The ultra-wide angle full frame compatible zoom lens field is becoming ever more crowded and it requires a special lens to grab significant attention today. The Tamron 15-30mm f/2.8 Di VC USD Lens has done just that.
Why the quick popularity? This is the first ultra-wide angle lens covering the full frame 35mm image circle to have image stabilization (Vibration Control or "VC" in this case) and an aperture wider than f/4. Canon and Nikon both currently offer stabilized 16-35mm f/4 full frame lenses, but only the Tamron opens to f/2.8 with stabilization. While 15mm is not dramatically wider than 16mm, this lens is also the first stabilized full frame lens wider than 16mm. The constant over the focal length range max f/2.8 aperture matches the widest aperture full frame zoom lenses currently available, allowing up to twice as much light to reach the sensor as the f/4 max aperture lenses.
While the stabilization, wide aperture and ultra-wide focal length range are great features, this lens impresses with its image quality and the reasonable price tag puts the finishing touches on a winning package.
I used the "full frame" word combo a lot in the last paragraph, but that clarification is needed. There are numerous APS-C/1.6x FOVCF sensor format DSLR lenses with an at-least-similar set of specs including stabilization. Though this lens is a very good choice for these smaller-sensor DSLRs, the feature set does not stand out nearly as prominently. Those using ASP-C/1.6x will find 15-30mm angle of views similar to a 24-48mm lens mounted on a full frame body. This is a very useful range that covers into a significant portion of the range I generally recommend for a general purpose lens.
Even on a full frame body, the Tamron 15-30mm f/2.8 Di VC USD Lens is not the widest lens available, but it is not very far down the list from the widest. The 15mm focal length is very wide (and very fun to use) and the overall range available in this lens is quite useful, especially when complementing a general purpose lens in one's kit.
For examples of this lens' focal length range, I'll take you to New York City. The first sample set comes from Grand Central Terminal, a great location that is hard to take in without a very wide angle focal length.
The second sample set, including an approximate 16mm focal length for those wishing to compare 15mm to 16mm, is of Jane's Carousel in Brooklyn Bridge Park. The 16mm focal length is not marked on the lens and there is a range within the 16mm reported focal length, so use discretion in that comparison. Regardless, 15mm is wider than 16mm and you will notice the difference.
Many comparable lenses zoom to 35mm and that difference is also noticeable. But ... most Tamron 15-30 VC owners will also have a general purpose zoom lens that covers the 30-35mm range. Focal length range redundancy is beneficial, but coverage is better than no coverage.
I've been evaluating a lot of ultra-wide angle lenses recently and I feel like I am repeating myself when listing the uses for them. But that does not change the usefulness of each lens and, though there is a lot of crossover in their uses, all of these lenses are indeed very useful. Having more choices is of course a great thing.
Since wide angle lenses emphasize the closest in-focus subjects in the frame, making a compelling ultra-wide angle image often involves placing a desired subject in the foreground. Since an ultra-wide angle of view includes lots of background that tends to remain at least partially in focus and recognizable, that attractive foreground subject will ideally be in front of a large, attractive background. A colorful patch of flowers in front of a large mountain range (with a lake between them) is a good example of this concept.
What you do not (usually) want in the foreground of your ultra-wide composition is a person's nose. We don't typically look at people from really close distances (that other person will become uncomfortable with us being in their personal space) and when we look at photos of people captured from these distances, certain body parts (often the nose) start to look funny (big). Unique portrait perspectives can be fun, but don't overuse them as they get old fast – and your subjects may not be very happy with you. Get the telephoto lens out for your tightly-framed portraits.
Or move back and include your subject in a larger scene for an environmental portrait. Especially at the 30mm end, this lens makes a great full-body portrait lens choice. This focal length range also works well for small up to very large group pictures.
Especially with its wide f/2.8 max aperture, the Tamron 15-30mm VC lens is a GREAT option for the wide work at a wedding and for other photojournalism needs. And for the same reason, this lens will see sports action captured through it.
Architecture, interior and real estate photography often have large subjects needing wide angle lenses and the 15-30mm range works very well for these uses.
