150-600: Yorkshire Wildlife Park

We took our first big family trip to Yorkshire Wildlife Park last week, which gave me a chance to try out the Big Ron on some more unusual animals. The most salient point of the day is that every image that I took that day was hand held. For a lens with a maximum focal length of 600mm, this is kind of a big deal. Yes, it’s weighty, but I managed to use it all day, unsupported. Without the Vibration Compensation feature built in to this lens, I couldn’t even have considered leaving the house without a tripod. Bear that in mind. 

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Black swan, 350mm

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Ring tailed lemurs, 460mm

One thing that’s very clear is that this lens is very crisp at 350-480mm. Beyond that, there is some noticeable (though still manageable) loss of sharpness. On something like a D600, it’s not going to be as obvious. However, it’s important to note that the speed of the lens will have a larger effect on image quality for certain applications. 

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Tiger, 600mm

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Giraffe, 600mm

If your current choice of lenses includes something like a 70-300mm F/5.6, then the extra reach of this lens, with a maximum aperture of F/6.3, is going to feel like a blessing without sacrifice. If you use a 70-200 F/2.8, even a stabilised lens, then your choice is a little harder. By tripling the focal length, you triple the length of shutter speeds you need to use to maintain a sharp image. So when you consider that the 150-600mm is two stops slower, you’re going to find yourself working with higher ISO’s even in reasonably good light. 

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Scops Owl, 450mm

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Scops Owl, 450mm

With the optics being as sharp as they are, I wonder if Tamron have missed a trick here. I’m no optical technician, so I can’t comment on the practicalities of lens design, but I wonder if something like a 150-450mm F/4.5 would have been the perfect compromise, and would make purchasing a no-brainer for more people. Fast glass fanatics may struggle to make the adjustment to a lens of this type, since the hit rate is likely to be lower than you’re used to. 

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Scops Owl, 460mm

However, I can still see a strong argument for having this lens as part of my kit. It resolves well enough to keep up with the D800′s detail-packing sensor, and it’s a long-range wildlife lens that you can carry. Which makes it perfect for days out with the kids, without depleting their college funds. It’s certainly whetted my appetite for wildlife photography. 

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DSC_4334_crop Macaque, 300mm.

150-600: The long game

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Cormorants

The Tamron 150-600mm is a very different beast to the lenses I’ve used before. Even the 70-200 F/2.8 is a fairly versatile lens with the right mindset, but there’s no escaping the fact that this is a lens with a very clear agenda. You don’t just walk around with this one in the hope of finding something to photograph.

So I’m starting to see how and why twitchers can kill hours waiting for something to come along. Take the following example. I’ve been going to the same nature reserve almost daily for about three years now, rarely photographing anything other than insect life. I’ve never seen a kingfisher there, even as a fleeting glance. So I was a bit surprised to find one sat on a stick over the water, and for the first time in my life I’m holding a lens long enough to shoot it with.

But I wasn’t expecting to see it, so the camera was slung over my shoulder, and by the time I brought it down and locked focus on its perch, this happened:

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The one that got away. I’m still kicking myself for this one.

 

Hardly a winning image, but it’s my first kingfisher image, and it’s identifiable. I think you’ll agree, it’s a beautifully sharp image of a stick ;)

I did go on to get some more images of the bird. They’re very distant, but it’s reassuring that details are still possible over a distance of about one hundred meters.

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Cropped down from a larger image. I couldn’t even see this without the camera.

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The complete frame

As an entry level lens for wildlife photography, the Tamron is ideal. It’s extremely affordable, and has enough reach to help you see things that you can’t see with the naked eye. The stabiliser comes in handy if you’ve got a general purpose tripod which doesn’t have the rock-solid hold of a specialist model (which is likely if this is the lens you’ve chosen to buy), and it still leaves plenty of room for gear fiends like myself to move on to faster glass once you’ve got a taste for the new range of subjects you’ll be looking at.

