Tamron surprised a lot of folks last week when they announced their first fast prime lenses as they rebranded their flagship SP lens line. Since then, I’ve had a chance to shoot with both the SP 35mm F/1.8 VC and the SP 45mm F/1.8 VC lenses in a variety of different situations.
Overall, I’ve found the lenses to be rather impressive, especially when you consider the $600 price tag. That puts it right at the same price point as the Nikon 35mm F/1.8 (which lacks image stabilization) and the Canon 35mm F/2 IS, which is a little bit slower and lacks the close-focusing capabilities of the new Tamrons.
I wasn’t sure how much the close-focusing functionality would add to the experience of using each lens, but I found myself using it a lot more than I expected. Maybe even a little too much, but that’s to be expected when something is new and novel. When I switched back to my standard 50mm lens, though, I did notice that I wasn’t able to focus as close as I would have liked in some situations. It didn’t take me long to get spoiled.
In terms of sharpness, I was most impressed with how both lenses performed wide open. Of course things get a bit sharper as you stop down a little, but even at the pixel level, images seemed plenty sharp to my eye, assuming that I got the focus right. They have also done a very solid job of mitigating vignetting, at least to my eye, which is used to dark corners and edges.
While there’s a lot to like right out of the blocks, there are also a few issues I noticed during shooting. I noticed a bit of chromatic aberration creeping into areas you might expect to find purple or green fringing. In the sample images, if you look in the very high-contrast edges, you’ll likely see it for yourself. The problem is slightly emphasized when shooting wide open. It’s easily corrected and not entirely unexpected, but worth noting.
Focusing is generally quick, but when the lens has to cover a wide range, it can be a bit sluggish. For instance, if you’re focusing out at the horizon for a landscape and then try to quickly switch and capture something close to you, the lag might be noticeable. Overall, though, the focusing movements are very smooth. I have a feeling the focusing time has something to do with the internal element structure required to enable the close focusing.
I’m used to the 35mm focal length, but I was curious how the 45mm length would feel when I’m already so used to 50mm. Honestly, the 45mm feels very much like a 50, and while I enjoyed both lenses a lot, carrying both did feel fairly redundant.
We’ll have hard numbers for you once the lenses make their way through our test lab, but so far, so good for Tamron.
Tech Specs: 35mm at F/1.8 for 1/50 sec. at ISO 100. Nikon D7200
An example of the 35mm’s ability to focus close and really emphasize one area of a photo. Notice the smooth transition to bokeh and the tamed highlights in the bottom left corner.
Tech Specs: 35mm at F/11 for 1/160 sec. at ISO 100. Nikon D7200
The 35mm renders extremely fine detail at narrow apertures, even when focusing at a longer distance. I would have expected some chromatic aberration around the high-contrast edges, but in this case, it’s non-existent.
Tech Specs: 45mm at F/1.8 for 1/800th sec at ISO 100. Nikon D7200
On a crop-sensor body, the 45 acts like a short telephoto 70mm lens, which is nice for tighter shots like this one. This seems very sharp for a wide-open lens. Note the beard details.
Tech Specs: 35mm at F/8 for 1/250 sec. at ISO 400. Nikon D7200
On a crop-sensor body, the 35mm works like a standard prime, which makes it a slightly looser portrait lens.
Tech Specs: 45mm at F/8 for 1/1,250 sec. at ISO 400. Nikon D7200
Flowers are right in the wheelhouse of a close-focusing lens, especially on a crop-sensor body.
Tech Specs: 45mm at F/2.8 for 1/1,600 sec. at ISO 400. Nikon D7200
Another fashion portrait with the 45mm.
Tech Specs: 45mm at F/8 for 1/80th sec. at ISO 400. Canon 6D
This summer salad represents a pretty wide variety of colors and textures, so it’s a good test subject. Overall, it produces a nice, neutral image with a very appealing histogram. The color rendition seems accurate and bringing up the contrast slightly in post (not shown here) makes the whole thing pop nicely.
Tech Specs: 45mm at F/8 for 1/6 sec. at ISO 400 Canon 6D
This boring shot actually accomplishes two demonstrations. One, you can see that the distortion on the 45 lens is very minimal and, since this was shot at 1/6th of a second, it’s also evident that the built-in Vibration Compensation is pretty effective. Even with no added sharpening, this looks totally fine for a handheld shot unless you really get in there and start peeping pixels.
