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Gear Reviews

Tamron 15-30mm f/2.8 Di VC USD | Unboxing and Initial Thoughts

By Matthew Saville on March 25th 2015

This lens is a monster! If size and weight are any indicator (and yet if price is not), then we have a new champion of ultra-wide f/2.8 full-frame lenses: The Tamron SP 15-30mm f/2.8 Di VC USD.

Specs:
Price: $1200 (from B&H)
Angle of view: 110°-71°
Weight: 1,100 G / 38.8 oz / 2.43 lbs
Dimensions: 3.87″x5.71″
Glass:
XMG & LD Glass Elements
Fluorine coating
eBAND and BBAR coating
Autofocus: Ultrasonic Silent Drive AF
Aperture: 9-blade rounded diaphragm

tamron-15-30mm-2.8-review-initial-impression-4

There are all sorts of opinions out there on the various key features of the lens that I am about to review. It’s a third-party lens. It’s partly made of plastic. It’s got stabilization, even though it’s an ultra-wide f/2.8 lens. Oh, and it weighs almost 2.5 lbs.  That’s a whopping 1.1 KG, almost as much as a 70-200mm f/2.8.

Ironically, while many armchair spectators on the internet would pick one of those first items as a reason for trash-talking, none of them bother me. The one thing standing between me and purchasing this lens is that last fact: it feels like you’re attaching a brick to the front of your camera.

That is usually a very good indicator of quality, though, as I already mentioned. Therefore, I will approach my review of the Tamron 15-30mm f/2.8 with a very open mind. We’ll put it through its paces at weddings, portrait sessions, and of course my favorite subject: astro-landscape photography.

Right now as I type this, I’m about to drive all night to get to Yosemite National Park before sunrise, to begin my review! In the meantime, I’ve written down my initial impressions for you to enjoy. Please feel free to comment below if you have any specific questions! Also I won’t leave my astro-landscape friends hanging: scroll down for a proper star / coma 100% crop test!

[RELATED: Tokina 11-20mm f/2.8 | The best ultra-wide lens available for crop sensors!]

Initial Thoughts On The Tamron 15-30mm f/2.8 Di VC USD

When I open the box, I find that Tamron is using some pretty nice packaging similar to the various Nikon, Tokina, and Rokinon lenses I’ve unboxed recently; well-fitted thin plastic shells instead of environmentally un-friendly styrofoam or excessive amounts of cardboard, or of course, Canon’s latest genius idea for their more affordable lenses, a 2-ply bubble wrap pouch.

tamron-15-30mm-2.8-review-initial-impression-2

Then again, Sigma EX / ART lenses still take this cake, since they ship in the nicest padded cases I’ve ever used. They even beat the Canon / Nikon 70-200 pouches that come with those lenses!

This Tamron does not include any sort of case, or leather pouch, unfortunately.

Inside the plastic shell there is, in fact, some bubble wrap around the lens itself.  And yeah, it’s BIG. Just for kicks I’ll add another picture, the Rokinon 12mm f/2.0 on the Sony A6000. Apples and oranges indeed.

tamron-15-30mm-2.8-review-initial-impression-3 tamron-15-30mm-2.8-review-initial-impression-1

In other words, the Tamron 15-30mm f/2.8 is a Ford Excursion of lenses.

tamron-15-30mm-2.8-review-initial-impression-5

The Tamron 15-30’s packaging is impressive down to the final details: the focus window has a plastic protector on it, and the zoom ring has a couple pieces of blue tape keeping the lens from “racking” during shipping, I suppose.

Speaking of zooming, both the zoom and focus rings feel good. The zoom ring has that “new lens” stiffness to it though, and since it is enormous, it does require quite the grab-and-crank motion to go all the way from 15mm to 30mm. My wrist-elbow-shoulder action feels more like I’m tightening the lug nuts on a tire, or opening a jar of pickles (pre-loosened?) than racking a lens just ~30 degrees.

I suspect however that the “new zoom” feel will turn into a fantastic easy operation within just a few weeks of use, so stay tuned for that report.

The focus ring feels amazing right off the bat and precise focus is rather easy. Not as long-throw as a Rokinon 14mm f/2.8, but noticeably easier than the Nikon 14-24mm f/2.8. This is especially nice for focusing on stars or other pin-point objects.

The AF and stabilization switches click nicely and are designed so that they don’t seem like they could get easily bumped.

