Post by David McKay. PPA M. Photog, Cr. CPP

Elephant  ISO 800 F 6.3 640th S
Elephant Canon 5D Mark III with Tamron 150-600 lens ISO 800 F 6.3 640th S

March of 2015 took myself, my wife Ally , and our McKay Photography Academy team to Tanzania to lead 3 ten day, back to back photography tours. Spending 32 days in this magnificent country was an experience I will never forget and I would count as one of the greatest photographic experiences to date in my life. In fact, it was one of the greatest experiences ever in my life as a whole! Fortunately, we are able to return in August of 2016 and I am incredibly excited to be returning and sharing this beautiful country, the people and of course photography opportunities and education with others!

Spending this kind of time photographing wildlife and out in the “bush” requires a large amount of pre planning. When planning the photography aspect, of course gear in general, and lens choice becomes critical. There are many variables to consider especially as you are limited in weight restrictions on flights within the country. The idea of carrying all of your gear and choosing what you will want or need once there, is not possible.

In choosing what I felt would be best for myself; I went with the new Tamron 150-600mm lens. Many of you seasoned photographers may be wondering, WHY? Why go with an off brand (I shoot Canon) lens with a maximum aperture of f/5.0- f/6.3? Why not choose a faster lens, with better glass, and with tried and true results?

David with Tamron 150-600 Lens in Tanzania
David with Tamron 150-600 Lens in Tanzania

Here is what I found in a nutshell, I am extremely happy with this lens for what it has to offer. Here’s why.

  • Remarkably affordable. At a price of just over $1000, you get a decent lens that works great for wildlife and sports photography in most light.
  • 150mm-600mm range. With a range like this, you can get 95% of the wildlife shots you need from your Range Rover vehicle. Whether wildlife is in close or at a distance, this range gets you what you need on Safari!
  • Weight. Weighing in at just 4.3lbs, this became crucial when carrying gear and on flights. Also great that you can hand hold if need be and actually get away with the shots!
  • Quality. Ok, so this is where it really has to matter. No this lens is NOT the Buy the Canon 400mm 2.8 for the low, LOW price of $9,999 in quality. Yet, it is not 35lbs nor $9,999! In my experience, this lens did everything I needed it to and more. I honestly was blown away at the results for the price. I did not expect it to be as good as it is. Sure, it is not a low light lens. Nor is it the fastest in focusing, but it handles well, it offers great quality ( especially at 500mm or less) , has Vibration Reduction, and captured 98% of all images I shot in 32 days on Safari! About the only wildlife that was difficult to capture at reasonable ISO, was Monkeys in trees in low light. Other than that, I am very happy with the results. I did find that at 600mm it was not quite as sharp but still very acceptable.

On safari, my wife Ally shot with the Buy the Canon 100mm-400mm Mark II from B&H and the results were great from that lens. Although she could not get the reach of the 600mm, she was able to crop in for what she needed and this lens was very sharp and also faster focusing. BUT, it comes at twice the price. I still preferred the Tamron for my images especially when I needed that extra reach. One of our clients shot the Buy Sigma 150mm-500mm from B&H. This lens is heavier and as we compared, we found this lens to be the least sharp in our results. It is also more expensive.

So in the end, for price, weight, quality, and focal distances, this lens was excellent. Would I use the Canon 400mm fixed 2.8 if available? Absolutely! However, this lens is not meant to compete with that nor should it. This lens does exactly what it is supposed to all at a price that is very affordable for what you get. Tamron has a winner here for someone on a budget and looking for a good lens with a great focal length.


Ready to go on an African Wildlife Safari?

JOIN US for the trip of a lifetime! In August of 2016 we will return to Tanzania. We are leading two tours and the first is sold out. The second has 2 spots left! Join David and Ally McKay and McKay Photography Academy as we photograph the action of the Great Migration Mara River Crossing as thousands of Wildebeest and Zebra cross the crocodile filled river. We will be scouting and photographing TONS of wildlife including Lions, Leopard, Cheetah, Elephants, Hippo and more. Also we will be visiting the local Maasai for a cultural experience.

We work to give you the most amazing photographic safari available with a 5 to 1 client/instructor ratio, private specially equipped for viewing and photography Range Rovers with a maximum of 4 people to vehicle, incredible camp accommodations with 5 star service, and serious hands on personalized instruction to ALL levels of photographers. No need to feel intimidated if you are a beginner. We have your back! The serious photographer will find they gain valuable experience from the McKay’s’ and their professional team. If you want adventure, this is a MUST do photographic tour!

