With the Tamron 35mm and 45mm f/1.8 Di VC USD Lens recently added to their lineup, Tamron shocked few by expanding their prime lens offerings with the Tamron 85mm f/1.8 Di VC USD Lens introduction.
Most will regard that lens introduction very positively, but an f/1.8 max aperture in an 85mm prime is not likely to raise too many eyebrows. While most major lens manufacturers have wider max aperture 85mm prime lenses in their line-ups (typically f/1.2 or f/1.4), Tamron opted to give us something different in their first 85mm prime lens. The Tamron 35 and 45mm prime lenses were record setting for having the widest aperture available in an image stabilized lens (Tamron calls it Vibration Control or VC) and, as of review time, the 85 VC now shares this honor with its siblings. The eye-catching VC feature permits this lens to be handheld in far lower light levels than the f/1.2 and f/1.4 options (when the subject is still).
Tamron 85 VC looks just like its siblings and delivers very similar performance characteristics. The sleek-looking, modern lens design includes a metal barrel and a good-value price. Read on to find out if the Tamron 85 f/1.8 meets the rest of your needs.
Portraits. That is the first use that comes to my mind for an 85mm lens. The angle of view provided by this focal length allows a working distance that provides a very nice perspective for capturing what I commonly refer to as the world's most important subjects: people. Move in as close as a moderately-tightly cropped head shot with a full frame DSLR and your subject's noses will not grow to an abnormal size.
As illustrated above, a really big nose may not be helped, but ... at least it will remain in good perspective and not accentuated. Also note that using f/1.8 at close distances may result in out of focus noses and ears (even on human subjects). Whether that is acceptable or not is of course up to you.
The classic portrait focal length range is from 85mm through 135mm (after FOVCF is factored in). An 85mm lens hits the bottom classic range figure on a full frame DSLR and, at a 136mm angle of view equivalent on an APS-C 1.6x body, it essentially remains in the ideal portrait range on this format also. An APS-C format DSLR of course requires a longer working distance to get the same framing as a full frame DSLR (and therefore will have more depth of field and a less-strongly blurred background at the same aperture).
The "portrait photography" designation is a broad one that covers a wide variety of potential still and video subject framing (from full body to head shots) and a wide variety of potential venues (from indoors to outdoors). Portrait subjects can range from children to seniors and individuals to groups. Think engagements, weddings, parties, events, families, senior adults, fashion, documentary, lifestyle ... all are a great use for the 85mm focal length. There is often adequate space in even a small studio for portraiture with an 85mm-provided angle of view.
Portrait photography is one of the most-revenue-producing genres, helping to justify the purchase of such a lens. If I am shooting portraits, I very frequently have an 85mm prime lens (or a zoom lens with the 85mm focal length covered) in my hand. I have done entire senior sessions with a wide aperture 85mm lens.
Regardless of the camera format being used, the 85mm focal length (like most others), can be used for landscape photography. This angle of view is useful for sports such as basketball. This focal length also works very well for architecture, commercial, general studio photography applications and a wide range of other subjects. Everyone's kit should have this focal length covered.
As hinted to in the introduction, this is not the widest aperture 85mm lens made. Though other lenses are 2/3 to a full stop faster than this one, an f/1.8 max aperture is still quite wide for an 85mm lens.
This aperture allows action to be stopped under low light levels and the camera to be handheld in even lower light levels. F/1.8 provides a bright viewfinder and provides a significant amount of light to the AF system, activating the high-precision mode in some cameras. I especially like the wide aperture's shallow depth of field capability. Combined with the short telephoto 85mm focal length, f/1.8 can create a strongly-blurred background as shown below.
Move in close and select f/1.8 to completely melt away a distant background, making the subject unmistakably eye-catching.
A wide aperture is great to have and so is image stabilization, or, vibration compensation as Tamron refers to it. Commonly for a prime lens, it has a been matter of choice between one of these two features, but having both is ... perfect.
Adding to the benefits of the wide aperture (just discussed), VC permits handholding of this lens in extremely low light situations if the subjects are still. VC also permits motion blurring of subjects while retaining sharp surroundings, such as motion-blurred water moving through a scene. Also valuable is that VC allows handholding in medium and low light levels when more depth of field is needed, allowing narrower aperture use without a tripod. Landscape and architectural photography are two such uses.
VC is useful for stabilizing the viewfinder, aiding in optimal composition, and it is also very useful for video recording.