But like I said earlier, there’s a lot of plastic involved. For me, this has never been a deal-breaker. What really matters is how a lens is designed, not what it’s made of. I have completely destroyed a couple metal lenses in my day, and I have a few plastic lenses that refuse to die. The jury will remain out on this lens until enough folks have had a chance to seriously abuse it for 6-12 months.

tamron-15-30mm-2.8-review-initial-impression-7

Did I mention how big it is? It’s more chunky than one of the chunkiest lenses ever, the original mk1 Canon 24-70mm f/2.8 L.

Tamron 15-30mm f/2.8 Autofocus and Stabilization

Autofocus has always been a struggle for the third party lens makers. Canon and Nikon have had their USM and SWM autofocus motors for many generations now; they’re roughly on par with each other and they’re pretty much the industry standard.

Sigma has had their HSM autofocus for a while too, but it has often had issues with front-focus or back-focus, or accuracy across the board.  Lately, Sigma’s Art lenses have still been a mixed bag with regard to quality control, but if you do get a perfectly focusing copy, you will enjoy snappy, reliable, and silent AF.

Tamron and Tokina have only recently developed their own competing autofocus motors, so the jury is still out in that regard. So far, the Tamron 15-30mm seems to be snappy, accurate.

The VC (Vibration Control) also seems to work very well, but it does make a faint “ka-chunk” noise whenever you first activate it. Standing, at 15mm, I can hand-hold at 1/2 sec. shutter speeds if I concentrate and use good technique. If I sit down and brace myself then even 1 sec. exposures are sometimes tack-sharp, but no more than 30-40% of the time.

Additional Remarks

I still need to mention a few more things. The focus ring is at the back of the lens while the zoom ring is at the front, which some people complain about, but I personally prefer. Also, the zoom and focus rings may rotate the opposite way from whatever you’re used to, depending on if you shoot Nikon or Canon, or Sigma or Tokina, etc. Again, something that never really bothers me for more than a few minutes when I first buy a lens.

tamron-15-30mm-2.8-review-initial-impression-6

Last, but not least, here’s something you don’t always see: At 30mm, the rear element retracts so far that it reveals a whole donut of electronic circuitry, and the rest of the lens’ innards. This can’t be good news for anyone who needs to change lenses in the rain, or in a sandstorm. This could also be bad news for dust ingestion even for casual photographers. We’ll wait and see.

Another oddity: the front of the lens is basically a hood inside a hood. The outer half of the hood is fixed, but the front element also has a thinner hood that is the exact same shape as the outer hood.  I’ll have to demonstrate this in the video review.  It seems like a good idea for keeping rain or dust out, but a grain of sand could be serious trouble.

[Rewind: How To De-frost And Save a Frozen Camera | Cold Weather Photo Tips]

Alternatives to the Tamron 15-30mm f/2.8 VC

What lenses are this new Tamron’s most direct competition?

Primarily, of course, there is the Nikon 14-24mm f/2.8, which is the closest lens if you consider sharpness and size / weight / cost. The Nikon is probably going to be about equally sharp, but more expensive. It may also prove to be more robustly built and well-sealed.

The Tokina 16-28mm f/2.8 is also a good competitor, but opts for a 16mm wide end instead of 14mm or 15mm. It is also similarly hefty, but about half the price of the Tamron. The Tokina is sharp, but probably slightly less sharp than the Tamron. Despite being heavy and having numerous metal internals, it is known to be susceptible to de-centering if used heavily (Meaning, bad for astro, but fine for photojournalism and action sports).

The Canon 16-35mm f/2.8 L is almost as expensive as the Nikon 14-24, and yet the worst of the pack by a noticeable margin when it comes to sharpness. I’d only buy the Canon if weather sealing and metal construction are ten times more important than sharpness or stabilization.

What about the Canon 11-24mm f/4?  Well, just about the only thing this lens has in common with the Tamron 15-30 is that it’s new. Other than that, hitting 11mm and costing $3,000 puts it in a completely different ball-park from the $1200 Tamron 15-30. If you have $3K to spend, though, and shoot mostly stopped down, then the 11-24mm f/4 is obviously the only show in town.