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Little Egret

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Little Egret with fish

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a reed warbler trying to be sneaky

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Young Great Crested Grebe

24-70: It’s a burrito!

Here’s the reason for me having fallen off the radar this month; the reason why the 150-600mm reviews have been on hold; and my new reason for being. 

Our daughter was born just over a week ago, eight days early, and if you’d have blinked, you’d have missed it. Since I have a small house, I can’t really get the required nine feet from her to take her photos with my current test lens. Normal service should resume some time this week, but for now, we’re just enjoying the thrill of having a new personality in the house. DSC_3348 DSC_3355

150-600: getting in there safely

It’s been a bit of an eye opener to try the  Tamron 150-600. For years now, I’ve made do with lenses of 200mm or shorter, and added a teleconverter when I had to.
This has always had an effect on subject choice though. I’ve never really given any serious effort to bird photography, since any attempts to do so would require ninja-level stealthiness that I just haven’t got (a few weeks ago I fell ten feet down a nettled embankment trying to get close to a damselfly).
And there are some things that you just can’t approach safely with a shorter lens. Today’s gallery is one such example.
One of my local wildlife reserves is home to a family of horses. Normally, they stay well away from people, but on this particular trip, they were all grouped together on the path, and seemed stressed. One of the stallions was galloping up and down, and was asserting a boundary.

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Looking closer, one of the foals appeared to have collapsed from the heat. Using the Tamron’s incredible reach, I was able to follow the action from a safe distance.

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Happily, the little one regrouped after a little nudge from its mother, and all moved on after a few minutes. It was delightful to watch the foal come round, and how the others reacted to it.

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The penultimate frame of the set really shows the advantage of the Tamron lens, and was taken from the same vantage point the others. The thing about this lens is that you don’t have to rack it out to get close. It breaks the all-important 400mm barrier, which seems to be the point at which serious efforts become possible. At 450mm, the results are very considerably sharper than at 600mm, and still magnify well enough to identify things when you can’t get close enough to see for yourself. Being honest, the quality of results at the more modest focal lengths would still be enough to justify the price of this lens.

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Yes, it’s a slower aperture than I’m used to, and it feels it. But when limiting the focus switch to the longer reaches (15m – infinity), the focus speed seems surprisingly snappy (I can’t quantify this, but when I tried the Canon fit earlier in the year, it seemed a little more responsive than the Nikon model I’m using now). But if you aren’t shooting crepuscular subjects or spending hours in a cramped hide on wet days, I’m not sure you’ll see the need to blow an extra two grand on the next alternative.

As an entry level, or “compact” telephoto for good light, the 150-600mm is an absolute godsend.

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24-70: ready for the new addition

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I’m pretty sure that the Tamron 24-70 is about to push itself to the top of my most-used list. This is a nine shot stitch of the fruits of my labour over the last month. I didn’t think to take any “before” photos, but it used to be blue, and a guest bedroom.
We’ve less than a month until our little girl is due, and I’m stockpiling sleep now while I still have the chance!

150-600: Best foot forward

DSC_2428 as Smart Object-1Today’s post marks the start of my posts using the Tamron 150-600mm f5-6.3 SP Di VC USD.

We’ll start off with the obligatory shot that I’m sure everyone takes when they get a new telephoto lens. If you click on it, you’ll see the full scale of the image which has been cropped down a little. It’s worth bearing in mind that a tripod probably wouldn’t make this any sharper, since the moon moves relatively to us. However, the details that can be picked out are more than a match for what’s possible with the naked eye. So here’s a demonstration of the other headline feature of the “Bigron”: it’s stabilised.

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The inclusion of Vibration Compensation is an important point in the saleability of a lens with a 600mm focal length and a modest maximum aperture of F/6.3. To use a lens that long places a high demand on the shutter speed requirements for sharp shots. VC enables the photographer to shoot with considerably slower speeds than the expected 1/600s or higher, bringing figures into usable territory for the majority of users. Having said that, I think that you’ll still want a monopod if, like me, you aren’t used to this sort of lens, and you will find yourself working above your normal ISO range on occasion.

