Images of Birds in Flight with Tamron 150-600 VC

Since the majority of users of this lens will be photographing wildlife and nature with the Tamron 150-600mm VC super telephoto lens, I thought I would use this opportunity to show some images of birds in flight taken in Southern Ontario, Canada. While this is not a full review of the Tamron 150-600 VC super telephoto lens, it does serve to answer a few initial questions that potential buyers may have about it:

(NOTE: click on images to enlarge them)

BIF tam image 1

How easily can this lens be hand-held?
How sharp is the Tamron 150-600mm at the long end of the range?
How well does continuous auto focus work when photographing birds in flight?

f/8, 1/2500, ISO-800, DX crop mode efov 420mm
f/8, 1/2500, ISO-800, DX crop mode efov 420mm
f/6.3, 1/8000, ISO-720, 600mm
f/6.3, 1/8000, ISO-720, 600mm

Here are some quick answers to the questions above:

Q1: Yes, the Tamron 150-600mm VC can absolutely be hand held. I went out twice this past weekend to do some initial shots of birds in flight. The first day I was out for about 3.5 hours and the second day I lugged this baby around for 5 hours. So, yes…it is possible to hand hold this lens and carry it around for a few hours. Was my arm sore? Yes…shoulder, elbow and wrist were all sore on the first day. The second day wasn’t quite as bad after I figured out a good ‘resting position’ with which to cradle the lens when I wasn’t shooting with it.

f/8, 1/2000, ISO-800, DX crop mode efov 450mm
f/8, 1/2000, ISO-800, DX crop mode efov 450mm
f/8, 1/1600, ISO-400, DX crop mode efov 360mm
f/8, 1/1600, ISO-400, DX crop mode efov 360mm

Q2: The Tamron 150-600mm isn’t absolutely tack sharp on the long end, but for the majority of users it should be quite satisfactory provided you are not a ‘pixel peeper’. Applying some sharpness in post will help. All of the shots in this article were initially processed using DxOMark OpticsPro 8. I used the ‘sharpen fine details’ preset on all of the images. Obviously, no one should expect a zoom lens of this focal range to be as sharp as a dedicated telephoto lens such as the Nikkor 600mm f/4G VR. After-all, we’d be comparing a lens that costs in the $1,000 to $1,200 range with pro grade glass costing over $10,000. Sharpness does increase if you stop the lens down to f/8. All of the images in this article were shot at 600mm between f/6.3 and f/8.

f/6.3, 1/6400, ISO-800, 600mm
f/6.3, 1/6400, ISO-800, 600mm
f/6.3, 1/8000, ISO-720, 600mm
f/6.3, 1/8000, ISO-720, 600mm

Q3: Continuous auto focus worked very well with my D800. It was both fast and accurate. The lens held continuous auto focus well with most of my bursts. A had a couple of bursts that were a bit off, but keep in mind that I am not a professional nature photographer, so it could have been my fault more than the lens. The focus on individual shots was consistently fast and accurate. I used a single focus point for most of my birds-in-flight images, as this made it much easier to try and get the eye/head of the bird in focus.

f/8, 1/4000, ISO-800, DX crop mode efov 900mm
f/8, 1/4000, ISO-800, DX crop mode efov 900mm

Below is an image of a gull’s wing taken as the bird was exiting the last frame at the end of a burst of images. This will give you a good idea on the image sharpness with the Tamron 150-600mm. The image taken at f/8, 1/3200, -1 EV, 600mm.

BIF Tam image 10

Overall, the focusing of the Tamron 150-600mm is very good. I tried it on some small, fast-moving birds in the distance and found that the lens could lock on quickly, provided I could get my focus point actually on the subject.

BIF Tam image 11

Above is an image showing how small the bird was in the original frame and an inset blow-up of the subject (1.6% crop of original frame). While the image quality of the subject is not great, I included this to give you an idea of the focusing ability of the Tamron with my D800. I used a single focus point with my D800 to get this shot. I was also able to capture a red winged blackbird in flight that was even further away.

f/8, 1/2500, ISO-800, DX crop mode efov 900mm
f/8, 1/2500, ISO-800, DX crop mode efov 900mm

You can click on this YouTube video to see more images of birds in flight taken with the Tamron 150-600mm VC lens and Nikon D800:

If the Tamron 150-600 VC super telephoto lens is of interest to you, be sure to read my full review.

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Article and all images Copyright 2014, Thomas Stirr. All rights reserved. No use, reproduction or duplication including electronic is allowed without written consent.

4 thoughts on “Images of Birds in Flight with Tamron 150-600 VC”

  1. Dear Thomas,

    Great shots, have a lot to learn!

    Been thinking of getting the Tamron 150-600, mainly for use with my V1/V2. And as backup for the D600, of course.

    Have you tried the Tamron on Nikon 1 cameras, Thomas?!

    1. Hi Tord,

      Thanks for the positive comment on the images – I’m glad you enjoyed them!

      Unfortunately I cannot recommend buying a Tamron 150-600 to anyone if their main intent is to use it with a Nikon 1 camera. I have three V2’s, and my wife used to have a J1 and none of those cameras would even recognize the Tamron 150-600. According to the Canadian distributor for Tamron with which I have ongoing and regular contact, the 150-600 is not designed to work with the Nikon 1 system, and any success that owners may have is more due to luck than design. I am aware of some Nikon 1 owners who have been able to use the Tamron 150-600. I have no idea why some Nikon 1’s will work and others not. All I can tell you is I have had a 0% success rate with the three V2’s I own, and my wife’s J1 would not work either.

      Tom

  2. Tom,

    I love your bird photography. I just purchased the Tamron 150-600mm to go with my Nikon D800.

    When you photograph birds in flights what are your settings in your Nikon D800? Do you use Aperture priority?
    Thanks,
    Jorge

    1. Hi Jorge,

      Great to hear from you! I always shoot in aperture priority regardless of the camera or lens that I am using. For birds-in-flight I typically shoot in AF-S with single point auto focus. I try to get that point on the head and/or eye of the bird as this is the most critical part of the shot. I adjust my ISO manually to keep my shutter speed at 1/1000 or higher if possible. Different types of birds require different shutter speeds. For example if you’re trying to freeze the wing movements of a small bird you’ll need a faster shutter speed when compared to a soaring bird like a gull. I also try to adjust my white balance to suit the conditions. If I’m in mixed lighting or lighting that is rapidly changing then I may use auto white balance.

      I also often shoot in DX crop mode with my D800. I do this to reduce file size and increase frame rate if I’m planning any AF-C type images. Also, I find that it can help me frame an approaching bird into the DX area of the sensor. I always like to capture ‘full frame’ images of subjects and I like to avoid cropping in post if possible. Shooting in DX mode allows me to frame images better and since I never print big enlargements of bird images a 15mp file suits my needs.

      Tom

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