Landscape photography is a pursuit that often employs ultra-wide angle focal lengths. The size/weight of this lens and its inability to accept standard threaded front filters are two dings against this lens as a choice for landscape photography, but the excellent image quality and image stabilization are two good reasons to make this lens your choice for such use.
There are many additional uses for ultra-wide lenses and having these focal lengths available are sure to increase your creativity.
Essentially all lighthouses attract photographers and casual observers alike, but not all are similarly photogenic. While it is hard to take a bad photo of the Portland Lighthouse, I found the Sanibel Island Lighthouse to be more challenging (especially with the weather conditions I was given). The skeletal pyramidal iron structure is somewhat unique, and it caught my attention.
Always looking for a new angle on my subjects, I ended up flat on my back under the lighthouse. For the record, no, I wasn't napping (but it was a comfortable shooting position). It is of course not possible to get under most lighthouses, but the design of this one makes that position possible. While this shooting location and position brought my state of mind into question from other observers (I received some light-hearted attention), the wide 15mm focal length allows for images such as this one.
With an f/2.8 max aperture over the entire focal length range, this lens is the fastest full frame zoom lens available (with many other lenses tied for this title). That this max aperture remains constant over the entire focal length range of the lens is especially nice. Wide open exposure settings remain the same when zooming from wide angle to not-as-wide angle focal lengths.
As already alluded to, an f/2.8 aperture is preferred if capturing action in low light.
In addition to allowing more light to reach the camera's sensor, wider apertures also allow a stronger background blur to be created. All else equal, a longer focal length will provide the strongest background blur. With 30mm being the longest focal length available in this lens, some background blur can be created with a close subject and distant background. However, this is not a lens that is going to completely melt the background into a smooth blur for most subjects it will be used on. For example, with a medium-sized dog nearly filling the 30mm frame, the background details remain readily identifiable at f/2.8.
An f/2.8 aperture can create more blur than an f/4 aperture, but not dramatically so.
Tamron was the first lens manufacturer to introduce image stabilization in a full frame 24-70mm f/2.8 lens with the very well received Tamron 24-70mm f/2.8 VC USD Lens. And now they are the first to cover the full frame 15-30mm f/2.8 range with stabilization.
Tamron has not specified the rated number of stops of assistance for this VC implementation, but most stabilized lenses are receiving 4 stop ratings at this time. My hands-on testing adds weight to this rating estimate.
At 15mm, I am able to keep most images sharp at .5 seconds with a trail-off in keeper rate that extends to 1.6 seconds. The .5 second exposure represents roughly 3 stops of assistance for me. At 30mm, I am getting a high percentage of sharp images at .4 seconds with the trail-off lasting through 1 second. The .4 second exposure represents an approximately 3 2/3 stops of assistance for me at this focal length.
It is normal for me to not experience the rated stops of assistance from a wide angle lens and the 3 to 3 2/3 stops of improvement I am seeing reflects what I personally would expect from a 4-stop rated stabilization system. There is ongoing discussion about the benefit of image stabilization in wide angle lenses, and while I will not claim that these lenses benefit from stabilization as much as telephoto lenses do, I am fully on the pro wide angle stabilization side of the fence.
Later in the day, after shooting the lighthouse image shown above, the cloud cover grew heavy with wind and light rain being additional issues to be dealt with. Out of the hundreds of narrow aperture images I captured with long-for-handheld shutter speeds that day, nearly none were motion-blurred.
The Tamron 15-30mm f/2.8 lens' VC system shows maturity in its operation. In addition to getting its primary job done, this system presents a stable image to the viewfinder with no bounce seen at startup, shutdown or during use when panning the lens. A light clunk can be heard at startup/shutdown, but the whirring during use is hard to hear.
It is seldom the case when image quality is not my supreme factor when selecting a lens and I was anxious to see what the Tamron 15-30mm f/2.8 VC Lens could deliver. I was not left disappointed.
