Review: Tamron 150-500 f/5-6.7 Di III VC VXD for Nikon Z Mount

My name is Matt Malwitz, and I’m and nature photographer and a Salesman at Bergen County Camera! I’ve photographed wildlife for nearly a decade, using Nikon cameras and assorted lenses over the years. My first long lens was a Tamron! An old Tamron 200-500 f/5-6.3 SP to be exact. After using it for some years, I traded it in for a Nikon 200-500. That lens served me well, but I always felt I was missing something. Working at a camera store gave me plenty of opportunity to try out different lenses, but I always came back to the super zooms. Perhaps it was their relatively lighter built, or simply their versatility. I’m not quite sure, but I’ve always been drawn to these optics.

I’ve primarily been shooting with a 500mm prime and the Nikon 180-600 in recent years, but this winter, I had the incredible opportunity to try out the new Tamron 150-500mm f/5-6.7 Di III VC VXD for the NIKKOR Z Mount! Launched in the Fall of 2023, this lens is also available in the Sony E-mount and Fujifilm X-mount. It is among the most compact full frame lenses with a maximum focal length of 500mm out there. Having used plenty of other zooms extensively in the past, I knew I wanted to see how this lens performed. 

I took the Tamron 150-500 to the famous Sax-Zim Bog near Duluth Minnesota, a location known for its wintering birds. At least, when there’s a real winter. This past winter had been quite mild in the Northern U.S. and for that reason, the bird activity was relatively low. When I say mild, I mean mild. Meadowlands Minnesota, home of the Bog, sees 61 inches of snow on average. That’s a lot of shoveling. Why does this matter for photography? Well, our main quarry, The Great Gray Owl, can hunt through almost 18 inches on snow. When there’s more than 18 inches on the ground, the owls are forced out of the deep woods and hunt closer to the roads where the snow is plowed or melted from exposure to sunlight. This year, we could see grass poking out of the few inches that remained. This meant that the owls could hunt wherever their little owl heart desired. That said, there was no shortage of photographic opportunities among other wintering species.

We were fortunate to see a few Great Grays during the trip, but only briefly at dawn and dusk. Alongside our main target, we managed to see Common Redpolls, Evening Grosbeak, Canada Jays, Boreal Chickadee, and the elusive Northern Hawk Owl. Many of which were jittery and didn’t sit still for long. I was fairly certain this lens was more than capable of quickly grabbing focus and tracking, but just to be sure, I paired the lens with the Nikon Z8 and Z9. If there were any shortcomings, these cameras would’ve have made them abundantly clear. So, without further adieu, let’s dive into my experience with the Tamron 150-500mm f/5-6.7 for the Nikon Z-mount.

The Trip and How the Lens Performed 

It was around 3:00am that we left for the airport. I was accompanied by two friends on this excursion. The plan, to photograph Great Gray Owls and maximize our time doing so. We arrived in Minneapolis to dark and gloomy weather. Not what you want to see when you’re expecting to photograph a subject known for being most active at dawn and dusk. Still, overcast skies provide soft, diffuse light, even through the brightest parts of the day. We left the airport hopeful for an eventful week ahead.

Our first afternoon out, we mostly drove around and familiarized ourselves with the area. We kept our heads on swivels in case something extraordinary was to present itself, but things were overwhelmingly quiet. That was until we came across a Northern Hawk Owl perched atop a tall spruce tree. We took a few shots and continued exploring, knowing that this bird had been seen at this spot pretty regularly.

Upon checking the local weather forecast, things were looking to stay overcast for the majority of the trip. Low light shooting has been a challenge for any zoom I’ve used. During our first morning out, we returned to the Northern Hawk Owl. He was sitting atop that same black spruce tree. The 150-500 had no issue making use of the Z8’s incredible tracking capabilities. It locked onto the owl’s eye surprisingly well and stayed locked. Even when the owl eventually moved, the lens kept focus and didn’t lose sight of the bird or jump to another object. My ability to track a moving subject, however, was not as precise.  

