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!

Spring Assignment: No Excuses in the Studio

We’re pleased to announce our latest photo assignment, “No Excuses in the Studio”! This is the first BCC assignment given by long time customers and friends of the store, John Kingston and Joe DiCara. If you missed the presentation, check out the details below!

The Assignment, if you choose to accept it… is to take something ordinary and change the way you see it! Take an everyday object and photograph it in a new and creative way, making use of whatever tools and techniques you have available in your home “studio”.

  • – Develop a plan on how to get that image in your head
  • – Write or sketch out your approach
  • – Use anything you available in your studio (lighting, smoke/atmosphere, water, pyrotechnics, etc.)
  • – Have fun with it!

Rules:

  • – Images must be taken between April 20th and May 14th of 2024.
  • – You may submit one image.
  • – We ask that you bring a physical copy of your plans to the review if you have them written down.
  • – Your image(s) are due Friday, May 24th by 12:00pm (noon). Please email submissions to focus@bergencountycamera.com
  • – Please have your images sized no smaller than 3000 pixels wide/tall in JPEG format

The review session will be held in-store on Saturday, May 25th at 9:30am. Doors open at 9:00 for coffee! As with all of our past Focus Session Assignments, this is a chance to get creative and try new things. We’re not grading you, so have have fun with it. We can’t wait to see what you capture!

Spring 2024 Customer Spotlight – Tom Jolly

Spring 2024 Customer Spotlight – Tom Jolly

Welcome to our thirty-sixth Bergen County Camera Customer Spotlight. This seasonal posting features a customer who’s made an impression on us. They might have grown in their understanding of photography, gained a mastery of the craft and / or have become a strong advocate of our way of doing business in the world of photography. During the next few months you will see this customer’s images displayed on our digital signs in store, in our emails, blog posts and social media.  

Tom Jolly is our customer spotlight for the 2024 Spring season. We hope you both enjoy and are inspired by this new addition to In Focus and look forward to your comments and suggestions. Below you will find a bit about Tom, and a gallery containing some of Tom’s images.

Photography has been an important part of my life since I can remember, starting with my first camera before I was 10. Growing up in Tennessee and Pittsburgh, I photographed family, friends and sports events, and then spent hours in the darkroom, thrilling at the sight of my images emerging in the dim light. 

As time went on, though, my own photography gradually took a backseat to my career as a journalist, even as photography in the larger sense remained an important part of my job: I was Sports Editor at The New York Times and currently manage the team that designs and edits the newspaper.

But then around 2017, my daughter took up hockey. I started shooting her games and sharing the photos with the families of her teammates. They were appreciative, but I wanted to do better, so I started asking questions at Bergen County Camera, coming to the Focus Sessions on Saturday mornings, taking advantage of guest presentations there by the likes of Jean Fruth (backgrounds! shadows!) and Rick Gerrity (faces!) and learning from the many talented photographers who are regulars at BCC. 

Early on, Paul Carretta said something to me that hit home: “The best way to get better is to keep shooting pictures.”

It occurred to me that sports events represent a programmed way of doing that since they’re scheduled, they feature fast action, competitive passion and fresh storylines. It’s no surprise given my daughter’s interest that hockey has turned into one of my favorite subjects – and I always keep John Currens’s guidance in mind: “Get the puck in the picture.” 

Before long, I was getting requests to shoot all kinds of sports around the area. As those opportunities grew, I asked the former New York Times photographer Jose Lopez if he would critique my work and he has become a gracious mentor. Separately, my friend Ashok Ginde and I created a photography club that meets once a month at the Hillsdale Library. It’s a great opportunity to exchange ideas and inspire each other. (Let me know if you’re interested!)

In fact, in many ways, the community of photographers I’ve gotten to share a part in is as rewarding as the work itself. 

That makes me all the more appreciative of Bergen County Camera for featuring my work here. If you’d like to see more of it, you can find me on Instagram @tom.jolly.photography and on my website at tomjollyphotography.com

Winter Photo Assignment: Looking Up & Looking Down

Announcing our latest winter photo assignment, Looking Up & Looking Down! If you missed this past Saturday, check out the details below!

