I’ve planned a trip to BC next year where I will mainly do landscape and underwater photography but I’m also interested in doing some whale watching tours and bear photography. In addition, I’ve planned to visit Namibia in the next couple of years. Therefore I need a longer lens for wildlife photography.
So far I have been looking into the following options:
1. Nikon 80-400mm
2. Tamron 150-600mm
3. Nikon 1 V3 with the new 70-300mm
I will probably use this lens often handheld either from a small boat or from a car. Therefore a good image stabilizer is important. In addition to great image quality, weight and size are also very important because I travel a lot. The classical super-tele lenses like the 2.8/400mm, 4.0/500mm, 4.0/600mm, and 5.6/800mm are definitely too large for my kind of trips.
The Nikon 1 V3 would be the lightest option but the sensor is definitely not as good as the D800 sensor, especially regarding dynamic range and high ISO noise. In addition, the Nikon 1 V3 uses different batteries and memory cards than the D800E. I don’t like the idea of carrying two completely different systems. The available sample images from the Nikon 1 V3 show that the sensor performance is very similar to the old V2 or my Nikon 1 AW1, not bad for a compact camera but clearly not as good as the D800.
Regarding the other two options, I read many tests on the net and in print magazines. According to the German fotoMagazin (05/2014), the sharpness/resolution of the Tamron is at 300mm much better than the current Nikon 80-400G and at 600mm about as good as the Nikon 80-400G at 400mm. Therefore I decided to preorder one.
Yesterday the lens arrived and I did immediately some sharpness tests with my Nikon D800E on a very stable Gitzo series 5 tripod with Burzynski ball head using mirror lockup and self-timer.
AF and IS/VR were switched off and manual focus was done using liveview at max zoom. Every shot was repeated twice with a new manual focus in between. By choosing the sharpest image for each setting afterward the risk for manual focus errors was reduced. For the center crops, the focus was done in the center, while for the corner crops, the focus was done at that corner at max zoom to reduce the effects of field curvature and the influence of a test subject being not 100% parallel to the sensor.
All images were processed with my default sharpening (50/0.7/100/0) in LR.
Since the light was not completely constant during the test due to some moving clouds contrast and colors should not be compared between the images but evaluating the sharpness is possible.
As a test subject, I chose a flat house wall. The test was done at 600mm, 500mm, 400mm, 300mm, and 150mm. I started with 600mm at a distance of about 15m and when I reduced the focal length I moved closer to the subject to get a similar image. That way the images are visually directly comparable but the different distances can of course also have an additional influence on the image sharpness.
A couple of weeks ago I also acquired the Zeiss Apo Sonnar 135mm lens. DxO has tested this lens as currently the best lens for the Nikon D800E (followed by some Nikon super-tele lenses and the Zeiss Otus). Therefore I used this Zeiss lens as a reference during the test of the Tamron zoom. Of course, this comparison is not really fair. A low-cost consumer tele-zoom lens from Tamron has to compete against the best lens available. But in the field, I will use both lenses side by side. And if the Tamron is much worse than the Zeiss I know that I won’t be happy with this lens.
Here are some 100% crops of the test images.
Tamron 150-600 @600mm, f/6.3, center:
Tamron 150-600 @600mm, f/8, center:
Tamron 150-600 @600mm, f/11, center:
Tamron 150-600 @600mm, f/6.3, corner:
Tamron 150-600 @600mm, f/8, corner:
Tamron 150-600 @600mm, f/11, corner:
Tamron 150-600 @500mm, f/6.3, center:
Tamron 150-600 @500mm, f/8, center:
Tamron 150-600 @500mm, f/11, center:
Tamron 150-600 @500mm, f/6.3, corner:
Tamron 150-600 @500mm, f/8, corner:
Tamron 150-600 @500mm, f/11, corner:
Tamron 150-600 @400mm, f/6.0, center:
Tamron 150-600 @400mm, f/8, center:
Tamron 150-600 @400mm, f/11, center:
Tamron 150-600 @400mm, f/6.0, corner:
Tamron 150-600 @400mm, f/8, corner:
Tamron 150-600 @400mm, f/11, corner:
Tamron 150-600 @300mm, f/5.6, center:
Tamron 150-600 @300mm, f/8, center:
Tamron 150-600 @300mm, f/11, center:
Tamron 150-600 @300mm, f/5.6, corner:
Tamron 150-600 @300mm, f/8, corner:
Tamron 150-600 @300mm, f/11, corner:
Tamron 150-600 @150mm, f/5.0, center:
Tamron 150-600 @150mm, f/8, center:
Tamron 150-600 @150mm, f/11, center:
Tamron 150-600 @150mm, f/5.0, corner:
Tamron 150-600 @150mm, f/8, corner:
Tamron 150-600 @150mm, f/11, corner:
And here are some 100% crops from the reference Zeiss Apo Sonnar lens.
Zeiss Apo Sonnar 135mm, f/5.6, center:
Zeiss Apo Sonnar 135mm, f/5.6, corner:
The Tamron 150-600mm is very good from 300mm to 500mm focal length stopped down to f/8. Although for great corner sharpness you need f/11. At 600mm it is rather weak even at f/8, which was expected. If you stop down to f/11 it is useable at 600mm but not great. A really big surprise to me was how bad the lens is at 150mm in the corners (at close distances), even stopped down. Tamron should have released this lens as a 250-500 zoom. If you can live with this limited range and are willing to use it stopped down to f/8 it is not a bad choice in this price range. I’m feeling a bit too limited by a zoom lens where you can only use half of the zoom range and therefore decided to return the lens.
The mechanical construction of the Tamron is very good, zoom and focus rings have a good feeling and the lens is thoroughly protected against rain with sealing gaskets. It feels even a bit better than the Nikon 80-400mm G lens.
Since I have decided to return the lens after the sharpness test, I’ve not done any AF or IS/VR tests.
My guess is that if I want a long lens with a significantly better IQ than the Tamron I have to get a fixed focal length super-tele lens. The only one from Nikon with size and weight suitable for my kind of trips is the 2.8/300mm and I will probably try it together with the 1.4 and 2.0 TCs.