Sony Tamron 150-500mm f 5-6.7 FE (My first month, lots of reading)

L0n3Gr3yW0lf

Regular
Location
Somerset, UK
Name
Ovi
My first month with the Tamron 150-500mm f 5-6.7 Di III VXD VC in Sony FE mount (in case Tamron decides to bring it in other mounts in the future) was very intriguing.

After some intense internal debate, this lens won the fight between Tamron 70-300mm f 4.5-6.3 Di III RXD (for budget reasons), the Sigma 100-400mm f 5-6.3 DG DN OS Contemporary (most reasonable size and weight per reach) and the Sigma 150-600mm f 5-6.3 DG DN OS Sport (the most expensive of those mentioned so far, even 2nd hand.
I got the Tamron from MPB for 950 £ in good condition.

My previous experience with telephoto reach has been exclusive with Micro Four Thirds, equivalent reach being 70-300mm, 100-400mm, 200-600mm and 200-800mm, all of them smaller and lighter than the Tamron lens.
My first reaction to the lens (even after testing it for 3 days one month prior when I rented it for a camera club trip) is its weight and its size.
The size is about as big as I would hope it to be, barely fitting in my backpack with the camera attached and the lens hood reversed. Though I just bought a MindShift Rotation 180 Horizon (used) to replace my 4-year-old and very battered backpack from daily work commute, so I'm hoping it will fit in the belt pack horizontally. To my surprise the lens does fit inside my walkabout bag, the Crumpler Quick Escape 800 without the camera mounted (while it's not a particularly small or inconspicuous bag, like my Crumpler Jimmy Bo 400, it's big enough to carry this little beast and a 28-70/75mm f 2.8 or 24-70/24-105mm f 4 or the Tamron 28-200mm f 2.8-5.6 with a Sony a7 series camera mounted).
Weight was a significant factor in purchasing decision, though I later realised that the stated weight is without the tripod collar and lens hood, which brought the lens closer to 2.000 grams than 1.725 grams. I do wish it was lighter as I was most comfortable at 1.100 grams of the Olympus 100-400mm f 5-6.3 IS.
After using it for a while the weight has been less and less noticeable but I have not tried my preferred all-day trips and hiking on foot. I may reconsider in the next few years lenses like Sigma 150-600mm f 5-6.3 and Sony FE 200-600mm f 5.6-6.3 since the weight of those lenses is a lot closer than I thought while having the extra 100mm reach and\or teleconverter option.

I have tried using the lens without the tripod collar, and on sunny days without the lens hood but I haven't found the weight difference to make a large impact (though that may be different on long hikes which I haven't tried yet).
On the subject of tripod collar, I have found it a lot more useful and ergonomic than the Olympus lens, most likely because the Olympus is light enough that carrying it by the tripod foot is not at necessary as the Tamron and carrying it without it is a lot more comfortable than the Tamron without the tripod foot.
So far the only use I have for the collar is as a handle with the orientation to the top of the lens\camera. I do love the implementation of being completely removable instead of leaving stubby bits. And what makes it even better is the fact that all you need is a twist of a thumb captive screw (brilliant implementation with nothing to lose, easily that is) so no tools are needed.
The Arca Swiss compatibility is another added bonus, as it makes it comfortable to hold with no sharp edges, but I am not a big fan of tripods so outside of the occasional tripod mount for moon shots of very far landscapes the tripod will mostly see my fingers.
One mode I enjoy holding the lens is (while oriented at the top of the lens) sticking my hand under the tripod collar and holding on to the lens close to my chest, some of the weight goes in the chest, some on my left hand and some on my right hand as I hold the grip, I find this works quite well to keep the camera at the ready and walking on easy to navigate ground.

Build quality, I haven't had many professional-grade lenses, this is the first one on 3tmm FF for me. It seems dense and solid to me, nothing creaks and everything turns\runs smoothly. I love the small touches like the rubber tip on the end of the lens hood, keeps the lens from sliding when standing on the lens hood though it will break off after years of use so it may be a good idea to keep a spare or two for long term usage, especially on rough ground. The lens cap is the average plastic type but quite big for 82mm (the most I ever had was 72mm). I do wish the lens mount cap was a bit slimmer but that's just a niggle. The inner lens tube is one chunky slab piece of plastic that always impresses me every time I zoom out to 500mm. The switches have very positive clicks to them so you always know that they moved when you intended. Even the 3 stage ones have very firm and positive feedback on their action. I was quite surprised by how nice they feel to the touch being thin-shaped but wide on the finger thickness. (And I think they are a better implementation than Panasonic and Olympus switch on their telephoto lenses in terms of feedback BUT with the caveat that they require more force so if you use the switches during viewing\shooting it will affect the stability of the lens).
Speaking of switches, I do wish the AF Limiter had a position for 2 to 10 meters for shooting subjects up close, especially useful in the woods. Sometimes friendlier birds, like Robins of Common Blackbirds can get as close as 2 meters away. The 15 meters to infinity is very useful for tracking birds in flight, and the 3 meters to infinity is good for general use if you don't expect very up-close subjects.
The VC switch has 3 modes and of the 3 I like Mode 3 the most because it keeps the EVF stable, though it's not as stable as anything I have used from the Micro Four Thirds system. I am still trying to learn to switch to Mode 2 when I want to pan-track something.
The lens extends quite a bit when it's at 150mm is very comfortable to hold with just my hand on the grip of the camera, but once it's zoomed in to 500mm having it on my side holding with just one hand can get tiresome within minutes. At that point, I prefer holding it up to my chest with my left hand under the tripod collar and my right hand on the grip of the camera. I have noticed some people complaining that there's not enough room for holding the grip of the camera comfortable because the fingers are rubbing against the lens throat. I haven't noticed that for my medium to large-size hands. But the later generation Sony cameras do have a bigger grip so I can't validate that experience.