Watch our winter photo assignment webinar on demand.

Rules:

  • -The photo must be taken looking up or looking down, simple enough. We don’t want to see any horizon lines or full blown landscapes.
  • -Images must be taken between February 10th and March 15th of 2024.
  • -You may either submit one image looking up or looking down, OR one of each – one looking up and another looking down.
  • -Your image(s) are due Friday, March 15th by 12:00pm (noon). Please email submissions to focus@bergencountycamera.com
  • -Please have your images sized no smaller than 2000 pixel wide/tall in JPEG format

The review session will be held in-store on Saturday, March 16th at 9:30am. Doors open at 9:00 for coffee! As with all of our past Focus Session Assignments, this is a chance to get creative and try new things. We’re not grading you, so have have fun with it. We can’t wait to see what you capture!

Here are some example to get the creative juices flowing. Again, we want you to be creative, so don’t feel the need to replicate any of the following. Just use them as a guide!

November/December Customer Spotlight – Robert Helder

November/December Customer Spotlight – Robert Helder

Welcome to our thirty-fifth Bergen County Camera Customer Spotlight. This monthly posting features a customer who’s made an impression on us. They might have grown in their understanding of photography, gained a mastery of the craft and / or have become a strong advocate of our way of doing business in the world of photography. During the next month you will see this customer’s images displayed on our digital signs in store, in our emails, blog posts and social media.  

Robert Helder is our customer spotlight for the months of November-December. We hope you both enjoy and are inspired by this new addition to In Focus and look forward to your comments and suggestions. Below you will find a gallery containing some of Robert’s images.

About Robert:

Robert Helder has been a friend of the Bergen County Camera team for many years, however, his passion for photography goes back much further. Robert took up photography at a very young age. He did so after seeing his father’s interest in the art form. It remained a hobby throughout his childhood, but really became a passion when he began travelling in early adulthood. Robert spent much of his early 20’s visiting Europe, using a Nikkormat camera to capture images of his travels. This remained his primary focus until, as one does in life, he started a family. Robert’s photography shifted towards capturing precious memories of his kids. His family was his focus for many years and as time went on, photography took a back seat.

It wasn’t until years later that he was introduced to the hawk watch at State Line Lookout. The hawk watch is held annually at the park, where bird watchers and photographers flock to view migrating birds of prey. From hawks and eagles to a local pair of Peregrine Falcons, there was always something to see. A few trips to the lookout and Robert’s passion for photography was rekindled. Since then, he has broadened his horizons, choosing to photograph most of nature has to offer. Whether it be plant or animal, Robert is captivated by it all.

Robert continues to grow as a photographer and continues to visit Bergen County Camera for all his photographic needs. He consistently shoots local parks and nature centers where he finds elusive and hard to find species.

Check out just some of his gallery below to see some of the incredible images he’s captured!

The Art & Craft of Photography: An Online Conference

The Art & Craft of Photography: An Online Conference

The Art & Craft of Photography an online conference

Discover the art and craft of photography in Rocky Nook’s 2-day online conference featuring 10 of the worlds most inspiring photographers and educators.

Sign up before September 15th for only $199, and also receive a $50 Rocky Nook gift card!

Click here to register

Spring Songbird Workshops

Spring Songbirds Workshop

Each Spring, as the temperatures rise, songbirds return to their breeding ranges in North America. Many find their way to the Northeastern U.S. where birders and photographers alike flock to city parks to catch a glimpse of these colorful birds. While these locations make for easier sightings, they’re not always ideal for photography. The birds at these parks are merely stopping by to rest and forage before continuing their journey. They don’t sit still for long, and they seldom come down from the canopy. If they do, they usually visit a water source or feeder. Whatever it is they do, it’s also usually brief.

That is why you wants to find these birds in their preferred nesting habitat. Here, these birds are more consistent and active. Males lay claim to territory by singing from select perches to attract mates and thwart other males. When they hear an intruder, they investigate. When they see an intruder, they take action. They do all of this in a fairly confined area, where they’re movements and behaviors can become predictable to the observational birder. This is where I photograph them.

