The photojournalist W. Eugene Smith famously observed, “The world just does not fit conveniently into the format of a 35mm camera.” Far be it from us to argue with Mr. Smith, but 35mm remains in many ways the lodestar of the profession. It’s the coveted sensor format for advanced cameras and the focal length that many photojournalists and street photographers reach for when in the field.
Tamron’s new SP 35mm f/1.8 Di VC USD aims to be a go-to prime lens for photographers of all stripes. When introducing the lens, Tamron execs told us that they built the refreshed SP series with an eye toward satisfying owners of high-resolution DSLRs like the Nikon D810 and Canon 5DS. So, together with newly minted 5DS owner and co-tester David Patiño (www.davidpatino.com), we set out to see how the world looks through Tamron’s 35mm frame.
This full-frame lens breaks with convention in two ways. First, it’s a wide-angle prime lens with image stabilization—three stops worth, per CIPA ratings. Image stabilization isn’t as widely available on this kind of lens. Second, it offers remarkably close focusing. You can focus on subjects as close as 7.9 inches away, enjoying a magnification ratio of 1:2:5 – quite close to macro territory. That is, as of this writing, the closest focusing you can get on a 35mm prime.
With an aperture range of f/1.8-16, the SP 35mm isn’t the absolute fastest prime on the market—there are several f/1.4 lenses that take the f-stop crown—but its nine aperture blades make it unique among a lot of its competition, which have fewer blades (and hence a less circular bokeh). The SP series has new esthetics, if those things interest you, including a new logo, a new font for lens markings and a gold ring around the lens mount.
As you’d expect, there’s the usual chemistry to keep optical distortions at bay, including eBAND coating to reduce flare as well fluorine coating on the front lens to make it easier to wipe off light smudges, water and dirt. The lens will accept 67mm filters.
The SP 35mm is available in Nikon, Canon and Sony mounts. The Sony mount won’t offer image stabilization, since that is handled in Sony’s camera bodies.
The SP 35mm has a really nice, large and textured focus ring that grips beautifully and turns with just the right amount of tension. In contrast to the (vastly more expensive) Zeiss Otis, the SP 35mm does make a slight noise as the focus ring turns. Focus markings helpfully are written in a larger font than on previous lenses. SP series lenses will have a larger window over the distance scales to make them easier to read (20 percent larger than prior models).
The metal barrel feels solid and the lens has weather-sealed gaskets to keep dust and moisture at bay. As a result, it’s heavier than many of its close competitors, like Canon’s EF 35mm f/2 IS USM and Nikon’s Nikkor 35mm f/1.4. There are a pair of exterior buttons. One toggles between manual and autofocus. The second turns VC on or off.
IMAGE QUALITY AND PERFORMANCE
The SP35mm did an excellent job resolving the details captured by Patiño’s 5DS, keeping images sharp and full of contrast. As you open up the 35mm, you’ll see some very smooth fall-off from your focus point. We enjoyed excellent sharpness out to the edge of the frame, with the best results at f/8.
We did spot some chromatic aberration at around f/7 and f/10 in areas of high contrast, but it was very quickly dispatched using Adobe Camera RAW. The image stabilizer does an effective job at keeping motion-induced blur at bay. True to its promise, the lens can get incredibly close to objects while keeping them sharp: We had sharp results even a bit under the stated 7.9 inches. Other 35mm primes can get close too—Tamron’s lead isn’t huge here—but if every inch counts, the SP 35mm stands out.
Tamron hasn’t built the fastest or cheapest 35mm DSLR lens on the market, but it has arguably built the most versatile. It’s second to none when it comes to close focusing and its image stabilization ensures solid performance when shooting at slower shutter speeds. This lens has some heft relative to its competitors, but it’s not a major liability and it’s very attractively priced for the quality it delivers.
PROS: Extremely close focusing; excellent sharpness out to the edges of the frame; smooth, long focusing ring; good value.
CONS: Some chromatic aberration, heavy relative to some other 35mm primes.