The past several years have seen a renaissance in third-party lenses with renewed investment and substantial improvements in build and image quality from the likes of Sigma and Tamron. The new SP 150-600mm Di VC USB G2 is the beneficiary of these improvements, delivering an incredibly long zoom for full-frame DSLR owners at a price that shouldn’t be too far out of reach for most shooters. We paired with N.J. photographer and director David Patiño to take a closer look.
The 150-600mm is an update to an older lens that brings a new optical design for better corner-to-corner sharpness and a shorter minimum focusing distance (7.2 feet) than its predecessor. Another enhancement is centered on vibration correction (VC). The SP 150-600mm’s VC is good for an impressive 4.5 stops of image correction per CIPA standards.
VC is available in several modes. Mode 1 balances the stability of the image in the viewfinder with the stability of the image when captured. Mode 2 stabilizes during panning. Mode 3, where the maximum 4.5 stops of correction are realized, prioritizes the stability of the image and not the viewfinder. Owners of the optional TAP-in Console accessory will be able to reprogram mode 1 to work continuously during video recording.
The lens stops down to f/32 at the widest angle down to f/40 at telephoto. You’ll enjoy a 1:3.9 magnification ratio at 600mm. A version for Canon and Nikon mounts is out now and a Sony A-mount version is due later this year. The Nikon mount has an electromagnetic diaphragm for improved exposure during continuous shooting.
If you need even more reach, the 150-600mm is compatible with a pair of weather proof teleconverters: a 1.4x for $419 and a 2x for $439.
At 4.4 pounds, this lens is unsurprisingly heavy but it compares favorably to Sigma’s weather-sealed 150-600mm Sport lens. Tamron’s 150-600mm is nicely weather-sealed and has fluorine coating on the front lens element to make it easier to clean. There’s an Arca-Swiss compatible tripod lens collar included. It can be easily rotated around the lens, but can’t be removed unless you want to break out a tiny eyeglass screwdriver.
You can regulate zoom speed by pulling the zoom ring forward to slow its turn. There’s a focus lock button with three distance options and a zoom lock which can keep the lens locked at 150mm (for travelling purposes), otherwise you’ll definitely get lens creep.
Image Quality and Performance
Patiño shot a soccer match with the SP 150-600mm on Canon’s 1D X Mark II and says the lens was surprisingly nimble on Canon’s speedy flagship. AF performance was consistent, with far more hits than misses, he says.
But by far the lens’s best attribute is its image stabilization. “I was amazed at the shots I could get handheld, out to 600mm, with no blur,” Patiño says. Case in point: our time with the lens corresponded to November’s “Super Moon.” Patiño shot the moon from his back porch in the dead of night without blur.
The lens’ variable aperture, while standard for this price range, still left Patiño wishing for a bit more light. “I really wish it was a f/4-5.6,” he tells us.
The lens offers excellent corner-to-corner sharpness but there was some barrel distortion running along the top and bottom of the frame. The distortion was much more visible when shooting our test chart than when eyeing a natural scene, but once our eyes were primed for it, we picked it up in the slightly distorted bend of a soccer goal. It was quickly remedied, however, using the lens profile in Lightroom.
There was some fairly strong chromatic aberration as well, but here too, the Lightroom lens profile was able to clean most of it up.
The most direct competitor to this lens is Sigma’s 150-600mm f/5-6.3, which is offered in a Contemporary option for a less-expensive $1,000 or a weather-sealed Sport variant, which is pricier than the Tamron at $1,999. The Tamron lens is significantly lighter than the Sport, while retaining the weather-sealed build.
For the money, Patiño says the Tamron is a steal. “It’s a great entry lens for anyone wanting to shoot sports or landscapes,” he says. While you’ll have to keep a watchful eye on barrel distortion and chromatic aberration, they’re easy enough to dispatch with a lens profile in programs like Lightroom or DxO OpticsPro. While the lens is heavy enough that only body builders will relish the idea of handholding it for long stretches, the image stabilization is so good that they could—and get away with it.
PROS: Excellent image stabilization; great value for the price; weather-sealed.
CONS: Some visible barrel distortion and chromatic aberration.