A zoom that extends from wide-angle to long telephoto is always a compromise, but that didn’t stop Tamron from taking it to extremes with a 18-400mm that, despite any technological discussion, is the answer to the dreams of all those people who want to carry a single lens and be able to photograph both close and distant subjects. Now they can!
Pixel peepers and those for whom photography is more about numbers than feelings may well go and read something else, but I sincerely believe this zoom makes sense for a lot of people who, for different reasons, want a versatile lens covering all their needs. If such lens exists, it’s the Tamron 18-400mm F/3.5-6.3 Di II VC HLD. While it is true that an aperture of f/6.3 at 400mm is not exactly bright for some subjects, the truth is that we live in days where ISO can be expanded, so as to guarantee that 400mm f/6.3 is usable in most conditions.
Portability is one important element for people who look at this lens as something interesting. With a length of 124mm, when closed, a diameter of 79mm and a weight of 710 g, this zoom is compact, whichever way you look at it. The price of $649 makes it even more interesting, especially if in terms of image quality it delivers as Tamron promises. The difference between marketing and reality may well be the problem, at least for users who have dreamt about having such a zoom, but are not willing to skip – too much – on image quality to achieve better portability. Only trying the lens will reveal how much of a compromise it can be.
What attracted me in this zoom is its close focus capability, of 0.45m, which delivers a 0.34x – or 1:2.9 if you prefer) magnification. Close focus capability in telephoto zooms is something that interests me particularly, as I use the feature for my flower photography. The lens I use now, a Canon EF 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS II USM focuses at 0,98 m, with a magnification of 0.31x, something almost unheard of in 2015, when the lens was launched. Only recently a second lens with similar features appeared in the market, the Sony FE 100-400mm F4.5-5.6 GM OSS, which focus at the same 0.98 m and reaches a magnification of 0.35x.
The Tamron, at 0.34x, offers the same magnification as those lenses and for that alone I would love to put my hands on one, something that I am trying to sort out with Tamron representatives for this corner of Europe. It may not have the quality of my Canon, but I believe in compromises and the idea of having a lightweight lens (compared to mine) that can be used for the same subjects, really interests me. Furthermore, as a travelling lens, it may well be “the lens”, and a solution that, I believe, many will adopt as their only lens. Able to cover from wide-angle to telephoto and offering close focus at the telephoto end, makes this a truly “all-in-one-zoom”. Those who love to capture wide-angle close up shots might feel that the close focus of 0.45m is a limitation – which it is – but for them I would suggest one thing: buy a wide-angle fixed focal lens!
The lens was designed for APS-S DSLR cameras, with Canon and Nikon in mind. Tamron used its experience in the construction of compact zooms to design the new lens. Since the 1992 launch of its AF28-200mm F/3.8-5.6 Aspherical (Model 71D), Tamron has dominated the all-in-one zoom category and has produced many lenses that cover wide-angle to telephoto zoom ranges.
This model, which takes the experience to new extremes, offers, according to Tamron, “excellent image quality across the entire zoom range, from wide-angle to ultra-telephoto and macro”. The information provided by the company indicates that “the optical construction consists of 16 lens elements in 11 groups. The use of specialized glass elements such as LD (Low Dispersion) and aspherical lens elements effectively minimizes wide-ranging aberrations, including chromatic aberrations and distortion, thereby assuring outstanding image quality. Optimum power distribution among the individual lens element groups achieves both the optical performance and the compact size necessary for an ultra-telephoto all-in-one zoom lens that boasts 400mm focal length.”
Lightweight and compact, the lens features a new lens barrel design, utilizing a three-step extensions solution, which was developed to enable the necessary elongation to produce a 22.2x zoom ratio. Compared to the conventional approach, the division into a larger number of cams ensures comfortable operation and stability while zooming. Tamron’s philosophy for all-in-one zoom lenses is to allow each photographer to casually capture everyday photos with a lens of a practical size, and this model fulfills this philosophy.
Tamron’s own HLD (High/Low torque modulated Drive) motor is present in this lens. The power-saving HLD motor produces “outstanding driving torque”, and adjusts motor rotation from low to high speed to enable accurate and quiet focusing. The HLD motor takes up less space thanks to its small size and circular arc shape that allows the size of the lens to be reduced. The lens also uses Tamron’s VC (Vibration Compensation) system, which effectively curbs camera shake under low light conditions (such as a dimly lit room or at dusk) and while taking ultra-telephoto pictures.
As expected, the lens is compatible with Tamron’s TAP-in Console, an optional accessory product which provides a USB connection to a personal computer, enabling the user to easily update the lens’s firmware as well as to customize features, including fine adjustments to the AF and VC.
The Tamron 18-400mm F/3.5-6.3 Di II VC HLD appears, at least on paper, to be a promising addition to Tamron’s line of compact zooms, this time offering what many consider to be a “dream range of focal lengths”. It’s always going to be a compromise, but if the company has managed to find a balance between portability and quality, this may be the ideal zoom for travelers who want to travel light. Or any other photographer who hates to carry multiple lenses around.