Tamron 15-30mm f/2.8 Center & Corner Sample Image Crops

Since our full review will be out very soon, I’ll leave you with just these two 100% crops, and a shot from a quick trip to the beach. So far, so good!

tamron-15-30mm-2.8-review-initial-impression-11Normally in light-polluted cities, those fainter stars just don’t show up, but it seems that the Tamron 15-30’s wide-open sharpness and contrast are really helping to reveal them!

tamron-15-30mm-2.8-review-initial-impression-10Coma is weird looking, but rather small considering this is a 24 megapixel image.  In a 1080p timelapse video, this would probably be negligible, though maybe not in a 4K timelapse.

tamron-15-30mm-2.8-review-initial-impression-8

Tamron 15-30mm f/2.8, Nikon D750, hand-held
1/40 sec @ f/14 & ISO 100

All in all, I think we’ve got a pretty impressive lens on our hands, and I can’t wait to finish reviewing it!

Take care and happy clicking,
=Matt=

Matthew Saville is a full-time wedding photographer at Lin & Jirsa Photography, and a senior editor & writer at SLR Lounge.

Follow his personal wilderness adventures: Astro-Landscapes.com

See some of his latest wedding photography featured on: LinandJirsa.com

Q&A Discussions

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  1. hariri sudin

    Loving this lens a little bit…but when i pull my hand out at 15mm i cant stop laughing hehehehe

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  2. Jeff Morrison

    I guess i will need to add this one to my wish list…..

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  3. Heshan Fernando

    Matthew, I know you have more to review here, but would you replace your Rokinon 14mm with the tamron based on what you’ve seen so far? And thanks for always writing your reviews in a way that helps out astro folks! So many people forgot to do it!

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    • Matthew Saville

      If I were not an astro-landscape photographer who does a lot of hiking and backpacking? Yes, absolutely. I’d even take this lens over the Nikon 14-24, considering what this bad boy can do for stabilization in low light…

      You might be able to find a used Nikon 14-24 in great condition for $1300-$1400, but then you’d be forfeiting the warranty.

      Personally, however, doing what I do, and with my current goals, NO, I don’t think I’ll be adding the Tamron 15-30 to my bag. Not when lenses like the Tokina 11-20 offer so much sharpness in such a smaller, lighter package on my crop sensor body.

      I’ll probably add the Nikon 20mm f/1.8 G to my bag, eventually, and then trade my Rokinon 14mm for the Rokinon 12mm fisheye. Those two full-frame primes, plus the Tokina 11-20, would give me an incredible amount of versatility, and probably weigh about the same as the 15-30.

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  4. Matt Owen

    My experience with Tamron and that “new zoom” feel is that it persists until something inside the lens snaps, then Tamron claims “shock damage” and denies your warranty repair. I prefer lenses that last more than one year under normal use, which rules this out for me.

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    • J. Dennis Thomas

      I’ve had too many bad experiences with Tamron. I don’t even consider them a viable option anymore.

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    • Matthew Saville

      J. Dennis Thomas, if you think about it though, your logic is opposite from any sort of normal progression timeline. Both Tamron and Sigma have made great efforts to significantly improve their QC over the past few years, and are trying very hard to shed their old stereotypes as makers of crappy, cheap lenses that break sooner than later, and aren’t worth repairing if they break.

      I don’t know which exact lenses you’ve used, but if any of them were cheaper kit lenses, or basically anything older than ~3 years, simply ought not to count against their current abilities.

      I know my first taste of a third-party lens was a Sigma 70-300 kit lens, and that thing was a cheap plastic joke. It literally fell apart in my hands after ~1 year of normal use.

      Thankfully, doing what I do, I get a chance that some folks don’t get: I can give any company any number of second chances to re-impress me with their quality.

      It is with that in mind that I am here to say, Tamron, Sigma, and Tokina are all worth giving a chance, NOW, even if they weren’t worth giving a 2nd chance, back then.

      Then again, if you’re extremely abusive of your gear, I don’t hold that against you, I know that sometimes you gotta do what you gotta do to get the shot, and if that is the case, a lens like the 14-24 or 17-35 might serve you better.

      Either way, in my final review I will pull no punches. But so far, I’m impressed.

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    • J. Dennis Thomas

      I am hard on my gear, but Tamron and Tokina has never stood up to it. Sigma always has. And now with the Global Vision lenses they’re better. I wouldn’t use Sigma if they didn’t take a beating. I always swore by my pro Nikons, but the Sigmas take abuse and keep working at 1/2 the price of the Nikons. And I don’t care about resale value. I always get the “Nikon has better resale value”. I don’t buy lenses to resell them I buy them to use until the die!

      The last Tokina I had lost screws! They just fell out! And Tamron, I wrote them off when they went into their 4th incarnation of a focus motor. Sigma was making HSM motors before Nikon had AF-S perfected.