I then equipped the lens while photographing Common and hoary Redpolls at a feeder station setup and maintained by the Friends of Sax Zim Bog Organization. I’m eternally thankful for the birder or photographer who affixed a lichen covered branch to the main feeder. This not only provided the birds with a location to rest before and after feeding but made for incredible images. As expected, the Tamron focused with ease and at a speed I had never seen with a third-party super-telephoto zoom before. As mentioned before, this was with a Z8, so that helped with the focus speed for sure. With birds flying in and out of the frame at sporadic rates, I was sure I’d run into some issues, but I was pleasantly surprised. Anyone who’s photographed small perching birds knows how fast and frequently they move, so being able to nail focus time and time again is a testament to this lenses capabilities.

The versatility of this lens really shined when I passed a stand of aspen trees along a field. I’m not sure what it was about this scene jumped out at me, but it wasn’t enough on its own to merit a photograph. So what did I do? Well, vertical pan blurs. This was done by panning the lens up and down while shooting at a relatively slow shutter speed. The result is a painterly, smeared look. Also referred to as “ICM” or, Intentional Camera Movement, this style of photography has always piqued my interest. With the ability to zoom out, the Tamron 150-500 made it possible to achieve the framing I desired, and I shot away. 

In a perfect world, I would have done this on a proper tilt/pan head. This was not the case. Instead, I shot frame after frame handheld. I hoped that I would one or two nice frames if I just kept trying. If you do it enough times, one ought to come out straight, right? No matter my methods, I got the desired effect. The aspens nicely contrasted two spruce trees situated near the center of the frame. I managed to get a nice blur, while maintaining enough detail to make out what it is that I’m photographing. See for yourself below.

Final Thoughts

While we didn’t have as many opportunities to photograph Great Grays, we still had an incredible time. Nature photography is hit and miss, and this trip sat somewhere in the middle. It left us wanting more, but in a positive way that has us discussing next years trip! We should count our lucky stars that we managed to see, let a lone photograph a Northern Hawk Owl. A week after we left, reports of Canada Lynx feeding on roadkill along the main road came flooding in. Maybe next year. now, on to the lens.

By putting this lens through it’s paces, I think it’s safe to say that this is a pretty capable piece of equipment. I loved the versatility of this lens and especially how small it is. The size alone makes this lens stand out in an age where there are so many super-telephoto zooms available. Size aside, let’s talk about the real meat and potatoes of this review. Image quality. when it comes to image quality, the lens held up quite well against the competition. I compared my images to those taken with my old Nikon 200-500, the Sigma 150-600 Sport, and of course, my Nikon 180-600. As expected, both Z-mount optics easily outperformed the old F-mount lenses. The real challenge, was Z vs. Z, and the results may surprise you.

I brought both the Nikon 180-600 and the Tamron to Minnesota with me and made sure to shoot them both in similar scenarios. After careful inspection, I couldn’t see any clear difference in sharpness between the two. That’s coming from somewhat of a pixel peeper. I always look at my images at 100% and sometimes 200% to check sharpness. Doing precisely that, the images were hard to tell apart. I’d even go as far as to say that the Tamron is sharper at 500mm than the Nikon is at 600mm. Of course, the Nikon has the advantage of an extra 100mm of focal length, but this isn’t enough to make it a clear winner. If I were starting from scratch and had to pick one, I’d probably go for the Tamron based on size alone.

If you’re looking for a compact zoom for wildlife or even sports photography, this is a great option. At just 3.79 lbs, it’s one of the smallest zooms in its range, and it offers excellent image quality and performance. This is easily one of the most portable 500mm full frame lenses out there. If you’re interested in getting your hands on this lens, click the link to shop at Bergen County Camera. Also check out the other lenses Tamron has rolled out for the Nikon Z-Mount. The 35-150mm f/2.8 Di III VXD, 28-75mm f/2.8 Di III VXD G2 and 70-300 f/4.5-6.3 Di III RXD. All are superb and all are available at Bergen County Camera!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *