Photography / Hands-on Review

In the Field with Tamron’s Ultimate All-in-One: the 18-400mm Lens

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There is one thing that the Tamron 18-400mm f/3.5-6.3 Di II VC HLD does better than any other lens on the market, and that is offer a seriously impressive zoom range in a relatively compact form factor. I found it hard not to love and respect the lens for this feature alone because, for many shooters who have been craving some extra zoom from their one-lens kit, this is the only option available. Tamron has managed to bring the lens’s design into the modern day with some useful specs and functions that will make taking pictures easier and more enjoyable.

Tamron 18-400mm f/3.5-6.3 Di II VC HLD Lens for Canon EF

Designed for APS-C format Canon and Nikon DSLRs, this lens offers an incredible 28.8-640mm or 27-600mm equivalent focal length, respectively. Now, I must admit that even though I love my primes, it’s hard not to enjoy going so quickly from wide-angle to super-telephoto perspectives with the twist of a wrist. I do have to go into detail about the optics, however, as while it did impress me with the range, there were obviously some tradeoffs made when it came to making it work in such a small design. I noticed it was a bit soft wide open and being so dark makes it difficult to stop down unless it’s a bright day. This lens will be great for travelers, though, who will take their cameras out for a stroll on a nice day and want to make sure they can capture those scenic landscapes and faraway details without stuffing their day pack full of glass.

One thing to look out for during shooting is distortion, because the lens tends to display noticeable pincushion effect, even at the more "normal" focal lengths. Also, something I noticed was that the lens tends to have dull or under-saturated colors, but this is not a huge issue since most editing programs can fix this quickly with the use of a single slider. I found it is well designed to be slung over a shoulder, and I experienced very little zoom creep as I walked around New York City with the lens on my camera. Also, a zoom lock switch is available for moments when you aren’t using the lens and want to make sure it doesn’t accidentally get bumped out of place. It is made of a durable plastic that kept the overall weight down, something appreciated for a zoom like this, and the rubberized zoom ring is large and easy to grip.

One thing that surprised me was that the focusing ring had hard stops, something increasingly difficult to come by these days, but it did have an incredibly short throw, not exactly ideal for precision at longer focal lengths. One very thoughtful feature is the close minimum focus distance of 17.7", resulting in a magnification ratio of 1:2.9, meaning that unless you do macro all the time, this lens may satisfy close-up photography needs, as well. Autofocus was generally reliable and I was satisfied in its ability to lock accurately onto the subject. At longer focal lengths, it started to slow down a bit, but that I would mostly attribute to the dimmer aperture the camera must work with than a fault with the AF system. The vibration compensation was greatly appreciated at longer focal lengths because it stabilized the image noticeably. It is almost mandatory once you reach the super telephoto focal lengths.

All-in-ones are generally designed with one main goal in mind: have the widest-ranging zoom range possible. The Tamron 18-400mm certainly excels here, boasting a focal-length range unmatched by any other optic. There were some compromises made to reach this goal, which can show through in some images, but that isn't really the point of a lens like this—and modern lens design makes this an improvement over the kit lenses of just a decade ago. I will say it is perfect for travelers, families, and even social media aficionados who will take the images from their camera and quickly throw them up on Instagram or Facebook to share with their friends. In these cases, the purpose of the camera isn't to generate the sharpest, most colorful, or technically perfect imagery, the aim is to capture the moment for later, and having this zoom range ensures that you will always have the tools to make the shot. You really can't beat the Tamron when it comes to convenience and compactness for the almost absurd focal lengths it offers.

Could you make great use of a lens like this one? Let us know your opinions in the Comments section, below.

36 Comments

How does the sharpness compare to the previous 16-300 mm offering?

If the extra reach of 400 mm isn’t of interest, which is sharper, does that change the answer?

Hi Mark,

I don't have a 16-300mm on hand to direct compare, but Tamron claims improved image quality with this model.

Please add the Pentax adapter so I can purchase this lens.

Being a Pentax user, I feel the same way.  From what I have seen, Tamron is abandoning Pentax for the most part.  Doesn't pay to make an additional mount for a camera brand that while excellent, does not sell in large numbers.  For the cost of a decent adapter which allows electronic connection between the camera and lens, you might as well buy an entry level "canikon" body to go along with it.

Bought this lens about a month ago.  Tested it the next day on the spur-of-the-moment for what I thought would a 15-minute walk in the park.  Well,,,,,,,,,,,2 hours later, I was still shooting.  Absolutely blown away.  Had it on a Canon 7DMII.  Took macro and zoomed shots.  Not like my Canon 70-200 2.8L II, but definitely worth having.  When I tried to purchase this lens (Tamron 18-400), all the majors suppliers were sold out with extensive back orders.  I checked Best Buy, and lo-and-behold, they had just 1......... I snatched it up and haven't looked back since.  I find this lens to be quite flexible and I enjoy the hell out of it.   YOU WILL TOO.

