Are you looking for a versatile, ultra-telephoto zoom lens for your Sony camera? Today I’m reviewing the Tamron 150-500mm F/5-6.7 Di III VC VXD for E-mount, a versatile, ultra-telephoto zoom for Sony cameras.
WEIGHT & DIMENSIONS
The Tamron 150-500mm, including the removable tripod foot, weighs 1.88 Kg (4.14 lb). It’s pretty heavy, but that has to be expected given the long focal length. Talking of length, when collapsed it’s a bit more than 20cm, which makes it easy to carry in a photography backpack or trolley, as that’s the same length as a 70-200mm F2.8 lens.
This is a big advantage, as you will end up taking this lens with you more frequently than you would with a bigger telephoto lens. It can be used handheld, and even when zoomed all the way to 500mm, the body is well balanced. In fact, I’ve shot most of the pictures that you’ll see later handheld. But I’ve always used a gripped camera to have a more balanced setup. Still, for long sessions, such as when you’ve to wait for animals or when you’re shooting at a sporting event, the tripod foot is a lifesaver, as you will be able to give your biceps some rest and not get tired.
The optical structure comprises 25 elements in 16 groups, and the coating of the lenses minimizes reflections, ghost images, and lens flares. While the fluorine coating on the front element makes it water and oil-repellant. On top of that, the lens is moisture-resistant and has several seals throughout the lens barrel to facilitate outdoor use.
When it comes to ultra-telephoto lenses, among all the specs, there are 2 very important ones: autofocus and the image stabilizer. In this case, we have a VXD autofocus with a powerful linear motor, which has worked great for me, being fast and effective at every focal length. The autofocus motor is also very quiet, making it suitable for both photos and videos. A big advantage of this lens is the minimum focus distance, which is 0.6m (23.6 in) at 150mm, and it dramatically increases the usability of this lens in fast-changing scenarios, allowing you also to shoot some close-up photography. While to avoid shaky images, we have the VC Image Stabilizer, which really helps using this lens handheld. For example, I was able to shoot this image at 450mm at a whopping 1/80s. In those cases, of course, you have to be very careful when doing it on a high-megapixel sensor, where micro-shakes can happen more easily.
The Tamron 150-500mm F/5-6.7 Di III VC VXD has a filter size of 82mm, and it comes with a ton of features to facilitate operations.
Starting with the zoom ring. It has pretty generous dimensions, and it’s very responsive. In fact, you can quickly zoom from 150 to 500mm by rotating the ring only by 75-degree. The zoom ring can also be locked simply by pushing it upwards, something useful when you are shooting a static subject and you want to avoid accidental zooming.
The other ring controls the manual focus, and I’ve found it a bit too narrow and soft for my liking. It’s true that a lens like this will mostly be used in autofocus mode, but I personally prefer a bigger and firmer focus ring.
The 4 Switches
The 1st controls the VC Image Stabilizer modes.
- Mode 1 is the standard one, that offers a good balance between the stability of the viewfinder and the stabilization of the image.
- Mode 2 is used for panning
- Mode 3 is the most powerful mode to stabilize the image, but it will not stabilize the viewfinder.
We then have the switch to turn ON and OFF the stabilizer, the AF/MF switch, and the focus limiter that comes with 3 steps:
- From infinity to 3m
- From infinity to 15m
If you’re certain that your subjects will be at a certain distance, this can be a useful switch to make the focusing even faster.
On the opposite side, we find the Zoom Lock Mechanism, that protects against undesired extension of the lens barrel.
Lastly, we have the tripod collar with a strap attachment hole. Given the weight of the lens, this is a super useful feature, and it has an integrated Arca Swiss plate to make it compatible with most tripods and monopods. I’ve used it extensively to shoot at the moon, and it provides great stability.
And talking about accessories, it also comes with a lens hood designed with a rubberized front that will prevent cracks and damage.
Before analyzing the 100% crops, it’s now time to talk about how this lens performs in real life and show you some sample images! I am specialized in travel and architecture, but I decided to experiment with some bird photography, as this is a genre very suited for this lens. I found a field full of interesting birds, and I hid behind a big tree and started shooting.
Besides that tree, all the field was empty, so I couldn’t get any closer without making the birds fly away. For this reason, I frequently shot at 500mm in ASP-C mode, to get a good framing.
