When Tamron announced the SP 15–30mm f/2.8 Di VC USD lens at Photokina 2014, the optic was heralded as the first 15–30mm f/2.8 full-frame lens with image stabilization. Any first of its kind is bound to draw interest, but careful observers were no doubt wondering if this achievement owed as much to clever positioning as it did to clever engineering. Tamron’s main OEM competitors don’t make a 15–30mm lens at all, and Sigma’s 15–30mm has a maximum aperture of f/3.5.
Still, with similar wide angle, fast aperture zooms costing a pretty penny, we were definitely excited to pair with New Jersey-based photographer David Patiño to find out what this first-of-a-kind could do.
The SP 15–30mm f/2.8 Di VC USD delivers a fast, constant f/2.8 aperture throughout the entire zoom range, with a minimum aperture of f/22. It offers a focusing distance of 11 inches across the entire focal length. Thanks to full-time manual focusing, you always have the option to manually focus with just a turn of the focus ring when the lens is set to autofocus.
The glass lens elements feature Tamron’s own eBAND (Extended Bandwidth and Angular Dependency) and BBAR (Broad-Band Anti-Reflection) coatings to combat flaring and ghosting. The front lens element is coated in fluorine to repel dirt and water, and to make smudges easier to wipe away.
The SP 15–30mm f/2.8 Di VC USD is sold in Nikon F, Canon EF and Sony A mounts; The Sony version won’t offer image stabilization, as Sony handles that in-camera.
This lens is substantial—even a bit ungainly. At 2.4 pounds and 5.7 inches (or 5.6 inches for the Nikon version), it’s a full pound heavier than Canon’s 16–35mm f/2.8L and almost a pound heavier than Nikon’s 16–35mm f/4 lens. At 2.2 pounds, Nikon’s popular 14–24mm f/2.8, however, comes close to the Tamron’s weight. It’s also much longer than all three OEM lenses. Still, it’s nicely weather-sealed, so you should feel confident bringing it out in inclement weather.
The focus ring provides a nice, gentle pull, but we found the zoom ring to be a bit stiffer and less fluid, making gentle zooms more difficult when shooting handheld. The lens zooms internally, so the length of the lens won’t change on you as you shoot. There are two lens hoods, one inside the other. The internal hood will move in and out as you zoom, and may explain why zooming felt less fluid than we were expecting, as it slides against the exterior lens hood.
The lens doesn’t accept standard threaded filters, and there’s no option for a drop-in mount filter, either. Those looking for ND filtration or some other optical effects are going to forgo both when this lens is in play.
In the Field
We were very impressed with how the lens kept the image sharp and contrasty throughout the zoom range. “Super crisp,” is how Patiño described the lens after using it for some architectural shoots. Patiño told us he found some stretching at the edges, and in some images we spotted chromatic aberration when magnifying images at 100 percent, but nothing extreme. The lens also did a very nice job in full sunlight, producing almost no noticeable flare.
Image stabilization isn’t usually the first feature you’d demand in a wide-angle lens, but it can still be useful at wider focal lengths for shooting handheld at slower shutter speeds. Tamron hasn’t produced a CIPA-rated measurement for the amount of vibration compensation you’ll enjoy with this lens, but in our tests, we were able to shoot handheld at about two stops slower with vibration compensation on versus off. VC was similarly effective during video shooting, producing noticeably smoother video during handheld filming.
Autofocus is driven with a high-torque Ultrasonic Silent Drive motor. Patiño found that it focused quickly. We did catch some slight clicks and clacks, but on the whole, focus acquisition was rather quiet.
We’ve noted how the SP 15–30mm f/2.8 is considerably heftier than the competition, but that’s not the entire equation: It’s also lighter on the wallet. At $1,119, it’s retailing for less than the Nikon AF-S 14–24mm f/2.8 ($2,000), Canon’s 16–35mm f/2.8 ($1,700), and is slightly less expensive than Nikon’s 16–35mm f/4 ($1,260). Considering the performance it delivers, we think it’s a very compelling option, indeed.
PROS: Image stabilization; excellent sharpness and resolution; great value.
CONS: Large and heavy; can’t accept threaded or drop-in filters.