad. I can also get 12-15 frame bursts if needed, which can help as well.

      In terms of the shots in this article….all were taken using a single focus point with my D800. I typically use centre weighted metering ‘average’.

      Many bird photographers tend to use shutter priority, often with an auto ISO setting, and it works well for them.

      My approach is a bit different. Regardless of the camera and lens I’m using….or the subject I’m trying to photograph….I always shoot in aperture priority to try and get the best out of the lens/camera combination. The Tamron 150-600 VC is at its sharpest at f/8 on its long end….and f/8 is also a good setting for the D800 to get good depth of field without diffraction….so f/8 gives me the best chance of producing sharp images with both the lens and camera I was using for this article.

      I also like to set a specific ISO and I never use auto ISO settings. This does take a bit more work when shooting throughout the day as lighting changes…but I would rather watch my shutter speeds…and adjust ISO as needed rather than trust an auto ISO setting.

      When shooting general shots of birds in flight I usually don’t take AF-C bursts…I prefer taking individual shots and anticipating/timing my shots. AF-C bursts are usually reserved for specific action type captures like birds fishing.

      Most of the images in this article were taken from relatively short AF-C bursts of 4-6 images….usually from mid-stream. To get the framing the way I wanted it, I spent some time watching the birds and their flight paths and then estimated the size of the frame I wanted on my ‘target nesting tree’. If you check my response (15) you’ll see that most of my images were taken between 240mm to 300mm (FX) which is the result of doing this type of shot planning.

      I also shot in the morning which ensured that the sun was at my back….this helps to get consistent, good exposures. I did take some ‘scouting’ images at this location in the afternoon of the previous day…shooting into the sun…and none of the images were usable for this article. But…those ‘scouting’ images did help me determine flight paths, desired framing, etc.

      Hope this has helped….
      Tom

  10. 10
    ) Leo
    June 23, 2014 at 2:52 pm

    Superb job! Light wasn’t great but captures were!

    Best wishes

    • 23
      ) Thomas Stirr
      June 23, 2014 at 8:41 pm

      Hi Leo,

      Thanks very much for your kind words!

      The lighting was actually quite good and the images in this article were all shot at ISO-800 (one was at ISO-400) at high shutter speeds which helped with the captures.

      Tom

  11. 11
    ) Richard Stern
    June 23, 2014 at 2:52 pm

    Wonderful images. I got the Exif info directly on line using the FxIF plugin for Firefox. They’re fast exposures at high ISO, but very noise-free. Did you use noise reduction in post or is that just the great D800 sensor? And were these shots hand-held or tripod + gimbal?

    Also, for Wings42, I too have orthopedic problems and have a mirrorless (OM-D E-M5) and Panny 100-300 lens. Unfortunately though it’s no substitute for a dSLR unless the bird is close enough for minimal crop, and certainly hopeless (a very low keeper rate) for BIF – although a few people on line seem to have better success than I do. I’m currently having much better success with the D7000 and 300 f4 AF-S+TCE14II. I’m about to upgrade to a D7100 or D800, and to get the Tamron 150-600 when it becomes available.The extra weight is worth it to me for more consistent and better image quality.
    Richard

    • 12
      ) Wings42
      June 23, 2014 at 5:25 pm

      Richard, I also have a D7000 and love it. Nikon seems to be making its cameras and lenses lighter and lighter. I’m not going to switch until I have to. We’ll see what the D7200 looks like and new lenses coming out. Right now my longest lens is the Nikkor 70-300 which does pretty good with birds closer than about 100 feet. Lens and camera weigh about 3.5 pounds which is doable (barely) for all day use hand held.

      • 27
        ) Thomas Stirr
        June 23, 2014 at 9:50 pm

        Hi Wings42,

        If you are looking to reduce weight…you may want to try and Nikon 1 with an FT-1 adapter with your 70-300. It will give you an equivalent field of view of 810mm on the long end with no loss of light. This should work very well for static birds. Birds in flight are also possible…it takes some practice and patience though.

