Hands-on with Tamron’s Updated 150-600mm

Wildlife photography with the SP 150-600mm Di VC USD G2
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Tricolored heron © Lewis Kemper

Tricolored heron. Exposure: 1/320 sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 3200, 600mm, hand-held.

For more than two years, I have used the Tamron 150-600mm lens as my primary telephoto lens, and I have kept over 94,000 images taken with it. I loved that lens, and when I heard Tamron had updated it, claiming the new version was sharper, faster, better built and had improved image stabilization (Vibration Compensation, or VC in Tamron terms), I couldn’t wait to get my hands on it. And boy am I glad I did! The SP 150-600mm F/5-6.3 Di VC USD G2 lives up to all of Tamron’s claims. The images are noticeably sharper and to me look equivalent to the sharpness found on lenses costing many times more.

The new VC system now includes three modes. Mode 1 is similar to the mode on most lenses where you push the shutter button and see the stabilization appear in the viewfinder. Mode 2 is designed specifically for panning with your subjects and works great for birds in flight. Mode 3 is the mode I call the “trust me” mode, where you do not see any stabilization take place in the viewfinder but the lens applies the maximum amount of stabilization at the time the shutter is released. Tamron claims this is equivalent to 4.5 stops of compensation, which really helps when holding 600mm and photographing from my kayak! I have had great success with this mode, especially when being very close to my subjects at extreme focal lengths.

SP 150-600mm Di VC USD G2

The updated lens features a new design with improved ergonomics.

Other new features that I really like are the addition of an Arca-Swiss plate on the foot of the tripod mount and the ability to lock the zoom at any focal length. The advantage of the built-in Arca-Swiss plate means I don’t need to add the weight of an additional adapter plate. If you don’t use an Arca-Swiss-style tripod head, there are two standard threads for mounting the lens directly to your head. The ability to lock the lens at any focal length by simply pulling on the zoom ring means if I am pointing up or down when zooming, I don’t have to worry about lens creep, and when I am panning, I don’t have to worry about accidentally changing my focal length between images.

Another feature that I find most beneficial is the improved coating on the lens that reduces lens flare. I love to take backlit images, and in the previous model this could present a problem. Plus, the G2 version of the lens can now focus as close as 86.6 inches (2.2m), allowing me to get extreme close ups of cooperating subjects.

Double-crested cormorant © Lewis Kemper

Double-crested cormorant. Exposure: 1/640 sec., ƒ/8, ISO 2000, 500mm, hand-held.

My first real experience with the lens came on several visits to Green Cay Wetlands in Boynton Beach, Florida. This is an area with a long boardwalk over water and host to a variety of birds and wildlife. It is a popular area for bird watchers, photographers and walkers who use the boardwalk for exercise. Since the birds see so many people here, many are acclimated to humans and will land on the railings and let you pass within a foot of them. It is here I found one particularly patient and trusting female double-crested cormorant. I could get so close the lens would not even focus! I had to back up to minimum focus distance. When you are 7.5 feet from a cormorant at 600mm, you cannot even get the whole bill of the bird in your frame. I was able to test the lens at a variety of apertures and shutter speeds, and was amazed how sharp the lens was wide open, but did find a slight improvement if I used ƒ/8 or ƒ/11.

In another example, a tricolored heron standing on the railing allowed me to get quite close. It was a bit darker in this location, and I needed a slower shutter speed. With the new VC Mode 3, I was able to hand-hold sharp images at 1/320 sec. at 600mm, being only 7 to 8 feet from the bird. At this distance, any slight movement of the lens would be exaggerated, blurring the image.

After using the lens for several weeks, I am pleased to say Tamron took a great lens and made it even better with the G2 version. I can’t wait to see what my next 94,000 images look like!

Check the current price and availability of the Tamron SP 150-600mm Di VC USD G2 at Amazon and B&H.

See more of Lewis Kemper’s work at lewiskemper.com.