Tamron 85mm f/1.8 Di VC USD SP
Lab Test Results
May 25, 2016
by Andrew Alexander
Early in 2016, Tamron released a third lens in its lineup of premium SP-series prime lenses - the SP 85mm F/1.8 Di VC USD. It's the first lens in its category of fast-aperture telephoto lens which incorporates image stabilization into its design.
The lens was designed for full-frame cameras in the Nikon, Canon or Sony A-mount, but will also mount on sub-frame (APS-C) cameras from those manufacturers. On such a camera the lens will provide an equivalent field of view of 127mm (Nikon and Sony) or 136mm (Canon).
The lens ships with a round hood, accepts 67mm filters, and originally went on sale with an MSRP of $850.
The Tamron 85mm ƒ/1.8 Di VC USD SP provides excellent results for sharpness, even at its widest aperture setting of ƒ/1.8. On the sub-frame D7100 the lens displays tack-sharp results all the way from ƒ/1.8 through to ƒ/11, where diffraction limiting starts to kick in. On our full-frame D800e, there was just a hair of corner softness at ƒ/1.8 and ƒ/2, but by ƒ/2.8 the lens produced images that were tack-sharp across the frame. Even fully stopped-down at ƒ/16, the lens still provides excellent results for sharpness, impacted only very slightly by diffraction limiting.
Tamron have done very well for combating chromatic aberration: on either the full- or sub-frame cameras, the impact of chromatic aberration was minor. There is a minor amount of spherical chromatic aberration, which we typically note in lenses with fast apertures.
When the Tamron 85mm ƒ/1.8 lens is mounted on the sub-frame D7100, we noted corners that were a half-stop darker than the center when the lens was set to ƒ/1.8; at any other aperture, corner shading was negligible.
On the full-frame Nikon D800e, corner shading was a bit more pronounced: at ƒ/1.8, we noted corners that were 3/4 of a stop darker than the center. At ƒ/2.8 this reduces to just over a quarter-stop, and stopping down further reduces it to a negligible level.
There is practically no distortion to speak of when taking photographs with the Tamron 85mm ƒ/1.8.
The Tamron 85mm ƒ/1.8 Di VC USD SP uses a ring-type USD (Ultrasonic Silent Drive) that allows the lens to focus very quietly. It's not as quick to focus as other lenses, but we'll attribute that to the wider throw it has to cover; it takes about a second to go through the entire range of focus. There is a slight amount of lens extension as the lens focuses to its closest point, but not so much as to interfere with any attached 67mm filters. Attached filters will not rotate during focusing operations.
The Tamron 85mm lens wasn't built specifically for macro, producing a magnification of just 0.14x with a minimum close-focusing distance of 80cm (around two and a half feet).
Build Quality and Handling
The Tamron 85mm ƒ/1.8 Di VC USD SP presents a new fit and finish for Tamron SP-series lenses, offering a smooth, satiny finish and weather-sealed construction, including a gasket around the lens mount. The front elements also features a fluorine coating to help shed off water, oil and dirt.
Inside the lens there's an exotic layout of lens elements: 13 elements in 9 groups, including 1 XLD (Extra Low Dispersion) and 1 LD (Low Dispersion) elements. The aperture is made up of 9 curved diaphragm blades, to ensure excellent bokeh. Tamron has provided a windowed distance scale, measured in both metric and imperial, but there is no depth-of-field scale or infrared index.
The external layout of the lens is fairly simple: two switches, one for enabling / disabling autofocus, and one for enabling / disabling the Vibration Control (VC) system. The Sony-mount variant of this lens won't come with VC, because Sony cameras have image stabilization built-in, and the two systems conflict. It's also worth noting that there is a rubber seal at the camera-mount side of the lens.
The manual focusing ring is quite pleasant to use on this lens: it's about an inch wide, with a deep ribbed rubber texture. There are about 90 degrees of focusing throw - great for manual focus - and either end comes to a soft stop to let you know that focusing further won't do anything.
The Vibration Control image stabilization is a definite perk for this lens, as most manufacturers don't include it for a prime lens: however, with digital cameras being used more and more for making movies, having built-in stabilization is very useful indeed. In our testing, the system offers almost three stops of hand-holding improvement: check out our IS Test tab for greater detail.