If you’d like to try your hand at songbird photography, why not do so with a little guidance. This Spring, join me, Matt Malwitz, for an in-the-field songbird photography workshop. This won’t be your typical “point and shoot” type of workshop either. I want to teach you a thing or two. During this outing, we’ll cover my process of find and photographing these birds. We’ll discuss how to find and identify songbirds, how to approach and move around wildlife, and different photographic techniques, all while photographing birds in the field.

Our goal will be to capture stunning images of two or three species, prioritizing quality shots over quantity of birds. We won’t get good looks at everything, and some birds are trickier than others, but that’s all part of the fun. As the saying goes, “if it were easy, everyone would do it”. So, why not give bird photography a chance.

Spaces are limited, so choose your date soon.

Sign up here. 

For more information on songbird photography, why not check out our webinar here.

All the best,

Matt 

Bird Photography: Grasshopper Sparrow

Whether on a backyard bird feeder or on the streets of Manhattan, you’ve likely seen a Sparrow. Many associate the term solely with the common nuisance species, the House Sparrow. These birds are known to nest in the eaves of homes. However, upon further inspection, one can start to note differences in the birds they simply call “Sparrow”. Nearly 50 species of Sparrow exist in North America. Of them, 19 can be spotted in New Jersey alone. Some are migratory, while others remain in the Garden State Year-round. Of the migratory species, one had caught my interest in recent years. The Grasshopper Sparrow.

Nikon D850, NIKKOR 500mm f/4G VR – f/4.0 – 1/4000 – ISO 800

About the Bird: 

Introducing, the Grasshopper Sparrow. This is not your typical backyard bird. Instead, this sparrow is highly habitat specific. The Grasshopper Sparrow is a grassland bird, preferring patchy meadows with little to no shrub cover. This allows this species to freely move across the ground. You heard correctly; this bird is primarily a ground dweller. Here, they forage and prey upon insects and such. True to their name, these Sparrows do eat plenty of grasshoppers, though they will also eat beetles, spiders, caterpillars, and such. Surprisingly, their hankering for grasshoppers is not what earned them their name. In fact, it is the grasshopper like song they emit. 

A buzzy trill, their song is much quieter than most common sparrows. It is also only when singing that these birds show themselves. From the top of a stalk, they make their presence known to rival males and potential mates. If all goes well, the singing male will attract a female and thwart intruding males. Then the nest making begins. Nests are located on the ground and usually consist of a mix of grass, hair and other fine materials. The nest is a typical bowl, though it is usually covered in a dome of dense vegetation, allowing access only from the side. Once completed, the nest can house about half a dozen eggs. Each egg is more important than the last as this species is in steep decline.

With an ever-shrinking habitat, the Grasshopper Sparrow is increasingly more difficult to find. Since the mid 20th century, its population has drastically declined. Populations have declined as much as 97 percent in New York State alone. This is mostly due to habitat loss. This is largely due to land development and vegetation succession. These occurrences lead to grasslands becoming smaller, fragmented and as a result, less favorable to the Grasshopper Sparrow. Luckily, this species responds positively to a number of human agricultural management activities such as scheduled mowing, grazing and controlled burns. The old practice of turning marshes into landfills has also had a surprisingly positive effect on grassland species. While detrimental to marshland species, most of these landfills were eventually isolated and capped. This created prime grassland habitat where species like Bobolink, Eastern Meadowlark and of course, the Grasshopper Sparrow could thrive once again.

Grasshopper Sparrow on Milkweed – Nikon D850, NIKKOR 500mm f/4G VR – f/4.0 – 1/4000 – ISO 800

How I Got the Shot: 

With any wildlife photography, I recommend a starting lens no less than 300mm. A basic 70-300mm kit lens will suffice. That being said, if there’s one type of bird that pushes us to longer focal lengths, it’s songbirds. An APS-C, or “cropped”, sensor paired with such a zoom will provide some relief, though you’ll learn quickly if a longer lens is needed. I was shooting with a 500mm prime lens for most of my outings with these birds. I found this lens paired with a full frame DSLR just long enough to get the results I was after. I personally like some empty space in my images, but it’s a look that’s not for everyone. Someone equipped with a 600mm lens and an APS-C body would have gotten much closer results.

