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Monday, April 28, 2014

Tamron 150-600mm f/5-6.3 Lens Won TIPA Award

Tamron SP 150-600mm f/5-6.3 Di IF VC lens

I was in Asia last January and had an opportunity to get a hold of the new Tamron 150-600mm lens for a quick test. Recently, DxOMark tested the lens and gave it a 'thumbs up'.  And now the Technical Image Press Association (TIPA) member magazines awarded the title, "Best Expert DSLR Lens" to the Tamron SP 150-600mm f/5-6.3 Di VC USD lens for 2014.

Yes, you read it correctly, the Best Expert DSLR Lens. Is this a late April Fool's joke? Below is an exact quote from their website for the reason behind this award :

"The Tamron 150-600 mm lens, for full-frame and APS-C DSLRS (with 1.5X magnification factor) incorporates VC (Vibration Compensation, Tamron's image stabilization technology), a fast USD (ultrasonic silent drive), and eBAND (extended bandwidth and angular dependency) coating, for flare and ghosting reduction. The lens employs 20 elements in 13 groups, with the front group containing 3 ED glass elements. The circular, 9-bladed diaphragm provides exciting bokeh effects and maintains the circular shape even at 2 stops down from maximum aperture. The included SILKYPIX Developer Studio for Tamron uses optical data to correct any distortion, light falloff and chromatic aberrations."

This looks very close, almost verbatim, to Tamron's glossy marketing brochures, hyping the same lens. I pay little attention to these announcements (including the recent Canon TIPA awards), when it comes from photography magazines, especially when they receive enormous amount of advertising dollars from the same manufacturers they are giving awards to. If the Tamron 150-600mm lens is the 'Best Expert DSLR Lens' for 2014, I wonder how many will be seen during the upcoming World's Cup and Summer Olympics in Brazil.

The following is an excerpt from DxOMark's review of the lens :

"If Tamron built this lens to outperform the Sigma offering then they succeeded with full frame cameras. The gain in performance over their rival’s offering is less noticeable on the APS-C cameras. Despite that, the image quality is a slight improvement over the Sigma. Given the longer range and similar price, it’s a pretty impressive achievement.

The Tamron even outperforms the pricier Canon lens on the full frame Canon EOS 5D Mk III though it’s less convincing when compared with the Canon EOS 7D. There’s likely too little in it to switch but for first-time buyers the new Tamron is an attractive proposition."

At first glance, it sounds impressive until one parses the words, "outperforms the pricier Canon lens on the full frame Canon EOS 5D Mk III though it’s less convincing when compared with the Canon EOS 7D. There’s likely too little in it to switch ....

The 'outperformance' is marginal, at best, and especially when one realizes the Canon EF 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS lens came out in 1998! When comparing lenses, it has to be apples to apples. Everyone knows in the last few years, many new improvements have been made in coatings and optics. It takes 2014 Tamron technology to 'outperform' a 1998 Canon lens?

Below is my analysis of the Tamron lens back in early January 2014 :

"In short, I am not impressed by this lens, even at the low price, although it can be a good value to an occasional wildlife photographer. It will be discounted to under $1,000 once it is widely available in the US. I will not go into further details and spend a lot of time on it since my purpose is just to get a preliminary feel for this lens. In general, I prefer Sigma lens to Tamron and Canon to both. But for those who do not want to or cannot afford a more expensive long zoom lens and is willing to accept the trade off, this lens may offer them a good alternative.    

Read my earlier post on Travel and Wildlife lens recommendation. I will gladly buy the Canon EF 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS or the EF 400mm f/5.6L and add an extender (MF only beyond f/5.6 on non EOS-1 bodies except EOS-5D Mk III) or use the EOS-7D body to get the additional focal length. The best, super Telephoto zoom on the market is the Canon EF 200-400mm f/4L IS USM Extender 1.4x lens."

It appears Tamron may be having some production issues with this lens. They are not manufactured in Japan and the initial order surge may have overwhelmed the first run. It is still not available in the U.S. as of June. Some Asian dealers are taking advantage of this 'shortage' by charging $1,400 for this mediocre glass. Once the production catches up with the preliminary demand, the price will drop below $1,000 in the U.S. Those who pay above the suggested retail price of $1,069 will find their 'investment' a fast depreciating asset soon.

By the way, Tamron is a third party manufacturer and the lens is designed for full frame and APS-C 1.5X cropped frame cameras. Their engineers must basically take apart and analyze EOS cameras and lenses, and then "reverse-engineer" them to fit and operate on Canon equipment. There is no guarantee it will work flawlessly with Canon or Nikon APS-C cameras now or in the future.

Canon will be announcing the EF 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS II lens some time in August. This is one lens I have been waiting for years to buy. Should be a good one. I have recently come back from a wildlife photo shoot in India. Took the EF 200-400mm f/4L 1.4x lens with me. Visit my website to see photos taken with all the other Canon lenses.

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