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Monkey  ISO 4000 F6.3 400th S
Monkey ISO 4000 F6.3 1/400s
Cub eating ISO 800 F 5.6 1000 S
Cub eating ISO 800 F 5.6 1000 S
Hippos 2 ISO 800 F 5.6 5000th S
Hippos 2 ISO 800 F 5.6 5000th S
Hippos ISO 640 F 22 125th S
Hippos ISO 640 F 22 125th S
Lion  ISO 1250 F 6.3 6400th S
Lion ISO 1250 F 6.3 6400th S
Elephant- Close-up ISO 400 F 5.6  320th S (1)
Elephant- Close-up ISO 400 F 5.6 320th S (1)
Wildebeest  ISO 400 F 6.3  1250th S
Wildebeest ISO 400 F 6.3 1250th S

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  1. Very impressed with the results you got from the Tamron 150-600mm. I’ve been to-ing and fro-ing on whether or not to get this in addition to, or in place of my Canon 400mm f5.6. Although I’m happy with the 400mm, it doesn’t have IS and it often doesn’t get me close enough for certain shots! One of my favourite themes is to photograph birds in flight and I wonder if you might be able to comment on how the Tamron fairs in this capacity? People tell me that you don’t need IS for BIF because you’re using a fast shutter speed . . . but I beg to differ . . . I feel that with IS (or VC in the case of the Tamron) it would help to stabilise the moving subject in the viewfinder. I guess my last question would be whether the image quality/sharpness on the 150-600mm would equal the Canon 400mm f5.6, or at least be very close to it at 400-500mm? Many thanks, Roger

    • Hi Roger!
      This is difficult, I am one that actually also feels that IS or VC is not needed in many instances and in fact have found that you get sharper results with it OFF IF your Shutter is at a high speed. With the shutter lower, you get some help with it. In Tanzania, as we used stable bean bags on the trucks, I actually shot lower shutter speeds with VC off and tried it on and the results were without a doubt sharper with it OFF. Now handheld lower shutter speeds it did help. So I think it really depends on how stable you are etc.

      As far as birds in flight, the issue is going to be whether this lens will focus fast enough for you. It is not slow, but its also not fast. I am also hoping Toby can comment on the Canon fixed. Our other instructor shot with that lens in Tanzania and he was happy with the results, but wished he had the longer reach. I think the 100-400 may be the way to go for you and then crop in possibly for the birds because of the speed in focus you need. Hope this helps! -David

    • As David said the sharpness is there – the Tamron holds up very well especially around 400mm against these other lenses including the 400mm prime but I do worry that it isn’t fast enough for birds in flight. It is not a slow lens but AF speed is the one category were I wasn’t as impressed with the Tamron, especially when comparing directly against the 100-400 Mark II from Canon.

  2. Wow. Just..Wow. This, I must do at least one time in my life.
    You guys seem so down to earth and when Toby/Christina talks about your business they always look so happy, and they praise you guys for so many things.

    I wish i could afford a trip (I’m a student), and I’m going to save up for a year and see where that takes me.
    But I can say this, I will definetly check with your company first!

  3. By the way, what’s the minimum level of gear required?
    I currrently own: Canon 6D, Tamron 70-300mm f/4-5.6, Canon 24-70 f/4, Canon 50mm 1.8

    I’m looking at some longer lenses, like the Tamron 150-600mm, but at the same time I’m looking into some of the primes that Canon offer.

    By reading the article/post I’d say I would be happy with the Tamron but it seems like yu and others feel that with 600mm the sharpness is too soft?

    Decisions, decisions.. =)

    • No minimum gear required. For a trip like this you do want as much zoom as you can get but I know on the Montana trip and Italy trip people came with all types of gear including Canon and Nikon DSLRs from 4-5 years ago – they still make nice pictures too 🙂

      I think the softness of the Tamron at 600 has been overblown. When shooting in real world conditions I found the quality to be very good.

      • Those words really made a student’s wallet happy =)

        About the Tamron, I trust what you say Toby. You seem like the most honest of all the educators/youtubers out there.
        And the Tamron is at a reasonable price level for me personally.

        I really liked that supertele-video-comparison you guys made after your Montana trip. The only thing is, I’m kinda interested in the 70-200 f/2.8 II with the 2.0 extender (III) as well. And that’s the lens you and I talked about on Twitter.
        But then I’d lose some reach, but gain sharpness and clarity.
        AF-speed is critical for me, because my camera isn’t the best AF-monster out there. So, what should I do? I mainly do portraits, a wee bit of BIF, and some landscape.
        I really do want a versatile lens that I could use for more than one thing.

        And of course, my camera was released in like -12/13 sometime (Canon 6D) so I know it can produce good clean images. It all depends on who’s behind the wheel (wheels, there’s two!).

        • The perfect answer is the Canon 100-400 Mark II – It is extremely versatile and useful for portraits and BIF without any problems and is actually more travel friendly than the 70-200 IS USM Mark II. And that is actually a cheaper option than going 70-200 f/2.8 and extender. The only benefit of 70-200 is that f/2.8 in lower light and at 70 making lovely portraits.

          • 22.000 Swedish crowns (almost 3000 USD) (70-200mm f/2.8 + 2xExtender) which is 1000 crowns less than the 100-400 II.
            Aha, I misread, and now I’m on the same page as you =)

            I think the 100-400mm will suit me perfectly. Now I only have to convince my fiance the very same thing.
            Thx for all the help, it’s really appreciated.

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