The center of the 15-30 VC frame is very sharp throughout the entire focal length range. There is little center of the frame benefit realized by stopping down, especially at longer distances, though some improvement is seen at 30mm f/4 at short focus distances. The corners, as is often the case, trail the center of the frame in their sharpness performance. But, the corner of the frame image quality this lens delivers, especially at longer focus distances, is still very good.
Let's look at some comparison examples taken from the absolute corner of full frame 5D Mark III images. Being farthest into the periphery of the 35mm image circle, this location brings out the worst in image quality (though these results look modestly better than the unforgiving ISO 12233 chart photographed at a closer distance).
These images are from the top left corner of the frame with exception of the 20mm set, which is from the top right corner. Note that the camera was not necessarily level when capturing these images. The images were captured in RAW format and processed using the Standard Picture Style with a sharpness setting of "1" (very low)
Unlike many lenses that deliver smeared/blurred details in the corners, the Tamron 15-30mm lens' details remain clear into the extreme corners even at f/2.8. There are only a handful of lenses in this focal length range able to deliver results this nice (or even close).
With only 1.5 to just-over-2 stops of vignetting in the full frame corners at f/2.8, this lens performs above many of its peers in this regard also. While 1 stop is often used as the point where peripheral shading becomes noticeable, this lens, again, outperforms many competitors. At f/4, about 1 to 1.4 stops (at 15mm) of shading remains. Only minor improvement is realized by stopping down to f/5.6 through f/11, where about .8 stops of shading remains in the corners save at 15mm where a barely-noticeable 1 stop remains.
APS-C format DSLR users avoid all vignetting issues with this lens.
This lens controls CA (Chromatic Aberration) relatively well with a small amount showing at the wide end. CA diminishes to negligible at 30mm. Here is a worst-case CA example taken from the top right corner of a full-frame-captured 15mm image.
The cyan/magenta fringing along lines of contrast show the various wavelengths of light being focused slightly differently. Again, this lens performs well in this regard.
At f/2.8, with the sun in the corner of the frame, the 15-30 VC nicely hides flare artifacts. As the aperture is narrowed, flare artifacts become increasingly noticeable until becoming rather strong at f/16 at the wide end of the focal length range. The 24 and 30mm focal lengths hold up better, with only a modest amount of flare artifacts showing even at narrow apertures. Flare is one of the most difficult optical defects to remove during post processing. Use your judgement to decide if the wide angle, narrow aperture flare is an issue for you.
Night sky photographers know that most wide angle, wide aperture lenses available have destructive coma showing in the corners at their widest apertures. Breaking tradition, this lens is a decent performer in this regard. Following are 100% crops from the extreme top right corner of 10 second images captured with a 5D Mark III (f/2.8, ISO 3200, no noise reduction).
Coma (not to be confused with CA - some of that may be present also) is generally recognized by details (stars in this case) having sharp contrast towards the center of the image and a stretched, soft contrast transition toward the image periphery. There is some coma present in these examples, but the stars still look like stars – not flying saucers.
This lens has relatively strong barrel distortion at the wide end. The amount is not unusual for this zoom lens class and also not unusual is that the barrel distortion reduces as focal length increases. Distortion is negligible at about 20mm. By 24mm, pincushion distortion appears and becomes moderate at 30mm.
Straight lines running along the edge of an image illuminate distortion best. Below is a pair of worst-case 15mm and 30mm examples with a second 15mm example showing a more inset straight line.
The distortion in the 15mm lighthouse image earlier in the review remains uncorrected, making that image another good example.
The 15-30 VC features 9-blade rounded aperture. Following are some 100% crop examples of the background blur this lens produces when specular highlights are showing.
While the quality of the blur this lens produces doesn't excite me too much, getting a background blurred enough for the blur quality to matter is a challenge. See the dog sample picture earlier in the review. The background becomes blurred, but not strongly so.
Tamron features a quiet, high-torque USD (Ultrasonic Silent Drive) motor in the 15-30 VC Lens. This lens focuses fast under normal and even long focal distance changes. A full extents focus distance change will take slightly longer (you can see the difference), but few will find this small additional time lag to be an issue.
