The Tamron SP 85mm F/1.8 Di VC USD is a bright, short telephoto lens available in Nikon and Canon mounts. On full frame, it is primarily a wonderful portrait lens, but on APS-C and DX cameras, it is a great telephoto lens with a focal length that corresponds with 135mm on 35mm. It is a modern lens with two strong features: it is stabilized and weatherproof.
Stable and bright: Tamron SP 85mm F/1.8 Di VC USD
An 85mm on full frame is an ideal portrait lens. With an 85mm, you have the ideal working distance from your model: not too close but certainly not too far away. On APS-C and DX cameras, the 85mm works like a 135mm on 35mm because of the smaller sensor. That makes it more of a real telephoto lens with which you get your subject closer as it were, making the perspective flatter than with a standard lens. Before zooms became popular, the 135mm for 35mm cameras was perhaps the most-sold focal length of all telephoto lenses. That was because it is so versatile. It’s long enough to get that real telephoto effect, but just short enough to serve as a portrait lens. Today, many people choose a zoom for the ease of use. But zooms cannot match the quality and brightness of the Tamron SP 85mm f/1.8 Di VC USD. Instead of this Tamron, you could also choose an 85mm from Nikon or Canon. Some of the 85mms currently on the market, however, have been around for many years, and none of them have the unique features of the Tamron SP 85mm F/1.8. The lens namely has Vibration Compensation, Tamron’s image stabilization, and is outstandingly protected against the elements. That makes it an ideal lens for cameras like the Canon EOS 7D Mark II or the Nikon D7500 and D500, which can also take a bit of weather. Thanks to the image stabilization and high brightness, this lens can also keep working well if lighting conditions are not optimal.
BUILD AND autofocus
The Tamron SP 85mm F/1.8 Di VC USD is a beautifully finished lens. The new design of the current Tamron lens series is beautiful. Matte black with a silver-colored ring formed around the lens on the mount side. It looks very contemporary and is certainly distinctive. It is quite a big lens and maybe a bit heavy, weighing 700 grams, with a diameter of almost 85mm and a length of more than 91mm. The balance with the larger APS-C and DX cameras such as the Canon EOS 7D Mark II or the Nikon D500 is perfect, though. Those are also hefty cameras with a good weight. But on a much lighter Canon EOS 1300D or Nikon D3300, you feel the Tamron’s weight a bit more. The Tamron feels very solid, and the weight and dimensions also indicate that Tamron has done its best to make this 85mm something special. The lens is made of an aluminum alloy and has multiple gaskets to prevent moisture and dirt from entering. The front lens has a fluorine coating to prevent dirt from sticking to the glass. This will keep it clean for a longer period of time, and it will also be easier to clean if a droplet or a greasy finger gets on the glass. There are two slider switches on the lens. One is for switching between autofocus and manual focus. The other is to enable or disable the image stabilization, VC. Thanks to this image stabilization, you get sharper shots at a bit longer shutter speeds. There is no separate mode for following subjects, and you do well then to turn the VC off. The autofocus is virtually noiseless, and for manual focus the Tamron 85mm turns smoothly, but with exactly enough resistance so that you can feel what you’re doing as a photographer. The lens can be used with Tamron’s Tap-In Console for updating the firmware and calibrating the autofocus.
What truly distinguishes the Tamron SP 85mm F/1.8 from all other lenses in this class is the image stabilization. Anyone who wants a stabilized 85mm on APS-C or DX really only has a choice between the new and much more expensive Canon 85mm f/1.4 L or an 85mm in combination with a Sony A6500. Thanks to this image stabilization, you can still take pictures with relatively long shutter speeds in low light. Of course, it is important that you use the right technique when using the Vibration Compensation. You still need to hold the camera as still as possible, and give the VC some time to stabilize the image. Whereas without stabilization on APS-C or DX, you really need to stick to a time of 1/125th of a second or even shorter as your lower limit, you can get sharp pictures at 1/15th of a second with VC. That is impressive, and very handy.
The optical performance of the Tamron SP 85mm F/1.8 Di VC USD is excellent. They already are on full frame, and on DX it’s even better. The sharpness at full opening is quite reasonable. The center sharpness is high, and the gradient of the sharpness to the corners is small because crop sensors do not use the outer corners of the image circle. Stopping down a bit makes the picture even better, and at f/2.8 it is really very good, with a high, even sharpness from corner to corner. At f/4, it peaks, and from f/11 it slowly drops off due to diffraction. At full aperture, you have some vignetting in both RAW and jpeg, but the nearly two stops we found on full frame at full aperture are certainly not present on crop sensors. Stopping down to f/2 reduces vignetting quite a bit, and at f/2.8, the vignetting is so little that it is no longer important. Chromatic aberrations are well-suppressed, although with shiny subjects you can sometimes spot a purple edge in the blurred areas at full aperture. Distortion is so low as to be absent from a practical point of view. The shortest setting distance of 80 cm is in line with what the competition offers. It is not particularly unique, and this is not a lens for macro photos.
The Tamron SP 85mm F/1.8 Di VC USD has a 9-bladed aperture, and that produces a great bokeh. The background melts beautifully away at full opening. If there are light sources in the background, however, they are not displayed as balls, but rather as cat eyes. These light balls sometimes have a bit of a sharp edge, but the center is beautifully soft, without the onion rings you often see with some other lenses. In combination with the good center sharpness at full aperture, this is a beautiful lens for portrait photography and for getting a beautiful bokeh.
ConclusiON: Tamron SP 85mm F/1.8 Di VC USD @ APS-C
- Good image quality
- Great bokeh
- Image stabilization
- Big and heavy on smaller bodies
Looking for an 85mm for an APS-C/DX camera? We can highly recommend this Tamron.
The Tamron SP 85mm F/1.8 Di VC USD is a beautiful lens that can serve very well on APS-C and DX cameras as an all-around telephoto lens. On cameras with a crop sensor, it corresponds with the previously popular 135mm telephoto lenses on 35mm. It is a versatile lens that holds its own for travel reports or landscape photography, but due to its high brightness, it can also be used for portraits. It is resistant to weather and wind, and you can keep shooting with it even when the sun has long set. For APS-C and DX SLR cameras from Canon and Nikon, there are no other short telephoto lenses in this price range with such an attractive mix of features.