In the Field with the New Tamron 100-400mm Lens


If I were to speak about the Tamron 100-400mm f/4.5-6.3 Di VC USD lens to a friend, this is what I would say: It works very, very well, is lightweight and sleek, and is an incredible value. If you earn a paycheck shooting the Super Bowl, this is not the lens for you and if you are a pro wedding photographer, look to an f/2.8 or f/4 telephoto zoom, but for enthusiast wildlife and sports shooters, who also take the occasional portrait, this lens is ideal, doing all that its manufacturer claims with a precision and speed that would have been thought impossible from a third-party lens manufacturer only a few years ago.

Full Review

It’s no secret that the third-party lens companies have been significantly improving their products to match the developments in modern DSLR cameras. The past few years have seen many fast aperture prime lenses enter the bags of enthusiast and pro photographers, and zooms with popular focal lengths are now also being embraced. The new Tamron 100-400mm f/4.5-6.3 Di VC USD Lens, which competes with the Canon and Sigma lenses of the same focal lengths, is no different. This is a remarkably capable lens that comes at a price sure to please wildlife, nature, and even amateur sports photographers.

The lens is designed for full-frame sensors and available in Nikon F and Canon EF mounts; I tested this one for a week, with the Canon EOS 6D DSLR, to get a sense of its practical capabilities. I had little time to explore the forests of New York City, so decided to use the lens for cityscapes and general photography of my kid’s weekend sporting events. Someone starting a career as a sports photographer might consider this lens, but I think it’s fair to say that it is best suited for the weekend enthusiast who wants to capture wildlife and bird photography, telephoto landscape, well-lit sporting events and, because its focal length starts at 100mm, it is also a good general portrait lens.

400mm; f/10; 1/800 sec.; ISO 200 with Vibration Control
400mm; f/10; 1/800 sec.; ISO 200 without Vibration Control

The lens is compatible with APS-C and DX format cameras and on a Canon APS-C camera will provide a 160-640mm equivalent focal-length range. It is also compatible with the Tamron Teleconverter 2.0x and Tamron Teleconverter 1.4x for Canon EF, which will extend the focal length and retains full communication between the lens and Canon EF-mount cameras, including auto-exposure metering, autofocus at select focal lengths, and Vibration Compensation image stabilization.

115mm; f/11; 1/640 sec.; ISO 200
400mm; f/10; 1/800 sec.; ISO 200

In terms of specs, the Tamron is very similar to its Canon and Sigma counterparts, with slight variations. Its variable maximum aperture is f/4.5-6.3, which compares well with Sigma’s 100-400mm and its f/5-6.3 and Canon’s f/4.5-5.6 aperture. All three lenses have their company’s version of image stabilization. Tamron’s High-speed Dual MPU enables a four-stop equivalent and provides two-mode vibration compensation, which was very effective when shooting cityscapes at night. I often handheld the camera at 1/20-second shutter speed and the resulting images were sufficiently sharp. The VC Mode 1 is the standard vibration control and VC Mode 2 is designed to be used when panning with your subject. Further enabling handheld shooting is the lightweight design of the lens. The Tamron weighs 2.45 lb (1.11 kg), whereas the Sigma weighs 2.55 lb (1.16 kg) and the Canon is 3.5 lb (1.59 kg).

100mm; f/4.5; 1/30 sec.; ISO 800 with Vibration Compensation
100mm; f/4.5; 1/30 sec.; ISO 800 without Vibration Compensation

The reduced weight and durable barrel are due to its polycarbonate shell, but magnesium-alloy components and the seven leak-proof seals throughout the barrel and at the mount keep the optics and electronics protected and free from moisture and dust. This was a feature I put to the test, having shot in fog and a steady drizzle with no negative ramifications. Also, the front surface of the lens element is coated with a protective fluorine compound that is water and oil repellant and easier to keep clean.

The weight and design of this lens is a certain draw for those who might hike deep into the woods or who prefer to stick it out when the weather gets nasty. It also was a benefit when carrying it around this week as my everyday lens—it’s not much heavier than the Tamron 24-70mm f/2.8, which I am also currently testing. Its look is stylish too—minimal in terms of switches and controls, with just the AF/MF switch with focus distance limiter, the two-mode VC switch, a focal distance window and a lock button to keep the lens from extending when not in use. All controls, including the large, smooth rotating zoom ring and switches were easy to use and “findable” even when shooting in darkness.

100mm; f/4.5; 1/20 sec.; ISO 400 handheld with Vibration Compensation
100mm; f/4.5; 1/20 sec.; ISO 400 handheld without Vibration Compensation

The most impressive feature of the lens was by far its Ultrasonic Silent Drive (USD) autofocus motor, which truly was silent when finding focus. In the dark, when trying to focus on small lights of the city, the lens did exhibit some focus hunting when zoomed to 400mm, but it was minimal in comparison to older-generation lenses and, in daylight, focus locked quickly and smoothly on soccer players and passing cyclists without issue.

Tamron’s proprietary eBAND coating has been applied to suppress ghosting and lens flare for improved contrast when working in backlit conditions, and the seventeen optical elements, including three low-dispersion elements, provide accurate color rendition and the circular diaphragm with 9 blades lends itself to pleasing out-of-focus highlights.

174mm; f/5; 1/20 sec.; ISO 800; handheld with Vibration Compensation

With just a short time to use this lens, I carried it with me to work and on weekend activities, I even used it once for an indoor press conference and set down my 70-200mm f/2.8 for a while to give it a go in a professional setting. Not only did it handle the dim light without an issue, when I picked up my 70-200mm rig again, I could not believe the weight difference. Mind you, part of that was the Nikon D750 body compared to the Canon 6D, but the weight and ease of handling of the Tamron 100-400mm cannot be understated.

400mm; f/6.3; 1/30 sec.; ISO 400 handheld with Vibration Compensation
340mm; f/6.3; 1/20 sec.; ISO 400 handheld with Vibration Compensation

The lens is also compatible with the new, optional Arca-Swiss compatible A035TM Tripod Mount, which collars the lens snugly and screws on and off easily. I used it to shoot a few a nightscapes on an Oben tripod but, generally, tested the lens handheld and, as I have stated, found its vibration compensation effective for general night photography, even at extended focal lengths.

Let us know your feelings on the recent generation of third-party lenses and your experiences with the vastly improved models from Tamron.


When is Tamron going to start realizing that Sony E is the upcoming system?   They are making a big mistake not getting into this market.    Sony A9 and A7Rll &lll.   Big mistake Tamron.

Neil K. wrote:

When is Tamron going to start realizing that Sony E is the upcoming system?   They are making a big mistake not getting into this market.    Sony A9 and A7Rll &lll.   Big mistake Tamron.

I use the Sony A-mount platform, and I believe this has more to do with Sony licensing issues than Tamron not wanting to produce lenses for Sony platforms.

But Sony says that theirs is an open mount.