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I got a brand new lens today: a Tamron 100-400mm F/4.5-6.3 Di VC USD. I have mounted it on my Nikon D80.

This lens seems to have a problem with its aperture: At 100mm, I can operate from f/4.5 onwards and above say f/22. But as I zoom in, the aperture values keep increasing and when it crosses 360mm the aperture of f/6.3 jumps over to f/6.7, whereas I should be able to still shoot at f/6.3. From 360mm to 400mm I can shoot only from f/6.7 and above.

Is my lens defective?

Updated with information requested from comments

In response to questions in the comments, the focal lengths where the f-number changes are tabled below:

100mm – f/4.5
110mm – f/4.8 
120mm – f/5.0
150mm – f/5.3
185mm – f/5.6
220mm – f/6.0
290mm – f/6.3
360mm – f/6.3
380mm – f/6.7
400mm – f/6.7

I checked my settings — my EV setting are at ⅓ stop and not at ½ stop. Changing EV to ½ stops, the aperture values at 360mm to 400mm still remained at f/6.7.

No change even after resetting my shooting menu. However, I did not reset my custom menu nor did I reset the camera to its factory settings, I fear my Firmware Version update might be lost — the manual says not do so in the absence of Nikon technical assistance.

My other lenses include Nikon 35mm f/1.8, Tokina 11-16mm f/2.8 Pro DX II and Nikon 24-120mm f/4G VR. All these lenses are fixed aperture and they all work well with my Nikon D80. However, I think my Nikon D80 does not fare well when shooting in matrix and spot metering modes as I don’t find any difference in the outputs. The camera did go to the service center and they replaced the aperture module way back in 2010.

Finally, as suggested, I mounted the Tamron 100-400mm f/4.5-6.3 Di VC USD (Model A035) on to another camera - Nikon D3400. The Tamron 100-400mm f/4.5-6.3 Di VC USD (Model A035) worked perfectly on the D3400. There was no f-number shift on the D3400 camera. I got f/4.5 at 100mm, and f/6.3 at 400mm.

Does this mean my brand new Tamron 100-400mm f/4.5-6.3 Di VC USD (Model A035) is perfectly all right?

And the problem is with my Nikon D80.

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Fascinating! Your camera is reporting f-numbers not only in 1/2 and 1/3 stop increments, but is also using f/5.3 and f/6, which are both about halfway between two values on the 1/3 stop scale. It is changing the value every 1/6 stop!

The only explanation I can think of is that when your D80 was serviced for aperture related issues way back in 2010, someone at the service center enabled a finer reporting scale for diagnostic purposes and then forgot to turn it back to the normal one before sending it back to you. If you ever update the firmware of your D80, you will almost certainly lose that ability.

I've long suspected that the Canon lens protocol has two aperture values that are reported to the camera: 1) The value to display and report in the EXIF 2) The more precise value a lens actually functions at when wide open at any given focal length to use for exposure calculations which are done with the lens wide open. Based on your report it seems Nikon lenses that report the aperture value electronically (i.e. "chipped" lenses) do the same thing!

There's nothing wrong with your lens. There's nothing wrong with your D3400. There's nothing really wrong with your D80, either. It just seems to more precisely report the actual aperture value the lens is telling the camera it is functioning at wide open at any particular focal length rather than the aperture number the lens is telling the camera to say it is.¹

Lensmakers fudge on numbers all of the time. But if the lenses and the cameras they're mounted on displayed the actual more precise information they use to properly function consumers would be storming the castles of the lensmakers with torches and pitchforks! If you think the difference between calling 1,000 bytes and 1,024 bytes a megabyte can cause an uproar... just try telling people their f/6.3 lens is really f/6.7 (one-sixth stop slower than f/6.3)! Or that their $11K 200-400mm f/4 lens is really a 199-389mm T4.7!!

