A lens that offers such a wide focal range can bring both excitement and trepidation at the same time. Excited to think that one lens can cover so much zoom, while on the other will also mean big compromises in optical quality. Covering the ground from wide-angle to super-telephoto is no mean feat as the usual course of action for zoom lenses is the shorter amount of zoom the better for optical quality.
The Tamron 18-400mm f/3.5-6.3 Di II VC HLD is aimed at Canon and Nikon crop sensor bodies, which means on a full frame camera the full zoom works out more like 620mm. That’s a wide scope of focal lengths, which means if this lens works out, it could be a cover-all-bases lens. Very convenient instead of carting around loads of individual lenses.
Firstly, the meat and bones specifications. The 22.2x zoom has a maximum aperture of f/3.5-6.3 going to f/22-40 and seven diaphragm blades. The glass is arranged with 16 elements in 11 groups with two molded glass aspherical elements, three LD (Low Dispersion) and one Hybrid aspherical elements.
The lens also has an autofocus system and HLD (High/Low torque-modulated Drive) which is extremely quiet in operation. One of the needed aspects for such a long focal length is image stabilization, or in this case, Tamron’s Vibration Compensation (VC). The VC is rated at 2.5 stops, which is okay, but not as good as other lenses in the lineup which can go up to five stops. The lens has a minimum focus distance of 45cm, which means it can also double as a tele-macro lens.
Up front, there is a 72mm filter thread and everything weighs in at only 710g. That’s pretty remarkable in itself as some prime lenses can weigh significantly more. The lens is also not that big in size for its focal length range, being 79mm in diameter and 123.9mm in length. The whole lens feels very solidly made with the weather sealed metal mounting plate.
Behind the filter thread is the zoom ring which turns smoothly and extends the lens quite a way in three parts to 25cm (ten inches), giving away its ultrazoom qualities. Thankfully there is a zoom lock switch to lock the barrel in place. There are also switches for auto and manual focus and VC on and off.
One downside is that the manual focus ring rotates when in autofocus mode, so you have to keep your digits free from the front of the lens. There’s also no manual override on the autofocus. At least the front element doesn’t rotate when focusing, so things like circular polarizers filters can be used. There’s also a supplied petal shaped hood to cut down on some lens flare and keep that front element in top shape.
The lens up to now is shaping up to be a solidly made product from Tamron with all their top features thrown in.
First up was the intrigue of how sharp the Tamron 18-400mm f/3.5-6.3 Di II VC HLD would be across its range. There are good levels of sharpness through the zoom range, even up to 400mm. As a comparison, it’s probably as sharp as the Tamron 16-300mm. Not prime level sharpness, but neither completely bad either. The lens is at its sharpest when fully wide-angle. In the middle of the zoom range, corner sharpness starts to decrease but stopping down to f/8 cures the effect somewhat. Once you start getting over f/11, diffraction starts to creep in. At the longest end of 400mm sharpness is acceptable, especially after f/5.6.
The autofocus system is snappy, working the best at wide focal lengths. It really only takes a tad longer at the longest lengths. When it comes to things like barrel distortion there’s definitely some there at its widest but less so than on the Tamron 16-300mm. This can be remedied in postprocessing. There’s noticeable color fringing which is most prominent at the longer end of the zoom. Still, better than most other superzooms out there.
Vignetting is apparent when completely wide open so it’s best to stop down from f/5.6 onwards to improve matters. The lens also experiences some chromatic aberration in high contrast areas. Again, you can bring these aspects under control when postprocessing. The effects are not horrendous, but they are definitely apparent in most images.
The VC system definitely helps out, especially at the longer focal lengths. At this focal range, image stabilization should be a prerequisite. It’s quite easy to get sharp images at both ends of the spectrum with wide-angle shutter speeds going down to 1/8th of a second and at the longest 1/25th of a second.
If you stick to raw files, you can pull out a reasonable amount of contrast which is perfectly acceptable for a superzoom lens. Acceptable to good, but not completely mind-blowing.
How Does the Tamron 18-400mm f/3.5-6.3 Di II VC HLD Compare?
As this is one of the latest crops of superzooms, it’s better to compare it against the same brand. The Tamron 16-300mm f/3.5-6.3 Di II VC PZD MACRO has similar optical qualities. It may lose some at the longest end, but those extra two millimeters count at the widest. In this regard, the deciding factor will be if you tend to take more wide-angle images rather than super zoomed.
|Tamron 18-400mm f/3.5-6.3 Di II VC HLD||Tamron 16-300mm f/3.5-6.3 Di II VC PZD MACRO|
|Elements||16 elements in 11 groups||16 elements in 12 groups|
The Tamron 18-400mm f/3.5-6.3 Di II VC HLD is the latest generation of super zoom lenses that should appeal to enthusiasts who prefer to carry one lens that covers a wide focal range. It’s definitely more capable than other superzooms out there and the addition of the vibration compensation system and some weather resistance means handheld images can be shot in many lighting conditions and weather types.
This lens would work great for travel photography or reportage where weight is key. The problem with such a long focal range in one lens is there are going to be compromises. If not, everybody would be buying a superzoom instead of all their prized prime lenses and top end zooms. The 18-400mm does display a good amount of distortion and chromatic aberration, but much of this can be got rid of in software.
Don’t expect the same level of quality as Tamron’s top lenses, but consider this lens for what it can do, rather than what it can’t. For the money and those wanting a do it all in one lens for travel, the Tamron 18-400mm f/3.5-6.3 Di II VC HLD could be worth a look.