Good article Shawn. You covered pretty much the pros and cons. I have gone through all variations of this Tamron class lens, starting with the original 18-270, graduating to the 16-300, and having purchased the 18-400 when it became available a few months ago. I use it with my Canon 7D. The number one thing I would stress is that this really IS a GREAT lens for travel. I live in Alaska, and shoot mostly landscapes and wildlife. It works great for those, but will also fit the bill just fine for people. Like Shawn, I love my primes, but if you're hiking or traveling and just want to carry ONE lens, this would be very tough to beat. It's not the best for all applications, but no one lens really is. To cover the most possibilities with the least amount of glass though, this is the one.

Any indication if the Canon version will work with the Canon M5, using the ef-m to ef/ef-s Canon adapter.  

Hi Joe,

I can't think of any reason why it wouldn't work with that adapter, especially since it would be a Canon to Canon connection and should communicate without issue via the adapter.

The reason I ask is that the Tamron 16-300 Canon mount does not work fully...it only works manual focus mode

.

UPDATE:  Bought the lens....and YES, it works with the Canon M5 (using the Canon EF-M to EF-S) adapter BTW, sp does the Tamron 150-600 G2 lens.   had the same issue with the older 150-600....it would only work in Manual focus mode.

Thank you for checking this and letting us know! This is great information.

Is this Tamron 18-400 Lens available for Panasonic Lumix Mirrorless camera?

Hi Vijay,

It is not available for Micro Four Thirds, but you could try an auto adapter from Nikon F or Canon EF to MFT to regain most functionality. Note that this lens will not work properly without electronic communication via the adapter so all manual adapters won't be ideal.

This lens means possibilities. When my carry-on camera bag exceeded the 8Kg limit for international flight I knew that I would not be able to take either my 70-200mm f/2.8 or my 150-600mm zoom lens. As my trip overseas began shortly after release of the Tamrom 18-400mm, I bought one and used it for two weeks with my Canon EOS 7D Mark II. I was skeptical but hopeful that my photos would be acceptible, at least. While the vibration control stutters a bit, the lens was a pleasure to use. Photos exceed my expectations. They aren't outstandingly sharp, but they are sufficient for some large displays and prints after cropping. It's has become my walk-around lens and a keeper.

No Pentax version? I have the old 28~300mm analog version. Good lens on APSC Pentaxes.

This is an Tamron APS_C lens, The Tamron full frame 28-300 is even better, but Sony and all 3rd party Lens makers has abandond the Sony A frame.....The tamron full frame 28-300 becomes a  a 42-450 on a APS-C Sony or Nikon frame camera  .....The actual power of the Tamron 18-400mm is  27-600mm,  while the Tamron full frame  is either a 28-300mm lens or a 42-450mm lens, this depends on weather   it is used on a full frame or APS-C frame camera body...I guess what i am saying is that the tamron full frame 28-300mm lens is a much better lens and all the the manufacturers are sharing with us is advertising bullshit since you can buy the tamron 28-300 full frame lens for under $500.00, they dropped the price from $849.00 not long ago to set up this scam.......The latest version of the Tamron 28-300mm f3.5 is the best all in one lens on the market and it is also made for the Sony A Mount which Sony abandoned and screwed all their customers......Sony put out the best full frame camera, a9911 which is a full frame A Mount body and at the same time halted the production   of all future quality A Mount Lenses....NICE MOVE SONY, AND THEY GOT THE DUMMY 3RD PARTY LENS MAKERS TO FOLLOW THEIR LEAD!......I am not saying the Tamron 18-400 lens is not any good, i am saying that what Tamron is saying along with all their funky so called experts are sayong is advertising nonsense.......

"Tamron full frame  is either a 28-300mm lens or a 42-450mm lens, this depends on weather" is really hard to believe…

C'mon, you are being sarcastic yes? He means whether you shoot on APC or Full Frame....

Hi, how to you think this lenses compares to the two DX Nikkor 18-300 (5.6/6.3)? Would it be a reasonable/worthwhile upgrade?

