Tamron SP 35mm f/1.8 Di VC USD Review

In September 2015, Tamron USA announced two new prime lenses to its professional SP lens lineup; the SP 35mm f1.8 Di VC USD and the SP 45mm f1.8 Di VC USD. These primes are available in Canon, Nikon, and Sony mounts, for both full frame and APS-C sensor DSLRs.

Tamron SP 35mm F1.8 Di VC USD_model F012 (Canon mount)

Englewood Camera’s Operations Manager, Erin, recently took the SP 35mm on a trip to Ireland, and decided to write a review of the lens, including performance, quality, and an overall comparison to Canon L-Series glass that she is used to shooting.

I’ve been shooting Canon for more than a decade. My go-to setup has been a 5D Mark III, EF 17-40mm f4L USM, EF 24-70mm f/2.8L USM, and EF 85mm f/1.2L USM for the last few years. I’ve always been a fan of the 35mm focal length, however, and own two of these prime lenses for my other systems (Fuji and Leica). So, when Marc Morris of Tamron approached me about demoing a Tamron 35mm, I jumped on the opportunity.  For my trip to Ireland, I packed the 5D Mk III, my trusty 17-40mm and 24-70mm lenses, and the Tamron 35mm. I ended up leaving the 35mm lens on my camera about 80% of the time—which I’ll get to after I cover the details of the lens.

The SP 35mm f1.8 Di VC USD is an ultra fast, wide angle prime lens with a maximum aperture value of 1.8. The lens is designed with 10 elements in 9 groups, and includes 1 low-dispersion and 1 extra-low dispersion element, as well as 2 moulded glass aspherical elements. The lens also features an iris diaphragm with 9 rounded aperture blades, designed to deliver a gorgeous background blur. Minimum focus distance on this lens is 20cm (0.2m), allowing close-focus options for a 1:2.5 maximum reproduction ration. While this is not a true macro lens, there is wonderful versatility with the close focus capability.

Designed as a professional quality lens, the SP 35mm has metal construction on the outer barrel and filter threads, a metal lens mount, and a distance scale on the lens that runs from 20cm to infinity; this a build quality one would expect from a professional lens. Additionally, this lens design is apparent on both the SP 35mm f/1.8 and the SP 45mm f/1.8 lenses, and is new to Tamron’s line. From a personal observation, the new design of the lens not only gives a more professional appearance and feel, it modernizes the line and places it, from looks alone, with Sigma’s highly-rated Art lenses. The SP 35mm accepts 67mm filters, and a bayonet, ‘tulip’ hood is included with the lens at time of purchase.

Lens-Specs

According to Tamron USA, “the SP Series lenses have been technologically redefined from the core to achieve superior optical performance–including new functionality, handling, and a smart, physical design–to bring out the potential of today’s advanced camera systems that offer high pixel density.” Well, that sounds all well and fine, but what does this actually mean?

When I travel, I tend to go light with camera equipment, so I was a little nervous traveling with one more lens than normal. The Tamron SP 35mm weighs 16.9oz (basically one pound), and I didn’t think that was terrible, considering the comparable Canon EF 35mm f/1.4L II weighs 26.8oz. The SP 35mm doesn’t feel bad on the camera–the aluminum alloy barrel design makes the lens feel very much like a Canon L series lens, and the ergonomic placement/feel of the rubber grip on the focus ring is quite nice.

Autofocus performance on the SP 35mm was surprising. Because I’m accustomed to USM lenses from Canon, I’m always skeptical of third-party glass, in the ability to focus quickly, accurately, and quietly. I typically set my 5D Mark III to center-point focus, and then recompose my shot after focus. I used the AF in a variety of situations, including complex compositions with noisy background/foreground, where AF often struggles. Using the SP 35mm felt natural–it never missed focus on me! I never found the need to manually adjust the focus after using autofocus first. Additionally, it’s ninja quiet…unlike the shutter on my camera, the lens doesn’t make a peep, and it’s very, very smooth. Tamron’s USD technology definitely gives Canon’s USM a run for its’ money.