Most 70-300mm lenses are actually 75-290mm lenses, or 78-292mm, or 73-285mm, etc. You get the idea. Even prime lenses are rounded to the nearest "standard" focal length. Who ever heard of a 292mm prime telephoto? Such a lens would be marketed as a 300mm lens. That 32mm wide angle? It's sold as a 28mm lens.

They do the same thing with maximum apertures. They almost always round the lens' maximum aperture to the next widest "standard" aperture number, which is usually a number along the one-third stop scale. When transmission is also taken into account, it's often even worse. That 50mm f/1.2? It really only lets as much light through as a theoretical 100% transmissive f/1.6 (T1.6) lens would. The 50mm f/1.4? It is really T1.7. Your 50mm f/1.8? It's actually T1.9.

¹ This brings up another thought. If we ever develop cameras to the point that their AI results in self-awareness, will they have a crisis of conscience ala HAL9000 about reporting one aperture number to the user while actually using a less desirable aperture number for internal calculations? What will be the consequences of such an occurrence? When we push the shutter button will the camera say to us, "I'm sorry, Dave. I'm afraid I can't do that?"


Note: The following information was written before the requested modifications to the question were provided by the OP. It still provides some background and a basic explanation of the difference between whole, half, and one-third stop f-number scales.

The series of full stop f-numbers, beginning at f/1, goes like this:

1, 1.4, 2.0, 2.8, 4.0, 5.6, 8.0, 11, 16.0, 22, etc.

Notice that the next highest f-number past f/5.6 is f/8.0 in the full stop f-number scale.

F-numbers are based on the powers of the square root of two. The ones that are odd powers of √2 (1.4, 2.8, 5.6, etc) are actually multiples of √2 (an irrational number with a never ending decimal approximately equal to 1.414213562373095...) and are rounded to a more easily used number. For more about some of the interesting ways this works out, please see this answer to Is there a sane reason why ¹⁄₁₂₅ is not, instead, exactly half of ¹⁄₆₀?.

At one time cameras/lenses only had aperture settings (or markings for infinitely variable apertures) in full stop f-numbers. Eventually, some cameras/lenses began to allow 1/2 stop settings. The 1/2 stop f-number scale, beginning at f/1, is:

1.0, 1.2, 1.4, 1.7, 2.0, 2.4, 2.8, 3.3, 4.0, 4.8, 5.6, 6.7, 8.0, etc.

Notice that the next highest f-number past f/5.6 is f/6.7 in the 1/2 stop f-number scale.

Later on, cameras began offering 1/3 stop settings. The 1/3 stop f-number scale, beginning at f/2.8, is:

2.8, 3.2, 3.5, 4.0, 4.5, 5.0, 5.6, 6.3, 7.1, 8.0, etc.

Notice that the next highest f-number past f/5.6 is f/6.3 in the 1/3 stop f-number scale.

Your Nikon D80 allows you to select whether to use 1/2 stop or 1/3 stop increments for the f-number, shutter speed, and bracketed exposures. You can do this via Custom setting 10: EV Step. It's explained on page 89 of the Nikon Guide to Digital Photography with the D80 Digital Camera. 1/3 stop is the default and is more precise, but some older lenses with aperture rings on the lens have detents at the 1/2 stop settings. Using the 1/2 stop setting allows better metering when using such a lens in Aperture Priority exposure mode.

If the EV Step custom setting is not the issue, then the firmware in the lens is reporting f/6.7 to the camera at focal lengths longer than 360mm. Lens makers such as Tamron make the same basic design for use on various lens mount/camera systems. The same design for Canon and Nikon as well as any other mounts for which the lens is offered will have the same basic model name: Tamron 100-400mm F/4.5-6.3 Di VC USD (Model A035). The differences between one system, such as Canon, and another, such as Nikon, may require Tamron to alter the reported aperture numbers to enable their lens to better work with a specific camera maker's bodies.