Tech Specs: 45mm at F/4 for 1/200 sec at ISO 400. Canon 6D
Another close-up detail detail shot, this time with the 45mm lens. Being able to focus this closely does actually make the lenses feel decidedly different when you’re shooting. I didn’t think the option of going almost-macro was going to be as appealing as it was, but I found it very useful in a variety of situations.
Tech Specs: 35mm at F/4 for 1/15th sec. at ISO 320. Canon 6D
This is a typical detail shot like you’d expect to shoot during a wedding. It keeps the crystal tones of the rhinestones in check nicely while rendering the yellow in the flowers very naturally.
Tech Specs: 35mm at F/1.8 for 1/2500 sec. at ISO 320. Canon 6D
You’ll notice a lot of shots wide open throughout this gallery and that’s intentional. Tamron was adamant in telling us about how much research went into making these lenses perform well at their widest apertures. As you can see here, the subject is very sharp and the wide aperture provides some nice separation from a very busy background. You do, however, start to see that chromatic aberration start to creep in in the high-contrast areas, however. It’s particularly pronounced in the upper left corner where the green outlines are fairly noticeable.
Tech Specs: 45mm at f/2.5 for 1/100th sec. at ISO 160. Canon 6D
This photo doesn’t necessarily show off one specific aspect of the lens, but I had to lay on the ground in front of a bunch of my peers to get it, so I figured I’d include it. The blur on the front boot is from motion.
Tech Specs: 35mm at F/2 for 1/400 sec at ISO 160. Canon 6D
In this instance, I actually would have expected a little flare, but Tamron has gone to pretty great lengths to try and minimize flare in their new primes. You can, however, see the chromatic aberration showing up again in that top left corner. Overall, though, the lens did a good job maintaining contrast in a heavily backlit situations.
Tech Specs: 35mm at F/2 for 1/250 sec at ISO 160. Canon 6D
Another angle on the same setup. Taking out some of the blown sky gives the whole image even more contrast. Overall, I really like the way the lens handled this specific lighting situation.
Tech Specs: 35mm at F/1.8 for 1/640 sec. at ISO 125. Canon 6D
Another example of the kind of sharpness you can expect when shooting wide open. In this shot, you can start to see the purple fringing in the railing. It’s easy to correct, but it’s definitely present in some very high-contrast edges.
Tech Specs: 35mm at F/16 for 1/100th sec. at ISO 100. Canon 6D
It’s worth noting that F/16 is as narrow as the aperture will go, which might be a slight detractor for shooters who like going to F/22 and beyond. At F/16, though, you can see it’s capable of pulling in lots of detail from up close and then way off into the horizon.
Tech Specs: 45mm at F/1.8 for 1/400th sec. at ISO 100. Canon 6D
The focus hit the air conditioning unit on the right and it’s rendered very sharp. I probably should have been shooting at a more narrow aperture in this situation, but I was really determined to see how the lenses performed wide open. The high-contrast is kept in check rather nicely here.
Tech Specs: 45mm at F/1.8 for 1/2,500 sec. at ISO 100. Canon 6D
Letters are a great subject for checking out sharpness and the edges look rather excellent to me. The crossing lines are also very straight and undistorted.
Tech Specs: 45mm at F/4 for 1/20 sec. at ISO 100. Canon 6D
This is another test of the image stabilization on the 45mm. 1/20th sec. isn’t crazy long for hand-holding a 45mm lens, but I was squatting in an awkward position, which made camera shake a real possibility.
Tech Specs: 45mm at F/2.8 for 1/2,500 sec. at ISO 100. Canon 6D
When it comes to focusing speed, the lenses seemed pretty quick as long as there wasn’t a huge difference in focus distances. Standing next to this water fountain, the lens was able to lock focus quickly on the tricky moving water stream.
Tech Specs: 45mm at F/2.8 for 1/60th sec. at ISO 100 Canon 6D
The colored window panes on the skyline are inherently beautiful and the 45mm rendered them accurately. You can see them distort due to perspective, but it’s easily fixed in post.
Tech Specs: 45mm at F/1.8 for 1/1,250 sec. at ISO 100 Canon 6D
A 45mm lens probably isn’t the first thing that pops into your head when you think of a full-body model portrait like this one, but then again, 45mm is a bit of different choice for a prime lens all together. The wide aperture gives it some really nice separation, though, even on a clutters background.