Focusing is acquired quietly with some clicks and shuffling heard from the lens.
Testing the autofocus accuracy of this lens took on a bit of a life of its own. The performance, including at f/2.8, was very good when shooting test charts and in relatively close-distance testing including the use of a Datacolor SpyderLensCal. At longer distances, AF performance was somewhat inconsistent. Inconsistent enough for an obvious subject to not fall completely within the relatively large 15mm f/2.8 depth of field at very long focus distances. Here is an example:
These 100% crop samples with practically no sharpening applied ("1") were taken from near the center of nine 15mm f/2.8 photos captured sequentially from left to right, top to bottom. The 5D Mark III test camera was tripod-mounted and the center AF point was placed on a line of strong contrast on a very large subject (a house). The lens was slightly defocused prior to each photo being captured.
While some of the images show off what this lens is capable of at 15mm f/2.8, some leave a bit to be desired. This lens has not delivered completely blurry results while relying on AF in the field, but some results are not as sharp as this lens is capable of.
The Tamron 15-30 VC focuses internally and FTM (Full Time Manual) focusing is featured. Simply rotate the manual focus ring to adjust the focus distance setting, regardless of the AF/MF switch setting and regardless of the state of AF operation.
The front element on this lens does not rotate, but few will care since standard threaded filters, including circular polarizer filters, are not compatible with this lens.
Especially at the 30mm end, subjects change size and scene framing changes with focus distance changes.
If not completely parfocal, this lens is very close to it. Subjects remain in good focus over a full extent focal length change.
The 15-30 VC's 0.54" (13.8mm) manual focus ring seems somewhat small (especially when wearing gloves), but with a slight diameter increase in the lens body occurring in the middle of it, the ring is not hard to find even in the dark. The focus ring is smooth, has no play, and with a relatively long 120° of rotation, it is easy to dial in perfect manual focus using 10x Live View with this lens.
The 15-30 VC's 11" (280mm) MFD (Minimum Focus Distance) is shared by six other lenses in the comparison chart below with the lens' longest focal length being the tie-breaker for MM (Maximum Magnification). The 15-30's 0.20x MM is very reasonable its class, but this is not an amazing spec.
|Canon EF 11-24mm f/4L USM Lens||11.0"||(280mm)||0.16x|
|Sigma 12-24mm f/4.5-5.6 DG II HSM Lens||11.0"||(280mm)||0.17x|
|Canon EF 14mm f/2.8 L II USM Lens||7.9"||(200mm)||0.15x|
|Nikon 14-24mm f/2.8G AF-S Lens||11.0"||(280mm)||0.15x|
|Zeiss 15mm f/2.8 Distagon T* ZE Lens||9.8"||(250mm)||0.11x|
|Tamron 15-30mm f/2.8 Di VC USD Lens||11.0"||(280mm)||0.20x|
|Canon EF 16-35mm f/2.8 L II USM Lens||11.0"||(280mm)||0.22x|
|Canon EF 16-35mm f/4 L IS USM Lens||11.0"||(280mm)||0.23x|
|Nikon 16-35mm f/4G AF-S VR Lens||11.4"||(290mm)||0.25x|
|Tokina 16-28mm f/2.8 AT-X Pro FX Lens||11.0"||(280mm)||0.19x|
Magnification can be increased significantly with extension tubes (at the expense of longer distance focusing), but this lens is not compatible with extenders.
If you have used any of Tamron's other recently introduced lenses, the 15-30 VC will have a familiar look and feel to you. With just a touch of color, it has an attractive design.
As is the case with most similar lenses, a quality plastic lens body construction is used. The shape of this lens is relatively smooth after a significant diameter increase just forward of the lens mount. As mentioned earlier, a slight diameter increase occurs in the middle of the focus ring and a second increase occurs at the transition into the zoom ring. An additional diameter increase occurs at the built-in lens hood, where my last finger rests comfortably while controlling the lens.
The diameter of this lens is especially large. However, gripping the lens with my medium-sized hands has not been a problem. The switches are relatively flush, but conveniently located at the completion of the large diameter transition, they are not hard to find.