      Just to show you, here’s my D700 4 years ago. Imagine what it looks like now:
      https://flic.kr/p/bifyfH

      And here’s my M9-P after only 2 years use:
      https://flic.kr/p/rpMNxd

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  5. Daniel Lee

    I would consider replacing my 17-40 for this if it wasn’t for its weight. Hopefully one day my back can be give me problems and I can go back to using heavier gear.

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    • Matthew Saville

      If weight is a problem, (like it is for me) then I’d consider trading your 17-40 for the new 16-35 f/4, and maybe add either the Rokinon 14mm or 12mm fisheye, if you really want f/2.8, …or a 24 1.4, if you really want speed more than ultra-wide angle.

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    • Daniel Lee

      Thanks for the tip but I’ve looked into the 16-35mm f4 IS quite a bit already and decided to keep the 17-40. I pretty much only ever use it now for landscapes stopped down to f8 or more so f2.8 isn’t important to me.

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  6. Brandon Dewey

    I wish nikon would make a 16-35mm f/2.8 but i don’t see that happening because of the 14-24mm

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    • Matthew Saville

      SERIOUSLY!!! Actually at this point I may have given up on a 16-35 2.8. (Which BTW would have 82mm filter threads, NOT a bulbous front element!)

      The more I travel, hike, and backpack / climb, the more I’d rather just have a 16mm f/2.8 or even f/3.5 to replace my Rokinon 14mm f/2.8 with. I’d rather have a 16mm prime that I can use 10-stop ND filters and polarizers with, than a 14mm that can accept neither. (Without a monstrous adapter system, that is)

      Then, if I need insanely wide photos, I’ll just get the Rokinon 12mm full-frame fisheye.

      Throw in a Rokinon 24mm f/1.4 and a Sigma 35mm f/1.4 Art, and you’ve got the absolute ultimate astro-landscape (full-frame) setup that doesn’t weigh too much and hits all the right apertures… Suck on that, Canon 11-24mm f/4 and other f/4 ultra-wide zooms!

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    • J. Dennis Thomas

      They still make the 17-35mm f/2.8D AF-S. And it’s still a good lens for it’s age. Personally I really like the 16-35mm f/4G. I don’t find losing a stop hinders it too much with Nikon’s high ISO capability.

      But, yeah. I don’t see a 16-35 f/2.8G coming from Nikon ever.

      I always wonder why Nikon didn’t make the 16-35mm a variable aperture f/2.8-4 though. Like the old Sigma 17-35 EX HSM. That’s one lens they need to bring back into the ART line.

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    • Matthew Saville

      You know what, you’re right, the Sigma 17-35 hits f/2.8 where it matters, (for me at least) and yet it isn’t really that heavy… Still, a prime 16 2.8 would probably be sharper still, and lighter still.

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    • J. Dennis Thomas

      Nikon’s 14mm f/2.8D prime lens is heavy as an anchor and has some of the worst quality images I’ve ever seen. I owned that lens for about 2 weeks before I resold it to another sucker on eBay.

      I don’t see ultra-wide primes as a big selling item though. They are very very specialized. Even if Nikon decided to make one, it would probably be done in a small batch and as expensive as an ultra-wide zoom. The only way I see a 16mm prime being made is in a Perspective Control configuration.

      I used to use the Sigma 17-35 f/2.8-4 a lot for concert photography, but for anything else it was pretty abysmal. In good light the corners were awful and even stopped down the center lacked sharpness and contrast. I probably used that lens for about 60% of my live work for Rolling Stone and SPIN though.

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  7. Stephen Jennings

    This is the one time I really would have preferred a 3rd party lens… still tempted to sell my 14-24 and buy this one. 1mm at that focal length is fairly big though… uhg, but it catches the sun in every photo. I hate hard choices.

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    • Matthew Saville

      Stephen, the Tamron isn’t looking all that impressive when it comes to flare, I must admit. Maybe that’s because I just reviewed the Tokina 11-20 which has like, ZERO flare, but the Tamron 15-30’s flare thus far is probably about average.

      I think my conclusion will probably be, if you already have the Nikon 14-24, the only reason to switch would be if you absolutely need the stabilization and the 30mm long end, which for astro are both silly things to even mention hahaha… (But, if you shoot portraits and weddings, it might be very awesome.)

