Much of my birdwatching is done through the lens of a camera. I’ve worked my way through five different cameras and several lenses in recent years. I mostly sought good telephoto lenses. I owned a Nikon 300mm f2.8 lens for a few months. It was a great lens. I work hand-held. The lens was too heavy for that. It wore me out. I sold it. In its place I bought a 500mm Tamron lens. I liked it, but could not get a sharp image. I sold it.
The camera I use most often is a Nikon D-700. It has a full-frame sensor, a real asset if you are cropping into images to enlarge the subject. For the last three years my long lens of choice has been the Nikon ED AF-S VR Nikkor 70-200mm f2.8. It’s light in weight, easy on my arms and shoulders, and gives a sharp image. 200mm is not a long reach, however, so I boosted this with a Nikon 2x teleconverter. I liked that rig, but began experiencing problems that I blamed on the converter; I think there is an issue with the electrical contacts.
So, visiting about all of this at National Camera in Golden Valley a few weeks ago, I was introduced to a Tamron 200-600mm f5.6 lens. “Well,” I said, “I’ve not been impressed with Tamron.” The salesperson said he understood. But, this one was different. It’s sharp, he said. Given National’s 30-day trial period on camera/lens purchases, I said I’d give it a try. There was one other reason, beyond supposed 600mm sharpness: the price was $1,069. You can spend many thousands more for a lens of that reach.
The lens is sharp. It’s wonderfully sharp. You probably could improve the sharpness by spending another $9,000 or so. I neither need nor want to do that. The lens is light for its size. The camera and lens together weigh seven pounds. I wouldn’t want that combo heavier, but I can hand-holding without a problem. I like the lens. I’m going to keep this one.
You could take issue with the f5.6 speed (f6.3 at 600mm). Low light levels can be a problem. The camera, though, gives me good images at up to ISO 2000. You’re not necessarily going to make posters of photos taken at that speed, but I don’t do posters.
Below are two images taken with this lens. The first is of brush at the back of our yard, distance to the subject 150 feet, image cropped by half. The cardinal in the second photo was 30 feet from me, the enlargement eliminating about 70 percent of the original image. (The photos on these blog pages are limited to five-inch width, 100 dpi.) For a thousand bucks, looks good to me.