A Big Zoom at the Best Zoo. The new Tamron 100-400mm exceeds expectations.

Tom Wright is the latest addition to our ever-growing staff here at Midwest Photo. Tom, just like all our associates, is a photographer and loves to get his hands on the latest and greatest gear so he can provide the best advice to our customers. Here is Tom’s zoo-look at the new Tamron 100-400mm lens!

A few days ago, I had the chance to take the new Tamron 100-400mm f/4.5-6.3 Di VC USD lens to the world-famous Columbus Zoo for a day but it’s November in Ohio so it was cold. I haven’t been to the zoo for a while and I was a little worried that I’d end up with a bunch of pictures of wildlife sleeping in scenes that were obviously exhibits. But, in more than one way, I lucked out. While there were plenty of sleepy bears and tigers, there were also lots of animals up and about. This lens also turned out to be pretty awesome and perfect for the Zoo experience.

The first animal that I found that was up and ready for the day was this moose. This guy followed me up and down the road next to his enclosure for more than 15 minutes. I am totally a pet person and enjoy spending time with animals. So this moose may have been following me so much because I was talking to it in the same voice that I use for puppies. Either way it was nice to have a companion while I was sorting things out with the different stabilization modes, setting up my auto focus and just getting generally acquainted with this lens.

“This lens gives a great shallow depth of field allowing for isolation of your subject.”

Once I got settled in with all of the functions and settings with the kit, I moved on to an area where I could get a little bit more isolation of my subject. This lens give a great shallow depth of field allowing for isolation of your subject – which is especially great when you don’t necessarily want the polar bear enclosure to look like a polar bear enclosure. This also makes shooting through glass a whole lot easier. Being 100-400mm, minor smudges on the glass of the enclosure just a couple inches away from the front of my lens are so far out of focus that they won’t show up in the final image. The lens hood is not the petal type, so you can put it right up against the glass to prevent any kind of glare or anything like that – a collapsible rubber lens hood also works great to do this. If you want to try this yourself, you will need to do some color correction as most of this glass on enclosures has a green/blue cast. 

After shooting outside for a bit, I headed into the reptile house to warm myself up and see how capable this new 100-400mm lens is in terms of close focus. It held up pretty darn well. There definitely were a few instances where I had to back up to get the subject in focus, but I was also able to zoom in to 400mm if I needed to compensate for that. The lizard above (tongue sticking out) was only about a foot from the glass barrier and I was really worried that the smudges and fingerprints would be an issue. But, even in that situation the image looks clear and sharp.

Pro-tip: How to avoid ending up with an image like the one above.

When shooting anything through chain link fences – whether it’s a kids tee-ball game or a giant bear pacing, waiting for its lunch – try to create as much space between the subject (in this case a bear) and the fence. If you’re too far away from the fence and the bear is too close to the fence, than you will start to see this pattern across your image. I found that you have to be a foot away or less to prevent the fence from obscuring the image. With this particular lens – the Tamron 100-400mm f/4.5-6.3 Di VC USD – you have to be little bit careful when focusing. The focus is very quick and accurate, but there were definitely times when it would focus on the fence in front of the animal instead of the animal. My only complaint with this lens is that it doesn’t have a focus limiting switch, which would be a fairly easy solution to this problem.

I wanted to include these photos from the gorilla exhibit just to show how lens this lens is for stellar portraits in non-ideal locations. Ok, let’s be honest, your next bride and groom or public speaker may not be a Silverback Gorilla but you may find yourself in a similar situation to what I was in at the Zoo. You may find yourself covering an event in a loud, dimly lit room where you have to shoot over people’s shoulders who may or may not realize that they keep moving in your way just to get a good image of your subject. In that situation, I found this lens very useful and a solution to this issue. When I got home to start editing these, I was really blown away with how sharp this lens is and how well it dealt with weird lighting situations. The Silverback Gorillas also turned out to be spectacular sitters for my impromptu photo session, too.


Some More Images:

Some Technical Talk:

Above are a couple images comparing physical dimensions between this lens and its competition. From right to left in each image are the Tamron SP 150-600mm f/5-6.3 Di VC USD, Tamron 100-400mm f/4.5-6.3 Di VC USD (the lens being reviewed here), Canon EF 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS II USM, and Nikon AF-S Nikkor 80-400mm f/4.5-5.6G ED VR. The comparison in size between the 150-600 and the 100-400 really isn’t fair, but I thought it might be helpful for those deciding between those two.

“The new Tamron 100-400mm features the same stabilization that I’ve relied on for shooting athletic events on my 70-200mm G2.”


The kit that I used at the Columbus Zoo was a Nikon D750 with the Nikon mount Tamron 100-400mm f/4.5-6.3 Di VC USD. I have come to really enjoy shooting with my own Tamron SP 70-200mm f/2.8 Di VC USD G2 in a lot of different situations. I shoot a lot of athletic events as well as family events/portraits with that lens and it seems to handle everything I throw at it. The new Tamron 100-400mm features the same stabilization that I’ve relied on for shooting athletic events on my 70-200mm G2. It also holds up to the same standards of image quality that I’m used to with my 70-200mm G2.


I had no opinions or expectations about this lens before taking it out at the zoo. But, when I picked it up for the first time, it immediately struck me with the familiar quality of construction that I’m used to on the other Tamron SP lenses. Just like my 70-200mm f/2.8 G2, it feels and handles like a lens twice its price. I had never shot with this lens before taking it to the Columbus Zoo, but it only took a few minutes to get acquainted with it and for me to see how perfect this lens is for a trip to the zoo. The tight field-of-view that this focal range provides allowed me to crop out the undesirable items that would be unavoidable to include in a wider-angle shot. This creative control produced photos that look a little less like a zoo exhibit and a little more like I photographed these creatures in the wild.


Tom Wright is a sales associate at Midwest Photo and moonlights as a wedding, portrait, and fine art photographer. Check out his site, tomtakespictures.com.

Midwest Photo

2 thoughts on “A Big Zoom at the Best Zoo. The new Tamron 100-400mm exceeds expectations.

  1. “From right to left in each image are the…”
    I think you mean from left to right, don’t you? Because the white/grey one is definitely the Canon, the one on the far right looks pretty much like the Nikon, so the two to the left must be the Tamrons.

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