150-600: Back in the wild

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Since our baby was born, I’ve not had much opportunity to get out with the Tamron 150-600. It’s fair to say that it’s not the sort of lens you just carry around with you for family album shots!

Today though, I’ve managed to bag a couple of satisfying robin shots (and who doesn’t love a robin?), and used the extreme range to make the most of the winter colours in the trees. In strong sidelight, the 150-600 really does do a great job of capturing all the details, although at closer ranges, you will have to stop the lens down in order to preserve your depth of field, which obviously helps to hit the sweet spot.

 

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

70-200: All good things come to an end…

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This week saw my last visit to the birds of prey centre that I’ve been fortunate enough to attend over the last year. It’s been an absolute delight to spend so much time in the company of these fabulous creatures, and to learn so much about this most impressive of vocations.

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For shots like this, I tend to adjust the autofocus slightly. If a bird is flying directly towards me, then I’ll make sure that I’ve set the camera to front-focus the lens. I’ve found that this reduces my chance of focus-related rejects. I’m finding that the tracking speed of the Tamron 70-200mm f/2.8 SP Di VC USD is excellent, and I’ve had more successful shots since I’ve started using it then with any other lens. So if high speed sports are your thing, this lens would be an excellent choice.

I’ve not had much chance to get out recently due to a shortage of days off and current efforts to refresh our house, but the warm weather has ensured that when I have got out, there has been no shortage of butterflies. I used the Tamron 70-200mm f/2.8 SP Di VC USD in conjunction with an automatic extension tube to get the following photos. The tight angle of view meant that a small shift in my viewpoint completely changed the background.

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70-200: It was all going so well…

So I have to say, now that I’ve got used to the focus ring being in a different place on the Tamron 70-200mm f/2.8 SP Di VC USD, I love it. The handling is absolutely marvellous, and the balance is perfect on my D300 (with a grip).

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I’ve not been out as much as I’d like over the last week or so, but that happens sometimes when you work shifts. Some weeks are better than others. But it’s a good time of year for birds at my local hotspots, so I thought I’d give that a go. Then I hit a hurdle.

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As you may be aware, most of my gear is Nikon branded. A few years ago I sold my Kenko 2x teleconverter for the far superior Nikon 1.7 TC. A focal length of 200mm is pretty modest for bird photography, so I usually take this piece of kit with me when I want to shoot anything like that. This week however, I found that there’s a bit of an issue with compatibility btween my 1.7 TC and the Tamron 70-200mm.

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The Nikon TC has elements which protrude inside the bodies of their larger lenses, which tend to have quite a gap between the rear elements and the lens mount. To make sure that users aren’t tempted to use it with lenses that it could damage, they appear to have varied the mount slightly. Normally the Nikon mount is made up of three tabs. If you look at the mount of the 1.7 TC, you can see a small, fourth metal tab. It’s this little intrusion that has caused me to miss some shots I’d normally be able to get this week.

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There is no reason I can see to limit the use of this teleconverter with the Tamron lens. The protruding elements of the Nikon TC would have enough clearance within the Tamron lens to sit safely in there. Now, it’s hard to say who is at fault here. Nikon have clearly got the patents on the mounts, and as such can restrict third party manufacturers in some respects, effectively boosting their own sales. But I’m inclined to think that Tamron have missed a trick here, as they are making their lenses to Nikon specifications.

The issue is, even at this early stage, I can see real benefits to swapping my Nikon lens for the Tamron model. The dimensions are a bit more favourable, and as I keep saying, the handling is noticeably better. However, I’m very aware that I’d also have to change my teleconverter. And it wasn’t exactly cheap. If I had more than one lens to use it with, I’d certainly not be prepared to do this.

In short, not allowing a cut-out for this little tab means that I’m not getting the reach I’m used too. Which is why I’m unhappy with the in-flight shots of herons that I took the other day. I’d strongly urge Tamron to consider making that change, as it will allow users to broaden their options. Now I realise I may not be getting the whole picture, as there’s also some eletrical communication between lenses and converters, and I’m not qualified to say whether or not those connections are the reason for this, but it’s certainly worth being aware of if you have a lens to replace and also own a Nikon converter. It was a bit of a disappointment. But at least it will make me work on my fieldcraft!

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It’s not all bad though. I had about three seconds to react to this tern flying overhead, and the focus snapped into focus almost immediately. That was pretty impressive.

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