Lens Sharpness and Contrast
In some of my previous articles that have appeared here on Photography Life I showcased a number of images taken with the Tamron 150-600 with my D800, such as Birds in Flight with the Tamron 150-600mm Lens.
I found the image quality to be very good for a lens of this type. There is some softness at the 600mm end of the range, but it is quite common for a zoom lens to lose some sharpness at its longest focal length so this is not unexpected. Stopping down to f/8 does help to increase sharpness on the long end of the lens. The vast majority of people shooting with the Tamron SP 150-600 VC will shoot in RAW and apply some sharpening in post.
To give you an idea of jpeg sharpness, here is an out-of-camera jpeg taken at 600mm (EFoV 900mm) with my D800 in DX crop mode at f/8, 1/1600th, ISO-800. No adjustments have been made to this image, or the crop that follows it.
And, here is a crop from the image above. Keep in mind that this level of cropping represents less than 5% of the total image area of my D800’s sensor.
As a comparison here is an image taken at 600mm with my D800 in DX crop mode (EF0V 900mm) at f/8, 1/2000th , ISO-800. This image, as well as the crop that follows, were processed using the RAW file.
Image quality does improve when the lens is used below the 600mm maximum. Here is an image of a black crowned night heron taken in its nest with my D800 in DX crop mode. It was shot at 460mm (EFoV 690mm), f/8, 1/2000th, ISO-800.
Here are two 100% crops from the above image.
Here is a night heron in flight that I captured with my D800 in DX crop mode. It was shot at 240mm (EFoV 360mm) at f/8, 1/1600th, ISO-400. The image was processed from a RAW file using DxOMark OpticsPro 8, CS6 and Nik Suite.
For those of you wondering about the image quality when using a cropped sensor body, here is a photo taken with a D7000 at an EFoV of 570mm, f/8, 1/640th , ISO-400.
This is a 100% crop from the above image.
This peacock image was taken with a D7000 at the Metro Toronto Zoo at an EFoV of 900mm, f/6.3, 1/200th , ISO-200.
If you are wondering how well the Tamron SP 150-600 VC can capture fine detail, have a look at this image taken with my D800 in FX mode at 600mm, f/8, 1/1600th , ISO-400, -1 EV. You’ll notice a fly on the white flower.
Now have a look at a 100% crop taken from the image above. The fly was 8.4 meters, or about 27.5 feet, away from me.
This photograph of a dandelion seed head was taken with my D800 in DX crop mode, EFoV of 900mm, f/6.3 1/1250th, ISO-3200.
Here are a few more images of birds taken with the Tamron SP 150-600 VC using my D800 in DX crop mode. This next image was taken at an EFoV of 900mm, f/7.1, 1/2000th, ISO-800.
This cormorant was shot at an EFoV of 450mm, f/8, 1/2500th, ISO-800.
The flying gull photo below was taken at an EFoV of 450mm, f/8, 1/200th, ISO-800.
This stationary gull was shot with an EFoV of 900mm, f/8, 1/6400th, ISO-800.
The majority of users should find the image quality of the Tamron 150-600 VC to be more than acceptable. Obviously having realistic expectations of a lens costing about $1,100 US is needed, and not being an obsessive pixel peeper would also be a plus.
The Tamron 150-600 does incorporate eBAND and BBAR coatings to help reduce lens flare and ghosting. I did shoot the Tamron quite a bit without the lens hood and I did not find any issues with lens flare. Overall, I found the image quality to be quite good in terms of colour rendition and contrast.
Tamron has a very good reputation for the quality and effectiveness of its vibration control technology, especially with its most recent lenses, and the 150-600 VC does not disappoint in this regard. Obviously when shooting a long telephoto zoom very good hand-holding technique is required as the vibration reduction in any lens will never eliminate the effects of bad technique.
Since the majority of Photography Life readers are likely owners of cropped sensor cameras I took my vibration control test shots hand-held with my D800 in DX crop mode. Here are two shots taken hand-held at 600mm, or an EFoV of 900mm. The first one is at f/6.3, 1/160th , ISO-400, -1 EV. You’ll see in the 100% crop that the details in the label are quite good, especially given the equivalent focal length and shutter speed. These shots are out of camera jpegs with no adjustments what-so-ever.
