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.

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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.

 

24-70: local architecture

In my pursuit of ways to make Rotherham look attractive, I’ve been out and about this month looking at some of the local landmarks.

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Rotherham Minster at night. This was taken in the midst of the recent Saharan Death Smog, which seemed to completely miss the town centre. Also, I don’t think it was that deadly. There is a possibility that this image may appear on the cover of next year’s Rotherham Hospice calendar, so watch out for that. I turned off the VC for this one and used a remote release to get the sharpest possible result.

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Monkwood cemetery church. I love this building. I walked past it many times without realising it was there. It’s no longer in use, but it has a very distinctive structure. I chose the long end of the lens to give a three-dimensional effect and to accentuate trees.

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Conisborough Castle. Due to some modern fencing and the surrounding housing estates, this isn’t the easiest place get a good shot. For the first photo I used the close working distance of the lens with a tight aperture to get a shot that was recognisable but uncluttered.

24-70: Sheffield Botanic Gardens

I’m very much making the most of the clement weather this week, and took myself off to the Steel City’s softer side today. The clouds were the perfect counterpoint to the vibrant colour of the early flowers.

The images I’ve picked today summarise the finer optical qualities of the Tamron SP 24-70mm f/2.8 Di VC USD.

Excellent short range capabilities

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Pleasing bokeh, even when stopped down

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An image stabiliser that allows you to use slow shutter speeds hand-held for creative effect

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Pin sharp detail, corner to corner, and excellent contrast reproduction.

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24-70: Chatsworth House

_DSC8942-2The other half of last weekend involved a trip to Chatsworth House. It’s not somewhere I’d been before, and it didn’t take long to work out why it’s so popular. The “driveway” consisted of several hundred acres of land and more Fallow deer than I’ve ever seen in my life, and would be a pleasant place to visit in its own rights.

We walked alongside the house to the topiary maze, and had a real laugh trying to figure out the way in the the middle. Forty five minutes to get in, three to find the way back out! The Tamron 24-70 USD was the main lens used that day (a short break for macro photography), and in grounds this large it really came into its own.

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The lens is really crisp, all the way to the edges, which is obviously very important when photographing anything with bold geometry such as buildings. The cloud cover was really changeable for us that day (although we didn’t see any rain), but the 24-70 seems to hold sufficient contrast really well no matter what.

It was a bit of a shock to us that I had to leave my camera bag behind before entering the house (and even more shocking since the restrictions didn’t seem to apply to everyone), so I became reliant on the 24-70’s versatility quite unexpectedly. The image stabiliser came in quite handy, and the range of focal lengths and excellent close-up capabilities (a feature of every Tamron lens I’ve ever used) meant I was able to get a wide selection of shots with just the one lens.

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24-70: The widest lens I’ve ever used.

Okay, so in terms of the angle of view, that’s not true at all. But physically, the Tamron 24-70mm f/2.8 Di VC USD is a large lens. Within its class, it appears to be the only with a thread larger than 77mm (at 82mm). This does has some relevance on the use and optical characteristics of the lens, so I thought it was discussing this in further detail.
Since the lens is quite compact, and shorter than some of its counterparts, the large front element does contribute to the pronounced vignetting when shooting at maximum aperture, since the distance from the centre of the lens to the edges is proportionally larger than in other lenses. I’ve talked about this in a previous post, and have said before that I don’t view vignetting as an issue, since there are certain circumstances where an aperture-controllable vignette might actually be an advantage. In any case, vignettes are easily removed with even the most basic software these days, and if it’s a choice between a vignette-free lens or a sharp lens, I’ll pick the detail every time. Since the large front element collects plenty of light, the resolution is excellent.
The more obvious effect of the large elements is the size and weight of the lens, and how it handles on a camera. This is quite an important factor, as it can potentially limit who buys the lens.

Handling

Since the Tamron is also the only lens in class to come armed with a stabiliser, the bulk at the front of the lens is balanced by the bulk at the back of the lens. It’s got some girth. I am very aware of how heavy it is whenever I use it. Of course, this is a lens designed for full-frame cameras, so extra size and weight is to be expected.
While this weight reassures me that it’s a quality product, I find myself gripping my camera very tightly, and can lead to some discomfort when shooting vertically. I have quite small hands, so my grip only reaches half way around the Tamron 24-70mm VC. A battery grip helps by giving a larger surface area to hold on to with the other hand and giving balance, but that does add more weight.
Recently I was looking for an arca-swiss type tripod plate that would allow me to use a sling strap at the same time. I stumbled on to the Joby Ultraplate, and ordered one that came bundled with a hand strap. This turned out to be a very good buy, as it’s solved the problems of wrist pain, as I can now relax my grip without fear of dropping the camera (Note: I’m a huge fan of Joby’s newest line of products, from the Ballhead X to the Ultra fit sling strap – they’re all really well designed with very little that I’d do differently). I no longer feel the need to use an additional grip for most shooting, and feel a lot more comfortable when using the Tamron as a result.

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Filters

Because of the 82mm thread, I’m not currently able to use my filters with the Tamron 24-70mm VC. Up until now, my top quality lenses both had a 77mm thread, and I’ve used stepping rings to use my circular polariser with my smaller lenses. This much more economical than buying a filter for every lens. However, I will have to invest in a larger filter now in order to cover the front of the Tamron. The price difference between 77mm and 82mm filters is only about 10%, so if you chose to buy the Tamron before buying a filter, it’s not an issue. However, replacing a polariser is a costly affair, so this is a clear negative if you’re thinking of upgrading or replacing an existing lens in your current lineup.

Advanced shooting

The increased weight comes in handy when shooting from a tripod, since it takes a stronger wind to affect the stability. The shot below was taken with the camera perched on top of handrails, with the legs splayed over a bridge and using a radio trigger to open the shutter.

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Since I can’t use my filters, I’m now more likely to use sensor dodging to control my exposures when shooting in low light. The good news is that the large element means that it’s easy for me to visualise the movements I need to make with my hands in order to make the necessary adjustments to my images. In fact, the technique is easier with this lens than with any other I’ve used, allowing me to get detailed and colourful images like those below without too much trial and error. And because I’m not using an optical filter, the “hand-filtered” images are as sharp as they can possibly be.

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As with any attribute, there’s a balance to be struck. Now that I’ve sorted out the handling of the lens with my choice of straps, I’m able to enjoy to the fullest extent the things which cause the lens’s heft and girth: an outstanding image stabiliser and a large piece of glass which allows me to shoot more creatively. The fact is, I can take images with this lens that I can’t get with any other 24-70mm in the same circumstances.