Using the 35mm as a pseudo macro lens works very, very well. I’m not often a big macro shooter, but I must admit I had fun testing the limits of this lens for close-up shots.  As mentioned before, the lens has a minimum focus distance of 20cm (just under 8in), and that makes it a very versatile tool.

EBP-Travel-2016-03-004-WM

When zoomed in at 100%, you can see how beautifully sharp this lens is.

EBP-Travel-2016-03-004-100%

Shot at ISO 400, 1/125s, f/2.8

Chromatic Aberrations are a phenomenon that occur when there are stark variances in contrast, seen with purple or blue lines/halos along the edges of a subject. If you read a variety of reviews on the SP 35mm f/1.8 VC USD on the web, there are mixed remarks concerning chromatic aberrations. As I shot with the lens on my 5D Mark III, I looked for this problem–and struggled to really come up with an example of the lens demonstrating CA. The following example is the type of shot you would expect CA, and it is present; that being said, it would easily be corrected in Photoshop or Lightroom. In my opinion, the CA in this image isn’t worth the trouble of correction, as it really isn’t that obvious.

Malahide; Dublin, Ireland 2016

At a 100% crop, you can see the CA through the tree leaves and along the edge of the building. However, this really is not a bad example of chromatic aberration–I would be happy to suggest that CA is almost non-existent with the SP 35mm lens.

Malahide; Dublin, Ireland 2016

Sharpness is quite impressive throughout all f-stops on the SP 35mm lens. Because I was on vacation, I didn’t shoot the same image throughout the range of f-stops (from 1.8 to 16); however, I shot at a variety of aperture settings with the lens, and am quite pleased with the results. Details do not get muddy, especially in foliage, and the lens retains edge-to-edge sharpness between f/5.6 and f/16. Whether you’re looking for the lens as a portrait or landscape tool, it’s well suited for any application. Seriously. Here are just a few samples that I hope you find as impressive as I did.

1. Castle Malahide, Dublin, Ireland. Shot at ISO 200, 1/500s, f/8

Castle Malahide; County Dublin, Ireland 2016

And at 100%:

Castle Malahide; County Dublin, Ireland 2016

2. Waterville Coastline, County Kerry, Ireland. Shot at ISO 200, 1/750s, f/8

Atlantic Ocean; Waterville, County Kerry, Ireland 2016

And at 100%:

Atlantic Ocean; Waterville, County Kerry, Ireland 2016

3. Castle Malahide, Dublin, Ireland. Shot at ISO 200, 1/500s, f/5.6

Castle Malahide; Dublin, Ireland 2016

And at 100%:

Castle Malahide; Dublin, Ireland 2016

4. And a portrait shot; this kid walked into my frame, so I took the opportunity. Shot at ISO 200, 1/30s, f/5.6

Tourist; Malahide Castle, County Dublin, Ireland 2016

And at 100%:

Tourist; Malahide Castle, County Dublin, Ireland 2016

Bokeh is a term that is, in my opinion, very much overused in lens and photography discussions. Bokeh simply refers to the shapes seen in the out-of-focus areas of an image; this has to do with the shape of aperture blades, as well as depth of field. When shooting a lens wide open–in the purpose of this review, the SP 35mm f/1.8 lens–bokeh will be present. Because this lens has an iris diaphragm with 9 rounded aperture blades, the shape of the out-of-focus areas will be round. The look of the bokeh is very creamy and smooth–honestly, it’s a gorgeous look.

One example of bokeh, seen at f/2.8:

Bloom; Malahide Castle, Dublin, Ireland 2016

And at 100%:

Bloom; Malahide Castle, Dublin, Ireland 2016

Shot at ISO 400, 1/125s, f/2.8

I had a very enjoyable time shooting with the Tamron SP 35mm f/1.8 VC USD. Overall, my opinion on the lens is to buy it! It retails for a mere $599, and my experience with it was well worth the money. If you want to see more of my work, please visit my website at www.erinbrinkley.com.

Erin Brinkley-Burgardt has worked for Englewood Camera just shy of a decade. She has a BFA in Photography from the University of Colorado (Denver), and primarily shoots travel and street photography. In addition to Canon, Erin shoots with a Fujifilm X-T1, Hasselblad 503CX and Leica M6. Come on by the store to pick her brain on anything photographic!   

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