I thought it was about time I did my first impressions Tamron SP 35mm F1.8 Di VC USD Review because I have used it for a few jobs now. This review does not feature any test charts because I’m not a lab rat. Instead its a review of how the lens fares up to the task of photography in real life.
Uses for the Tamron SP 35mm F1.8 DI VC USD
The Tamron SP 35mm F1.8 DI VC USD is a great lens for storytelling, street, travel and wedding photography. The 35mm focal length also has a following amongst some fashion and portrait photographers. 35mm is considered a bit unusual for fashion or portrait photography however I’m a fan of Julia Trotti who uses 35mm a lot.
For years I avoided 35mm because I assumed it would be hard to get a shallow depth of field (DoF). However, because the difference in DoF between 35mm and an 85mm for a full length body shot is only 3mm at F2! This is because there are three factors in calculating DoF, focal length, aperture and distance to subject. Because 35mm has a wider view, it needs to be much closer to maintain the same angle of view as the 85mm.
35mm is a great length because it allows you to capture your surroundings when you are short of space. It also allows you to capture more of the background behind the subject. If you have a great backdrop and want to show it, that is the time to whip out the 35mm.
Unique specifically to the Tamron SP 35mm F1.8 DI VC USD is is the ability to shoot in very dark conditions. This ability is because of its vibration control (VC) feature which is unique. Its a big advantage for the Tamron SP 35mm because none of the others do it.
The other feature unique to this lens is its ability to focus at very close distances. It allows magnification ration of 1:2.5 so its great for detail shots.
Add on the Tap-in console which allows you fine tune focus at different distances and you have a formidable competitor.
Build Quality & Handling
Build quality appears very good. It feels robust and due to its metal barrel and weather sealing it will stand up to professional use just fine.
On my kitchen scales its 445g which is portable and makes for a manageable travel or walk about lens. I can see this one coming with me on family trips due to its compact size and weight. It balances well on a full frame DSLR and looks the part due to upgraded styling.
Auto focus is quiet and reasonably fast.
The ability to focus so closely really shines because you can avoid changing to a macro. Add the VC and it becomes a joy to use because its just so light and versatile. These features have earned it a regular spot in my bag.
Tamron SP 35mm F1.8 Di VC USD vs Sigma 35mm F1.4 Art
If you are reading this there is a good chance you are considering purchasing either the Tamron SP 35mm or the Sigma 35mm F1.4 art. Note I don’t own the Sigma 35mm F1.8 Art so have no direct experience. That said, I did go through the same buying process you are and did a lot of research.
The first major difference is that the Tamron SP 35mm F1.8 DI VC USD has vibration control (VC). The Sigma 35mm F1.4 art does not. When you are shooting without a tripod, VC is an advantage because it plays a big part in sharpness. This is simply not covered in most of the lens reviews. For weddings or generally moving around an event handheld, this gives an advantage to the Tamron SP 35mm
Sharpness & Resolution
Many reviews out there point out that the Sigma 35mm is sharper than the Tamron SP 35mm in the lab. That isn’t a fair comparison because in real world shooting, we aren’t all always tripod based. I suspect at weddings the VC of the Tamron SP 35mm will give it an edge. Particularly on high resolution cameras because any shake is magnified.
In the lab whilst the Sigma does achieve greater peak sharpness than the Tamron, it isn’t sharper everywhere. The sigma doesn’t surpass it uniformly until F4! This has been glossed over by a lot of reviews. On the Dxomark website, they go beyond peak sharpness. They point out in their Tamron SP 35mm review that up to f/4, the Tamron is sharper. At least from the mid-field to the corners because of the Sigma’s slight astigmatism.
When I choose to use a prime lens its because I am looking for the best performance at larger apertures. I’m often shooting in the F1.8 to F2.8 range to get shallow DoF. For my type of shooting, where I may place the subject on the left or right third of the composition at greater apertures, the Tamron wins.
In reality, both are sharp enough for professional use, so you have to balance it with it other factors.
The other big consideration for me was weight because it matters when you are carrying it all day. The Tamron (Nikon fit) weighs in at 445g on my scales compared to Sigma’s 665g, nearly 220g lighter. I’m a fit guy because I regularly work out but even for me a weight saving of 220g is a big deal.
Weather Sealing & Build Quality
Many point out that the Tamron SP 35mm, which has weather sealing has an edge over the Sigma which does not. This is important for working professionals out in the field all day
The Sigma build quality does seem to be more than adequate however and so it really comes down to the weather sealing.
Maximum Aperture & Ability to shoot in Dim Conditions
The Sigma’s F1.4 aperture is larger than the Tamron’s F1.8 and so is ‘faster’. It allows a third of a stop more light in and so can achieve faster shutter speeds. The Sigma also has better light transmission which also contributes to faster shutter speeds. These are hard objective numbers and so are not open to opinion. That said the VC of the Tamron more than compensates for stationary subjects. One third of a stop faster shutter speed in the Sigma or five stops of stabilisation in the Tamron. Take your pick because that is a personal preference but the Tamron SP 35mm is my winner.
The Sigma does allow you a shallower depth of field however its not much. At a distance of 8 feet, enough for a full length body shot, the difference between F1.4 and F1.8 is only 113mm. To me that is acceptable and I often shoot at F2 to F2.8 to give a margin of focus error.
Tamron SP 35mm F1.8 DI VC USD vs Sigma 35mm 1.4 Art Conclusion
Both have gotten very positive reviews, both are sharp enough, portable enough and have a robust enough build quality. For me it came down to weight and vibration control. I shoot in the field, not in a lab or studio and so the VC is a big thing for me. The weight saving was also a very important consideration for me.
Price never really came into it. The difference between them is a couple of hundred pounds depending on where you shop. Over the 5 to 10 year period I’m likely to use the lens before upgrading the difference is minimal and either will have paid for itself. At the time of writing however, the Tamron is the cheaper of the two, which is a bonus.
So far, the Tamron SP 35mm F1.8 VC USD appears very good. Plenty sharp enough, however there is definitely some fringing evident in certain images. Whilst this can be removed in Lightroom with a click its just another thing you have to do to process some images.
It’s still early days but it feels like the Tamron SP 35mm F1.8 DI VC USD is going to be a regular in my camera bag. It seems to balance low light capabilities, speed, sharpness and weight all in a very useful focal length.