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  8. robert garfinkle

    This looks sweet – seriously;

    I know this is, off topic (kinda) but I am looking for a 600mm choice – it can be a zoom (better be), I hear tamron / sigma have these (150 – 600mm)… I want to do some close up moon / solar shooting, really close, or am I best off just getting a great telescope…

    if anyone can direct me – what would work well w / d810?

    thanks
    rob

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    • Graham Curran

      Robert, for lunar and solar imaging then you don’t really need all that glass, much better going for a reasonable telescope with a steady mount. As the moon is illuminated by the sun it is quite bright and you can use fast shutter speeds so don’t need to compensate for motion unless you are making mosaics. You can get adaptors that fit on to your camera to replace the telescope eyepiece.

      For solar you’ll need a special filter to block out the bright light and avoid frying your sensor and you will be restricted to white light imaging of things like sunspots. To see convection cells and flares then you need a special solar scope.

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    • robert garfinkle

      thank you Graham – perfect…

      makes me feel better – why?

      1. leaves me to buy a reasonable set of glass for earth-based photography (i.e. 200mm to 300mm prime or zooms etc) – nicer glass

      2. avoids the situation where I buy a lens that only suits one purpose – not that I couldn’t use a 150mm to 600mm for land-based photography, but gosh, those are big lenses to lug in my pack – I usually like to carry everything… except a scope…

      3. more but I can’t think of it at moment – gents / ladies; I’m at a loss for words…

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    • Matthew Saville

      Yeah Robert, I’d have to assume that you’re also into wildlife or some other type of super-telephoto photography, if you’re that serious about buying a 600mm lens just for shooting the sun / moon.

      My question would be, how compact do you need it to be, and how do you want to “get there”? The new 300mm f/4 PF with a 2x teleconverter will get you there quite sharply I bet, but at f/8. Oppositely, a Sigma 300-800mm f/5.6 will get you there and beyond, at f/5.6, but that thing is a dang bazooka. Or, the Sigma 120-300mm f/2.8 (both Sport and EX) is probably a very killer option if you’re also into wildlife, and a 1.4X and 2X teleconverter shouldn’t harm image quality too much.

      Oh and also remember that Nikon has a 1.7x teleconverter too, which only steals 1.5 stops of light, a nice compromise between 1.4x and 2X!

      None of those options would really break your bank. At least, not the bank of a serious wildlife photographer, who is usually looking at $6-12K for a lens LOL.

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    • J. Dennis Thomas

      I can attest to the Sigma 120-300 f/2.8 | S being an amazing lens. The sharpest long telephoto I have ever used. Sigma loaned me one last year and I used it to shoot MotoGP. The focus was fast, spot-on, and the OS was miraculous. You wouldn’t need a monopod if the lens wasn’t so heavy.

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    • robert garfinkle

      I was looking at a Baader Filters and or Ha etc…

      Thinking about it more, though who would not want a telescope – yet Matt’s of a 2x or 1.7x tc on a decent lens works too… I would like to entertain the 1.7x in tandem with the new 300mm PF, that could be a nice reasonably compromised option with duality…

      Historically, for me – I’ve always shot 1/8000 and f16 or greater. that’s all I have used to shoot the sun, with the exception of the Venus transit where I used Mylar – it happened to work decently but would have proffered Baader filtering had I known about it back then…

      with stopping down on the aperture I realize I will lose clarity / sharpness – with the right filtering I can return the aperture as close to the sweet spot as I can, right? maybe f10-ish

      As of yet, and according to NPS, I have not cooked a sensor yet… let’s hope there is no yet – but, insured, that makes me feel better… state farm insurance covers direct loss – and a hit on the sun vs. sensor would classify as that, HOWEVER I must say I don’t want to have a claim…

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    • Ralph Hightower

      Graham,
      For solar photography with a film camera, there’s no sensor to fry. So is a special filter needed for film? I will probably have to use ND filters.
      I hear there’s a total eclipse happening in 2017.

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    • robert garfinkle

      It’s interesting you say that Ralph, thanks…

      If you were to call B & H today, they’d state you are eligible for sensor fry and vehemently warn against it…

      Yet 2 things. 1. I have never suffered it, and 2. The Nikon service center states that it can’t happen either – however they have seen some camera’s with shutter blades that have burn holes in them.

      can anyone qualify this link’s accuracy – they also back Mt Hightower’s sentiments…

      http://www.digital-photo-secrets.com/tip/1797/can-i-damage-my-camera-by-pointing-it-at-the-sun/

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    • Ralph Hightower

      Robert,
      Film cameras have no sensors to fry. Shutter curtain burn holes, now that’s a different story. I don’t think I’d take my DSLR to a concert to photograph if I knew that lasers were being used. I’m not using film Leicas, so they are relatively inexpensive to replace.

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