Next comes lighting. I always recommend shooting in the first hours of daylight or the last few with the sun either to my back or facing me directly. This varies on what effect I’m going for with my images. More often than not, you’ll want the sun on your back as it is in the image above. We call this shooting on “Sun-angle”. Shooting in these hours not only provides the most pleasing light, it also happens to be cooler, which in turn, makes for active wildlife. It’s also worth shooting when the sun isn’t visible at all. Overcast days provide soft, diffuse light that can be pleasing throughout the day. In fact, I prefer to shoot on these days for most other songbirds I photograph.

As this species prefers life on the ground, finding one in the open was quite the challenge. As luck would have it, this patch of grassland habitat harbored a number of singing males. This resulted in territorial skirmishes between neighboring birds. Once a male had successfully chased the intruder off, it would perch atop a grass stalk and sing. The height of the grass allowed me to crouch down and remain almost invisible from the height of the sparrow. As this is not a heavily visited location, the birds were not accustomed to human presence. I had to tread carefully. Once in position, I remained in the area for much of the evening. By sitting as still as possible, I managed to photograph three individual males.

As stated above, if there’s one time and place you want the longest lens possible, it’s here. Songbirds, especially these sparrows, are small and skittish. As stated above, I spent most of the shoot crouching along the fields edge to stay hidden. I also got low as to shoot from my subjects eye-level. Being at the same level as your subject is essential to engaging your audience. It’s scenarios like these where super-telephoto zooms are ideal. If the bird comes closer, you can always zoom out without moving and startling the bird. These lenses also tend to be lighter than their prime counterparts, although new mirrorless lenses as well as Nikon’s Phased Fresnel optics are narrowing the margin.

A major aspect I made sure to check before situating myself, was the backgrounds. I made sure to keep an eye out for bright objects in the distance. Any one distracting element can throw the whole composition off, and I try to avoid removing spots in post as much as possible. A wide aperture and the vast field ultimately made for a nice, smooth background. Remember, the farther away the background, the blurrier it will become. As long as you’re using a long lens, this occurs regardless of aperture.

Once I was set up, I could begin thinking about positioning the bird in the frame. If you’ve attended one of my focus sessions at BCC, you’ve heard me talk about the rule of thirds time and time again. This is for good reason. All too often I see images with the bird or animal smack dab in the middle of the frame. There is a time and place for this, but more often than not, it’s not ideal. By positioning the bird in the lower right third of this image, it gives a sense of space. The bird is singing into the emptiness of the frame, allowing the viewer to imagine what lies ahead. This empty space is often referred to as “dead” space. Learn to use it well, and you’ll be on the path to strong compositions. If you can’t do this in the heat of the moment, remember, you can always crop in post. The beauty of modern cameras is their resolution. You can crop with little to no image degradation. I would be lying if I said I nailed the composition in-camera every time. I crop most if not all of my images to some degree.

Nikon D850, NIKKOR 500mm f/4G VR – f/4.0 – 1/1600 – ISO 400

Lastly, always prioritize the well-being of your subject. Allow space for the birds to feed, sing, and go about their business uninterrupted. Don’t panic if you accidentally flush a bird. We’ve all done it. Learn from it and avoid doing so in the future. Where applicable, stay on designated trails and respect boundaries. Wildlife refuges and parks are riddled with trails and roads for authority and park staff use. Authorized personnel signs mean authorized personnel only. Do not enter. Where trails are narrow or simply do not exist, watch your step. Many animals, not just the Grasshopper Sparrow, nest on the ground and don’t shy away from leaving young on or near trails. Be careful, wear your sunscreen and insect repellent, but also have fun with it.

If you’re interested in learning more about my bird photography techniques and outings, click here for more. We will be adding in-the-field workshops to our website in the near future, so stay tuned. Sign up for our weekly newsletter for updates.

All the best,

Matt