        Tom

        • 30
          ) Wings42
          June 23, 2014 at 10:48 pm

          I’ll check it out Thomas. Thanks.

          • 36
            ) Wings42
            June 24, 2014 at 12:20 am

            Looked carefully for about an hour, including on a couple of photo forums I’m active on. The Nikon 1 seems nowhere near as capable as my D7000 or even my D5100. I get the impression of great potential but not yet ready for something as demanding as bird photography. At my skill level, I need all the help possible from my camera! But, thanks for your reply and suggestion… and this thread.

            • 37
              ) Thomas Stirr
              June 24, 2014 at 1:00 am

              Hi Wings42,

              The overall image quality will be better with a DX DSLR…especially in terms of dynamic range and colour depth.

              The Nikon 1 V2 can be used to good effect if a person is looking for speed and lightweight. I thought you were looking for additional reach and a lightweight body…sorry if I misunderstood.

              Tom

            • 39
              ) Thomas Stirr
              June 24, 2014 at 8:55 pm

              Hi Wings42,

              It is good to remember that the vast majority of people that criticize the Nikon 1 have never shot with it…or even held it. Many just mimic the negative comments that they have read from others because of the Nikon 1′s small CX sensor. Have a look at the bird images in my latest article on Photography Life:

              http://photographylife.com/close-personal-zoo

              Tom

    • 26
      ) Thomas Stirr
      June 23, 2014 at 9:47 pm

      Hi Richard,

      The sensor in the D800 is simply superb. I regularly shoot up to ISO-1600 and never have to apply any noise reduction at all. Depending on how images are going to be used I’ve shot the D800 as high as ISO-5000 without any noise reduction…obviously that would be for web-type use where the monster 36mp D800 images are being significantly reduced.

      All of the shots in this article were done hand-held.

      Tom

  12. 29
    ) ZEESHAN MITRA
    June 23, 2014 at 10:07 pm

    Wonderful images. The lens is really a good piece of glass for the price. Did you use the VC on the lens because from the shutter speeds used it seems VC would not have made a difference and how did the lens perform at 600mm were there any visible softening. Again thank you for the wonderful images

    • 32
      ) Thomas Stirr
      June 23, 2014 at 11:10 pm

      Hello Zeeshan,

      Thanks very much for your positive comments…greatly appreciated.

      I would normally turn off the VC when shooting at high shutter speeds…but I was also doing some still images of birds in the trees at much slower shutter speeds during the same photo shoot…I guess my brain is getting old….I don’t remember if I turned the VC off before the fast shutter images or not.

      In terms of sharpness at 600mm I think there is a bit of softening at this focal length. I will have some samples in my full review. For people who have realistic expectations of this lens (i.e. they are not expecting it to perform like a $10,000 600mm pro lens) I think the majority of folks would be happy.

      Tom

      • 34
        ) ZEESHAN MITRA
        June 23, 2014 at 11:17 pm

        Thank you for the reply and information. Yes one must not forget that it is budget friendly telephoto zoom lens and not a premium prime lens. I had seen some softening at 600mm in some sample shots but still it is a decent piece of glass and at shutter speeds of 1/2500 VC will not make any difference. The images are really beautiful and particularly the second image

  13. 31
    ) Tony thorne new zealand
    June 23, 2014 at 10:51 pm

    Hi,
    I have used a tamron 150 – 600 on a canon 7d and a 6d and found the results not very great
    When blown up by 100 % very soft around the edges, so i tried a Sigma 500mm lens on
    The 6d and the results were to me very very good,Im only a 73 year old hobbies and i
    Used tripod with both lens. I think I shall give the tamron back.

    • 33
      ) Thomas Stirr
      June 23, 2014 at 11:13 pm

      Hi Tony,

      Sorry to hear that you were not happy with the Tamron. It is always a ‘downer’ when a new piece of gear doesn’t meet expectations. I have read that some Canon owners had copies of this lens with back-focus issues, which were later corrected by the factory. Have you had your copy checked out by Tamron to make sure there is nothing wrong with it?

