Review: Tamron SP 85mm F/1.8 Di VC USD on full frame

The Tamron SP 85mm F/1.8 Di VC USD is a bright, short telephoto lens available in Nikon and Canon mounts. It is a modern objective with two strong features beyond high build and image quality: the lens has built-in image stabilization and is weatherproof.

 

​Click on the product for specifications, prices and test results.

 

Stable and bright: Tamron SP 85mm F/1.8 Di VC USD

There are many good reasons to purchase an 85mm. It’s a short telephoto lens that really brings something closer than a standard lens can. For portraits, you have the ideal working distance from your model with an 85mm: not too close but certainly not too far away. And thanks to its slightly longer focal length in combination with the high brightness, you get portrait photos with a beautiful perspective and beautiful background blur with an 85mm f/1.8. It is therefore logical that an 85mm f/1.8 is a popular focal length for portrait photographers, and it is also often the first telephoto that many photographers buy. Almost every brand therefore has an 85mm f/1.8 in the range. The Tamron SP 85mm F/1.8 Di VC USD therefore has a lot of competition. 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. This makes it an ideal companion for cameras like the Canon EOS 5D Mark IV or the Nikon D850, which can also stand up to some weather. Thanks to the image stabilization and high brightness, this lens can also keep working well if lighting conditions are not optimal.

Praktijkopname Tamron SP 85mm F/1.8 Di VC USD

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 cameras like the Canon EOS 5D Mark IV or the Nikon D850 is perfect. Those are also hefty cameras with a good weight. 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 anything 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 times. There is no separate mode for panning or tracking 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.

IMAGE STABILIZATION

What truly distinguishes the Tamron SP 85mm F/1.8 from all other lenses in this class is the image stabilization. Those who want a stabilized 85mm really only have a choice on full frame of the new Canon 85mm f/1.4L or an 85mm in combination with a second-generation Sony Alpha camera. 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. Where without stabilization you really have to stick to a time of 1/100th of a second as the lower limit, you can still get sharp pictures at 1/15th of a second with VC. That is impressive, and very handy.

IMAGE QUALITY

Tamron SP 85mm F/1.8 Di VC USD review sample image

The optical performance of the Tamron SP 85mm F/1.8 Di VC USD is excellent. The sharpness at full aperture is quite good, with good center sharpness and some gradient in sharpness to the corners. 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 opening, you have a lot of vignette in both RAW and jpeg. Around two stops, in both RAW and jpeg. Many portrait photographers find this an advantage, since it draws attention to the lighter center of the image. Those who find it a problem just need to stop down to f/2 to get rid of most of it. 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.

 Tamron SP 85mm F/1.8 Di VC USD vignetting

Tamron SP 85mm F/1.8 Di VC USD Imatest resolution

 

Bokeh

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 regularly see with some other designs. Combined with the good center sharpness at full aperture, this is a great lens for portrait photography.

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CONCLUSION: Tamron SP 85mm F/1.8 Di VC USD

PROS

  • Good image quality
  • Great bokeh
  • Bright
  • Image stabilization
  • Weatherproof

CONS

  • Relatively big and heavy
  • For anyone looking for an 85mm, we can highly recommend this Tamron.

The Tamron SP 85mm F / 1.8 Di VC USD is a beautiful short telephoto lens that is great for portrait photography, but it also holds its own for travel or landscape photography. In short, it is a very versatile lens. It is resistant to weather and wind, and you can keep shooting with it even when the sun has long set. For SLR cameras from Canon and Nikon, there are no other short telephoto lenses in this price range with such an attractive mix of features.

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