When it comes to zoom lenses, some photographers shy away from variable f-stop lenses because the cons of losing a stop or two of light across the lens’s range might not be worth the benefits conferred by having a zoom. That’s why many pros might overlook the new Tamron 16mm-300mm lens, but it would be a great shame if they did as this might be one of the more perfect travel lenses.
The Tamron 16-300MM F/3.5-6.3 Di II VC PZD, which is designed for APS-C-sized sensors and comes in Nikon, Canon and Sony mounts, took me by surprise, thanks to both the incredible 18.8X zoom range and its ability to shoot 1:29 macro focusing. After coupling it to a Canon EOS 70D I quickly found the lens to be on the top of my list for go-to travel lenses, especially for the photographer looking to travel light.
The 35mm equivalent focal lengths of the lens is 24.8-300mm, and Tamron has built image stabilization into the lens that use electromagnetic coils to reduce and compensate for vibration, which is good because the stabilization adds a few stops of usability—handy since the lens is at f/6.3 at the long end.
To test the stabilization I only hand-held the lens during tests and while the image jittered around in the viewfinder more than I had expected, the images were universally sharp and in-focus. The lens is surprisingly light and compact, though the barrel extends by about six inches when at the long end of the focus range.
Focus speeds are excellent on this lens, thanks to what Tamron calls their Piezo Drive, and it allowed me to actually focus on and follow flying dragonflies against a complicated background, something even some pro lenses I’ve used wouldn’t be able to do.
Tamron have built the lens with 16 elements in 12 groups including aspherical elements and it has both LD (Low Distortion) elements and some elements they company calls “Ultra-Extra Refractive Index glass.” Tamron says the coatings and the elements combine to provide low-flare and “images of exceptional clarity.”
When shooting at the wider settings the lens is remarkably sharp and even though the minimum f-stop is f/3.5 I was impressed with the relative ease of capturing images with sharp subjects and background blur or bokeh. At all focal lengths the lens produces very good results in the middle of the aperture range, from around f/8-f/11. We experienced some dropoff in results as the lens stopped down to f/22.
At the full 300mm equivalent length the lens produces artifacts that are typical of do it all zooms with this kind of range. In areas of high contrast (black writing on a white sign, black metal against green leaves, etc.) purple and pink chromatic aberration is visible. The lens also exhibits some sharpness fall off, by which I mean that the focal point tends to be crisp but very quickly falls off so that adjacent areas are noisy and soft.
The lens produces excellent macro shots, which extends the versatility of the lens quite a bit. We found a good tripod to be more useful than handholding and relying on the Vibration Compensation system when capturing macro subjects like bees or flower stamen as opposed to shooting trees and bridges.
At roughly $600, the Tamron 16-300MM F/3.5-6.3 Di II VC PZD is a good choice for an all-around lens for the traveling photographer because it replaces a number of standard travel lenses. Any extreme zoom like this is a compromise. You’re trading some speed and image quality for versatility and the ability to have such a broad range at the ready on your camera at all times. It won’t produce the same quality images as a quiver of professional primes, but it has a reach and versatility that most pieces of glass can’t touch.