  • when it crosses 360mm the aperture of f/6.3 jumps over to f/6.7 if this claim of the OP is valid (as in: f/6.3 will be displayed at <360mm), then 1/2-stops are out of the loop, aren't they? – flolilo Jan 24 '18 at 23:31
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    You don't know for sure unless you look at the Custom Setting selected in that particular camera and see. If it is set to 1/2 step EV settings and you change it to 1/3 step EV settings it may change the way the lens reports the aperture. – Michael C Jan 24 '18 at 23:32
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    It seems strange that it is reporting both a 1/3 stop setting (f/6.3) at some focal lengths and a 1/2 stop setting (f/6.7) at other focal lengths. If the OP would tell us every step reported between f/4.5 at 100mm and f/6.7 at 360mm+ it would be most helpful in answering the question. – Michael C Jan 24 '18 at 23:34
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You are actually asking about image brightness. In other words, the camera lens acts as a funnel in that it gathers light. The greater the diameter of the working aperture, the more light the lens can gather. Image brightness is also intertwined with image magnification. As we zoom to higher and higher magnifications, the image projected by the lens onto film or digital sensor, dims. Each time you double the magnification, say from 100mm to 200m or 20mm to 400mm, the image brightness drops 1/4. In other words, if the cameras see 1000 units of light at 50mm, it will see only 250 units when you zoom to 100mm. Zoom to 200mm and the camera only catches 62.5 units. Zoom 400mm and this falls to 15.6 units of light.

What I am trying to tell you is, as you zoom to higher and higher magnifications, image brightness falls off drastically.

Because this light falloff is devastating, we need a way to make the zoom keep a constant image brightness. Actually, in modern times, this is not as important as it once was. This is because the modern camera has built-in light metering. This important feature sees the light falloff and signals the camera logic to compensate. This may be a boost to the ISO or a change in shutter speed or both. In any event, the camera is attempting to make a good exposure despite this changing image brightness.

So the essence of you question is, how does the modern zoom lens keep a constant exposure and can it do it always? The key to image brightness control is to somehow change the working diameter of the lens aperture as you zoom. The obvious way would be to mechanically link the aperture entry size to the zoom mechanism. This method has been used but it’s too costly and too complicated. Instead, the upfront lens group is made to operate as a strong magnifier. This lens group makes the circular entry aperture appear larger than it actually is. This magnified view of the aperture allows more light to enter despite the actual size being smaller.

As you zoom to higher magnifications, the upfront magnifying lenses also zoom making the apparent size of the aperture appear even bigger. In this way, the modern zoom compensates for light loss as the magnification is upped. Now a super expensive zoom can keep up with the zoom. This is called a constant aperture arrangement. Sorry to report that less expensive zoom’s give up the ghost as you approach maximum zoom. Don’t feel dejected, your modern camera sees this falloff and compensates for it keeping the exposure constant. If you don’t like this and you have deep pockets, go a buy a constant aperture zoom. Be prepared to pay their super high price.

One more thing, the f-number method of labeling lenses is the fundamental way we express the lens’s ability to gather light. You need to know that the f-number is derived by dividing the focal length by the diameter of the aperture entry hole. This means, if the front group magnifying (compensating) system gives up, the f-number will increase telling us, less light is getting in the optical system.

I know, it seems like a lot of gobbledygook but that’s the world the photo engineer lives in!

  • it wouldn't seem so - my camera reports f-stops, not t-stops. granted, it's a Canon. but I wouldn't think that Nikons behave different. – flolilo Jan 24 '18 at 18:04
  • @flolilolilo - f-stop or f/# or f-number are short for focal ratio. A rose by any other name will smell as sweet. – Alan Marcus Jan 24 '18 at 20:10
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    All true, but the actual question is this problem: "The lens is a f/4.5 - f/6.3, which denotes best and worst case, but it does not go below f/6.7 above 360mm." – sweber Jan 24 '18 at 20:34

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