The Tamron 85's VC implementation is very quiet with a light clicking being audible on startup and shutdown and with only a very faint hum heard while activated. In this lens, VC activation does not cause the viewfinder image to jump on startup, only sometimes shows a re-centering movement at shutdown (typically after movement has been made while VC was active) and it makes a very noticeable difference in the stability of the image in the viewfinder. If the camera is held very still, a small amount of drifting is seen, causing the framing to move around very slightly. VC should be turned off for tripod use.
Tamron lists 3.5 stops of assistance as the rating for this VC implementation, though your experience will vary depending on your circumstances, your capabilities and other considerations. With an ideal shooting scenario, I am getting a decent percentage of sharp images at 1/10 second using a Canon EOS 5Ds R, for roughly an as-rated 3.5 stops of assistance. The 1/10 setting was practically a wall for me with very few sharp images made with longer handheld exposures.
Overall, this is a nicely implemented stabilization system. The handholdability of this lens far surpasses the non-stabilized 85mm prime lenses including those with substantially wider apertures. When you need to leave the tripod behind, VC has your back.
We all want our lenses to be equally razor sharp at all aperture settings, but ... that is not usually the case. For the Tamron 85 VC, center of the frame sharpness is reasonable at f/1.8, shows very noticeable contrast improvement just 1/3 stop beyond that (f/2) and attains the razor sharp definition at f/2.8. A slight improvement is seen at f/4 and improvements are hard to recognize beyond this, nor are they needed. Peripheral image circle sharpness is remarkable at f/1.8.
There is, however, a topic that needs to be discussed. Let's fist look at a set of center of the frame examples. These 100% resolution crops were captured in RAW format using a Canon EOS 5Ds R. RAW file conversion was done in Canon's DPP using the Standard Picture Style with sharpness set to "1" (very low). An f/1.8 example with a small amount of Photoshop high pass sharpening has also been provided.
Notice that the subject matter toward the front does not fall into the DOF (Depth of Field) as a narrower aperture is used? See how the yellow flower toward the back of this little scene does get sharp? This lens has focus shift. As a narrower aperture is used, due to spherical aberration, the center of the plane of sharp focus shifts rearward, barely keeping the initial point of focus within DOF. Here is another example, again showing 100% crops.
The camera was tripod-mounted. Focus was manually selected and unchanged during the test. At f/1.8, the plane of sharp focus lies right on the "0" line (or even perhaps slightly in front of it). At f/8, the DOF has greatly increased, though the "0" line remains similar in sharpness as in the f/1.8 image. All of the DOF is behind that line.
Because cameras focus with a wide open aperture, they do not account for focus shift during AF (conventional phase detection or sensor-based contrast-detection) or MF (unless using DOF preview). When using this lens stopped down, you may find it necessary to focus somewhat in front of the subject. Of course, if shooting at f/1.8, there is no issue.
Following is a set of extreme top-right corner samples.
Corner sharpness is very good even at f/1.8, though DOF remains very shallow. Look at the detail being resolved on the small yellow flower at the top of the frame toward the left side. Stopping down results in vignetting clearing and the extreme corners showing great sharpness. Not every scenario this lens will be used for requires sharp extreme corners, but ... having sharp corners when desired is a very positive feature for this lens. And, portrait lenses need to be sharp across a significant portion of the image circle. This lens has this feature covered.
The amount of vignetting deep in the corners measures about 2.5 stops. While noticeable, this amount is not extreme and the shading pattern is rather even. A downside is that enough of the frame is covered to make f/1.8 images appear to need some +EV dialed in, negating some of the benefit of the widest aperture. By f/2.8, only a stop of peripheral shading remains and by f/4, only .5 stops (not usually noticed) remains. Stopping down further results in only small improvements with a very minor .3 stops being the best case.
I usually pay special attention to vignetting in a portrait lens. Because a subject's face is usually placed well off-center, the shading will undesirably darken faces. Look for the track sample photo below to see an uncorrected f/1.8 example. Two options available are correction during post processing or stopping down the aperture for the capture.
As seen in the 100% resolution extreme top-right 5Ds R corner crop shown below, this lens controls lateral (transverse) CA (Chromatic Aberration) very well.
Common in wide max aperture lenses (at least in those without true apochromatic correction) are axial (longitudinal, bokeh) CA and spherical aberration along with spherochromatism, or a change in the amount of spherical aberration with respect to color (looks quite similar to axial chromatic aberration, but is hazier). In the real world, lens defects do not exist in isolation with spherical aberration and spherochromatism generally found, at least to some degree, along with axial CA. These combine to create a less sharp, hazy-appearing image quality at the widest apertures.
