With so many telephoto zoom lenses available, narrowing down your options can prove a daunting task. The easiest way to go about it is to place the different lenses into three distinct subgroups – though finding one such group for the Tamron 100-400mm f/4.5-6.3 Di VC USD proves to be a challenge, as its price point makes it somewhat of a unicorn.
The first group is made up of your consumer-oriented 70-300mm zoom lenses like the Canon EF 70-300mm f/4-5.6 IS II USM Lens ($499) and the Nikon AF-P NIKKOR 70-300mm f/4.5-5.6E ED VR Lens ($596). In the past, lenses in this group performed relatively poorly, but this is no longer the case, and a lens like the Canon EF 70-300mm f/4-5.6 IS II USM proves surprisingly competent. Compared to the Tamron 100-400mm f/4.5-6.3 Di VC USD, these lenses are a bit cheaper as well as being noticeably smaller and lighter. They also feature similar focusing capabilities (though their lack of a focus distance limiter places them at a distinct disadvantage compared to the Tamron lens).
On the other hand, compared to 70-300mm lenses, the Tamron has an all-important 100mm focal length advantage at the telephoto end of its range. This makes it much better suited for wildlife photography, although it loses 30mm at the wide end. It also features a much more robust build quality and a better feature set, like a Focus Distance Limiter and a fully weather-sealed construction. Probably the most surprising element of this comparison is that the $798 price tag of the Tamron 100-400mm f/4.5-6.3 Di VC USD makes it just $200 more than the NIKKOR 70-300mm f/4.5-5.6E ED VR Lens and $300 more than the EF 70-300mm f/4-5.6 IS II USM Lens. Due to this fact, it’s hard not to recommend the Tamron lens over both the Canon and Nikon offerings, as you get noticeably more range, much better build quality, and more features at a price point that is only slightly more expensive.
The second group of lenses is made up of other 80/100-400mm zoom lens offerings, of which only the Sigma 100-400mm f/5-6.3 HSM DG OS C is in the same price range as the Tamron lens. Indeed, the Sigma 100-400mm C is the Tamron’s closest competitor, and the two lenses offer a very similar feature set overall. The Tamron benefits from having a fully weather-sealed construction and better focusing performance. When it comes to which lens is sharper, both models have some distinct advantages, though the overall impression is quite similar. Generally, the Tamron is a bit sharper centrally from 100mm to 300mm, while the Sigma generally offers better corner sharpness. At 400mm, the two lenses are incredibly similar, with the Tamron a hair sharper in the center of the frame at f/6.3, and the Sigma a hair sharper at f/8. The Sigma also maintains a slight advantage in the image corners at the 400mm setting.
Choosing a winner between the two comes down to whether you prefer getting the most resolution in the center of the frame, where the Tamron is a bit better on aggregate, or whether you need a more consistent performance across the entirety of the frame, where the Sigma has a distinct advantage. If I had to choose between the two lenses, I would go with the Tamron offering, mainly for its better focusing performance, improved weather sealing, and the ability to add a tripod collar – though its weak performance in the corners can prove a real deal-breaker for landscape photography.
Compared to the Canon EF 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L USM IS II, the Tamron lens is a bit softer, with this most noticeable in the periphery of the frame, where the Canon wins handily and at the 400mm setting where the Canon is the clear winner. The Canon is a little bit better built and has a more versatile focusing system. The Tamron benefits from being smaller in size and weight, as well as being much-less-than-half price ($798 vs. $2049). While the Canon is undoubtedly the better lens of the two, I have a hard time saying that it’s more than two times better.
Compared to the Nikon 80-400mm f/4.5-5.6G AF-S VR Lens, the Tamron manages to perform at a similar level in many facets, including image quality in the center of the frame. Both lenses offer weather sealing and a similar feature set. When taking the price point of both lenses into consideration, the Nikon certainly seems overpriced, and it’s hard to recommend the Nikon over the Tamron.
The last group is your 150-600mm zoom lenses like the Sigma 150-600mm f/5-6.3 DG OS HSM Contemporary ($989) and Tamron SP 150-600mm f/5-6.3 Di VC USD ($949). While these lenses offer a lot more focal length at the telephoto end and are thus much better suited for wildlife photography, they also give up 50mm on the wide end which makes them less suited for more general and landscape photography. They are also much bigger and heavier, with the Sigma 150-600mm f/5-6.3 DG OS HSM Contemporary coming in at 10.41 x 25.91 cm / 4.1 x 10.2″ (width by length) and weighing in at a whopping 1.95 kilos (4.3 pounds). There is no comparison when it comes to handholding the two lenses, with the Tamron 100-400mm f/4.5-6.3 Di VC USD proving the much better option for handheld photography. If you have a tripod/monopod and can stand the size and weight, going with a 150-600mm lens might be the better option, but if you need the small size and the ability to easily handhold, a 100-400mm lens is certainly the better option.
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