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Tamron 35mm f/1.8 Di VC Review: Beast Mode On A Budget

By Wendell Weithers on April 3rd 2017

Tamron is in the midst of a brand evolution; shedding the characteristics that relegated it to the lower end of the photography pecking order and taking aim at a higher position in the camera world. With the 35mm 1.8 Di VC, they have made a compelling lens that is worthy of your consideration. Yes, the 35mm prime market is crowded, but how can Tamron be considered as more than niche manufacturer if it doesn’t offer a great one? Over the last few weeks, I’ve enjoyed testing it in the field, so let’s see how it fared.

[REWIND: Tamron 35mm SP f/1.8 – Initial Review Thoughts]

Tamron SP 35mm f/1.8 Di VC USD Lens

Sharpness & Chromatic Aberration

There is a hint of magic in this lens and there were times that my picture popped on the back of my screen, and then once inside Lightroom, they didn’t disappoint; it produces crisp and beautiful images that capitalize on the megapixel power packed in today’s modern sensors, and have all the detail you can hope to see – that is to say this lens will out-resolve whatever sensor you match it with (within reason), and therefore it’s general sharpness should also be apparent even if paired with something like a 5DS.

You will find purple or and green fringing but, that like vignetting is a one-click fix in your editing software of choice, and again the CA is not horrendous. If you are interested in a purely statistical comparison against some of its competitors, you could use this DXO Mark comparison for some insight. As you can see, this lens is right in the mix with other high-performance 35mm primes.

Auto Focus, Close Focus Distance, & Bokeh

ISO 100/ f1.8/ 1/2000sec

ISO 100/ f8/ 1/400sec

The autofocus is smooth, reasonably quiet, and is adequately fast for almost anything you hope to capture at this focal length. I was never frustrated by autofocus misses and any issues were the variety I was familiar encountering shooting with something like a D610.

Having a minimum focusing distance of 7.87” (20cm) adds a fun element to the lens that changes how you approach shooting, and the Bokeh it creates is nice but will ultimately lose upon close inspection and comparison with its f1.4 counterparts.

Low Light & Vibration Compensation (VC)

ISO 800/ f1.8/ 1/13sec

ISO 640/ f4/ 1/50sec

ISO 140/ f2.8/ 1/8sec

ISO 900/ f3.5/ 1/20sec

We all know that when it comes to low light f1.8 is nice, but f1.4 is better. Tamron hopes that the combination of f1.8 in addition to their (VC) will compensate for the smaller aperture. I found that it did, and the stabilization is obviously of added benefit when your shutter speed descends from middle age and starts to approach adolescence. This lens is your low light friend, even if –and it bears stating– that while it’s got an aperture of 1.8 the transmission is actually recorded at 2.1. That variance, however, is also in line with its contemporaries.

It warrants mentioning here that this 35mm 1.8 and the Tamron 45mm 1.8 Di VC were, at their launch, the widest aperture image stabilization enabled lenses available on the market.

Overall Usability

If you have slightly larger hands or, in my case, slightly longer fingers, you will feel constrained using the 35mm Di VC. You can lose what space you have in your grip, and if you intend to use this lens for prolonged periods of time, it can become increasingly uncomfortable. I found that I used it to complete specific tasks or for predetermined periods time before opting for something more comfortable. This problem is far more exaggerated on my smaller D7200 than my D610. I never got the sense that I would leave this lens on my camera all the time. So, despite this being the walk-around 35mm focal length, I wouldn’t consider this a walk-around lens.


Who should look at this lens?

Wedding, event, and portrait photographers would do well to consider the Tamron 35mm 1.8 Di  VC. Stated plainly, this lens is for those who want more than a budget option but can’t quite justify the price of higher tiered lenses. If you are deterred by the Canon 35mm L II at $1650, the Nikon 35mm 1.4G at $1700, or even the Sigma 35mm Art at $900, you will be pleased to know this comes in at $569 (as of this writing).

If you demand absolutely the highest quality, however, you can find a reason to look past it. Personally, I wouldn’t pass it up with what it offers at this focal length.

A Note for DSLR Video Shooters

The 35mm Di VC, used in conjunction with Tamron’s 85mm 1.8 Di VC could be a very useful combination that strikes a prime balance between cost and performance that is not reflected in it. The (VC) is effective enough to handhold still and panning shots, although not magically enough to walk with handheld. At a joint price of $1350, you can cover two important focal lengths with stabilization while equipping a second body.

Tamron’s 24-70mm 2.8 VC lens costs $1300 at the time of this review and has the obvious versatility advantage of being one lens. However, what you loose on the wide end, you gain on the long end with the addition of a faster aperture. An update to the 24-70mm 2.8 is undoubtedly on the way in light of the SP series refresh, but this two-lens combo is worth considering.