Let's look at what we have with the Tamron 85 VC. As we have already seen, images are slightly soft at f/1.8 and sharpen quickly as this lens is stopped down. Given a challenging subject at f/1.8 with before and after the plane of sharp focus visible, some color fringing indeed becomes apparent.
Fringing colors show prominently in the out of focus areas of the image with specular highlights in the foreground showing purple and in the background, green shows.
Flare is destructive to image quality and this lens resists flare nicely, with moderately strong artifacts not appearing until very narrow aperture settings.
Coma is generally recognized by sharp detail contrast towards the center of an image and long, soft contrast transition toward the image periphery. Coma is most visible in wide aperture corners and significantly resolves when the lens is stopped down. The pin-point stars in the night sky are the subject that brings this aberration out most easily for me.
This 100% crop was taken from the near-extreme top left of a 5Ds R frame. "Near" because there were fewer stars in the corner and their difference in appearance was negligible.
The Tamron 85 VC has negligible linear distortion. The sample below shows the entire width of the bottom of a frame. Notice how the window borders remain a constant distance from the frame edge – there is no warping or bending.
This lens' 9-blade aperture produces normal appearing bokeh, referring to the quality of the background blur. Here is an example showing results at f/5.6 featuring out-of-focus specular highlights.
When star effects are present (at narrow apertures) in the frame, the 85 VC's 9 blade diaphragm produces strong 18-point star effects as seen below.
While overall, the Tamron 85mm f/1.8 Di VC USD Lens produces good image quality at f/1.8, stopping down slightly results in excellent image quality. Unfortunately, that capability is somewhat marred by focus shift, if not accounted for.
The Tamron 85mm f/1.8 Di VC USD Lens features a very quiet ring-type USD (Ultrasonic Drive) autofocus motor. With an ear next to the lens, only some light clicks are heard during AF. This lens' autofocus speed is not the fastest available, but focusing, especially with relatively short distance changes, occurs with decent speed. With an inner focusing and floating system design, this lens does not extend during focusing and permits FTM (Full Time Manual) focusing without a switch change.
If using auto focus, AF accuracy becomes a very important factor for quality images. In One Shot AF mode, test results show very good accuracy and real life performance has backed this up. The center AF point has tested very well even in low light, though peripheral points show a drop off in consistency in low light. Here are 100% crops from 10 consecutive 5Ds R-captured images:
The exposures for this test were 1/5 sec. at f/1.8 and ISO 100. I'm not looking for sharpness in this test, but I want all to appear similar, showing consistency. Here, we have that. Overall, most of my test results were similarly good, including those with a person's eye as the focus target.
AI Servo testing, however, proved not so good regardless of the AF point selected. I photographed most of a track meet using this lens, in light levels ranging from very bright (1/8000 shutter speeds) down to moderate levels under cloudy skies. While not all results were bad, the AF hit rate was well below what I expected.
The above was captured at f/1.8. A mild amount of contrast was added to this image (cloudy conditions often warrant this).
Results were similarly mixed when shooting horse jumping under very favorable lighting conditions.
Highlights were reduced by 1 and shadows were boosted by 2 in this image to help balance the reflective whites with the black-hole-like hair of the black horse.
Working great is the Tamron 85 VC's manual focus system. With 112° of rotation, the Tamron 85 VC has a large, smooth, nicely damped, manual focus ring that allows for good manual focusing precision at all distances.
Videographers especially should note that subjects change size very noticeably during big focus pulls. As with most modern lenses, this lens' filter threads do not rotate.
Not setting any overall records is this lens' 31.5" (800mm) MFD (Minimum Focusing Distance) and resulting 0.14x MM (Maximum Magnification). However, as shown in the chart below, these figures are class-leading.
|Canon EF 85mm f/1.2 L II USM Lens||37.4"||(950mm)||0.11x|
|Canon EF 85mm f/1.8 USM Lens||33.5"||(850mm)||0.13x|
|Nikon 85mm f/1.4G AF-S Lens||33.5"||(850mm)||0.12x|
|Nikon 85mm f/1.8G AF-S Lens||31.8"||(807mm)||0.12x|
|Samyang 85mm f/1.4 Lens||39.4"||(1000mm)|
|Sigma 85mm f/1.4 EX DG HSM Lens||33.5"||(850mm)||0.12x|
|Tamron 85mm f/1.8 Di VC USD Lens||31.5"||(800mm)||0.14x|
|Zeiss Otus 85mm f/1.4 Lens||31.5"||(800mm)||0.13x|
|Zeiss 85mm f/1.4 Milvus Lens||31.5"||(800mm)||0.12x|
|Zeiss 85mm f/1.4 Classic Lens||39.4"||(1000mm)||0.10x|
Following is an example of this lens' maximum close-up capability, featuring a relatively small-for-the-breed, very camera shy golden retriever as the subject.
