Tamron SP 35mm f/1.8 Di VC USD: A Good Fix to Be In!

Tamron SP 35mm f/1.8 Di VC USD

Tamron SP 35mm f/1.8 Di VC USD

The Tamron SP 35mm f/1.8 Di VC USD is the company’s first wide angle prime lens, and anyone who loves fixed lenses will now be spoilt for choice. Raj Lalwani investigates.

With the cameraphone becoming such a dominant medium of expression, fixed wide angle focal lengths like 35mm and 28mm have become the way most of us see the world (as opposed to just a while ago, when most amateurs would crave for more zoom). This is reminiscent of history in many ways, when several iconic chronicles were made with a 35mm lens. And that is why, for the serious photographer, Tamron’s decision to introduce fresh lens designs seems so timely. The new 35mm f/1.8 and 45mm f/1.8 are the first prime lenses from the company, aside from the popular 90mm Macro.

The 35mm, which is on our test bench this month, has some stiff competition. While the Tamron lens costs Rs. 47,500, Nikon has a proprietary lens for around the same cost. A little more money can get you the much acclaimed Sigma 35mm f/1.4 Art lens—which not only has a faster aperture— but until recently, was crowned in our tests as the Holy Grail of 35mm optics. But there are some tricks up Tamron’s sleeve.

With a claimed stabilisation of four stops, it is supposed to let you shoot sharp photos at a little less than half a second! In practice, we consistently got around three stops with the Nikon D750, but only two with the higher-resolution D810.

Whether image stabilisation is really useful in a focal length this wide is debatable—most subjects you may want to shoot with a 35mm are not going to stay still—but considering that the identically priced Nikkor does not have VR, Tamron takes this round.

Diffraction does not set in till very late and the sharpness at f/11 is quite good, both in the centre and towards the edges. Exposure: 1/160sec at f/11 (ISO 800). Photograph/Raj Lalwani

Diffraction does not set in till very late and the sharpness at f/11 is quite good, both in the centre and towards the edges. Exposure: 1/160sec at f/11 (ISO 800). Photograph/Raj Lalwani

Another unique feature about the SP 35mm f/1.8 VC is its close focusing capability. Most 35mm lenses do manage to get reasonably near, but the Tamron gets as close as 20cm. This distance is measured from the lens mount and is thus much closer to the tip of the lens… astonishing!

Is a magnification ratio of 1:2.5 in a lens this wide really practical? As time went by, I realised how I started framing my photos differently because of this, I started getting even closer, physically, to my subjects. The best foregroundbackground relationships shot with a 35mm lens happen when you are up close, and the Tamron encourages you to loosen up and do this more.

In terms of size, the lens falls somewhere between the Nikkor (smaller, as it doesn’t have stabilisation) and the Sigma (biggest, with no stabilisation but f/1.4). The Tamron SP 35mm is weathersealed, which is fantastic at this price point, considering that both its competitors do not have this feature.

The Tamron makes one crucial blunder in its design, however. It does not have depth-of-field markings. For a fixed lens of this focal length, you are inclined to just keep the lens to the hyperfocal distance and not bother with focusing, and so, this omission is quite a disappointment.

Let’s say this from the outset that the Tamron’s quality, while very good, does not match the Sigma 35mm. The sharpness of the SP 35mm f/1.8 is excellent in the centre, wide open, but the corners are very soft and the quality does not match the competition. Stop down a bit though, and the story changes. From f/2.8 onwards, the Tamron’s corners match the Nikkor head to head, and its centre sharpness is better.

There is some noticeable fringing, more than the competition, but the control over vignetting is excellent… this is one flaw that the other lenses exhibit to a large degree.

AF is fast and all lenses do a reasonably similar job, though the proprietary Nikkor is faster and more assured in its focusing if you are using the corner AF points.

Clearly, there isn’t much to choose between the Tamron and its proprietary counterpart in terms of optics. If you are consistently shooting at f/1.8, you would prefer the Nikkor, but then again, if wide-open shooting is the main application, you should rather invest some more money and get the Sigma. For the others who wish to stay within this budget, the Tamron’s close-focusing capabilities make it an astonishing tool, in the right hands.

Close focusing capability, image stabilisation
Soft corners wide open, great centre sharpness, excellent control over vignetting
Build Quality
One of the few in its class to be weathersealed
Balances well, good focusing ring, but no depth-of-field markers
Warranty & Support
Four-year warranty if bought and registered by end of year, two-year warranty otherwise     
MRP Rs. 47,500
Who should buy it? Documentary photographers and portraitists who wish to make use of the unique close focusing capabilities of this lens.
Why? This is a feature that no other 35mm lens in the market can match, and it can lead to some interesting photographic possibilities.
Tags: Raj Lalwani, Tamron, November 2015, Tamron SP 35mm f/1.8 Di VC USD, Tamron 35mm