In March, my wife and I are embarking on a safari, an absolute bucket list trip, to the Kruger National Park, part of a wider visit to South Africa where I haven’t been for 40 years. Though I once lived in South Africa, as a teenager, I never saw a safari park. It remained one of my greatest regrets. Not any more!
I have been obsessing about what photographic equipment to take, and what I should buy to supplement my gear. I shoot with a full frame Canon 5DMKII, a bit dated now, but still a very good camera – I’d really like the 5DMKIV, but a lens with sufficient reach for a safari is my priority right now. My 70-200mm f4L has been a great servant over the last 10 years, very sharp and light, but it lacked image stabilisation (IS) and it never was really long enough. I decided to sell it to fund something else.
I spent months researching lenses with 400mm reach I could possibly afford. The main contenders were Canon’s 100-400 IS II, the Canon 400mm f5.6L (no IS), the Tamron and Sigma 150-600mm, and two new ones by Tamron and Sigma, both 100-400mm. I borrowed Canon’s 100-400 IS II for a long weekend in Akaroa in the South Island. (You can see images taken with this lens here) I found it a fantastic lens with amazing image quality and image stabilisation. But it was very heavy, far too heavy to serve as a back up travel lens to my 17-40mm or 24-105mm. And at NZ$3,400 it was also out of my price range.
Both the Tamron and Sigma 100-400-mm lenses both had image stabilisation and at NZ$1399 were way cheaper. These 3rd party lens manufacturers also make 150-600mm lenses but they are huge and heavy and not wide enough for me at the shortest end. I gave serious consideration to the Canon 400mm f5.6L (no IS) which can be bought for under NZ$2,000, and which has excellent reviews for image quality and sharpness. But as a travel and landscape photographer I need the zoom range of 100-400mm. There were also Canon lenses at 300mm or the 70-300mm zoom but both would require extenders at more expense to get to 400mm, so that didn’t make much sense.
So it was the Sigma or Tamron 100-400mm, both lightweight, both with IS. In the end, Dustin Abbot’s You Tube reviews (and other reviews) of both pushed me towards Tamron. He found autofocus to be much better on the Tamron, which had the added bonus of weather sealing (handy on a safari!), and being a f4.5 aperture at the short end compared to the Sigma’s f5. It’s a touch lighter, too. Also it has an optional tripod ring, which the Sigma doesn’t, even if it is very overpriced. I’ve ordered one anyway.
The Tamron 100-400mm f/4.5-6.3 VC USD is really lightweight, compared to the Canon 100-400 MK II, with magnesium alloy construction. It focuses quickly and I have found the image quality almost as good as a lens which costs NZ$2000 more. In the end it was a no brainer. It handles very nicely, is beautifully finished, and is a pleasure to use. The extra reach that I have found at 400mm opens up all sorts of possibilities. Even wide open at 400mm in a hall I got some excellent sharp keepers of Maori dancers. The IS (or VC as Tamron call it) is excellent. It will focus at 1.5m and I found its macro capabilities very nice. The lens sits very snugly with my 24-105 f4L and Lee filters in my lovely Magnum Filson field camera bag. Without breaking my shoulders.
The photos shown here taken with the Tamron 100-400mm f/4.5-6.3 VC USD have been through my normal editing parameters, where necessary, of exposure, saturation, contrast, structure and sharpening. I’m still learning with this lens, but the omens are good! If you’re wondering about which lens on this focal range, I hope this may help.