Jul 14, 2016

Review: Tamron SP 15-30MM F/2.8 Di VC USD

Nikon D700, 15mm, f/11, ISO 400, 1/100 sec
I had the pleasure of spending a total of four weeks, over the last year, traveling with Tamron's new SP 15-30mm f/2.8 Di VC USD lens. The lens, which was officially announced in February of 2015, was immediately received with excitement because, like the SP 24-70mm f/2.8 that came out before it, the SP 15-30mm was the first lens in its class to incorporate image stabilization into a fast f/2.8 aperture. The lens is

Specifications:

  • Mount Type: Nikon F-Bayonet
  • Maximum Aperture: f/2.8
  • Minimum Aperture: f/22
  • Format: FX (Full Frame)
  • Max Angle of View: 110°
  • Min Angle of View: 49°
  • Lens Elements: 18
  • Lens Groups: 13
  • Diaphragm Blades: 9
  • Min Focus Distance: 11in. (0.28m)
  • Filter Size: N/A
  • Approx. Dimensions DxL: 3.9in x 5.6in
  • Approx. Weight: 38.8 oz. (1,100 g)
  • Price: $1,199.00

Our Thoughts: Construction

Prior to my first two-week trip with the SP 15-30mm I had never had the opportunity to use any of Tamron's line of lenses and I was not sure what to expect. I quickly found the images I had seen online, which made the lens look cheap, were a far cry from reality. I found the lens to be very well made, even rivaling the build quality of Nikon's 14-24mm f/2.8. Both the zoom and focus rings seemed to operate more smoothly than the 14-24mm lenses I have used over the years.


Some might complain about the use of plastic on a lens like this but I never felt that the material choice left the lens at a disadvantage. Although the lens is not completely weather sealed, Tamron has done a good job of making the lens weather resistant. While I never attempted to capture images in a torrential rainstorm, I was traveling in inclement weather and dusty conditions. At no point during either of my trips did I find dust or condensation on any of the internal components.

Due to the lens' large front element, it does not incorporate a filter thread. The lack of this feature was frustrating at times, as I found myself wishing I had a circular polarizer or ND filters on a few occasions. I am optomistic, however, that once the lens becomes more popular there will be companies making attachments for these.

Our Thoughts: Performance

Focal Length:
Nikon D700, 15mm, f/4.5, ISO 400, 1/2500 sec
Having, at one time, owned and loved Nikon's 17-35mm f/2.8D IF-ED lens I was excited to see Tamron coming out with a similar focal length lens. I found the lens to offer great versatility for both travel and landscape photography. Some complain about the lens not being as wide as the Nikon's 14-24mm f/2.8 but 1mm only translates to 4° loss in the angle of view. I think this minimal loss is more than made up for by being able to zoom to 30mm.

Focus: 
Nikon D700, 30mm, f/2.8, ISO 400, 1/400 sec
I never found the lens to exhibit any difficulty in accurately focusing during my testing. There were only one or two times where the lens seemed to "hunt" longer than normal for focus but this was during low-light conditions without the aid of the camera's focus assist light, which had been turned off. 

Ghosting and Lens Flaring:
Nikon D700, 15mm, f/4.0, ISO 1600, 1/8000 sec
I found the combination of Tamron's proprietary eBAND (Extended Bandwidth & Angular-Dependency) and BBAR (Broad-Band Anti-Reflection) Coatings to do a wonderful job controlling both ghosting and lens flare. I found the lens to control both better than the Nikon 14-24mm under similar conditions.

Distortion and Vignetting:
Nikon D700, 15mm, f/4.0, ISO 3200, 1/125 sec
I was expecting a lot of barrel distortion from the lens, based on some of the other third-party 15mm lenses I have used of the years. I was pleasantly surprised to find the SP 15-30mm to produce only a small amount of distortion at 15mm. The images still look natural and straight lines still look straight. Vignetting is also minimal with the lens and I find the amount produced to be pleasing and not overly harsh. Above is a great example of distortion and vignetting. The image was only edited to correct for exposure and converted to black and white.
Image Stabilization:
I never expected to be in a situation where I would need image stabilization on a wide angle lens but I was quickly proved wrong. Having the ability to shoot in low-light conditions with a lower ISO cam in handy on multiple occasions. It wasn't until I had to ship the lens back, and rent the 14-24mm that I began missing the feature. I can see image stabilization being even more important for video work, something I am unable to do with my trusty D700.

Conclusion:

The Tamron SP 15-30MM F/2.8 Di VC USD proved to be a phenomenal lens during my travels. I enjoyed it immensely and was disappointing when I had to mail it back to Tamron after my allotted review period. I think Tamron set the bar for the other lens manufacturers, as they did when they launched the SP 24-70 F/2.8 Di VC USD. Where we soon saw companies like Nikon launching their own image stabilized 24-70mm lenses I can only assume we will see them playing catch up once again. Not only would I recommend the SP 15-30mm to anyone looking for a fast wide-angle zoom lens I plan on adding the lens to my collection later this summer.

Disclosure of Material Connection: Tamron loaned the lens to me for the duration of my review.

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