A great thing about Sony is the sheer number of lenses available for the E-mount system. It exceeds the Canon and Nikon mirrorless lines, albeit Sony has been around the mirrorless game longer.
But, Sony has opened up their mount design to third-party manufacturers, like Tamron and Sigma. The result has been fantastic, interesting lenses across a broad spectrum of price. If you want professional grade glass, the G-Master line is up there with Canon glass as the best you can buy. If you want a budget zoom that’s great for the price, you can look towards Sigma or Tamron.
In my opinion, the third-party lens options are a huge advantage for Sony right now. One, it just adds to the available lenses on the market, and two, the lenses tend to be fantastic for the price.
Today, our focus is a new Sony E-mount offering from Tamron – the Tamron 150-500mm f/5-6.7 Di III VC.
This lens was announced in April 2021, but it is still difficult to get your hands on, and we just recently were able to test it out.
Tamron 150-500mm f/5-6.7 Di III VC – $1,399
- E-Mount Lens/Full-Frame Format
- 225-750mm Equivalent on APS-C Cameras
- Aperture Range: f/5-6.7 to f/22-32
- Low Dispersion and Aspherical Elements
- VC Image Stabilization with 3 Modes
- BBAR-G2 and Fluorine Coatings
- VXD eXtreme-Torque Drive Linear AF Motor
- 82mm Front Filter Size
- Moisture-Resistant Construction
- Rounded 7-Blade Diaphragm
Design & Build
The Tamron 150-500mm is an enticing lens because of where it slots in with the current Sony E-mount lenses.
There’s Sony’s expensive G-Master 100-400mm, which is excellent, but only hits 400mm. There is Sony’s great 200-600mm at an affordable price point, which gives 600mm in range with extra size and weight. And now, there is this Tamron, giving a good in-between of reach and size.
The lens is 8.3 inches (209.6 millimeters) long and 11.1 inches (283 millimeters) when fully extended. The lens (with tripod collar) weighs 4.1 pounds (1.86 kilograms).
Let’s compare those numbers. Retracted, it’s about the same size as the Sony 100-400mm. But, it weighs about 1 pound more. It is still smaller than the 200-600mm, and about a half pound less.
Now, it is an external zoom lens, but that allowed Tamron to pack 500mm into a small package. This lens is a great size for what it offers, which is 150-500mm range with great image quality.
Build quality is excellent. It feels like a pro grade lens. You can lock zoom at focal lengths (which is really a great feature), lock the external zoom for transport, switch focus range, and choose from 3 Vibration control settings on the lens.
Although it zooms externally, Tamron promises weather sealing and protection from the elements.
Image quality is superb from the Tamron 150-500mm. It is on par with the Sony 200-600mm and just slightly worse than Sony’s G-Master 100-400mm (which is $1,000 more and only offers 400mm).
Although an f/5-6.7 lens, you will need to stop down for maximum sharpness. In general, peak center sharpness is right around f/8 on this lens.
One downside is corner sharpness. The corners definitely don’t resolve well unless stopped down around f/11 – f/13. I find this a minor issue though, as this is primarily a wildlife lens and most subjects will be close to centered in the frame.
Bokeh is actually very good at the wide-open apertures of this lens. But, at those apertures the lens isn’t as sharp as f/8, thus you will have to make a decision on whether or not the additional sharpness is worth it or if shooting wide-open for more light and better bokeh is worth the loss in sharpness.
In my opinion, shooting wide-open and sharpening during post-processing works great. The sharpness wide open isn’t bad by any means, it’s just not the sharpest aperture of the lens, which is normal for most of the Tamron builds we see.
Autofocus is such a key piece for longer telephotos these days and the 150-500mm really delivers. The lens has Tamron’s high speed, high torque VXD (Voice-coil eXtreme-torque Drive) linear motor focus system. This system was first utilized in the 70-180mm f/2.8. This is one of Tamron’s best AF systems and it far exceeds what we saw in the classic 150-600mm It is much better than the OSD system.
Matter of fact, put this lens to the test alongside the Sony 200-600mm and your results will be almost identical. I’d say to expect ~90% hit rate from the Tamron, while the Sony might be a few percentage points higher. Both lenses are much better than the third-party Sigma 100-400mm.
The Sony 100-400mm G-Master still leads the pack, but I already mentioned the price and limited 400mm reach. Conclusion
Tamron has excelled at creating great telephotos zooms that prepare fabulous for the price. The 150-500mm is no different and it is actually a big upgrade over the 150-600mm G2 model that so many have come to love. It offers 100mm less range, but comes with better image quality and focusing abilities.
I think the biggest question for this lens is – do I get this or the Sony 200-600mm? And that’s tough. The Sony is bigger, but offers 600mm. The Sony is sharper in the corners but Tamron has pretty much matched the Sony in the center. The Sony is pricier too at $2,000.
This is what I think. If you want the best image quality and can sacrifice the 500-600mm range, the Sony 100-400mm G-Master is the best 100-400mm on the market. It comes at a premium though.
If you’re on a budget, I think it is hard to ignore the Tamron 150-500mm. It’s a similar size, offers range up to 500mm, and has IQ/AF similar to the larger Sony 200-600mm. I’d also consider the camera you’re shooting on. If it’s a Sony a1 or a Sony a7R IV. I think the 600mm reach doesn’t matter. With the 50-60 MP resolutions, shooting at 500mm and cropping is definitely an option. If you’re shooting with an a9 or a9 II, then it might make more sense to go with the longer lens.
The Tamron 150-500mm is an excellent lens and I think it’s a great price for what it offers. It makes the decision on what telephoto zoom to get difficult, but it’s nice that there are a lot of options out there.
Personally, I think I’d opt for the 150-500mm over the 200-600mm. Give me the smaller size, lower price, easier portability, and near equal image quality and autofocus capabilities. It’s a great lens.
Matt Meisenheimer is a photographer based in Wisconsin. His artistry revolves around finding unique compositions and exploring locations that few have seen. He strives to capture those brief moments of dramatic light and weather, which make our grand landscapes so special. Matt loves the process of photography – from planning trips and scouting locations, taking the shot in-field, to post-processing the final image. Matt is an active adventurer and wildlife enthusiast as well. He graduated with a degree in wildlife ecology and worked in Denali National Park and Mount Rainier National Park as a biologist. He also spent 6 months working in the deserts of Namibia before finding his path in photography. Matt’s passion for the wilderness has taken him to many beautiful places around the world. As a former university teaching assistant, Matt is passionate about instruction. It is his goal to give his students the technical and creative knowledge they need to achieve their own photographic vision. He truly enjoys working with photographers on a personal level and helping them reach their goals. You can see Matt’s work and portfolio on his webpage at www.meisphotography.com
Don’t miss the next session of BCJ Live!
Managing Your Photo Library
with Russell Graves
Thursday, December 9th, 2021
11 am – 12 pm Mountain Time