Well, I finally managed to do some casual shooting with the new Tamron 150-600mm G2 lens. My curiosity was about how it would compare to the previous version and to the Nikkor 200-500mm f5.6 lens. To cut to the chase, my first impressions are reasonably positive. I’ll test the lens in various outdoor uses more in the coming weeks and will add further info to this article as I progress.
I did some straight comparison shots of the same subject with both the Nikkor 200-500mm f5.6 and the Tamron G2. Although the images with the Nikkor were shot in mid morning while the Tamron images are from mid afternoon. This was due to my schedule for the day. However, I shot these images in open shade so that apart from colour balance the illumination was similar and diffused.
I took all but one images at the longest focal length of both lenses, 500mm and 600mm respectively. All in all most people buy these long zooms primarily for their long reach. The previous version of Tamron’s long zoom was the weakest at 600mm, although many of the faithful Tamron owners deny this. I am not arguing with them but my own tests were not in favour of the first version lens at 600mm. I always felt that there was some kind of haze over the images taken with the A011 model at 600mm, some softness that was not due to missed focus but to some optical weakness. Anyhow, it seems like that the G2 version is markedly improved in its optical performance at 600mm. Images from my Nikkor 200-500mm and the Tamron G2 were very comparable. That is a compliment to the performance of the new Tamron lens since my 200-500mm Nikkor is a very solid performer. So, I have been very pleased with the optical qualities of the G2 lens. I do not conduct scientific tests, I am not an optical engineer. I am a photographer who judges its lenses on the quality of printed images that were taken with them.
I was also pleased with the VC performance of the lens. I took a few shots inside my camera shop at 600mm and 1/80 second shutter speed, the resulting images were all very usable. I compared VC1 and VC3 to see what tangible result can be obtained with the new VC3 setting. Well, I feel that there is probably 1/2 stop compensation advantage when the lens is set to VC3. However, VC1 is very decent to start out with and I prefer seeing a stabilized image in the viewfinder. VC3 mode does not stabilize the image in the viewfinder, it puts all its “efforts” into stabilizing the image on the sensor. For general shooting I would always use VC1 and resort to VC3 only in extreme circumstances. Having a stable image in the viewfinder helps a lot with precise framing. Whereas shooting in VC3 mode showed me how hard it is to frame a shot well when handholding a 600mm lens. I still give the Nikon VR a slight edge over the Tamron VC. However, the Tamron performs close to the Nikon VR on the 200-500mm Nikkor. It is widely accepted that the VR performance of the Nikkor is extremely efficient. So, being close behind it is not a small feat and shows that Tamron did a very good job on their implementation of VC on this lens.
As of AF performance? I am glad to report that the Tamron did very well. My only gripe with my Nikkor 200-500mm has been its somewhat underwhelming AF performance. It seems to me that the Tamron G2 lens is more agile, snappier than that of the Nikkor’s. I changed subjects from close to far frequently then tested the AF at close focusing when small adjustments had to be obtained. The lens was responding well for both larger and smaller changes in focus distances. I shot a number of images of wasps feeding on a golden rod at the closest focusing distance of the lens. The wasps were very active, changing positions and taking off suddenly frequently. The lens was performing very well obtaining well focused images in almost all instances. This was a very reassuring finding for me since I use my Nikkor 200-500mm zoom for butterfly and bug images a lot. The Nikkor has a 0.22x magnification ratio, approximately 1:4.5 and helped me to obtain great butterfly images. The Tamron has an even higher ratio, it delivers 1:3.9 magnification ratio and does it at 600mm. This makes the Tamron G2 a very desirable close-up lens for photographing skittish butterflies.
The lens balanced well on my D500 with attached MB-D17. The buttons felt positive, easy to operate and of good quality. I very much like that focal length can be locked at any setting, clever feature. So is the ARCA SWISS compatible feet. Finally, Tamron implemented this common sense feature that many photographers were asking for. Also, the foot rotates smoothly and locks firmly in 90º intervals. I cannot comment on weather sealing but very much believe that Tamron’s claim has to be taken with face value. I do not intend to shower the lens but it is an added piece of mind to hear that Tamron sealed the lens at every point that would be vulnerable to the elements. The lens hood feels well attached to the lens, it snaps into place very positively.
Well, the first impressions are very good. I’ll test the Tamron in the outdoors further in the coming weeks. If my final conclusion will be as good as my first ones then I’ll use this lens on my D500 for light outings when I do not want to carry a long prime lens. The light weight of this lens is a bonus. It never will outperform a fast f4 long prime lens in AF speed and optical qualities, hoverer, if it brings in images that result in detailed large prints then its place will be secured in many photo bags.