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: 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

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.

 

New arrival: 24-70mm F/2.8

Two days.

That’s how long it’s taken me to fall in love with this lens. It’s that good.

When I said goodbye to my D300 and moved to full-frame, I think I found it harder to come to terms with the realisation that my 17-55 was going to have to follow. It was my preferred walkabout lens for a number of years, and was very crisp, but after identifying my upgrade path, I had to trade it in. So when Intro 2020 asked me if there was another lens I would like to try, the Tamron SP 24-70mm f/2.8 Di VC USD was right at the top of my list. It has a full-frame coverage that almost matches that of the 17-55mm DX pairing, and throws in the added bonus of image stabilisation.

I caught myself smiling while opening up the box when it arrived the other day. Honestly, I don’t think I’ve been so excited to use a lens before. My first observation was that it’s a chunky monkey. The lens feels robust, and is heavier than it looks. The barrel is almost a uniform diameter, which makes it very comfortable to grip. There are some nice little design touches like an asymmetrical focus ring and chamfered edges to the zoom ring and barrel which makes it feel like a premium product, and the lens hood clicks into place firmly. I’ll be sure to include some photographs of some of these details in a future post. The model number is the A007, which is probably what made Tamron use a spy theme in the above ad campaign. If not, it’s an amusing coincidence…

I didn’t waste much time in getting out with the 24-70mm either, heading out to Rivelin Valley again. The weather took a turn for the worse a couple of hours in, so straight away I can confirm that the “drip proofing” works. No adverse affects at all, even though I was initially concerned about water seeping in through the telescoping barrel. 

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The 24-70 proved its versatility during the course of my walk. The argument over whether to use primes or zooms has, in my opinion, been academic for some time. The quality of modern zooms far outstrips that of older prime lenses, so nowadays it’s really just down to the weight. Of course, when the weather is poor, the additional weight of a zoom lens seems inconsequential. Two prime lenses will quickly amount to more than one zoom lens.

My early findings are that vignetting is apparent when shooting wide open, but it’s hard for me to see this as a major problem when it’s so easily corrected at the first step of my raw workflow. Furthermore, I don’t often shoot subjects where it would be an issue anyway. Regardless, it goes away pretty quickly when stopping down even moderate amounts. What is also very obvious is that the sharpness across the frame is excellent, even when shooting at very wide apertures.

I’m really looking forward to using this lens a lot over the coming months. It really is a beauty.

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Tamron SP 24-70mm f/2.8 Di VC USD; 70mm @ 13.3m; F/9; ISO 50; 1s.

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Tamron SP 24-70mm f/2.8 Di VC USD; 24mm @ 11.9m; F/9; ISO 50; 1.3s. Tripod mounted.

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Tamron SP 24-70mm f/2.8 Di VC USD; 24mm @ 11.9m; F/18; ISO 200; 4s. Tripod mounted.

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Tamron SP 24-70mm f/2.8 Di VC USD; 24mm @ 4.5m; F/1; ISO 200; 1s. Tripod mounted.

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Tamron SP 24-70mm f/2.8 Di VC USD; 24mm @ 0.7m; F/3.2; ISO 1000; 1/60s. Tripod mounted.
Compare with the shot above, taken at the same focal length but moving in closer for this shot. The effect on depth of field is quite pronounced.

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Tamron SP 24-70mm f/2.8 Di VC USD; 70mm @ 1.1m; F/6.3; ISO 100; 0.8s. Tripod mounted, cropped by 50%

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Tamron SP 24-70mm f/2.8 Di VC USD; 24mm @ 3.2m; F/11; ISO 50; 8s. Tripod mounted.

70-200: Into the Dales

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My wife and I took up our friends’ invitations to come and join them in the Yorkshire Dales this weekend, and had a wonderful, though very wet, day walking with them and checking out various waterfalls and rivers throughout the day.

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When it’s raining, the Tamron 70-200mm f/2.8 SP Di VC USD has a real advantage. It’s a weather sealed lens, and thanks to its large, deep hood, it’s fairly easy to keep raindrops off the front element as well. It can take a brief shower without causing any concern. Mind you, some of the weather we saw this weekend was considerably more severe. When it’s like this, I use the Hydrophobia camera jacket by Think Tank.  It just gives a bit more piece of mind (It also makes you blend into a crowd more; I’ve noticed people tend to assume you’re carrying a bag or coat rather than a camera).

When approaching Hardraw Force, the 70-200 turned out to be an excellent choice. The normal viewpoint at the foot of the falls was not as appealing to me, due to the lack of vegetation and resultant colour on the walls of waterfall. Standing a distance back allowed me to take in more of the plantlife, while avoiding including too much sky, which was bright, but very overcast and completely lacking in detail.

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The 70-200 has excellent bokeh characteristics, giving a pleasing separation from the foreground trees and a painterly backdrop. And since there was considerably more water coming down the falls that day, the greater working distance and deep lens hood helped to control some of the spray in the air. Not going for the obvious choice of a wide angle lens means I’ve come away with a shot that’s quite different to the typical view of one of England’s more famous waterfalls (having once featured in Robin Hood, Prince of Thieves).

This wouldn’t have been possible in a single shot with a DX format camera, but with a full frame sensor, the 70-200 appears to be a much more versatile lens, and the edge sharpness of the Tamron is just excellent.

If I want to get even wider with the 70-200, then the low distortion means that panoramic stitching is a fairly painless process. This was a three-shot effort to take in a bit more of the shadowplay on the hills and fields, and the fainter double rainbow.

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