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Wendell is based in Atlanta where he shoots events, portraits, and food photography. He also supports his wife Andrea as she runs their cake design business, Sweet Details.

Instagram: Wendellwphoto

Q&A Discussions

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  1. Herve A

    I agree this lens is beautifully designed with solid optical performance. I might be wrong but the autofocus in low light seems slow and too often inaccurate. Sure for the tag price, it comes with a price. Too bad – I love the optics and the stabilization of this lens, but not sure if I will buy it.




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  2. Vince Arredondo

    Would you buy the Nikon 35mm 1.8 or This Tamron?

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    • Kishore Sawh

      That’s the question, isn’t it. I agree. The  Nikon AF-S 35mm 1.8G ED is around the same price and has great optics (as Nikons do) – but no VC. If you’re a DX shooter the AF-S DX version is less than half the price and works just as well. It seems the selling point here really is VC, unless the AF is particularly good in comparison. 

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    • Wendell Weithers

      It really depends on your needs. I often shoot handheld video and the VC works very well. So for me, this lens would be worth owning.

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  3. adam sanford

    Nikon folks may love this Tamron lens, but Canonites have almost zero reason to buy it.  

    For the same money, the Canon EF 35mm f/2 IS USM — somewhat glaringly missing from the author’s list of alternatives (above) — has the same sharpness but it comes with the (nearly) bulletproof confidence of first party AF with the same ring USM you see on the L lenses.  That’s huge.  I’ll choose AF confidence over a fraction of a stop quicker every. single. time.

    At least for Canon owners, the Tamron needed to be either cheaper or (dramatically) faster to  warrant rolling the dice on third party AF.  It is neither, so I always recommend the Canon instead.

    The Tamron *45mm* version of this f/1.8 VC, however, has nothing like it (a fast 50-ish prime with IS) and should be considered by everyone.

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    • Wendell Weithers

      Hi Adam, I understand the comparison on the Canon side of things; however, I believe Tamron is aiming at the higher end lenses for both Canon and Nikon. The perceived monetary savings are only realized when compared to those lens listed above. I think they want this to be the most affordable 35mm in that tier of lenses. They walk a fine line with the price point, as you noted, but that’s the choice they made.

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    • adam sanford

      I hear you, but what Tamron is aiming for and what Tamron has delivered are two very different things. 

      Their 35mm isn’t even in the same time zone sharpness-wise as the top-tier (Canon 35mm f/1.4L II or Sigma 35mm f/1.4 Art). 

      They may covet premium status/dollars but they’ve delivered a mid-grade lens, nothing more.

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    • Kishore Sawh

      adam sanford – have you used all three of the lenses? I have spent zero time with the Canon or Tamron, but have with the Sigma, and I’ll second that the Sigma is very very good. Really, aside from size I can’t truly find fault for its purpose. Adding to that though, the Tamron 85 Di VC is also very very good, so I’m perhaps more curious than ever now about the Tamron and where it fits in that mix. We may have to do a straight lens comparison. 

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    • adam sanford

      Yes on the Sigma Art and Canon f/2 IS USM and no on the Tamron:

      1) Sigma 35 Art:

      Pro:  Sharpest bloody thing on earth at that FL — a statistical dead heat with the 35mm f/1.4L II.  Great wide open f/1.4 performance.  Spectacular sharpness-per-dollar value.

      Con:  AF inconsistency that is not AFMA / dock correctable (‘nail-in-the-coffin bad’ in my hands — that’s a deal breaker), big/heavy, not particularly discreet for street/candids.  No weather sealing.  Lens design = pretty, but pretty isn’t always functional;  parts of the barrel are glossy for no reason other than looks, and glossy gives no grip on a hot sunny day.  67mm is an atypical filter diameter, but who cares.

      2) Canon 35mm f/IS USM:

      Pro:  Small & discreet.  Has IS.  Has first party Canon USM AF you can rely on.  Sound ergonomics, no glossy/pretty surfaces.  Very good value.

      Con:  Sharp, but not best in class like the Art and 35L II.  Only f/2.  No weather sealing.   67mm is an atypical filter diameter, but who cares.

      3) Tamron 35 f/1.8 VC (again I’ve never shot it)

      Pro:  Decently quick at f/1.8.  Has IS.  Has some weather sealing.

      Con:  Sharp, but not best in class like the Art and 35L II.  Risk of third party AF surprises (in fairness, Tamron has had better luck here than Sigma), 67mm is an atypical filter diameter, but who cares.

      All are great options.  I prioritize AF reliability in what I shoot — I am not afforded the luxury of chimping and reshooting — so the Canon is the obvious call.  Others have different needs, prefer sharpness as the end-all-be-all, others truly need f/1.4, etc. and might shop differently.

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