Sony and Tamron Hit One Out of The Park
When asked what lenses to bring on an Antarctic photographic expedition I usually quip ,”Everything from 16mm to 500mm“. The reason being that one can be shooting whales or landscape from the deck of the ship one moment, and later that day be hiking on a snow field with penguins and want something really wide to tell the story better.
Tamron introduced their 150-500mm lens in early 2014 to a great deal of consumer interest. Kevin purchased one in Nikon mount and used it on his Arctic workshop in Svalbard in the summer of ’14 and reported that the lenses was really quite excellent, and a tremendous value for the money. At about US $1,000 it falls within the budget of many photographers seeking a versatile long-reach lens.
The lens is available in Nikon, Canon and Sony A mount. For reasons which I do not know, Tamron builds stabilization into the lenses in Nikon and Canon mount, but not in Sony mount. Since I no longer shoot regularly with either Nikon or Canon (having moved to mirrorless system cameras for much of my work) I was hesitant to get the lens for my Sony A7r because such long glass really does need stabilization.
Then in the fall of 2014, Sony introduced the A7 MKII body with sensor-based in-body stabilization (IBIS). Now, with the addition of a Sony LE-A4 adaptor I could buy the Tamron lens and use it on the A7 MKII. This would be an ideal combo for use on my early 2015 Antarctic expedition workshops.
Kevin’s experience in Svalbard with the Tamron on a Nikon D800e, and my initial city testing of the lens on the Sony A7 MKII were both positive, but the real world can hold surprises, and thus I was keen to see how this combo would perform.
In The Field
The shot above of porpoising penguins summarizes my experience with this camera/lens combo. The LE-EA4’s phase detection AF and the system’s focus tracking capability allowed for capturing these completely unpredictable penguins as they jumped from the water. Their position can’t really be anticipated and their time above water is faster that one’s ability to anticipate.
In this instance I had the A7 MKII on high speed mode with continuous Live View (7 FPS) and would fire bursts as the penguins leapt from the water. I had the camera set to 1/1000 sec for freezing the motion, and at f/11 for adequate DOF. The cameras was in Auto-ISO mode and selected ISO 800, which was fine in this situation.
Virtually every frame out of hundreds shot, showed excellent lock-on and tracking. I frankly don’t think that I have ever used a long zoom lens / camera combo that could have done better.
Build / Feel / IQ
The construction quality and materials of the Tamron feel first rate. There is a removable rotating tripod shoe, a Lock switch that holds the lens at its shortest focal length and thus smallest size for transport, and the supplied front lens hood is made of metal and bayonets on firmly and securely.
As for as image quality goes, I did some 2,600 frames with this lens in Antarctica. I used just about every focal length and find little negative to comment on. CA seems well controlled, and the lens is acceptably sharp right through its focal range, with the exception of 600mm, where it is a bit less sharp than at 500mm and below.
Sigma has a competitive 150-600mm f/5.6 – f/6.3 lens. As this was being written in mid-February, 2014 it was announced that the Sony A-mount version of this lens, which had been part of the proposed line-up, has been discontinued, even before launch. It appears that third party lens makers don’t see too bright a future for the Sony A mount, and frankly Sony isn’t doing much of a job to convince them otherwise. The Tamron, along with an adaptor for FE mount cameras is the way to go, and the Sony A7 MKII, because of its IBIS, is the current ideal companion for this lens.
If you have a Nikon or Canon system that you now have two choices; Tamron and Sigma.