Tech Specs: 45mm at F/1.8 for 1/1,600 sec. at ISO 100. Canon 6D
This kind of model shot lends itself much better to a standard prime. Even though the sky is much brighter than the subject, the contrast is still pretty excellent. The green fringing on the black wall is very slight on the edge and actually seems to be more subdued on the 45mm lens in general.
Tech Specs: 45mm at F/1.8 for 1/250 sec. at ISO 100. Canon 6D
A wide mix of textures, brightnesses, and distances all in the same shot. The green fringing creeps in at the high-contrast edges on the windows, but again, it seems slighter than in the 35mm and is very easily corrected.
Tech Specs: 45mm at F/1.8 for 1/60 sec. at ISO 100. Canon 6D
Perfect light and an excellent pose from the model make this shot very appealing even though my brain should have worked a little faster and reminded me to shoot this at F/4 or F/5.6 instead of wide open. Still, the Tamron’s solid wide-open performance saved the day a little bit. The whole thing still feels very sharp.
Tech Specs: 45mm at F/8 for 1/50 sec. at ISO 100 Canon 6D
This hat display shows off a variety of different, but similar tones and textures. I wouldn’t be caught dead wearing one of them, but they make for a mighty fine sample image.
Tech Specs: 45mm at F/4 for 1/800th sec. at ISO 100 Canon 6D
This image has been cropped and lightened a bit because posting a whole gallery of completely unedited images can be stressful.
Tech Specs: 35mm at F/1.8 for 1/640 sec. at ISO 100 Canon 6D
Ideally, I would have had my camera set at F/8 for this street photography shot, but the moment was fleeting so I went with what I had. Ultimately, I was impressed how quickly it was able to focus in this shoot-from-the-hip setting.
Tech Specs: 35mm at F/1.8 for 1/10 sec. at ISO 100 Canon 6D
Showing off the 35mm’s Vibration Compensation with a 1/10 sec. exposure. The focus is on the tuft of onion hair in the front right, which is nice and sharp.
Tech Specs: 35mm at F/1.8 for 1/2,500 sec. at ISO 250 Canon 6D
The 35mm prime is a great lifestyle lens option, so shots like this are right in its wheelhouse. There are a lot of shades of beige and white in this frame and all of them are rendered nicely. Plus, by including this picture in a gallery, I can technically write that slice of pizza off as a work expense. Exposure was pumped up by a full stop.
Tech specs: 35mm at F/2.8 for 1/25 sec. at ISO 250 Canon 6D
An image like this with lots of fine detail is a good spot to try out the vibration compensation. The mixed light isn’t the prettiest, but the subjects are nice and sharp, even approaching the edges.
Tech Specs: 35mm at F/2.8 for 1/20 sec. at ISO 250 Canon 6D
I really like the way the lens handled the light in this shot of some soda bottles. The highlights had the potential to get harsh, but everything stayed in a very manageable range.
Tech Specs: 35mm at F/2.2 for 1/1,000 sec. at ISO 250 Canon 6D
Photo of a photoshoot.
Tech Specs: 35mm at F/8 for 1/6 sec. at ISO 250 Canon 6D
A true test of the 35mm’s Vibration Compensation. I wanted to use a small aperture, but kept the ISO relatively low in order to keep the shutter speed long and get some movement in the people at the back of the frame. I’m pretty impressed with how sharp everything is.
Tech Specs: 35mm at F/1.8 at 1/4,000 sec. at ISO 250 Canon 6D
I wasn’t expecting this NYC tourist to jump, but I was glad she did. The focus got her with no problem.
Tech Specs: 35mm at F/10 for 1/800 sec. at ISO 250 Canon 6D
Another example of how the new lenses perform in very high-contrast situations. Note The Phoblographer’s arm photobombing my shot. Exposure pumped one stop in Lightroom.
Tech Specs: 35mm at F/1.8 for 1/100 sec. at ISO 200 Canon 6D
Tamron explicitly called out the fact that the lenses could be used for wedding detail shots thanks to their close-focusing nature, so I tried it out at a real wedding shoot.
Tech Specs: 35mm at F/2.8 for 1/80 sec. at ISO 400 Canon 6D
Another wedding detail shot. It feels really weird to post these with no editing.
Stan Horaczek is the senior gear editor of PopPhoto. He oversees a team of gear-obsessed writers and editors dedicated to finding and featuring the best and most useful photography equipment, from cameras and lenses to bags and accessories.