Andy Westlake tests Tamron’s new image stabilised short telephoto prime
Tamron SP 85mm f/1.8 Di VC USD review: Introduction
It’s fair to say that third party lens manufacturers have undergone something of a renaissance in recent years. From Samyang’s inexpensive but optically fine manual focus primes through to Zeiss’s premium optics, photographers now have more choice than for many a year.
And while they once expected to pay less compared to camera manufacturers’ own offerings, at the expense of noticeably inferior quality, this has now been turned on its head, with innovation and optical quality at keen prices the order of the day, spearheaded by market leader Sigma.
Tamron has long held a close second place, and last year engaged upon a revamp of its premium SP lens line. While clearly inspired by Sigma’s premium line of f/1.4 ‘Art’ primes, the company took an intriguingly different approach by combining a slightly slower f/1.8 aperture with built-in optical stabilisation.
We were pretty impressed by its first two efforts last year, the SP 35mm f/1.8 Di VC USD and SP 45mm f/1.8 Di VC USD, and here we’re looking at the third lens in this particular series – the short telephoto Tamron SP 85mm f/1.8 Di VC USD.
This new 85mm optic joins its stablemates in being one of fastest image-stabilised DSLR lenses on the market. The short telephoto focal length is ideal for portraits, both on full frame and on APS-C cameras, where it offers a 135mm equivalent angle of view. Meanwhile the f/1.8 aperture gives plenty of scope for selective focusing and shallow depth of field, meaning the lens’ uses are by no means limited to taking pictures of people.
The addition of optical stabilisation promises sharper pictures at slower shutter speeds, so you can shoot handheld at lower ISOs or smaller apertures than would be possible with an unstabilised lens. However this clearly adds considerably to the price, and at £749, Tamron has pitched it considerably higher than either Canon or Nikon’s 85mm f/1.8, or indeed Sigma’s 85mm f/1.4. So the key question is, can it possibly be worth the premium?