On the zoom ring, I find it quite comfortable and large. I do like the locking clutch and I am trying to learn to work with it. It is quite easy to pull the ring away from me, especially when I get the lens from holding to aiming and I try to use that to my advantage by locking the zoom ring when I am aiming. Though I don't feel that the zoom ring turns so easy that I wouldn't notice and turn it by accident. It is a nice feature to have if you use the 150mm and 500mm ends the most. It would have been nice if the 2nd zoom lock would actually be a switch to disable or enable the clutch mechanism itself IF you don't want/need that feature instead. When you do activate the zoom lock clutch there's a very nice white ring that comes in view under the zoom ring to know that you have it on (OM Systems should try to add that to their manual focus clutch).
The 1st zoom lock is a simple switch at the rightmost side of the lens and it works by locking the lens at 150mm only, good for transport but not much else, I very rarely use it. (Both locks can be active at the same time for extra locking? :p )
The manual focus is closest to the camera body, I don't use it all that much unless I shoot macro, seems to be very responsive and has good travel friction.

For autofocus, I don't know how best to describe it, mainly because I have the quite old, at this point, Sony a7R II which was never known to be a speed daemon. In good daylight the AF is quick and pretty accurate, AF-S is confident, and AF-C can track if it can get a good initial lock. It can be fooled by complex or dark backgrounds for birds in flight. If I use the smallest AF point foliage doesn't seem to bother the setup but it can be tricked by things in front or behind the subject if the initial lock was not successful. I am sure that with the newer generation the AF is significantly better. The AF is very very silent and the only thing scaring off subjects might be the loud mechanical shutter.

Image Quality, I am still going through the process of editing the pictures made with the lens. But the images that I have done so far are very sharp and very high contrast. I haven't noticed any significant fringing, the vignetting is not too bad (correctable with +25 in manual correction for Lightroom), and distortion is minimal. The lens seems to be very resilient to flaring and contrast is kept very high even with bright lights in the frame. The f 6.7 aperture seems to be a mathematical aperture value and not an optical one because I see no darkening of the exposure when going from f 6.3 at 450mm to f 6.7 at 500mm, so to me this is an f 5 to 6.3 lens (just like the rest of the competition. It's full swing summer here and f 6.7 hasn't given me many issues with high ISO, it may be different in the winter but with Sony a7R II I find ISO 6.400 IQ very reasonable and I am comfortable going to ISO 25.600 if need be, I pass most of my image through Topaz DeNoise AI. The bokeh of this lens is really good, even at f 6.7, I haven't had any problems having some separation with tree branches and twigs from the subjects. It may be different in the winter when there are sticks everywhere. The minimum focus distance image quality is pretty decent, though not as good as Micro Four Thirds lenses, and stopping down a little bit does improve the contrast quite a bit. This lens is quite good for small subjects like butterflies, dragonflies, and The Fly (Jeff Goldbloom reference :p ).
The sheer amount of data is in the images at 42 MP that I can easily crop beyond 600mm and still get a good image, I feel less constrained than I was with Panasonic Leica 50-200mm f 2.8-4 even with the 1.4x TC.

Overall, and thus far, I am very happy with the lens and I might get even happier as I learn to work better and better with it. I would love to see how much better the AF can get with the likes of Sony a7 III/IV/C, Sony a9/a1 or Sony a7R III/IV. There's not much I can wish this lens had more or done better. Given its dimensions and image quality so far, the only lens I would like to compliment the Tamron 150-500mm is a native 300mm f 2.8 that can take 1.4x and 2x TC (getting 420mm f 4 and 600mm f 5.6) for the days when light is truly to dim to make f 6.7 difficult to get results with. I do wonder who would be willing to make such a price for Sony FE. Could they make it under 3.000 £? Could it be made under 2.5 KGs? Under 25 cm long?
Nikon is coming out swinging with their Nikkor Z 800mm f 6.3 S and even more with their just-announced Nikkor Z 400mm f 4.5 S. I surely hope Sony won't wait as long as they did to make their Sony FE 200-600mm f 5.6-6.3 G OSS.
At its launch price this lens was quite a bit out there in price and only a couple of hundred cheaper than the Sony's 200-600mm. But now with the 2nd hand market coming in, at 950 £ in good condition and 1.000 £ for an excellent condition, I think it's a lot of value. Though mind you, the size and weight can be deceiving at first.
 
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