I've made it no secret that I prefer a rear-positioned zoom ring and my position hasn't changed in this regard. While the rear-positioned focus ring is not a significant issue in this case, the potential for an inadvertent focus distance change during focus and recompose exists. Retaining a manually selected focus distance while handling the lens is another concern.
Holding the lens under the zoom ring, while great for changing focal lengths, does not provided the best balance and requires care to avoid getting one's pinky in the picture. The zoom ring is smooth with no play and a nice amount of resistance over the 65° of rotation. This lens' zoom ring rotates in the Nikon direction, opposite of Canon lenses. Canon users will quickly figure this out during use, but it is a difference.
This lens does not change size when zooming in or out, but the front element extends and retracts inside of the built-in hood when doing so. Here is the illustration:
Interesting is that this lens has a double hood, with the inside hood moving with the front lens elements.
Relatively speaking, this is a large, heavy, high density lens with a solid feel. In the grand landscape of lenses, this one is not uncomfortable or difficult to carry and use offhand. Here is a size and weight comparison chart:
|Model||Weight||Dimensions w/o Hood||Filter||Year|
|Canon EF 11-24mm f/4L USM Lens||41.6 oz||(1180g)||4.25 x 5.2"||(108 x 132mm)||n/a||2015|
|Sigma 12-24mm f/4.5-5.6 DG II HSM Lens||23.7 oz||(670g)||3.3 x 4.7"||(83.82 x 119.38mm)||n/a||2011|
|Canon EF 14mm f/2.8 L II USM Lens||22.8 oz||(645g)||3.1 x 3.7"||(80 x 94mm)||n/a||2007|
|Nikon 14-24mm f/2.8G AF-S Lens||34.2 oz||(969g)||3.9 x 5.2"||(98 x 131.5mm)||mm||2007|
|Zeiss 15mm f/2.8 Distagon T* ZE Lens||28.9 oz||(820g)||4.1 x 5.3"||(103 x 135mm)||95mm||2012|
|Tamron 15-30mm f/2.8 Di VC USD Lens||38.8 oz||(1100g)||3.9 x 5.7"||(98.4 x 145mm)||mm||2014|
|Canon EF 16-35mm f/2.8 L II USM Lens||22.6 oz||(640g)||3.5 x 4.4"||(88.5 x 111.6mm)||82mm||2007|
|Canon EF 16-35mm f/4 L IS USM Lens||21.7 oz||(615g)||3.3 x 4.4"||(82.6 x 112.8mm)||77mm||2014|
|Nikon 16-35mm f/4G AF-S VR Lens||24 oz||(680g)||3.2 x 4.9"||(82.5 x 125mm)||77mm||2010|
|Tokina 16-28mm f/2.8 AT-X Pro FX Lens||33.5 oz||(950g)||3.5 x 5.2"||(90 x 133.3mm)||n/amm||2011|
For many more comparisons, review the complete Tamron 15-30mm f/2.8 Di VC USD Lens Specifications using the site's Lens Spec tool.
The 15-30 VC has a level of moisture sealing including a lens mount gasket. Tamron states "Moisture-resistant construction helps prevent moisture from penetrating the lens."
A rose between two thorns? Or vice versa? They're all roses to me. Above is the Tamron 15-30 VC positioned between the Canon EF 16-35mm f/2.8 L II USM Lens (left) and the Nikon 14-24mm f/2.8G AF-S Lens (right).
Yes, the Tamron lens cap appears to be placed higher than the Canon and Nikon caps, but the Tamron cap is thinner than the other two. The true bases of the lenses are equalized to show a proper size comparison.
Each of these lenses has its own benefits, but the Tamron is the largest. Especially so if the Canon's hood is removed.
With a strongly-convex front lens element and a built-in hood, this lens does not accept standard threaded filters and no rear drop-in mount is provided. With circular polarizer filters not supported, this lens loses points for landscape photography and for other CP filter-needed uses. While it is possible that a company such as Fotodiox will implement a filter solution for this lens, the filter holder and the filters themselves would be very large. Without a rear drop-in filter holder, neutral density filters, my second-most-used enhancement filter type, are also not supported without a 3rd party external filter holder system.
