If you consider tamron to be the budget lens manufacturer, prepare for a surprise. Hot on the heels of Sigma’s recent success with the Art lens range, the new Tamron 35mm and 45mm are clear competition in this premium segment of the market. But what makes them stand out, in a big way, is image stabilisation alongside a fast maximum aperture.
Standard prime lenses have traditionally relied on fast apertures and significantly better image quality than zoom lenses. Up until recently it felt like the market was at saturation point, but now it seems glaringly obvious what was missing...
The Tamron SP 45mm f/1.8 Di VC USD has been packed with the latest lens technologies to make it an attractive option in a crowded marketplace. As previously mentioned, image stabilisation sets the lens apart from the competition, and is certainly the jewel in its crown. With 3 stops of compensation, you could theoretically shoot at shutter speeds as slow as 1/8sec on a full-frame DSLR and still get sharp images. Combined with the maximum aperture of f/1.8, this makes the 45mm an attractive option for low light shooting. But it’s not just stills photographers who will welcome image stabilisation in a fast prime, as it will also be extremely attractive to videographers.
With any lens of this type, bokeh – or the appearance of background blur – is always important. For pleasing blur, the SP 45mm features a nine-blade diaphragm that maintains a circular shape even when stopped down by 2 stops, which is f/4.
The SP 45mm uses ten elements in eight groups. Two of these are moulded glass aspherical and another low dispersion to help reduce lens distortion and chromatic aberration. The front element has a fluorine coating for oil- and water-resistance, which is in addition to the moisture-resistant sealing to allow for shooting in all weather conditions. The lens also features an Ultrasonic Silent Drive for fast and silent autofocus, and has a wide manual focusing ring with a comfortable amount of resistance.
Handling and performance
The SP 45mm certainly looks and feels like apremium lens, and a lot of thought has no doubt gone into the design. While larger and heavier than other f/1.8 lenses in the 50mm bracket, this has to be expected with the addition of image stabilisation. However, despite the additional size and weight the 45mm balances well with full-frame DSLRs. With smaller APS-C models it does cause a slight imbalance and you get an equivalent focal length of 67.5mm. The 35mm balances more effectively with APS-C DSLRs, and provides an equivalent focal length of 50mm.
The 45mm is an impressive lens with excellent levels of sharpness throughout the aperture range. However, it does get progressively sharper as you stop down, with the sweet spot sitting at f/8-11. That said, images taken at f/1.8 are more than sharp enough at the point of focus. There’s a small amount of barrel distortion and chromatic aberration visible in shots, but nothing so strong that you’d need to worry about it. Adobe Camera Raw can fix these small imperfections with ease.
The slight difference in focal length between the 35mm and 45mm means most people are more likely to buy one lens or the other, not both. The Tamron SP 45mm f/1.8 Di VC USD certainly brings something new to the table, and is well worth considering the next time you upgrade your standard lenses. At £579 it feels rather expensive for an f/1.8 optic, but then it does offer something completely unique at this moment in time.
The vast majority of photographersbuy fast prime lenses to take advantage of the large maximum aperture. Shooting shallow depth-of-field portraits at f/1.8 is arguably the most common use for this type of lens. The SP 45mm produces an impressive level of sharpness at its maximum aperture, but this improves incrementally as you stop down the aperture. The lens is sharpest when set to f/8 or f/11, but this is a common characteristic of the vast majority of lenses.
- Street price: £499 (As of July 2016)
- Lens: Tamron SP 45mm f/1.8 Di VC USD
- Price: £579
- Aperture: f/1.8-16
- Focusing: Ultrasonic Silent Drive
- Minimum focus distance: 29cm
- Lens construction: 10 elements/8 groups
- Filter size: 67mm
- Mounts: Canon, Nikon, Sony
- Size (DxL): 80x92mm
- Weight: 540g
- Visit: www.tamron.eu/uk
This review was first published in the December 2015 issue of Practical Photography - download back issues here.