Announced just eight months after the Sigma 100-400mm F/5-6.3 DG OS HSM Contemporary lens, the Tamron 100-400mm f/4.5-6.3 Di VC USD gives photographers a similarly priced alternative to the highly successful Sigma offering. Both lenses compete in a market segment that remains unexploited by the likes of Canon and Nikon.
Traditionally, both Canon and Nikon have forced their users to choose between consumer-oriented 70-300mm zoom lenses and professional-grade 80/100-400mm zoom lenses without offering many alternatives in between. An example of this is found in the Canon EF mount where no sub-$2000 native mount zoom lens reaches the 400mm focal length (The only option is the $2049 Canon EF 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6 USM L IS II zoom lens). Nikon users have a bit more options thanks to the relatively new $1396 Nikon AF-S NIKKOR 200-500mm f/5.6E ED VR lens, but there remains a significant gap between that lens and the $596 entry-level Nikon AF-P NIKKOR 70-300mm f/4.5-5.6E ED VR Lens.
In the past, third-party lens manufacturers have played a crucial role in providing cheaper third-party telephoto zoom lens alternatives, and Tamron has a good track record of producing quality options in this range, like their popular SP 150-600mm F/5-6.3 Di VC USD lens. Surprisingly, Tamron has never made a lens that is based around the 100-400mm focal length, but the success of Sigma’s 100-400mm F/5-6.3 DG OS HSM C lens ensured that it was only a matter of time before Tamron would introduce an alternative.
This is where the Tamron 100-400mm f/4.5-6.3 Di VC USD comes in, and at just $799, its price significantly undercuts similar Canon and Nikon offerings. In fact, it is a lot closer to a consumer-oriented 70-300mm zoom lens. Wildlife photographers are sure to be satisfied with this release, as the 100-400mm focal length range is one of the most useful for general purpose wildlife photography. The wide end is excellent for close wildlife and environmental portraits, while the longer end is excellent for mammal and large bird photography.
The Tamron 100-400mm f/4.5-6.3 Di VC USD is built to a high standard and features a fully weather-sealed design, which gives it an edge over the Sigma 100-400mm C. Its optical design contains 17 elements in 11 groups, with 3 LD (Low Dispersion) elements to help increase contrast and sharpness while minimizing color fringing. The lens relies on Tamron’s ring-type Ultrasonic Silent Drive (USD) autofocus motor, which has been a mainstay on the company’s lenses for many years, and it promises to deliver a quick and relatively silent focusing performance. The lens comes with VC (Vibration Compensation) which is said to give around four stops of image stabilization.
Based on its specifications and company’s recent track record, the Tamron 100-400mm f/4.5-6.3 Di VC USD promises to be a good performer, and it will be interesting to see how it matches up with the highly competitive Sigma 100-400mm F/5-6.3 DG OS HSM C lens. During my time testing the lens, I have used it alongside both the Canon 1Dx and EOS R mirrorless camera via the Canon EF to EOS R adapter, and it has accompanied me on some trips to the John Heinz Wildlife Refuge near Center City, Philadelphia.
1) Lens Specifications
- Mount Type: Canon EF, Nikon F
- Focal Length Range: 100-400mm
- Maximum Aperture: f/4.5 at 100mm, f/6.3 at 400mm
- Minimum Aperture: f/32 at 100mm, f/45 at 400mm
- Lens (Elements): 17
- Lens (Groups): 11
- Compatible Format(s): Full Frame, APS-C
- VC (Vibration Compensation) Image Stabilization: Yes
- Diaphragm Blades: 9
- LD Glass Elements: 3
- Autofocus: Yes
- Ultrasonic Silent Drive (USD) autofocus motor: Yes
- Internal Focusing: Yes
- Minimum Focus Distance: 59 inches (1.5 m)
- Focus Mode: Manual, Manual / Auto
- Filter Size: 67mm front filter
- Dimensions: 3.39 in. (86.2 mm) x 7.83 in. (199 mm) (Diameter x Length),
- Weight (Approx.): 40.1 oz (1135g)
2) Build Quality and Handling
While the Tamron 100-400mm f/4.5-6.3 Di VC USD isn’t part of the company’s G2 Professional lens lineup, it inherits many of the same excellent design elements that are a hallmark of the series. The lens features an excellent build quality with the outer barrel made from magnesium alloy and tightly-assembled plastics. In hand, the slick and modern design provides a feel of real quality. This sentiment is further established by the fully weather-sealed design. I couldn’t test the lens under challenging weather conditions, but I can say that I didn’t experience any problems when I used it during some light rain and snow showers.
Measuring 86.2mm in diameter and 199mm in length at the 100mm setting and weighing 1,135 grams makes the Tamron 100-400mm f/4.5-6.3 Di VC USD impressively lightweight and compact for a lens of this type. Part of this is the fact that the lens is 1/3rd of a stop slower than the Canon and Nikon equivalents at the telephoto end of the focal range, but this leads to significant weight savings of 505 grams (compared to the Canon EF 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6 USM L IS II) and 435 grams (compared to the Nikon AF-S NIKKOR 80-400mm f/4.5-5.6G ED VR).
Both the rotating zoom and focus rings feel very smooth and are ideally dampened in my opinion. The larger of the two rings is the zoom ring, and it is located toward the front of the lens barrel, with the focus ring nearer to the camera body (not my preferred positioning). The zoom ring is large and offers an ideal rate of adjustment. A clockwise zoom ring rotation selects the focal length. Those familiar with Canon lenses might require some mental retraining, as the zoom ring rotates in the reverse direction, while Nikon and Sony users should be comfortable with this design.
The lens unfortunately does not come with a tripod collar (same as what Sigma did with their 100-400mm Contemporary lens). Tamron does offer the option to purchase the somewhat pricey ($129) A035TM Tripod Mount for the lens. The lack of a tripod ring certainly helps keep things compact and saves weight, but this comes at a cost. While the lens is indeed small and light for its class, it nonetheless is large and heavy enough that it’s not ideal to hang from a tripod-mounted camera. I highly recommend purchasing the additional A035TM Tripod Mount as it will significantly improve your experience while mounting the lens on a tripod.
At the front of the lens is a non-rotating 67mm filter thread, surrounded by a bayonet mount for the Tamron HA035 Lens Hood supplied with the lens. The hood is made of relatively solid plastic and provides ample protection to the front lens element. The front element features fluorine coatings which help make cleaning it very easy.
The Tamron lens has three switches which adorn the side of the lens barrel. The first is a focus switch which has three options. Two of the options are quite clear, being simple AF/MF options, but there is also a Limit option located between them which functions as the focus distance limiter. The Limit option is unique in that it’s able to limit the focus range depending on your current focus distance setting. If the lens is set to focus onto a subject that is relatively close, engaging the Limit option will limit the autofocus to between 1.5m-7m. Likewise, if you are focusing on a subject that is farther away, setting the Limit option will limit the focus to 7m-Infinity. Overall, I find this design quite interesting, and it works well in use.
The second switch is for the Vibration Reduction system, and you have VC Mode 1, VC Mode 2 and Off with VC Mode 1 being your standard stabilization, while VC Mode 2 is for panning. The last switch is a zoom lock switch for the 100mm setting, and while it might prove useful as the zoom ring begins to loosen over time, I didn’t notice any zoom creep with my copy of the lens.