Tamron has been really busy and has released a lot of lenses recently. Their 35mm f/1.8 Di VC USD (F013) and 45mm f/1.8 Di VC (F014) both have very decent image quality and build quality. But when I was reviewing them, I was mostly impressed by how versatile those two lenses are, mostly because of the image stabiliser and the close focus ability. So I’m quite curious to see how the newest additional to the Tamron f/1.8 prime lens lineup, the Tamron SP 85mm f/1.8 DI VC USD (F016) performs in real life.
The Tamron SP 85mm f/1.8 DI VC USD is a full frame lens and comes in Nikon, Canon and Sony (A) mounts. Just like the F013 and F014, the Tamron 85mm f/1.8 VC also has the built-in image stabiliser and it is the world’s first 85mm fast aperture lens with image stabilisation.
The lens has a weather proof design so a bit of rain shouldn’t stop you from shooting with this lens. As it’s right in the middle of the cold wet winter here in New Zealand, I’ve actually used this lens a few times under light rain including a slightly wet wedding and the lens works perfectly fine. In additional to the weather proof design, the front element of the lens has fluorine coating, which helps repel water drops and dirt when you are shooting under bad weather or dirty places. The fluorine coating has it’s limitations but I do find it helps keeping the front element nice and clean longer.
Following the same design principle as the new 35 and 45mm f/1.8 Di VC lenses, the F016 has the same new smart Tamron family look. While it’s quite a plastic lens, the lens feel solid and certainly much better than the old generation Tamron lenses. As mentioned in my other Tamron reviews, I really love that signature gold ring at the bottom of the lens which gives the Tamron lens an unique and classy appearance.
At around 88.8mm long and 660g (Nikon mount), the F016 is quite similar to the size and weight of the 85mm f/1.4 lenses from Nikon and Canon and quite a bit bigger than the Nikon and Canon 85mm f/1.8 lenses. This is most likely due to the image stabiliser which I’ll talk about a bit later. Having said that, it doesn’t feel really big or heavy lens when mounted onto my Nikon D800 or even the smaller Df.
Autofocus performance is very good. It uses a Ultrasonic Silent Drive (USD) which is indeed really silent. Autofocus speed is quite fast as well. I didn’t notice any autofocus accuracy issue even when I was shooting at f/1.8. Tamron has also released the Tamron TAP-in console (sold separately) that allows user to fine tune the autofocus settings and a few other things, similar to the Sigma USB dock.
If you are using a high end camera body which has the autofocus micro adjustment feature, the Tamron TAP-in console would still be a better tool for fine tuning the autofocus as you can adjust the settings for various focus distance instead of having only one setting for each lens. For example, it’s possible that you may need to dial-in some positive adjustment when shooting close distance objects, zero adjustment for mid distance and negative adjustment when shooting objects far away. You can’t do that with any camera body but you can do that with the TAP-in console.
Fast 85mm prime lens is generally considered as a portrait lens, and unlike a landscape lens, sharpness is not always the most important thing. When I’m shooting portraits, I would prefer a slightly soft image with best colours and creamy bokeh rather than a sharp but harsh photo. It seems the Tamron engineers have the same thoughts and goal when they were designing the F016.
Don’t get me wrong, the Tamron 85mm f/1.8 VC is not soft at all, even at f/1.8 the lens is quite sharp . And certainly not soft once you stop down to f/2.8 or beyond. But I think the smooth and nice looking bokeh is what everyone would love the most when shooting with the Tamron 85mm f/1.8 VC. No matter what you are shooting and lighting condition, bokeh is just always beautiful.
With the 9 rounded diaphragm blades, even when you stop down to f/5.6 or smaller, bokeh still look very nice and round. I guess it shows you you don’t need a ultra fast lens to have the best bokeh, even a moderately fast f/1.8 lens can give you very nice pleasant bokeh.
Colours are rendered beautifully by this lens. Look at some of the sample photos, the colours are vivid and beautiful.
