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Tamron SP 15-30mm f/2.8 Di VC USD Lens Review

Tamron SP 15-30mm F/2.8

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Background

While I was at WPPI this past year I got to meet our illustrious managing editor Darlene Hildebrandt. We walked the expo floor for a bit and I was introduced to a number of people by Darlene. We talked with some of the people over at Tamron and had some of their snacks and coffee that they offered at their booth. One of the perks of writing for Digital Photography School is gaining access to new equipment and software for review. It was there at WPPI that I got to see the Tamron SP 15-30mm F/2.8 for the first time (to be perfectly honest, I didn’t even know it existed!). A few weeks later, a loaner lens arrived at my apartment in Brooklyn, and I spent the next week taking it to a wedding, a travel trip to Seattle, a portrait session with a ballerina, a shoot with a fashion blogger, a corset ball, and a yoga party. Here are some my thoughts in this mini lens review:

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Tiffany the ballerina (@glitteringpointe) looking lovely on the other side of the Tamron SP 15-30mm f/2.8. Taken at 1/1000 of a second at f/2.8, ISO 250

What do all the letters and numbers mean?

This is a Tamron SP 15-30mm f/2.8 Di VC USD. Let’s define some of the named elements of this lens so we know what we are dealing with:

  • Tamron: A Japanese company manufacturing photographic lenses.
  • SP: Superior Performance. This is Tamron’s version of an L Series lens for Canon. These lenses have superior sharpness compared to their other lenses, as well as a larger maximum aperture and other elements that make it a cut above.
  • 15-30mm: This is sometimes referred to as an “ultra-wide” lens. These types of lenses can give you a very wide angle of view, and often have some distortion when at its most extreme focal length (15mm). These lenses are typically used for landscape photography, some event photography, and interior shots.
  • f/2.8: The lens has a maximum aperture of f/2.8, at whatever focal length you use within its range.
  • Di: Digitally Integrated. This lens is made for full frame cameras (but can also work on cropped sensor cameras as well).
  • VC: Vibration Compensation. This is Tamron’s version of IS (Image Stabilization) on a Canon lens and VR (Vibration Reduction) on a Nikon lens. There are motors inside the lens that will auto-steady the lens as you shoot at slower shutter speeds, allowing for you to get sharper images.
  • USD: Ultrasonic Silent Drive. A USD designation means the lens has faster, and noiseless focusing.

Basically this lens is a beast. It’s at the top of the food chain in terms of quality, build, and performance.

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Tarisa the bride descending the spiral staircase at the Santa Barbara Courthouse. Taken at 1/640th at f/2.8, ISO 1000.

How it feels and performs

This lens feels like a tank. It is super solid, heavy, and durable. I had no worries about bringing it out in some weather in NYC (and Seattle) since it has lens coating and moisture resistant construction to keep water away (still – don’t drop it into a pool). The front end has an enormous bulbous lens element that looks impressive when on the camera.

As I used the lens throughout my various shoots there was one funny thing that I had to get used to, and that was that the direction that I twisted the lens to zoom in or out was opposite that of my Canon lenses. There was some “learnability” involved when using the lens.

One thing I like about wide angle lenses, and shooting with a wide open aperture at f/2.8, is the natural vignetting that occurs. I think it is moody, cool looking, and natural.

1/4000 of a sec at f/2.8, ISO 100, at 15mm. Notice the natural vignetting around the edges of this unedited photo.

1/4000th at f/2.8, ISO 100, at 15mm. Notice the natural vignetting around the edges of this unedited photo.

One area that I think the lens performed spectacularly was shooting in low-light environments, when I had to focus in the dark. I really noticed this because every other lens I use always ends up “searching” a bit in the dark before focusing, or it just doesn’t focus at all. So it was extremely satisfying pressing my focus button and having the lens lock in right away. There is nothing more embarrassing than telling people to wait a moment while you try to focus in the dark, then ending up with a blurry picture anyway.

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Focusing in the dark was a breeze at this corset and gown ball.

My last observation was that this is a big, heavy lens. This is not a lens I would take traveling around the world. For this New Yorker, who doesn’t have a car and travels with everything on his back, I could definitely feel the weight of this lens throughout the day as I went up and down the stairs into subways, airports and gigs. For the rest of you non-urban travellers, throw this in your bag, put it in your car and you’ll be fine.

Sharpness

Although this is not something I normally notice on a lens, the Tamron SP 15-30mm is consistently sharp from edge to edge. Lack of sharpenss around the edges is a complaint heard often with regards to ultra wide lens. They perform fairly well in the center of the image, but tend to get a bit fuzzy as you move closer to the edges. You can see in the ballerina picture and the accompanying cropped in photos how consistent the lens is across the image (below). Again, another point in favor of the Tamron SP against the big names debate.

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Pros and Cons of the Tamron SP 15-30mm f/2.8

View of Seattle through the eyes of the Tamron SP 15-30mm f/2.8

View of Seattle through the eyes of the Tamron SP 15-30mm f/2.8

Pros:

  • Great low-light focusing ability.
  • Maintains aperture at f/2.8 all the way through its focal length range (I believe this is the only ultra-wide angle lens to do this with image stabilization).
  • It’s weather resistant.
  • It has a solid, durable body.
  • Price: This lens is about $400 cheaper than its Canon rival, the 16-35mm L f/2.8, almost $500 less than the Nikon version.

Cons:

  • It’s heavy.
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Tiffany the ballerina hanging out in an empty fountain. Taken at 1/400th at f/4.5, ISO 100, 15mm.

Overall Thoughts

This is really a great lens and Tamron is making a point to set itself apart from the competition by it being the least expensive lens with the widest aperture, fastest focus, while also incorporating image stabilization. I would definitely use this for interior photography all the time, and for great urban or natural landscapes. I would not bring this along for long travel trips abroad because of its size and weight.

On Amazon.com you can find the Canon mount here or the Nikon mount here.

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Summary
Review Date
Reviewed Item
Tamron SP 15-30mm f/2.8 Di VC USD Lens
Author Rating
4.5

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Phillip Van Nostrand
Phillip Van Nostrand

built his photography business in Santa Barbara, CA and New York City, where he has shot over 140 weddings, countless head shots, and events for the past 9 years. Currently living in NY, he manages to travel abroad at least once a year and is up to 30 countries traveled. Published in the New York Times, Huffington Post, New York Times Magazine, featured in Santa Barbara Dining and Destinations Magazine, Cretus Mag, and San Diego Style Weddings magazine. You can connect with him on his blog and on instagram.

Summary
Review Date
Reviewed Item
Tamron SP 15-30mm f/2.8 Di VC USD Lens
Author Rating
4.5