DSC_2661-as-Smart-Object-1At the other extreme, iDSC_2654-as-Smart-Object-1t didn’t take me long to find the minimum focus distance when trying to photograph insects with the 150-600. It’s about nine to ten feet (almost twice my body length). This takes some getting used to after years of using lenses dedicated to this sort of thing. More often than not, I had to take a step back to successfully focus, rather than the constant edging forward that I’m used to. You can’t really get a frame-filling shot of even large insects without switching to DX crop mode, but it’s perfectly good for “in-situ” compositions.

Whilst it won’t hold up to the optical performance of a macro lens, it’s a capable performer, and on a mid-range sensor it should yield satisfactory results. I have no doubt that the lens will work very well with a modest extension tube, and intend to test this soon.

For close range work, the maximum aperture isn’t a handicap, since the depth of field becomes so incredibly small above 300mm that it a smaller aperture actually acts as a focus aid. I think this will come into play at the farther reaches though, where background separation has an effect on the overall aesthetics.

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The first of the common darter images shown above is posted at its original size of 7360 × 4912 pixels (full frame, D800) to show you what’s possible. It’s obviously easy to crop down  from this scale. Although the sharpness is not the greatest when racked out, I think you have to look fairly closely before it becomes obvious, and the range makes the trade-off worthwhile, since the large working distance means that your subjects will act very naturally and without being disturbed by your presence.

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When you do pair this lens with a cropped format, or switch to an equivalent mode, the working distance feels a bit more natural, since you’re less likely to step inside the close focus distance. Realistically, you buy yourself about three feet. I was quite pleased with these shots of male and female banded demoiselles. The females in particular are extremely flighty, and you simply struggle to get near them with a macro lens in the middle of  a hot day. The Tamron 150-600 is therefore perfectly suited to subjects such as these.

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Introducing the 150-600!

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It’s been a busy couple of months for us, with not much time for photography (as you’ll no doubt have noticed if you regularly follow the blog). In between my job, and studying for a diploma, my wife and I have been busily preparing for the birth of our first child, who is due to arrive in the next few weeks. It’s a very exciting time for us.

Now that I’ve finished with decorating the bedroom for our pending arrival, I’ve been itching to get out and get some real daylight on my skin. The arrival of the Tamron 150-600mm earlier in the month gave me a great excuse! I’ll be putting it through its paces until September to see how it fares.

This has got to be one of the most eagerly anticipated third -party lenses in a few years. It’s a modest 4x zoom ratio, with a top end of 600mm, and it costs less than £1000.

Now, I’ve never used a lens this long before. 340mm is about my existing limit.  I expect that learning to handle this one is going to come with quite a steep learning curve, and I feel that I should be up front about that from the outset. I will have to master a few techniques, but this means that I’ll be the perfect person to discuss the suitability of the “Bigron”(coined by Sumeet Moghe) as an entry into long-lens work.

So, first impressions:

  • It’s built like a tank. The lens hood is huge (although not quite as large as it appears in the wide-angle above)
  • It balances very well on my full-frame body, resting squarely on the tripod foot.
  • Manual focus is very smooth, and is geared in such a way that you can adjust fine focus with just a fingertip.
  • Because of the zoom range, it’s large, and fairly heavy.

However, there’s a note to be made about the size, and it’s that this is still what I’d consider a compact lens for its class. How did I reach that conclusion? Simple. I have the Think Tank Digital Holster 30 V2.0. That’s a shoulder bag designed for a 70-200mm lens with a hood attached. The bigron fits inside it. Snugly, with the hood reversed, but it fits, and I can close the lid with ease. If you don’t feel the need for the hood, then it fits very easily. I did not expect that.

To summarise, I’ll be reviewing a 600mm lens, which costs under £1000 (I’m going to keep saying that, because it’s significant), which is small enough to fit in hand luggage without filling it.

Basically, if you’re going on safari any time soon, you’re going to want to look very closely at this lens.