Flare control is very nice. When I shoot directly into the sun I still don’t see much lens flare and contrast remains very good. This is quite important for a lot of portrait or wedding photographers who love to shoot backlight photos, me included.
In terms of barrel distortion, there is virtually none with the Tamron 85mm f/1.8 VC.
There is noticeable amount of vignetting at f/1.8. It’s not too severe but definitely noticeable. Stop down to f/2.8 would remove most of the vignetting. If you are planning to use this lens as a portrait lens (unlike me, that used it for a bit of everything as you may notice from my sample photos), a bit of vignetting is probably the last thing you would worry about.
Chromatic aberration is extremely well controlled. I can hardly see any colour fringing even when shooting at f/1.8.
As mentioned at the beginning, the F016 is the first 85mm f/1.8 lens that has image stabiliser (VC). And from my testing, the VC is around 3 stops effective (official figure is 3.5 stops effective), which means you can handhold the camera around 8 times slower than a lens without image stabliser, or in other words, you can shoot at 8 times lower ISO to get a much cleaner and better image quality when under low light situtation.
While the new camera’s high ISO performance is so much better than just a couple of years ago, being able to shoot at say ISO 3200 instead of ISO 25600 means the image quality would be dramatically better. Of course the limitation of image stabilisation is that your subject has to stay relatively stationary. So VC doesn’t give you much help if you want to take photos of kids running around in a dark room. But for posed portrait photos, capturing some quiet moments or even landscape photos, the VC would give you huge benefit compare with a non-stablised lens.
The maximum reproduction ratio is pretty good at 1:7.2 or 0.14x. This is slightly better than both the Nikon or Canon 85mm 1.8 lenses.
Tamron has been pumping out a lot of really nice and well balanced lenses lately. We have the 35mm f/1.8 VC (F013), 45mm f/1.8 VC (F014), 85mm f/1.8 VC (F016), 90mm f/2.8 VC Macro (F017) within the last 12 months. It’s quite obvious the F016 is not the last lens from Tamron and there are more coming soon. Are we going to see the F015 next which is probably a 50mm f/1.8 VC? Or are we going to see some really wide or something a bit longer? Personally I’m most interested to see a 105mm or 135mm f/1.8 VC lens as the image stabiliser would benefit the longer focal length the most. I guess we all have to wait and see but right now if you are looking at buying a 85mm portrait lens, the F016 should be at the top of your list, especially if you are planning to do quite a bit of shooting under low light.
My biggest concern about the Tamron 85mm f/1.8 VC is the price. It is more expensive than the Nikon/Canon 85mm f/1.8 lenses. But then I also feel it is not quite fair to compare the Tamron with a non-stabilised 85mm f/1.8 lens. To me, the F016 is positioned somewhere between a non-stabilised f/1.8 and f/1.4 lens .
While it maybe quite tempting to spend more and go for the faster f/1.4 (or f/1.2) lens instead, Tamron F016’s image stabiliser means you can actually take portrait photos at one to two stop lower ISO under low light condition which results in better image quality. Or you could also afford to shoot at a smaller aperture (because you can handhold the lens at slower shutter speed) to increase the depth of field as autofocus accuracy tends to drop quite a bit when shooting under low light. So in some way, the Tamron 85mm f/1.8 VC is actually the more sensible and practical lens when compare with the more expensive 85mm f/1.4 (or f/1.2) lenses.
Reviewer: Richard Wong
Richard is a multi-award winning wedding/portrait photographer based in Auckland, New Zealand. Richard’s website is www.photobyrichard.com
If you like my review, please follow me on Facebook 🙂
All photos and text Copyright© 2016 www.photobyrichard.com. All photos and text may not be copied or reproduced in any format without obtaining written permissions
All samples are converted from RAW to JPG using Adoble Lightroom CC 2015.5. Adjusted to taste but with ZERO vignetting, CA, distortion correction.