Extension tubes can effectively reduce the minimum focus distance of this lens, at the expense of long distance focusing. This lens is not compatible with extenders.
Place the Tamron 85mm f/1.8 Di VC USD Lens beside its 45mm sibling and, unless the lens hoods are attached (the 45's hood is petaled), you are going to have to look very carefully to select the right lens. And, the 35 is not far off.
Tamron's latest lens design is a very desirable one featuring an attractive, clean and modern appearance. I'm happy to see this sharp-looking design used again for the 85 VC. Regarding this design, Tamron marketing department states "A brand ring that's tinted "Luminous Gold" adorns the lens just above the lens mount" and "... there is an SP emblem in the same luxurious color." While that sounds a bit over the top to me, this lens' aluminum alloy barrel has a semi-gloss black finish that looks great next to the matte rubber focus ring and matte plastic lens hood.
Yes, in an age of engineering plastic exterior lens barrel construction, all three of Tamron's f/1.8 VC primes utilize an aluminum alloy body construction. Here are the standard product image views of this lens.
This is a fixed-size lens with a smooth overall design, including from a diameter perspective, that feels great in hand.
The two switches (AF/MF and VC On/Off) reside on a slightly-raised panel on the left side of the lens. Both the switches and the panel are contoured to the lens barrel. This switch placement position is very convenient to reach with the left thumb during use. The switches are very adequately sized with a sufficient amount of throw and a positive click to provide strong positional tactile feedback. There is no question about which position the switches are in.
This lens has moisture resistance incorporated into its design, including a lens mount gasket and seals in other locations. Tamron does not state that a front filter is required for complete sealing, but based on the lens design, it appears that a filter may be warranted for improved weather sealing. The front lens element is fluorine coated to repel water, fingerprints, and smudges for easier cleaning of the lens surface.
Overall, this is a light-mid-weight lens with a lower-mid-range size. When compared to the other 85mm f/1.8 lens options, the Tamron 85 VC is relatively large and heavy. As we saw with Tamron's other f/1.8 VC primes, compactness was determined to not be optimal for overall quality. This lens compares more similarly to the 85mm f/1.2 and f/1.4 lenses.
Here is a size and weight comparison table:
|Model||Weight||Dimensions w/o Hood||Filter||Year|
|Canon EF 85mm f/1.2 L II USM Lens||36.2 oz||(1025g)||3.6 x 3.3"||(91.5 x 84.0mm)||72mm||2006|
|Canon EF 85mm f/1.8 USM Lens||15.0 oz||(425g)||3.0 x 2.8"||(75.0 x 72.0mm)||58mm||1992|
|Nikon 85mm f/1.4G AF-S Lens||23.3 oz||(660g)||3.4 x 3.3"||(86.2 x 84.0mm)||77mm||2010|
|Nikon 85mm f/1.8G AF-S Lens||12.4 oz||(350g)||3.1 x 2.8"||(80.0 x 70.0mm)||67mm||2012|
|Samyang 85mm f/1.4 Lens||18.2 oz||(516g)||3.1 x 3.1"||(78.0 x 78.0mm)||72mm||2011|
|Sigma 85mm f/1.4 EX DG HSM Lens||25.6 oz||(725g)||3.4 x 3.4"||(86.4 x 87.6mm)||77mm||2010|
|Tamron 85mm f/1.8 Di VC USD Lens||24.7 oz||(700g)||3.3 x 3.6"||(84.8 x 91.3 mm)||67mm||2015|
|Zeiss Otus 85mm f/1.4 Lens||42.4 oz||(1200g)||4.0 x 4.9"||(101.0 x 124.0mm)||86mm||2014|
|Zeiss 85mm f/1.4 Milvus Lens||45.2 oz||(1280g)||3.5 x 4.4"||(90.0 x 113.0mm)||77mm||2015|
|Zeiss 85mm f/1.4 Classic Lens||20.1 oz||(570g)||3.0 x 3.4"||(77.0 x 86.0mm)||72mm||2008|
For many more comparisons, review the complete Tamron 85mm f/1.8 Di VC USD Lens Specifications using the site's Lens Spec tool.
