When it was announced that the SEA Games would be hosted by the Philippines, I was excited not just as a Filipino, but as a photojournalist as well.
Shooting the SEA Games was on my bucket list and I finally got the chance to check it off. As such, I knew I had to prepare as much as I could leading up to the regional sporting event.
Since the SEA Games involves a multitude of sports held in several venues, each with their own set of challenges for photographers, I knew I needed a lens that covered a wide range of focal lengths but still had the optical excellence to bring justice to the event.
The lens also needed to be light to combat fatigue since I would be lugging it around for a few hours every day for the better part of two weeks.
Enter the Tamron 150-600mm f/5-6.3 G2.
Thanks to the endorsement of my colleagues Larry Monserate Piojo and Alecs Ongcal, Tamron Philippines lent me the super-telephoto zoom for the whole duration of the SEA Games.
I'd been intrigued by Tamron’s newer lenses, with reviews citing improved build quality, great optics, and affordable prices. I thought that shooting the regional sporting meet was the perfect opportunity to test this lens.
When I was handed my review unit, I was surprised at how short it was compared to first-party telephotos of Canon and Nikon. It's not pocketable by any stretch of the imagination but it was pleasantly easier to handle than other lenses.
Ergonomically, it felt like a nice Goldilocks fit between our office issued Canon 300mm f/2.8 and the 200-400 f/4.
I decided not to use a monopod, as the lens was much lighter than the others I usually lug around. Later in the day though, I started to feel its 4.4 lbs weight, which made me wish I'd brought a monopod. For short shooting days, it should be handy enough.
ON THE FIELD
During my first assignment, which a preliminary match in men’s football, I quickly learned to appreciate the portability and versatility of the lens.
Even though I stayed in the designated photographers’ area during the match at the Rizal Memorial Stadium, I was still able to capture shots of the Azkals in action no matter which side of the pitch they were on.
The range also proved to be a boon as I didn’t need to fumble for a different lens when the action happened just a few meters away. Sometimes a few seconds could spell the difference between the photo being published or being relegated to the recycle bin.
Since the lens is pretty short considering its range, I had the freedom to move around without worrying if I was going to hit someone accidentally.
I also appreciated its lightness during the triathlon events in Subic, which gave the Philippines its first of many gold medals.
On our way to the venue, our car broke down. But since the lens wasn't heavy, I was able to walk to the race's finish line and get a good position.
I also wasn't worried about standing on a chair to get a better vantage point--something that I would think twice about if I had a heavier lens.
Claire Adorna midway through her run during SEA Games triathlon mixed relay in Subic, Zambales on December 2, 2019. Mark Demayo, ABS-CBN News
Kim Mangrobang wins Gold in SEA Games women's triathlon in Subic, Zambales on December 1, 2019. Mark Demayo, ABS-CBN News
John Rambo Chicano wins Gold in SEA Games men's triathlon in Subic, Zambales on December 1, 2019, giving the country the headstart with the first gold in the medal count. Mark Demayo, ABS-CBN News
It was the same story for the events at the Aquatics Center in New Clark City. The lens' weight did not bother me even if the organizers made us move around the Center.
Jasmine Alkhadi (in pink) during SEA Games 50m backstroke heats in New Clark City in Capas Tarlac on December 5, 2019. Mark Demayo, ABS-CBN News
Rose Ann Ocmer performs in the women's 3-meter springboard event in SEA Games diving at New Clark City in Capas town, Tarlac on December 6, 2019. Mark Demayo, ABS-CBN News
The best feature of the lens though is its zoom range. It made short work of less-than-ideal designated areas for photographers. It allowed me to close to the action, so to speak, even if I was far away.
It was great to zoom in for tight shots, minimizing the need to crop in post-production. Most importantly, the photos still looked sharp at the longer end of the lens, and focusing was quick.
The Philippines' Sepak Takraw team plays against Indonesia in SEA Games Team Double Sepak Takraw in Subic, Zambales on December 2, 2019. Mark Demayo, ABS-CBN News
Dexter Bolambao reacts as he wins gold in the men’s live stick bantamweight finals in SEA Games arnis in Angeles, Pampanga on December 1, 2019. Mark Demayo, ABS-CBN News
Jude Rodriguez cries after settling for silver in a tiebreaker round in SEA Games women's featherweight live stick arnis in Angeles, Pampanga on December 1, 2019. Mark Demayo, ABS-CBN News
One trade-off of having a lightweight lens is dealing with smaller maximum apertures. You can't get around physics after all. The widest focal length has an aperture of f/5 going all the way to f/6.3 at its longest setting.
Outdoor morning events such as the triathlon and boat races didn't pose any problems for the lens as bright sunlight more than compensated for the lens' limited ability to gather light. But it was a different story for indoor events.
Combat sports and esports events proved to be more challenging for the lens and I had to compensate for the narrow aperture with higher ISO levels, slower shutter speeds and in extreme cases, both.
Fortunately, my Nikon’s newer sensor was able to handle exposure noise quite well. This, paired with the lens’ “Vibration Compensation” (Tamron’s version of Canon’s Image Stabilization and Nikon’s Vibration Reduction), helped tremendously. I really appreciated this feature during the egames matches at the Filoil Flying V Arena in San Juan.
I was pushing the lens to its limit with indoor sports, but it mattered to me that I get the shot even if I make mistakes with a number of frames.
VALUE FOR MONEY
While it wasn't the best for indoor use, and I needed to get used to turning the lens twice to get from the shortest to the longest focal length, I still enjoyed using the lens while covering the SEA Games.
Its huge focal range, portability compared to huge telephotos, robust build quality (I love the focal locking mechanism by the way!), great focusing and image performance are enough for me to consider getting my own unit and putting it in my everyday work bag (which did fit!) in the future.
While other lenses may offer superior optical performance, they may not be as practical for most photographers due to their size and weight. For me, the benefits of the lens outweigh the trade-offs.
It is also attractively priced, in the middle 5-digit range, compared to first-party telephotos that cost hundreds of thousands to more than half a million pesos.
I feel it's the right complementary lens for sports, outdoor events like festivals, and other special assignments.
Cameras that can push with higher ISOs while keeping it clean can make the most out of this lens.
The Tamron 150-600mm f/5-6.3 G2 will suit the needs of most photographers given the right shooting conditions and the shooter's own ingenuity.
I hope to use something like this again in, say, 2021 SEA Games Vietnam.