The lens ships with the HF016 lens hood, which is a round, bayonet-mounted hood. The interior of the hood is ribbed to improve resistance to flare. It's about 2" long, and it will add about 2 1/2 inches to the overall length of the lens when it's mounted. The lens is compatible with Tamron's new TAP-in Console, a USB-based dock accessory that allows for autofocus and mechanical adjustments as well as firmware updates.
Canon EF 85mm ƒ/1.8 USM ~$350
Released in 1992, the Canon comparable lens is getting a bit long in the tooth, and it doesn't provide near the same level of sharpness as the Tamron. In 1992, the idea of providing image stabilization in a standard prime lens would have been unthinkable.
Nikon 85mm ƒ/1.8G AFS ~$480
Nikon updated its G-series prime lenses in the last few years, providing a bit more competition for the Tamron: it's very nearly a match, but the Tamron eeks out a bit more sharpness, especially on the full-frame mount. As well, the Nikon doesn't sport image stabilization.
Sony 85mm ƒ/1.4 Carl Zeiss Planar T* ~$1,700
Sony doesn't offer an ƒ/1.8 lens in the 85mm configuration, but it does offer a very expensive ƒ/1.4 version. Sony offers image stabilization with each camera, so the VC function of the Tamron lens isn't useful here, however, having a ƒ/1.8 option in the 85mm category is.
Sigma 85mm ƒ/1.4 EX DG HSM ~$850
For about the same price, you could get the Sigma 85mm ƒ/1.4, offering a slightly wider maximum aperture, but no image stabilization.
Tamron has done their homework in creating this lens: Sony doesn't offer an 85mm lens in the ƒ/1.8 category, Canon's design is almost 25 years old, and Nikon's, while good, doesn't offer image stabilization: there's something here for everyone, especially coupled with the amazing optical performance. Image sharpness is excellent, practically tack-sharp right from ƒ/1.8, there's no image distortion to speak of, and chromatic aberration is well-controlled.
If there was a downside for the lens, it's perhaps that it's a bit pricier than its Nikon and Canon alternatives, but for the results it turns in, you get what you pay for.
The VFA target should give you a good idea of sharpness in the center and corners, as well as some idea of the extent of barrel or pincushion distortion and chromatic aberration, while the Still Life subject may help in judging contrast and color. We shoot both images using the default JPEG settings and manual white balance of our test bodies, so the images should be quite consistent from lens to lens.
As appropriate, we shoot these with both full-frame and sub-frame bodies, at a range of focal lengths, and at both maximum aperture and ƒ/8. For the ''VFA'' target (the viewfinder accuracy target from Imaging Resource), we also provide sample crops from the center and upper-left corner of each shot, so you can quickly get a sense of relative sharpness, without having to download and inspect the full-res images. To avoid space limitations with the layout of our review pages, indexes to the test shots launch in separate windows.
Tamron 85mm f/1.8 Di VC USD SP
Tamron 85mm f/1.8 Di VC USD SP User Reviews
9 out of 10 points and recommended by Balgenbruder (2 reviews)Sharpness across the frame with D810 Color rendition nicely warm Smoother Bokeh than Nikon 1,8G also @ f5.6 Nice balance on the body Affordable TAP in console to adjust the lens Perfect portrait lensSignificant front focus shift at f1.8 on the D810 Needs to be stopped down to f2.2 then gone no big deal to me. Focus is a bit sluggish, for portraits not a problem but shooting sports is another page.
The Tamron delivers wonderful portrait pictures.reviewed December 4th, 2016 (purchased for $900)
Problem is the focus on my D810
Compared to the Nikon 85mm 1.8G a bit less shots found the target and it took a bit longer.
Having said this the sharpness across the frame is amazingly constant and blazing sharp already @f2.2
CAs are extremely low compared to the Nikon.
Color rendition of the Nikon sometimes pronounces magenta which boosts skin capillars, while the Tamron pleases with a warm yellow orange touch.
Have a look yourself
9 out of 10 points and recommended by hekob (6 reviews)VC, color rendition,bokehheft,price for F/1.8
Beautiful construction,fairly effective VC, high sharpness and excellent color rendition on my D750. Well done, but at this price the Nikkor 85mm F/1.8G may be a better value.reviewed June 9th, 2016 (purchased for $650)