Tamron SP AF 200-500mm f/5-6.3 DiLD Review

Wed 5 August

Photographers keen on ultra-powerful zooms might want to check out this super-telephoto from Tamron

The super-telephoto zoom isn’t a lens for the mass-market, but for those looking for power, versatility and performance, this Tamron scores highly

The average 50-200mm telezoom is a pretty versatile lens, but falls well short when you’re in need of a zoom that can magnify relatively small and distant subjects. When you need extra pulling power, something like Tamron’s 200-500mm really fits the bill. Especially when you consider that attached to an APS-C DSLR, its effective focal length is a whopping 310-760mm! This makes it a very attractive proposition for photographers looking for high-magnification optics (eg for wildlife, surveillance and action).

Despite its range, the Tamron is relatively compact and lightweight, measuring just over 20cm in length and weighing a little over a kilo. It features a detachable mount, which supports the lens when fitted 
to a monopod or tripod, reducing strain on the lens mount. 
The general handling of this lens is very good, with a very wide zoom ring that offers a smooth action throughout the range.
The manual focus ring is located toward the rear of the lens, and is smooth in use too. A zoom lock switch on the barrel allows you to lock the lens at 200mm to prevent it from extending while you walk. 
A nice feature of this lens is the ‘Filter Effect Control’, a detachable ring that holds the lens hood and allows you to have a polariser fitted yet still be able to easily rotate it with the hood fitted. The autofocus system is good at locking onto subjects in bright light, but in dim lighting, it does start to hunt a little, especially at the longer end of the zoom, where the maximum aperture is f/6.3. It’s quite noisy and slow in comparison to shorter zooms, but is on a par with other lenses of this type.
Because this lens has an internal focusing system, you don’t have to keep adjusting the filter after autofocus. You’ll find that unless you’re shooting on very bright days or using high ISO ratings of 800 or more, shutter speeds will always fall below what’s recommended for handheld photography at the long end. This is because the maximum aperture at 500mm is f/6.3, which can prove a little restrictive, especially in the British climate. But telephotos with fast apertures have high price tags, so this is a restriction that most of us have to live with. The Tamron features two Low Dispersion (LD) glass elements in its construction, designed to minimise chromatic aberrations, which is a problem that affects zooams in particular. (Chromatic aberration is the technical term given to light at different wavelengths (eg red, blue, green etc) focusing at different points, resulting in blur and fringing.)

In terms of optical quality, the Tamron turns in a very respectable performance. It proves to be sharp throughout the focal length, with f/7.1 to f/11 generally giving the best results. Wide-open sharpness it’s good too, even at 500mm, as our full page image on the right reveals. It’s a lens that must be used with care and handholding, especially at the longer focal lengths, isn’t recommended, due to the risk of shake. But support it on a monopod, or better still a tripod, and you’ll find it delivers images with very good sharpness and decent contrast.

Verdict The super-telephoto zoom isn’t a lens for the mass-market, but for those looking for power, versatility and performance, this Tamron scores highly. It handles well and the filter ring is a very smart feature that, along with the inner focusing system, can really aid those using polarisers, Used with due attention and care and you’ll find it delivers very sharp results. A faster maximum aperture would offer benefits, but this would no doubt also affect the size and price of this lens. Overall, this is a very good choice for those looking for a telephoto zoom with above average pulling power.
Handling: 4/5
Features: 4/5
Performance: 4/5
Value for money: 4/5

Maximum aperture: f/5-6.3;
Minimum aperture: f/32;
Lens construction: 13 elements in 10 groups (includes two Low Dispersion elements);
Minimum focus: 2.5m; Filter thread: 86mm; 
Maximum magnification: 1:5 (at 500mm)
Supplied accessories: Hood and soft pouch;
Diameter x Length: 93.5 x 227mm;
Weight: 1237g; 
AF fittings: Canon, Nikon AF-D and Sony
Tamron: 01628 674411; www.intro2020.co.uk