I was also able to get a useable image shot at 600mm (EFoV 900mm) f/6.3, ISO-100, -1 EV, at 1/40th of a second. While the type on the label in the 100% crop may not be pin sharp I think this is still excellent performance given the equivalent focal length of 900mm, aperture of f/6.3, and a shutter speed of 1/40th, and demonstrates the capability of the vibration control built into the Tamron 150-600.
With proper technique I think most people should be able to get good quality hand-held images at 1/125th and 1/160th when shooting at 600mm (900mm EFoV) with the Tamron SP 150-600 VC.
I found that the Tamron SP 150-600 VC performed well under low light situations with my D800. In order to push the lens beyond what most people would likely attempt to do with it, I took the following hand-held shot at 600mm (EFoV 900mm) with a D7000 at f/6.3, 1/80th, ISO-5000. The following image is an out-of-camera jpeg with no adjustments, other than cropping out the license plate.
The high contrast in the scene likely helped with auto-focus but I still think the image came out quite well and is a good indicator of what many photographers could hope to achieve hand-held in low light shooting situations. You can see the quality of this low light jpeg in the following 100% crop…again no adjustments were done to the out-of-camera jpeg.
Practical Shooting Considerations
For those of you who may be wondering how realistic it is to hand-hold the Tamron SP 150-600 VC lens I can tell you that after shooting with it for 2 weeks and having taken over 10,000 frames with it, I never once felt the need to use a tripod or monopod. Every image I have taken to date has been hand-held. My hand-held photo sessions lasted between 3 and 6 hours each.
That’s not to say that this lens is a piece-of-cake to handle. It’s not. There is bulk and weight to contend with but there are some simple things you can do to deal with those issues.
First, I recommend that you always keep the tripod collar attached to the lens…even if you have no intention of using a tripod or monopod with it. Why? If you rotate the tripod collar upside down and tighten it on the lens it serves as an easy-to-hold handle. This is ideal when you are hiking between shots.
It can also be difficult to change settings with your camera with such a large, heavy lens attached to it. By keeping the tripod collar attached it can serve as a convenient grab point when you need to support the lens while adjusting your settings.
As I mentioned earlier, because the zoom ring has to rotate about 150-degrees to zoom through the entire range it is much easier to hold the end of the lens and simply pull it in and out to achieve your desired focal length. This could put some torque on the F-mount body connection and potentially cause damage to the lens/camera mount. To eliminate this potential damage you can rotate the tripod collar to the right, towards your shutter finger.
You can then use your middle finger to hold the lens tripod collar. I found it most comfortable to place my middle finger on the collar’s tightening knob. Now that the lens is being braced by the middle finger of your shooting hand, your other hand can achieve the focal length you want with the in-and-out bellows movement. This eliminates the push-pull motion from being transferred to the lens/camera mount.
There will be times when you are waiting for photo opportunities to present themselves, or you may be walking to another spot with the lens. To help lessen the load you can cradle the lens and keep your arm in a relaxed downward position. Wrapping your camera strap around your wrist provides additional security.
Or, if you have a shoulder bag with a well-padded strap you can simply rest the lens on top of the bag, even if the bag is not physically large enough to hold the lens inside.
The focus limiter on the lens is very effective and helps to reduce potential focus hunting by the lens and I’d recommend using this feature whenever you are out shooting with the Tamron SP 150-600 VC.
The lens takes a large 95mm filter and if you are going to buy a UV filter as protection for the lens make sure you buy a good quality one like B+W, as cheap filters may degrade image quality, especially when shooting at the long end of the zoom.
If you do not have much experience shooting at long focal lengths do not expect to be able to pick up this lens and get great hand-held shots at 600mm immediately. It will take some practice and patience, but the Tamron SP 150-600 VC can deliver great results for you.
If you are using a body more than 18 months old you may experience some focus lag. To minimize this be sure to engage as many cross-type focus points as possible when you are shooting.
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