I had the opportunity to use the Tamron 45 F1.8 VC USD prime lens for a weekend, one of the two new prime lenses Tamron released recently. My thanks go to Fotostore Werkgarner in Wels for this chance!
As already mentioned, the Tamron 45 F1.8 VC USD is one of two new prime lenses from Tamron. With the 35 F1.8 VC USD, this lens marks the start of the new Super Performance series with a fresh lens design and superior optical performance. Furthermore, the mentioned Tamrons are two of the few prime lenses with a vibration compensation system, which is very useful in low light conditions. With no doubt, these lenses are the answer to Sigmas ART series but with some differences: While Sigma has a maximum aperture of F1.4, the maximum aperture of F1.8 in the Tamron is compensated with a VC system. It is moreover smaller, lighter and weather sealed.
As we have seen in the past in the Sigma Art lens series, third party choices are nowadays often better than the lenses of the camera manufacturer. Moreover, they are cheaper than the comparable Canon/Nikon/Sony lenses.
In this hands-on review, I research if Tamron managed to create a superior prime lens. Therefore I have tested the Nikon version of the lens on my Nikon D750 (Full Frame, 24 MP) camera.
Type: Prime Lens suitable for APS-C and Full Frame Cameras (Available for Nikon F, Canon EF and Sony A)
Focal length: 45 mm
Aperture: F1.8 to F16, Aperture Blades: 9
Autofocus: Ultrasonic Silent Drive (USD), minimum focus distance of 0.29m (Macro magnification of 1:3.4)
Extras: Image Stabilization (VC), LD (Low Dispersion) Elements, Molded glass aspherical elements,
eBAND and BBAR Coating, Fluorine Coating and moisture resistant
Weight and length: 520g, 89,2 mm
Filter Size: 67 mm
Lens Hood: Flower-shaped Lens hood, plastic
About the 45mm focal length
There is a big discussion why this lens has 45mm and not 50mm like so many other “standard” prime lenses. I think that choosing 45mm has one big advantage:
- It’s very near at the “normal” focal length of approx. 43mm (diagonal of the full frame sensor) and therefore the field of view is more natural. In my opinion, 50mm is already too long. I have used the Nikkor 50 F1.8G for a while, but I sold it for exactly this reason. After using the 45mm for the last two days I am certain that this lens will find its way into my bag very soon.
There are also many 50mm lenses out there, so 45mm is a unique feature that sets this lens apart from all the other “standard” primes. The difference to the Tamron 35mm F1.8 VC USD of 10mm is also enough. In my opinion, there is a significant change in the field of view between 35mm and 45mm. The 35mm has already a wide-angle look.
The Tamron 45 F1.8 VC USD comes with a completely new design compared to the lenses of the old SP series.
It looks very modern and clean. It has a smoother satin black finish than the old lenses and a new silver colored ring at the bottom instead of the golden/anthracite colored rings. The markings are very finely engraved, white, and, like the now bigger distance scale, very good to read. There is also a new silver SP badge on the side of the lens which reminds a bit of the A badge of the Sigma Art lenses. The rubber focus ring is also changed and looks more modern. The new lens caps are updated and blend in perfectly in the new lens design. Even the box, in which the lens is packed up, got an update and is now looking more modern and clean.
Some say that Tamron copied the lens design of Sigma. But in my opinion, apart from the silver SP badge, there are not that many similarities between the Sigma and the Tamron primes. They created an own, unique and modern look for their new SP lens lineup and I am looking forward to seeing more innovative lenses!
Tamron SP line evolution:
The build quality of this new lens is very good!
With a length of 89,2mm and 520g weight, the 45 F1.8 is not the smallest prime lens. The reason for that is the promised optical performance and the vibration compensation system. On a DSLR of the size of the Nikon D750, which is not the biggest full frame DSLR – comparable with the APS-C Nikon D7x00, the lens is well balanced and easy to use.
Due to its metal construction (mount, outer barrel and filter thread are made out of metal) it is very solid and nothing is rattling or loose. The satin black finish feels very good in the hand. Due to the metal lens barrel, it feels also a bit colder than the lenses with high-quality plastic lens barrels. There are several sealing gaskets to make it weather resistant. In addition, the lens has a fluorine coating on the front lens element which repels water. The new switches for AF/MF and VC on/off also feel very good and are easy to use but they are heavy enough to not be switched accidentally.
The rubber focus ring is smooth to turn and has a very long way from minimum focus distance to infinity, which makes manual focusing very easy.
The filter thread has a diameter of 67 mm and is made out of metal. As the front element doesn’t turn there are no limitations in using all the different filters. This size is also very common, so buying filters in other sizes is not necessary when using more prime lenses.