Here is a visual comparison showing the 85 f/1.8 VC alongside three popular 85mm models:
Positioned above from left to right are the following lenses:
The same lenses are shown below with their lens hoods in place.
Interesting is that the f/1.8 lens, with VC, is sized so similarly to the f/1.2 and f/1.4 models without stabilization, an apparent tradeoff. Use the site's product image comparison tool to visually compare the Tamron 85mm f/1.8 Di VC USD Lens to the other lenses shown in the chart (and many more). The just-provided link is preloaded with another interesting comparison (showing the f/1.8 lenses).
Those assembling a kit of Tamron's latest VC prime lenses will be happy to learn that, like its wider angle siblings, the 85 VC continues to use 67mm filters, making filter sharing across lens models easy. The 67mm format is relatively small, inexpensive and common.
The rounded Tamron HF016 lens hood is included in the box. This a moderately-rigid, all-plastic lens hood with a ribbed interior that offers a nice amount of protection from both light and impact to the front element. Use it all the time.
The Tamron front cap is very nice, featuring the center-and-side-pinch design that is now ubiquitous. Tamron's new rear cap caught my attention initially due to the fact that it does not match up equally with the diameter of the wider Canon body cap.
However, the flaring Tamron cap design better meshes with the rear weather sealing of this lens, providing better protection to the gasket and better moisture protection to the lens when the cap is attached. This fit can be seen in the product images throughout this review. The rear cap uses a double-wall design.
No lens case is included in the box, but this is a common lens form factor and numerous case options are available. Lowepro's Lens Case line is very nice and affordable.
Big news is that this lens is compatible with the optional Tamron TAP-in Console, a computer-attached dock used for fine-tuning focusing performance and updating the lens firmware. The TAP-in Console was not available at review time, but this will be a great accessory to have.
The Tamron 85 VC wears a price tag that is considerably higher than the Canon and Nikon 85mm f/1.8 lenses, far less than the Canon f/1.2 and Nikon and Zeiss f/1.4 85mm lenses, modestly less than the Sigma 85 f/1.4 and far more than the Samyang 85mm f/1.4 (a very cheap lens). This alignment combined with its overall features, including VC, makes the 85 VC a very good value for the price.
The Tamron 85mm f/1.8 Di VC USD Lens is available in Canon EF (reviewed), Nikon F and Sony A (no VC). 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. Usually a lens can be made compatible by the manufacturer via a firmware update, but this cannot be guaranteed. There is also the risk of a problem that results in the lens and body manufacturers directing blame at each other. That Tamron USA has your back for 6 years (the warranty period) is impressive.
The evaluation lens used in this review was retail-acquired.
Comparing Tamron's latest VC primes to the alternative lenses brings to light the specialness of this lens. While the 85 VC may not have the widest 85mm aperture available, no other lens in its class has optical stabilization, meaning that there is no directly comparable alternative. Not so special and complicating comparisons is the focus shift issue and its effect on image quality.
I've mentioned price already, so I'll pick another easy recommendation next. If you are shooting fast-moving action, select your camera-brand lens option with the f/1.4 or f/1.2 option being preferable.
If you wish to select your lens based on image quality, here are some comparisons for you:
Tamron 85 f/1.8 VC compared to the Canon 85mm f/1.2L II (at f/2 on 5Ds R)
Tamron 85 f/1.8 VC compared to the Canon 85mm f/1.8
Tamron 85 f/1.8 VC compared to the Sigma 85mm f/1.4 EX DG (at f/2)
Tamron 85 f/1.8 VC compared to the Zeiss Milvus 85mm f/1.4 (at f/2)
The Nikon results are also available, but not from the equivalent camera.
While the Tamron has strong competition in the center of the frame in the above competitions, it rules the corners.
An 85mm prime lens is a great option to have in a kit, especially a kit that gets used for portraits. Tamron's entrant in this lens class adds the great versatility of vibration compensation and provides overall great functionality, including image quality that competes strongly with all other available lenses in this class. Keeping this lens from being the clear choice is a focus shift issue and mediocre AI Servo AF performance. If each of those issues is accounted for and/or not needed, this lens remains a great option, especially for the price.
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