Tamron SP 15–30mm f/2.8 Di VC USD: An Unbeatable Proposition

 
Tamron SP 15–30mm f/2.8 Di VC USD

Tamron SP 15–30mm f/2.8 Di VC USD

The Tamron SP 15–30mm f/2.8 Di VC USD is a serious contender to the coveted title of the Best Ultrawide Zoom available. K Madhavan Pillai finds out if it has what it takes.

The perfect ultrawide has been a serious pursuit for the past two decades. The newly released Tamron SP 15–30mm f/2.8 Di VC USD is up against stiff competition from Nikon, Canon and Tokina, all of whom have a f/2.8 full-frame lens, and from Sigma as well, for lenses with f/4 or lower. While it is debatable how small differences in the focal ranges affect usage, the real questions are about optical quality, construction, handling and features.

Features
Setting Tamron’s 15–30mm apart is the inclusion of Vibration Control (IS), which is a first with lenses in this range. The advantage provided by the fixed maximum aperture of f/2.8 over lenses with smaller apertures also cannot be overstated. It opens up plenty of possibilities for advanced users.

The 15–30mm has a rather complex optical design (18 elements in 13 groups), with several highly specialised glass elements and nano-coatings to check chromatic and optical aberrations (including flare)… common problems that plague ultrawide zooms. A silent ultrasonic drive powers AF. There is full-time MF override. The large, bulging front lens element precludes a fixed hood without a filter thread, so no filters can be attached. To prevent damage to the front lens element, an antifouling coating repels water or oils from sticking to its surface, allowing easy cleaning. A unique double hood system adds strength to the outer fixed hood and aids weathersealing. The lens also has a rubber grommet ring on the mount.

At 30mm, with relatively flat scenes, one can barely diferentiate between this and normal focal lengths. Distortion is barely visible. Exposure: 1/50sec at f/8, ISO 400). Photograph/K Madhavan Pillai

At 30mm, with relatively flat scenes, one can barely diferentiate between this and normal focal lengths. Distortion is barely visible. Exposure: 1/50sec at f/8, ISO 400). Photograph/K Madhavan Pillai

Handling The Tamron is a superbly well-built lens and the heaviest amongst its competitors. It balances well with full-frame DSLRs, but feels large and front heavy with APS-C DSLRs. Initially, I found myself fumbling with this lens because it has the zoom ring in front of the focus ring, unlike pro lenses from either Nikon or Canon. Nikon users will also have to get used to the focus ring rotating in the opposite direction, similar to Canon lenses.

What takes a lot more getting used to is the effort required to rotate the zoom ring, owing to all those glass elements and overzealous weathersealing, which, on its own, is always a good thing. While several senior photographers, to whom I had offered this lens to try, did not seem to mind, I found myself over-correcting from the desired focal length frequently, missing more than a few shots, until I started using it with a consciously firm hand.

Performance
Optically, the Tamron challenges the best, in this case, the Nikon 14–24mm f/2.8G, and on some parameters, even exceeds it. It is fantastically sharp across the focal range. At f/2.8, there is a slight drop at the edges, but the centre is exemplary. Stopping down to f/4 seems to bring out the very best in the lens. Beyond that, there is no visually perceivable difference, except for slight, easily correctable vignetting. Control over flare is superb. Distortion is very slight, but visible. AF is quick, mostly silent, and as fast as competing lenses. Apart from very few exceptional wide angle primes (one of them tested in this issue), I have not experienced other lenses in the ultrawide zoom segment with this level of optical performance.

Depth-of-field can be quite magical at 20mm. The control that the lens allows over flare at different points in the frame is exemplary. Exposure: 1/250sec at f/8 (ISO 6400). Photograph/K Madhavan Pillai

Depth-of-field can be quite magical at 20mm. The control that the lens allows over flare at different points in the frame is exemplary. Exposure: 1/250sec at f/8 (ISO 6400). Photograph/K Madhavan Pillai

Conclusion
At Rs. 79,900, the Tamron is significantly less expensive than either the Nikkor AF-S 14–24MM f/2.8G ED or the Canon EF 16–35mm f/2.8L II USM. The Tokina AT-X 16–28mm f/2.8 Pro FX is the least expensive, but does not have a quick or silent AF, or its level of optical performance. Neither of the three competitors are equipped with stabilisation. Canon users may want to consider the newly launched EF 11–24mm f/4 USM L, which promises to offer the Tamron a challenge, at least optically, if not on other fronts, including maximum aperture and stabilisation. Otherwise, if you are willing to reconcile with the handling quirks, the Tamron 15—30mm is simply the best ultra wide zoom available today for full-frame DSLRs.

Photograph/K Madhavan Pillai

Photograph/K Madhavan Pillai

FINAL RATINGS
Features: f/2.8, Vibration Control, full-time MF override, silent USD AF motor  19/20
 Performance: Overall optical brilliance, quick AF  33/35
 Build Quality: Extremely sturdy, moisture sealing  23/25
 Ergonomics: Interchanged zoom and focus rings, overly resistant rotation on the zoom ring  10/15
 Warranty & Support: Wide service network, two year warranty in India  3/5
 OVERALL  88%

MRP: Rs. 79,900

Who should buy it? Advanced users involved in interior, architecture, wedding, street or action photography.

Why? With exceptionally good optical characteristics, the expanded possibilities with this stabilised lens necessitates practice and relatively good knowledge of technique.

Tags: K Madhavan Pillai, May 2015, Tamron, Tamron 15-30 lens, Tamron lens review, Tamron SP 15–30mm f/2.8 Di VC USD, Tamron SP 15–30mm f/2.8 Di VC USD price