When Sigma upped their game and became a high-end lens making juggernaut, it left Tamron as really the only optics company making autofocus lenses that pros rarely gave much regard to. Sure, there are exceptions of course, but by and large Tamron has been sitting by the sidelines, watching Sigma (a company who they competed with back and forth for decades) rise above even Nikon and Canon optics. After three years of watching, Tamron is finally done being content to play second fiddle. With the launch of the 35mm and 45mm f/1.8 primes, Tamron is ready to compete.
When I first held these lenses, I was dubious. In my first impressions article, I made mention to the build quality and feel of the lenses, noting their light weight and design that takes a lot from new Sigma and Zeiss. After using them for quite some time on a Canon DSLR, I grew to love the handling of the lenses. They’re much lighter than I would think a lens like this should be, and that eventually became a good thing. Using the lenses for a long period of time doesn’t wear you out as quickly as the larger, heavier glass from Canon, Sigma and Zeiss will.
Again mentioning the design aesthetic, it’s pretty obvious that Tamron went with something they knew was already popular, leaning heavily on the success of Sigma here. The thing is, I’m not mad at them for it. Sigma nailed their design and Tamron only wanted to do the same. Sigma was their test pool, and seeing the response to that from audiences the world over, they went with the “sure thing” rather than test something new. There is no shame in that, and the silver ring added to the base of the optic is uniquely, beautifully Tamron.
Impressively, the way the 35mm and 45mm both shoot are incredibly similar. The way Tamron engineered these lenses must have been very similar, since the only difference in performance I could notice was that one was a tighter crop than the other, and the 35mm can focus slightly closer than the 45mm.
And that’s it.
Their optical performance, speed of autofocus and general handling are pretty indistinguishable. This review will refer to both the lenses as if they were one lens, simply because reviewing both would have sounded like the same review anyway.
If you want a sharp prime, these are sharp primes. Like, really sharp. They look spectacular from wide open all they way through about f/10 before they start to get a bit muddy. I generally don’t shoot past f/10 in most situations anyhow, and in situations where you might want to do that, the performance is by no means bad; it’s still really quite good honestly. But really, this might be the sharpest 35mm I’ve used yet, even surpassing the Sigma 35mm f/1.4.
Backlit subjects shot by this lens looks absolutely breathtaking.
I don’t know what kind of juju Tamron packed into these lenses, but when I was out shooting with them in situations like the ones above, I couldn’t help but be slackjawed at the results I was seeing on my camera’s LCD. Getting them on my computer only reinforced how outstanding these lenses perform in backlit situations. Even now, writing this review and having the images on screen still has me shaking my head in awe. I’m not only surprised and excited, I’m downright ecstatic at how great they performed. If I was shooting for a client and delivered these photos, I would be 100% certain they would be just as giddy as I am.
In more front/top lit situations, the lenses were still pretty fantastic. These were shot in New York during a testing session with Tamron, and do a good job showcasing the lens’ abilities in a daytime setting with a scrim. The images below were shot wide open at f/1.8 and anywhere between 1/2000 and 1/4000 of a second (it was very bright out). Her jumpsuit is incredibly busy, with many lines intersecting closely. This was a great opportunity to see how the lens handled chromatic aberration as well as moire.
In this image, you can seem some purple fringing occurring on her jumpsuit where the white and black intersect. It’s pretty severe, but nothing that wouldn’t easily be removed in post. Just bear in mind it happens.
Below, once I took a few steps back and changed her position, that aberration disappeared.
I would say that given the brightness of the day and the challenging nature of her jumper, the lens performed admirably well. Sharpness was on point, and the amount of chroma we see though somewhat extreme, only happens one out of three times.
Speaking of chromatic aberration, this lens still experiences a lot of it, even at f/4 (where folks speaking on behalf of Tamron told me it should have stopped appearing). Take a look at the water here:
Now at 100%:
This is rampant chromatic aberration at an aperture where there should be none. Though unfortunate, it’s not a deal breaker for me. Chromatic aberration is relatively common these days (sadly) and is pretty easy to fix in post. I just wish it wasn’t so darn horrible here.