All three lenses you list would have similar performance and would be decent all-in-one lenses.  The main differences between the lenses would be the Nikon AF-S DX NIKKOR 18-300mm f/3.5-5.6G ED VR Lens has slightly smoother bokeh due to its 9-blade diaphragm, and would have the least amount of vignetting.  The Tamron 18-400mm f/3.5-6.3 Di II VC HLD Lens would have the best chromatic aberration performance of the three lenses (followed by the Nikon AF-S DX NIKKOR 18-300mm f/3.5-6.3G ED VR lens), though all have rather high chromatic aberration towards the outer edge of the lens' frame.  Sharpness and distortion performance appears to be rather similar with the three lenses.  The Tamron lens has an electromagnetic aperture, so do note that it will only be compatible for use with Nikon's newest cameras, such as the Nikon D3100, D3200, D3300, D3400, D5100, D5200, D5300, D5500, D5600, D7000, D7100, D7200, D7500, D300/D300S, and D500 DSLR cameras.  It will also work with the full-frame cameras such as the Nikon D600, D610, D700, D750, D800/D800E, D810/D810A, D3-series, D4/D4S, D5, and Df DSLR cameras when using the "Auto-DX Crop Mode" feature in the camera's menu.  It will not work with older Nikon DSLR cameras.

All that being said, I like the Nikon AF-S DX NIKKOR 18-300mm f/3.5-6.3G ED VR lens for overall performance and wider compatibility, but the Tamron 18-400mm f/3.5-6.3 Di II VC HLD Lens would be my next choice, and it can be bumped up to first due to its extra zoom range and chromatic aberration performance.  As they are close in price, it would just come down to personal preference.

Hello people i want to take this lens for my sony A6500 witch adapter you recomend for my camera, i want  a fast AF and aperture control. the fotodix smart Af can i used it for this? 

Hello Jorge,

For an adapter to mount this Tamron 18-400mm for Canon EF onto the Sony A6500, the Metabones Canon EF/EF-S Lens to Sony E Mount T Smart Adapter (Fifth Generation) B&H # MEMBEFEBT5 would be a great option as it works with most of the Canon EF mount lenses out there and will maintain AF.https://www.bhphotovideo.com/c/product/1314043-REG/metabones_mb_ef_e_bt5_canon_ef_e_mount_t.html

Is there any talk of a Sony A-mount APS-C option? Sony a77 MKII user here.

Hi Frank,

No word at this time, but I find it unlikely.

I am considering this lens as a "do it all" solution for sailing and vacation photography.  I am currently shooting Pentax so I will have to buy and entry to mid level Canon or Nikon body to go with it.  How might this combo compare to Sony's RX10iii in overall performance and image quality, when pitting the superior Zeiss optics of the Sony against the larger APS-C sensor of the "Canikon" DSLR.  

Hi,

This is an excellent question. I would say its more of a size comparison than image quality. In theory the DSLRs should be better, but the smaller size and very good quality of the RX series will make it a better option if you don't really plan on buying additional lenses later on.

Thanks for your rapid and courteous input.  I am leaning towards the Canikon/Tamrn combo for the following reasons; better battery life and IMHO, the manual zoom of the Tamron might me more durable than the electric motor and plastic gears of the Sony.  Moreover, once a bridge camera goes "kaput", you have to toss the whole thing.  If I break the lens, I still have a body, and if the body fails first, which is more likely, I still have a lens.

All extremely valid reasons for that decision. You can also pick up some other lenses (like the nifty 50mm f/1.8) and have a more complete system if you want in the future.

Once again, thanks for your input.  IMHO, both the Sony RX10iii and the Tamron 18-400/DSLR combo are perfect for situations where the IQ from a small sensor bridge camera won't suffice, a DSLR with a prime or shoot zoom won't be versatile enough, and it is neither desired nor feasible to carry around a bag of different lenses, much less swap them out.  What I would love to see is for an experienced photographer to take both cameras out for the day, shoot identical shots at varying focal lengths and light conditions, so that the buyer can make the best decision

error on my part.  I meant to say short zoom

I see you using the lens on a Sony.  Could you tell us what camera, what adapter, and how it performed (autofucus, etc).?

Hi Frank,

I did perform some personal autofocus tests on an 80D to make sure I had native AF performance for comparison. But I am happy to say that adapted on my a6500 with the Fotodiox Smart AF adapter that the lens did very well with phase-detect in continuous AF mode. It wasn't always 100% compared to the 80D, which was very good, but it was definitely a usable solution for Sony shooters.

What adapter do you use for mount Canon version lens to Sony E camera. What camera do you use for this review ?

Hi Andres,

I personally shot with the Fotodiox Smart AF adapter with the a6500 for most of the shots. However, I do want to make it clear that I did test AF and stabilization performance on an 80D to see how it operates on a native Canon EF-mount body. It did very well in both cases (a6500 set to continuous AF with Wide area and phase-detect), but the 80D was definitely more reliable.

Thank you very much for your answer, I have a a6000 and I try to find out If this lens with adapter is better than Sony 24-240 mm.

I'm wondering the same.

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