It honestly was the first time I took this kind of pictures, and it was quite a humbling feeling as it’s very different than landscape photography. Still, I loved being able to get so close to birds, and using such a lens in combination with a high-resolution camera will give you great versatility with cropping your shots in post.
After my bird-photography session, I also took this lens on the mountains, and I must say I was really impressed with the pictures I could take. I normally shoot between a range of 16 to 150mm and the shooting possibilities I could get with this lens were a ton. I could capture the peaks of the mountains from the distance and get views that you simply can’t achieve with your naked eyes.
The same goes for the picture of this city in the middle of the Italian alps. Thanks to the longer focal length you can create a very balanced scene with the foreground, middle ground, and background.
While on the mountains, I also shot at some local animals and at the full moon.
It was great to get up close with all these subjects, and I can say I’ve really liked shooting with this lens, as it allowed me to take a wide variety of pictures. Let’s now zoom in at 100% and see how this lens performs!
If we look at the MTF charts, this lens seems to be performing very well, but how does that translate in real life? I will now do some pixel-peeping of some sample images to see how this lens performs in terms of sharpness and distortions. The shots you’ll see have the lens profile correction plus the standard Adobe Lightroom import settings, but they’ve not been edited.
Starting with the sharpness, I’ve taken a couple of sample images of a cat and a dog from my balcony. They’re both shot at 500mm at F6.7, the widest aperture at that focal length, and I’m quite happy about the results.
While this other close-up shot of my cat is taken at 150mm F5. The depth of field is, of course, very limited as I shot it wide open, but we can see tons of details in the fur.
The same goes for this beautiful dog that I showed you earlier, shot at 450mm at 1/80s, which shows a great example of how stabilization works.
I’m also impressed by the sharpness of this shot, taken at 182mm at the widest aperture, where we can see a ton of details on the nose of this cow, so much so that we can see all the flies on its body.
Lastly, here’s a closeup shot that I took at 150mm from the minimum focusing distance (0.6m). And again, lots of details.
In general, I can say the Tamron 150-500mm performs great up to 300mm, with a bit softer results at 400 and 500mm. Nothing that a bit of sharpening can’t fix. In those cases, stopping down the lens to F8 increases performance.
When it comes to landscapes, it’s important to evaluate performance on the whole frame, and I must say the lens performs great there too. I was really surprised by the sharpness at the extreme edges of the frame, even when wide open, such as you can see on this shot taken at 150mm at F5.
Here’s the same scene at 300m F5.6. Very sharp at the center, with a slight decrease at the extreme edge.
When it comes to subjects at a long distance such as these, it’s a bit complicated to judge sharpness due to heat shimmer, but that’s just physics.
Lastly, when it comes to distortions, I didn’t notice any chromatic aberration. Here are a few images without the lens profile correction applied. You can see the has some vignetting at the widest aperture, which gets greatly reduced from F8 onward. And of course, it can be easily corrected in Lightroom.
Talking of which, when applying the lens profile you can also notice the lens has a pincushion type of distortion, which is consistent at every focal length.
When shooting against the sun, there’s a drop in sharpness and occasional ghosting, which seems to be controlled pretty well.
I recommend the Tamron 150-500mm to those Sony shooters that want a versatile ultra-telephoto lens that can fit in their bag. It surely has less reach than a 150-600mm lens, but the advantage is less weight & especially smaller dimensions, which facilitate transportation. That’s why I see this lens as very suited for sports events where your subjects are at various distances, as well as for shooting animals and birds.
A maximum reach of 500mm might be a bit too short for some smaller animals, especially if you’re not willing to patiently wait for animals to get used to your presence. When that happens, you can use your Sony camera in APS-C mode to facilitate framing and still get images with enough resolution, especially if you have an Alpha R camera. Of course, it would have been great to have a longer reach with the lens, but at the end of the day, if you have a massive lens that is a pain to carry around in your bag, you will end up using it way less frequently.
As per landscapes, I think telephoto lenses are way underrated, as they are actually capable of producing great images and sparkle your creativity to find new compositions. You surely have to double think if to bring a lens like this on a hike, but with it, you will be able to capture a wide variety of subjects, from animals to close-ups, up to landscapes.
Price-wise, it comes at $1,400 and I see this as a great 1st lens to get into new photography genres.