      Tom

  14. 35
    ) Tony thorne new zealand
    June 23, 2014 at 11:18 pm

    No I HAVNT I HAVE HAD THE LENS FOR ABOUT 2 MONTHS

  15. 38
    ) Nithyanand
    June 24, 2014 at 7:44 am

    hi great article.. was waiting eagerly to see one in your website… thanks a ton.. i vouch your view.. you definitely get what you pay for..

    Imp: the link you have provided at the end of the article does not take you directly to the product.. kindly check and correct it.. i am ordering one from your page..
    Regards.
    Nithyanand

  16. 40
    ) Jeremy Wright
    June 25, 2014 at 5:23 pm

    Hello Thomas! I photograph a lot of birds but mainly reptiles such as snakes and lizards. Most of the lizards around here (socal) are very skittish and u can’t really get within 40 feet of them. I currently have a 7100 nikon. Would u recommend using this lens with my camera?

    PS. If it makes any distance we usually shhot between f7.1 and f16

    • 41
      ) Thomas Stirr
      June 25, 2014 at 5:30 pm

      Hi Jeremy,

      I did take a few frames with a D7100 and the Tamron 150-600….focus seems fast and accurate. I imagine that the efov of 900mm would be helpful with subjects 40 feet away.

      Tom

  17. 42
    ) daveappen
    June 26, 2014 at 8:54 am

    Great shots! Any plans to do a comparison against the new Nikon 80-400mm AFS lens?

    • 43
      ) Thomas Stirr
      June 26, 2014 at 9:55 am

      Hi Dave,

      My review is going to focus on the Tamron 150-600 VC only. Given everything else that is on my plate right now I have no plans to do any comparison with the Nikkor 80-400 VR. One of the other team members at Photography Life may do that in the future.

      Tom

  18. 44
    ) Jorge Balarin
    June 27, 2014 at 12:35 pm

    Dear Thomas,

    The D800 it is not supposed to be a good camera for action or hand held shooting, due to its 36 mega pixels, that make difficult to achieve perfect focus on less than ideal conditions. I did read that with the D800 you must employ very high shutter speeds and use a tripod to expect good results at pixel level. However your photos look really nice. Could you tell me wich settings did you used to do your birds in fly photos with the D800 ?
    Also I would like to know in wich part of the bird are you putting your autofocus point. Best regards.

  19. 45
    ) Thomas Stirr
    June 27, 2014 at 5:44 pm

    Hi Jorge,

    I usually use a single point auto focus when I shoot birds and try my best to get it on the head…and preferably the eye…of the bird. I have not had any issues shooting with the D800 and don’t find it that much different than shooting with a D7000. Since I was shooting in good light all of the birds in flight shots were at fast shutter speeds.

    The D600′s that I used to own were a bit more forgiving than the D800 since the pixel density of the sensor was lower. I have shot the D800 at fairly low shutter speeds and as long as the lens that I’m using has good VR (like the 70-200 f/4) I’ve never found that I was restricted to using fast shutter speeds. With some of my prime lenses like the 85mm f/1.8 G I regularly shoot it hand-held at 1/80 and get excellent results. Other than when I’m using a neutral density filter and doing a long exposure, or if I’m shooting in poor light for a client and need to keep my ISO low, I seldom use a tripod. The vast majority of my D800 shots are hand held.

    I have no idea what the experience has been with other photographers who use the D800. Who knows…perhaps the D800E is tougher to shoot with than the D800.

    I’m not much of a ‘pixel peeper’ though…

    Tom

  20. 46
    ) Jorge Balarin
    June 28, 2014 at 6:41 pm

    Thank you very much for your answer Tom. It is useful for me. I have only one more question. I have the D700, and normally when I’m shooting moving people I use AF-C and a single focus point, that I’m moving manually using the cursor. Is there a way to automatically have your single autofocus point following your target while you are shooting ? Greetings.

    • 47
      ) Thomas Stirr
      August 7, 2014 at 3:11 pm

      Hi Jorge,

      I am not familiar with the D700 and unfortunately I can’t comment on this issue you raised. Perhaps other Photography Life readers who also shoot with a D700 could comment….?

      Tom

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