"Since its large diameter and prominent convex profile prevents deployment of a protective filter, the front element of this lens has a fluorine coating that repels water and dirt, and makes it much easier to remove smudges as well." [Tamron]
Lacking front filter threads, this type of lens requires a dimensionally larger lens cap. The cap in this case is a slip-on type. While it stays on relatively well for this design, I often find it staying in the case when I remove the camera. Perhaps that should be viewed as a time-saving feature.
Tamron does not include a case with this lens.
While the Tamron 15-30mm f/2.8 Di VC USD is not a cheap lens, it is a very good value. You get a good return for your money in this case. Without rebates factored in, the 15-30 is priced 30% and 40% less (respectively) than the Canon and Nikon f/2.8 lenses shown in the comparison image above. The Tamron competes very strongly against these lenses from an image quality perspective and has versatility-increasing vibration control to its advantage.
The Tamron 15-30mm f/2.8 Di VC USD Lens is available in Canon (reviewed), Nikon and Sony mounts. My standard disclaimer: There are potential issues with third party lenses. Since Tamron reverse engineers (vs. licenses) manufacturer AF algorithms, there is always the possibility that a DSLR body might not support a (likely older) third party lens. Sometimes a lens can be made compatible by the manufacturer, sometimes not. There is also the risk of a problem that results in the lens and body manufacturers directing blame at each other. Tamron USA's 6-year warranty is far superior to Canon's standard 1 year warranty (Nikon USA offers a 5 year warranty).
The tested lens was a retail version sourced online.
While the full frame ultra-wide angle lens lineup is rapidly growing more crowded, the two lenses that are most-similar to the Tamron 15-30mm f/2.8 Di VC USD Lens are those shown in the above comparison picture and briefly compared under the price subheading.
Those shooting from the Canon platform will want to evaluate the Canon EF 16-35mm f/2.8 L II USM Lens. The Canon is smaller, lighter, accepts standard front filters and has longer focal lengths available. The Tamron, in addition to its price and VC advantages, has less distortion at the widest comparable focal length (16mm), goes 1mm wider (15mm) and has less vignetting. Comparing the image sharpness between the two is complicated with each lens having some advantages, but I can say that the Tamron has at least comparable overall sharpness. I would take the Canon for AF accuracy.
The Nikon 14-24mm f/2.8G AF-S Lens has been a legendary lens, but ... the competition is catching up. The Nikon and Tamron are more similar is size, weight and design than the Canon, but these two lenses differ more strongly in their focal length range. The Nikon's 1mm wide end advantage will be noticeable, but the Nikon has stronger barrel distortion at 14mm than the Tamron has at 15mm. The two are similar in this regard at their widest shared focal length, 15mm. The Tamron of course extends 6mm beyond the Nikon's 24mm max. At 24mm, the Nikon has less pincushion distortion. The Tamron of course has the price and VC advantages. Once again, comparing the image sharpness between these two lenses is complicated with each lens having some advantages, but the Tamron competes very strongly. I would take the Nikon for AF accuracy.
Tokina's entry in this lens class, the 16-28mm f/2.8 AT-X Pro FX Lens, is a very attractively-priced lens. The Tokina has a similar size and weight, but the Tamron is my strong preference for many reasons including its image quality and AF system.
There are many other lenses with f/4 max apertures that could be considered alternatives to the Tamron 15-30mm f/2.8 VC Lens if the f/2.8 aperture is not a requirement for you. Use the tools on the site to compare the lenses that interest you, starting with the Canon EF 16-35mm f/4 L IS USM Lens.
For those wanting a full frame ultra-wide angle focal length range (or any focal length under 24mm) with an f/2.8 aperture and image stabilization, there is no other option. Fortunately, that sole option is a good one. The Tamron 15-30mm f/2.8 VC Lens' introduction raised eyebrows and, with the performance this lens is turning in, those eyebrows remain raised.
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