Both the 35 and 45mm lenses have a special feature unique to these Tamron primes: their close focusing distance. The 45mm can get close, but the 35mm can get really, really close to subjects. This allows you to get some shots that you would never be able to land with any other 35mm prime. Even at f/1.8, which isn’t as wide open as competitor lenses who are at f/1.4 or 1.2, because this lens can get so close to subjects, the plane of focus can get wildly thin.
The only problem with the sharpness is that sometimes, it doesn’t hit. This is caused by a couple things. Firstly, the plane of focus is super super thin at close range with this lens. If you look at the last photo above of the model’s eye, you’ll notice the lens opted to focus on her lash, rather than her pupil. I took about 15 shots like this, each time trying desperately to hit her pupil to no avail. This is as close as I was able to get to the focus point I wanted. This brings up the only “major” problem I have with this lens: the autofocus.
Up to this point, I’ve had nothing but gushy, loving things to say about these Tamron primes, and that’s because for the most part, they’re spectacular. The only place where I was left disappointed was the autofocus. In terms of both accuracy and speed, it’s a lackluster performance. Unfortunately, shots like the one above where the focus missed her pupil (inaccurate) or this one where it missed my subject entirely, are not “comomon,” but pretty darn close.
Because this lens can focus to subjects so close, it isn’t a surprise that it can take some time to go from minimum to maximum focus distance. That said, when it is focusing anywhere it seems to be considerably more sluggish than other lenses in the category. I tested, and it takes 0.71 seconds to go from minimum focusing distance to maximum, which doesn’t sound like a lot on paper. However, if you think about the prime audience for this lens, wedding photographers, there are multiple situations where you might be shooting someone directly in front of you and notice something happening in the background. Because of the slow to react speed and iffy accuracy, I’m not certain you would nail “the shot” when the time came. 0.71 seconds is a long time when you consider how quickly things happen at events… things you will never have a chance to capture again. For this reason, I’m hesitant to recommend this lens to event shooters, but absolutely would give it a thumbs up to traditional portrait photographers who have more control over their shooting situations.
Ok, now I need to get back to gushing about how beautiful photos taken with this lens are. I mean… come on…
- Sharp as all get out, probably sharper than the Sigma 35mm f/1.4
- Extraordinarily beautiful images produced when shooting backlit
- Outstanding build quality, excellent design and it feels great in hand
- Lightweight, but performs like a heavy lens
- Close focusing distance makes these unique among 35mm and 45mm primes
- Autofocus is quiet
- Vignetting is very well controlled
- Bokeh is quite pleasant
- $600? These are a steal.
- Focusing is literally hit or miss (accuracy can be a recurring problem)
- Autofocus is surprisingly slow
- Chromatic aberration can occur quite frequently
Look, the Tamron 35mm f/1.8 and the 45mm f/1.8 are phenomenal lenses. Optically, they’re some of the best out there. Sharpness is probably best in class right now, and the lightweight nature of these lenses makes them great for someone who is carrying multiple bodies strapped across his or her chest. If you love shooting in natural backlit situations, these lenses will absolutely stun you with what they can produce. If you can get past the slow and sometimes spotty autofocus, you’re going to absolutely love these lenses…. especially when you consider they are both so affordable at just $600.
Bravo Tamron, you’ve made some pro-level lenses that real pros will actually be drooling over.
We give the Tamron 45mm f/1.8 and the Tamron 35mm f/1.8 a very high four out of five stars for incredible sharpness, beautiful performance in backlit situations, enviable build quality and, overall, for creating a lens that is worlds above what we ever expected to see from Tamron. The only thing holding us back from giving these lenses perfect scores is the autofocus, which we found to be a bit slow, and the accuracy can be spotty in low/mixed lighting situations.