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: 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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70-200: Tonal work

I’ve got a few monochrome images for you to look at today, since I’ve finally landed on a recipe I like. I think toned images are great for contrasty light, since that’s often what compels me to take a photograph.

The contrast range of the Tamron 70-200 f/2.8 SP Di VC USD is really excellent, thanks to the coatings used on the lenses. In fact, it’s much better in harsh lighting than my old Nikon 70-200. Mind you, I do miss the yellow haze on that lens when shooting towards the sun!

But in the case of the Tamron, this means that even in really hard lighting I can be sure to get crisp details in every part of the photo. Some examples for you:

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Nikon D800; Tamron 70-200mm f/2.8 SP Di VC USD; 200mm @ 1.3m; F/3.5; 1/160s; 125 ISO; handheld.

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Tamron 70-200mm f/2.8 SP Di VC USD; 70mm @ 1.3m; F/4; ISO 500; 1/400s; handheld.

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Tamron 70-200mm f/2.8 SP Di VC USD; 200mm @ 1.3m; F/11; 1/20s; ISO 100; tripod mounted; VC off, remote trigger with mirror lockup.

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Tamron 70-200mm f/2.8 SP Di VC USD; 200mm @ 33.5m; F/3.5; ISO 100; 1/800s; handheld.

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Tamron 70-200mm f/2.8 SP Di VC USD with Nikon 1.7 TC; ISO 1000; F/4.5; 1/320s. Manual focus, handheld.

And just how well can the lens resolve? Well, let’s take a closer look…

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Nikon D800; Tamron 70-200mm f/2.8 SP Di VC USD, 1/200s, 100 ISO F/4.5, 200mm @ 1.6m, handheld. Uncropped.

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crop of above image, shown at 100%

That’s almost certainly as sharp as you’d need. Bear in mind is well, that this is at close range, and a fairly wide aperture, which means a fairly narrow depth of field. At the other end of the focal limit, we’ll end on this image taken at the “infinity” marker on the distance scale. Unlike most of my images, this one is tripod mounted with the VC turned off.

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Tamron 70-200mm f/2.8 SP Di VC USD, 200mm @ 100m (infinity); F/4.5; ISO 100; 1/640s. Tripod mounted, VC off.

70-200: Day-old kittens

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My wife and I were treated to a new intake of rescue kittens at my neighbour’s house yesterday. I used an extension tube with the  Tamron 70-200mm f/2.8 SP Di VC USD to close the range a little due to the small size of the room. This has the advantage of making the most of the beautiful rendering in the out-of-focus areas of the picture.

70-200: Animal attractions

_DSC7334This week my wife and I took advantage of the good weather and took a trip to Twycross Zoo. This gave me a great opportunity to use the Tamron 70-200 in one of the most popular circumstances for a lens of this type.
The beauty of using a telephoto lens in a situation like this becomes apparent the instant you start to shoot through a wire fence. As long as the light is coming from the right direction, the fast aperture and minimal depth of field allows you to make a fence disappear entirely from shot. The high quality glass takes care of the rest, picking out pin sharp detail. Similarly, dirty glass goes from being a distraction from the main subject, to a contrast-reducing soft-focus filter, as in this shot of a female bonobo.

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I’ve always quite enjoyed using a 70-200 when visiting zoos. The ability to zoom is a real bonus when composing an image, as you are often limited in where you can stand and how much you can move around your subjects. I was able to focus on an area of interest which allowed me to highlight the behaviour of the elephant, and not just the enclosed nature of its surroundings.

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On the day we went to Twycross, there wasn’t much need for the Vibration Compensation system. The shutter speeds I used were all sufficiently high not to require it, although there was no impairment on image quality from leaving it on. Later in the week, the weather changed considerably. When shooting this red tailed hawk in the middle of a downpour, I was able to use the VC to reduce my shutter speed to capture streaks of rain, making a more interesting backdrop for the photograph without the need for a tripod.

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I’m finding the VC to be quite serviceable. It works differently to other systems I’ve used in a lens of this length. It can’t lock on quite so well as the Nikon system, but once it’s activated, it works consistently until you release the shutter button, without resetting itself and jumping back to a central position. I see this as a plus, as it’s a little more predictable in its operation than my existing 70-200. My ability to hold a lens steady has been honed by excessive use of high magnification macro shooting, so this way of working suits me better. Others may feel differently. Either way, its inclusion in this lens does allow me to be more flexible with my settings.

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70-200: Tropical Butterfly House

For my first outing with the Tamron 70-200mm F/2.8 SP Di VC USD, I headed straight to my nearest wildlife park. One of the first things I noticed was how quiet the lens was, both in terms of focusing and the Vibration Control system. It’s not unusual for a lens to be described as “silent”, and this one was no exception, but this is the first lens I’ve used where the built in stabilizer genuinely warrants the term. I actually had to check it was working by taking my finger off the shutter for a few seconds to wait for it to shut off. It really is quite remarkable. This may be of note to users of DSLR video. Placing an ear to the camera body does reveal some sound transmission, but it is considerably better than most image stabilizers.

Tamron 70-200 SP Di VC USD

The lens resolved fine details well, and the focus appears to be very fast and precise, even going from one extreme to the other. It’s worth pointing out that several of the photos on this page have been taken through glass, and even this didn’t pose a problem. Constrasty lighting wasn’t a problem for it either, yielding results with a good dynamic range even under strong sunlight.

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One of the reasons for choosing this particular location was the presence of a butterfly farm on location. This obviously comes with a very humid environment, and one with the occasional simulated shower. I’m happy to say that the lens acclimatised very quickly, with no internal fogging.

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Bokeh is pleasing. It’s not quite the smoothest I’ve seen in the areas immediately outside optimum focus, but I think that’s nit-picking. Backgrounds are beautiful. I do feel that the Tamron may be slightly less sharp than my Nikon in the centre, but the edge sharpness is generally better. This gives a consistency across the frame which I have to admit is more appealing to me than a razor-sharp central area. That only applies to  shots at the widest aperture ranges anyway, and at 200mm. Practically, stopping down slightly or using other focal lengths makes image quality differences negligible.

I did make a few mistakes when trying to adjust focus manually, turning the zoom ring instead. Mostly I feel that this just comes down to a lack of familiarity with the lens, and its difference to my other lens. However, for a first outing, I’m really pleased with the results, which at the end of the day is the most important thing to me.

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One major advantage of the Tamron didn’t occur to me until much later: the more compact dimensions of this lens meant that the centre of gravity is much closer to the camera. I was out for several hours, and found that my arm didn’t tire nearly as quickly with the Tamron as it has in the past with my comparable Nikon lens. In the long run, this will mean more comfort and longer shoots. It seems that one inch can make a significant difference!

Images taken at the limit of the lens’s close focusing abilities lose none of their crispness.  This is a quality that is quite important to me, given my preference for images of this type.

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Day 363: Wallaby at speed

Back at the farm today, and practising my panning skills on this Palmer’s Wallaby. I love that I can get so close to these creatures on a regular basis. It’s a benefit of the Tamron for panning that it’s so small and light: your arms don’t get tired. The VC seems capable of limiting the stabiliser in one direction as well, which is a bonus for this sort of shot.

Nikon D300; Tamron 18-270mm PZD @ 270mm; ISO 400; F/9; 1/250s. VC on