The flower-shaped lens hood and the two lens caps are made out of high-quality plastic. The lens hood is large enough and works as expected. The new front cap has a better mechanic than the old ones and is easy to detach or attach even with the lens hood on. The back lens cap has a new shape that follows the design of the lens. It also works as expected – easy to screw on and easy to screw off. It is of course fully compatible with all other F mount lenses.
I have used this lens for the last two days and I am very pleased with the image quality. Tamron delivered a very good lens with plenty of advantages and very minor points for criticism. An information in advance: All sample images in the image quality section are jpg files, directly exported out of Lightroom 6 from the unedited raw file. At the end of this review, I will attach slightly edited sample images.
Colors and contrast: The Tamron 45 F1.8 produces neutral colors. They are not too warm and not too cold. The contrast is also very good. You get really pleasant results that you can easily push in your preferred direction in post-processing.
Sharpness: The sharpness of this lens is a real joy. At F1.8 it is already outstanding and even improves through the aperture settings with its peak between F8 and F11. Also, the edges are really sharp at all apertures.
Here you can see the 100% crops starting at F1.8 all the way up to F16:
Bokeh: The quality of the Bokeh is very pleasing. With F1.8 as maximum aperture, you can easily separate your subject from the background and with the 9-blade-diaphragm the bokeh quality is very smooth and creamy. Tamron did a very good job here. Also stopped down the bokeh quality is very good.
Flares and Ghosting: You will see some flares when you shoot directly to the sun or with the sun just at the side/outside of the frame. However, they are really minor as you can see in the following samples. Ghosting is not visible at any occasion. Thanks to eBAND and BBAR coating the lens does really well in this regards.
Chromatic Aberration: There is longitudinal chromatic aberration in form of the typical color fringing visible as you can see in the samples. Lateral chromatic aberration towards the edges is also slightly visible in some occasions. Correcting the C/A in post processing is not a problem at all.
Distortion: The lens shows a very slight barrel distortion which is barely visible and also very easy to correct in post-processing (e.g. via lens profile in Lightroom).
Vignetting: There is vignetting visible when photographing at big apertures, which disappears when stopping down. At F2.8, vignetting is no more visible. The sample images you see here are made at F1.8, F2.2 and F2.8.
Until now the Tamron VC system works very well and was really effective on the different SP lenses. On the 45 F1.8, it is no difference. It works really well and I was able to shoot sharp pictures handheld down to 1/3 sec. shutter speed. At 1/2 sec I was not able to capture a 100% sharp image. The sample images were made with following shutter speeds: 1/25 sec, 1/15 sec, 1/10 sec, 1/6 sec, 1/4 sec, 1/3 sec, 1/2 sec. Adding a VC to a prime lens was a really good decision from Tamron and gives the lens an huge advantage over other prime lenses!
Normally I am not a friend of MF on a DSLR without focus peaking, but with this Tamron it is really good! The very smooth focus ring with the long focus way makes manual focusing and fine tuning easy. I was able to get sharp shots with the focus point where I wanted it without a problem.
Minimum focus distance
The minimum focus distance of 0.29m (Macro magnification of 1:3.4) makes this lens nearly a macro. You can go very near to the subject and are able to create some very good close up shots. No other prime lens around this focal length offers a minimum focus distance like this Tamron. Only its 35mm sibling, the Tamron SP 35 VC USD, allows you to get even closer to the subject (0.20m with a magnification of 1:2.5).
The Tamron 45 F1.8 VC USD is a great performing lens and I can totally recommend it! It is also reasonably priced with 599$/600£/730€ (Though I hope the price will still drop a bit). Tamron indeed manages to create a very strong competitor to the Sigma ART lenses. The overall image quality is gorgeous with very good sharpness already wide open at F1.8. Colors and contrast are also very pleasing. The very minor flaws in the image quality section are all easy to correct in post-processing. The decent autofocus and great manual focus, the very good working image stabilization and the weather sealing round off the lens.
Some will say that the Sigma ART series with F1.4 vs. F1.8 of the Tamrons are a better option. Of course, these are great performing lenses which are totally trimmed to squeeze the last bit of image quality out of them. Nevertheless, the Tamron image quality is also superb and you may not forget that the Sigma lenses are not weather sealed, bigger, heavier and do not have image stabilization. In my opinion, these points make the Tamron a more versatile and maybe better choice.
Also, the Tamron warranty of 5-6 years (depending on the country you are living) is a very nice bonus. I hope there will be more new Tamron primes (from 14mm up to 135mm or other more surprising focal lengths like this 45mm) in the future. The 45mm will definitely find its way into my camera bag somewhere in 2016.
Full-size sample images
You find full-size sample images on my Flickr album here!
You can see some images of a really great sky after the sunset in the blog post “What a stunning evening!” All pictures were shot with the Tamron 45 F1.8.
And here you see more slightly edited images of my photo tour through my hometown and of course of our cats 😉 to find out what the Tamron is capable of.