Thoughts on the Tamron 85/1.8 VC - or - the first Tamron I actually love.

Started Apr 16, 2016 | Discussions thread
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anotherMike Veteran Member • Posts: 9,123
Thoughts on the Tamron 85/1.8 VC - or - the first Tamron I actually love.
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...and sometimes you get surprised. The pigs fly, chilled ice water is served in hell, etc...

One thing I think is that once in a while, it's good that one tests their own preconceived ideas. Check to see if biases still hold up. The reality is that every reviewer has biases. I'll be honest and say that for years, I simply didn't like Tamron lenses, other than they've always made decent 90mm macros. But - I thought highly of their 35/1.8 VC; it was the first Tamron I liked. I didn't get it because I have 5 options in-house at the moment that can do 35mm, and at least one of those is better than the Tamron 35. But the respect was there. So that meant there was curiosity about the Tamron 85/1.8 VC when it was announced. Not because it had VC (I could care less), but because I was looking for a truly great autofocus 85mm lens to use along with my 85/1.4 Zeiss Milvus manual focus lens. I'm a tool-for-task guy, and the Zeiss is an incredible lens for landscape; one of the very best options for such tasks, but there are still things I require AF for, so I had a passing interest. I currently own the Nikon 85/1.8G, I've worked with the 85/1.4G enough to know it, and I used to own the 85/1.4 AFD. After shooting with the Milvus 85 for a bit, I realized I wanted a better lens than the 85/1.8G that could AF.

But of course my (anti) Tamron bias kicked in. And while I thought about it, I didn't really take action on trying to find one. So then one of the posters in the forums here whom I listen to - Andre Yew - made some very positive comments on the lens. Andre and I don't agree on everything, but I have respect for him because I absolutely, positively KNOW he's going to have used a lens he discusses, and used it with correct discipline, before he talks about it. He's the complete opposite of the guys who chime in about lenses they've never shot with, basing their comments either on seeing pictures on some popular pic hosting site, or parroting what they've heard elsewhere - you know the types - the Sigma art bashers who have never used them, the "modern lenses render flat" guys, and the ones who just quote whatever they saw in a review site. So when he started talking about it, I paid attention.

Every reviewer also has subject matter (use cases, scenarios) they shoot that may occur at certain subject distances and certain apertures. So a reader has to determine whether the reviewer they are reading has biases, preferences, and use cases that somewhat match theirs - or not. I'm primarily a studio shooter (implying closer to close/moderate distances at the F/7.1 - F/11 range) and a landscape shooter (moderate through infinity subject distances, in the F/6.3 through F/10 range). So I don't shoot portraits at wide apertures, I don't shoot weddings, I don't shoot astro, and I am not really that "into" bokeh either. This is all important because it means if you care about the things I don't shoot, my review might be utterly useless.

I'm a subjective reviewer. When it comes to objective tests, I have a strong and distinct preference for optical bench MTF, if anyone has done it, but that's about it. One thing over the years is that I am a strong believer that in order to truly figure out a lens, one *must* run multiple scenarios on it, preferably on different days, to make sure there are enough test runs to root out test errors. So at this point, with the Tamron 85, I've got 3 separate occasions and about a dozen different scenarios in, and I did a few scenarios to check against what some other test sites have reported. I compared the lens to my 85/1.8G Nikon as well as my 85/1.4 Zeiss Milvus, on a D800E, using a Gitzo 5 series and a RRS BH-55 ballhead, using remote release, mirror lock, and shutter delay. Live view focus was used.

So let's get the unpopular opinion out of the way first: in every test scenario I ran, the Nikon 85/1.8G simply got beat and that was that. There was *nothing* the 85/1.8G did better than the other lenses, in any scenario, anywhere in the frame. That is the game changer that the Tamron brings to the table. The Tamron is (clearly) sharper until about F/7.1, and from then on it's still slightly better, it flares less, and it has better bokeh. It focuses faster, and while there is a bit of focus shift at F/2 to F/2.8 one might have to watch out for (I'd be more comfortable using Live View at F/2 than I would traditional AF - but by F/2.8 I'm good with AF-S). So there really isn't any point to discuss the 85/1.8G any longer in this review. I personally think the 85/1.8G has been rendered irrelevant as an option now that the Tamron 85 exists.

Now the bad news: Forget the Tamron has VC. Seriously. If you get this lens, just go ahead and superglue, tape, whatever, and leave that VC switch on "off" permanently. Andre Yew is correct; VC takes a fair bit of the *stellar* image quality off the table when it's used. I suppose if you really truly need it, use it, but I would NOT buy this lens solely because is has VC. This is important, so I’ll repeat: You don’t buy this for the VC.

What the Tamron 85 does really well, in a nutshell, is provide great global contrast, very good micro contrast (which I define as contrast amongst small, fine structures), good color rendering, and (subjectively) a somewhat bold but not overpowering rendering. It's quite sharp, and is actually usable (if you have enough DOF) wide open if you get it focused right. You gain, of course, a lot of contrast and sharpness once you stop it down, and in those first apertures (F/2, F/2.8, F/4) it truly embarrasses the Nikon 85/1.8G either in the test chart range or the landscape distances, and holds up quite close to the Milvus sharpness. Overall it has a truly wonderful, balanced, yet crisp rendering and does many things very, very well. Somebody *really* knew what they were doing with this one.

It has different field curvature than the Milvus 85; the Tamron tends to have a bit of what I perceive as near-corner favoring curvature, and the Milvus might have a little of the opposite, so in scenes with items closer to you than the focus point, you might get fooled into thinking the Tamron is the "winner", and of course vice versa. I do I think the Zeiss Milvus still is a bit better on the edges and corners, and is still a slightly better lens overall. The microcontrast is slightly better, as are highlights, but it's not by large magnitude. The thing with the Tamron 85 1.8 is that it is so bloody close to the Milvus in image quality for less than half the price, and it's got AF to boot. I think *this* lens will be to Tamron what the Sigma 35/1.4 Art was to Sigma. It is, IMO, by far, Tamrons best lens, and a ridiculously easy recommendation at 85mm. You don’t buy this lens for VC; you buy this lens because it is almost 90% of a Milvus for less than half the cost, and does everything really well. It is, IMO, amongst the best autofocus 85mm lenses currently made. I am, simply, blown away by it. And I didn’t expect that.

Random notes:

Bokeh: The Tamron AFAIK does not use any aspherics, and thus seems free from onion rings.

CA: I shot 3 extra scenarios trying to induce the CA other sites showed. I could never get any even moderate amount of CA to show, at F/2. This lens is clean.

Build quality: Slightly better than 1.8G Nikons, nowhere as good as Sigma art.

-m

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