Tamron SP 45mm f/1.8 Di VC USD: A Worthy Contender

 
Tamron SP 45mm f/1.8 Di VC USD

Tamron SP 45mm f/1.8 Di VC USD

The Tamron SP 45mm f/1.8 Di VC USD is the company’s much vaunted entry into the hallowed grounds of the normal prime. K Madhavan Pillai puts it to the test.

Tamron has been targeting highend users with its recent launches. Late last year saw the well-received SP 15–30mm. The very latest introductions are part of the ‘new’ Super Performance series, the SP 35mm (tested in our previous issue) and the SP 45mm f/1.8 Di VC USD. The 45mm, came as a surprise, primarily because they are wooing users of the nifty fifty—a focal length already filled with options across price brackets. And yet, there is no denying that Tamron has found a sweet spot right in the middle, in terms of features ignored by other manufacturers, and pricing.

Features
To begin with, 45mm is closer to the angle of view of the human eye than the 50mm. This may not sound like much, but the slightly wider angle inherently makes the lens feel more natural and inclusive while shooting. Unique among the competition, this lens is weathersealed, including a rubber gasket at the mount. This is also very first normal block lens in the world to feature image stabilisation. The lens is available in Canon, Nikon and Sony mounts. Since Sony’s full-frame A-mount SLTs and the E-mount Mk II series of cameras have sensor-shift IS, the Sony version of the 45mm does not feature VC.

An excellent minimum focus distance of 11.4 inches (from the lens mount) allows a maximum magnification ratio of 1:3.4 (0.29x). Full-time MF override is possible by simply rotating the focus ring. Tamron has enabled a rotation of almost 1800 on the lens barrel to move across the focus range (as opposed to about 35 degrees in most competing lenses), ensuring precise MF and far more rotational control for pro video users. An important feature is that the front element is coated with fluorine. It repels water and oil. The near circular aperture is made of 9 rounded blades.

Handling
Both the 45mm and 35mm are the company’s first lenses to be made all metal. It feels sturdy, comfortably lightweight, and is at home in the hand and on the D750, the D810 and the D7200 as well. I found myself using the MF override almost as frequently as using AF. MF is wonderfully functional and the ring has a nice heft to it.

In the MF mode, I frequently resort to using hyperfocal distances and this is one of the first things I learn about a new block lens. There is a window that provides a clearly visible distance scale. However, there is no DOF marking, not even the barebones f/11 or f/16 found on other AF lenses. This is also because the distance window is small for the total ring rotation of this lens. For a lens meant for a technical user, this would have helped.

Performance
A reason to use the AF override frequently is because AF is rather slow, especially from the minimum distance to about 6 feet, owing to the large focus range. From 6 feet to infinity, focus locks much faster, though still slightly slower than competing high-end blocks. Perhaps including a focus limiting function would have been useful. VC works well, letting me shoot handheld at 1/8 sec with an average of 70% of the shots sharp.

The sharpness wide open, and quality of bokeh is excellent. While some flare and highlight fringing reduces the overall contrast, these very properties can be used positively as well. Exposure: 1/800sec at f/1.8 (ISO 640). Photograph/K Madhavan Pillai

The sharpness wide open, and quality of bokeh is excellent. While some flare and highlight fringing reduces the overall contrast, these very properties can be used positively as well. Exposure: 1/800sec at f/1.8 (ISO 640). Photograph/K Madhavan Pillai

The optics is where the 45mm shines. Sharpness at f/1.8 is excellent at the centre, and very good at the edges. f/4 to f/5.6 marks the sweet spot, though sharpness across the range is a notch higher than its Nikon and Canon counterparts. Where the segmentleading Sigma Art 50mm gets ahead is in its critical control over highlight fringing and flare at its widest apertures. It makes a difference in the overall contrast, especially visible when shooting high key against the sun. Where the Tamron edges the Sigma out is its bokeh, foreground and background, which is fantastically soft-edged, round, and creamy… its standout optical quality.

Conclusion
Advanced users of this focal length, who know how to get the best out of the closefocusing capabilities, VC, weathersealing and superb bokeh will find that the 45mm expands the scope of possibilities over competing lenses dramatically, making its price of Rs. 47,500 worth it. The Sigma Art 50mm remains the only serious competition. It is a larger lens, offers optical brilliance, f/1.4, and faster AF, but lacks the features that make the Tamron unique. It is also priced about 50% higher. In terms of what’s on offer for the price, the Tamron SP 45mm comes highly recommended.

FINAL RATINGS
Features
VC, weathersealing, fluorine coating, 180 degree MF ring rotation
18/20
Performance
Superb bokeh, excellent sharpness at f/1.8, slightly slow autofocus speed
30/35
Build Quality
Aluminium barrel, inspires confidence
24/25
Ergonomics
Good handling, lightweight, large switches, broad, ridged focus ring
12/15
Warranty & Support
Four-year warranty if bought and registered by end of year, two-year warranty otherwise
3/5
MRP Rs. 47,500
OVERALL 88%
VALUE FOR MONEY 4/5
Who should buy it? Advanced photographers and serious enthusiasts interested in technical portraiture, still life and landscapes. It can be extended to street photography as well, with hyperfocal distances.
Why? This lens and this focal length in particular is best suited to those with knowledge of various lens techniques.
Tags: December 2015, K Madhavan Pillai, Lens review, Tamron, Tamron SP 45mm f/1.8 Di VC USD, Tamron SP 45mm f/1.8 Di VC USD review