I was off work for the last two weeks visiting my native place and that gave me a chance to try out my new lens, a Tamron 70-300mm. It has middling specs - no image stabilization, F/4 at the low end which goes to F/5.6 at 300mm. The barrel extends as you increase the focal length, so at 300mm the lens is quite ungainly with a protruding snout. The lens also has a macro functionality which comes into play only between 180-300mm - its actually quite good in macro for an amateur photographer like me. With my Nikon body I could use the autofocus, unfortunately this is the most disappointing aspect of the lens - the motor is extremely slow and noisy. At 300mm, you'll spend a lot of time waiting while the lens hunts around slowly to get the subject into focus. In any case, at 300mm you'll be better off focusing manually instead of relying on the autofocus as I sadly discovered. Quite a lot of my pics taken nearer to the long end with autofocus ON came out blurry and just off focus. What this lens really has going for it is the price - while the Tamron costs in the region of Rs.8500, a comparable lens from Nikon will leave you poorer by roughly Rs.21500. Amazing value for money.
These first few shots exercised the lens almost through its entire range - from 90mm to 300mm. Except for the last one, the rest came out quite sharp - the autofocus had trouble there possibly due to the shade. Depending upon the lighting, I either opened the aperture to its widest or stepped it down to about F/9.
I'm very impressed with the macro functionality(admittedly its my first lens with anything remotely macro). Focus was good(all were taken in good lighting conditions) too and the bokeh is pleasing enough. The third pic of the crack and knot in the wood shows how shallow the depth of field already is at F/8; this led to a slightly off focus(fault entirely mine) in the pic of the praying mantis:
A few times that I've been out in the midst of nature, photographing birds and animals with the kit lens, 18-55mm, has been a hopeless affair. One of the main reasons to get a long lens was to address this. All of the pics below were shot at 300mm - the lens is markedly less sharp at 300mm than at say 150mm. So long as you dont crop into the subject much, its manageable. The first one of the peahen is relatively sharp, the second one of a flock of ducks came out sharp enough but is underexposed with very little extractable detail in the ducks. The third one is of a Koel, its probably the best in terms of sharpness and detail against a bright background.
This one of the Red Whiskered Bulbul came out with good detail, but it is still not as sharp as I would like. The next one is of a pair of crows, its focussed enough but came out slightly soft. The third one is a pair of hawks circling above. While not sharp at all, I'm pleased with the amount of detail in it. Against bright sunlight to be able to make out feather details is pretty good.
A couple of pics of a squirrel beating the heat came out quite well too, focus is a bit off in both of them but at least the pic is crisp with no fogginess and grain(look at the next set of pics below to see what I mean). Both were taken in the shade with the lens fully extended and wide open at F/5.6(something that several reviewers of this lens advised against). Not print quality but still pretty good.
These are the ones where I'm not very happy with the results and the photos get worse progressively. In the first one, a sparrow, despite several attempts at focussing the lens refused to lock on. The second one was focussed manually, but still came out soft. The third and the fourth were with autofocus, but didn't come out right - both are blurry and have a weird foggy, grainy feel to them.
In low light the lens really doesn't open wide enough to shoot anything moving around - still life photography suits this lens much more. So long as you dont extend the lens much(90-180mm seems to be the sweet spot), the pics come out very sharp. The last one is of the moon on a bright night, I had to underexpose it to pull some detail but its still a bit soft for my liking.
Overall, I'm satisfied with the Tamron - neither happy nor disappointed. The photo quality is nothing to write home about, its a pain to nail focus when fully extended(nevermind its slow motor); ultimately you get what you pay for and that makes it a lens of great value for money.
Now for a bunch of freebies - in between experimenting with the Tamron, I took a few good pics with the kit which I'm so much more comfortable with. Most of them are low light, long exposures as is my wont. The last one is there simply because of the composition and atmosphere which I quite like.