In a market packed with already excellent first-party offerings, Tamron accepts the challenge to produce a lens that rivals the first-party competition. And they’ve simultaneously declared the ambitious goal of creating their greatest lens and their pinnacle in lens performance. And thus borns the Tamron SP 35mm F/1.4 Di USD (Model F045).
This lens is the culmination of that concept, their obsession for exceptional image quality, and combined technical competence to create what Tamron claims is “the finest lens in Tamron’s history… and [their] pride and joy.” And its legendary performance in a fast fixed focal lens has made it worthy of being the lens that marks the milestone 40th anniversary of the SP series. And 40 years of celebrating outstanding USD optical quality.
We were lucky enough to get our hands on this unique lens for review. And below, follows the review for this lens. Tamron aims to compete against some rather fierce first-party competition, namely Canon 35mm f/1.2L II, Sigma 35mm f/1.4 Art, and Nikon 35mm f1/4 G lenses. Today, we will assess its strengths, weaknesses, and answer whether or not this lens lives up to Tamron’s bold reputation.
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What are the designations that Tamron uses?
What is SP?
For this lens, in particular, it belongs to Tamron’s “SP,” Super Performance, series of high performing lenses with the highest design specifications. This designation applies to their premium lineup of lenses, including G2 zoom lenses and the more recent SP primes. Currently, Tamron holds a total of 17 SP lenses for DSLR cameras.
What is Di?
The next designation is “Di,” which stands for Digitally Integrated design. Di lenses represent a generation of lenses designed for optimized use with digital SLR cameras, be it full-frame or APS-C formats. These lenses also hold superior design and feature multi-coating techniques. The standard Di series is for full-frame SLRs, and the Di II series is for APS-C SLRs.
What is USD?
The last designation is “USD,” which is Tamron’s proprietary Ultrasonic Silent Drive AF motor technology. This drive motor works with high-frequency ultrasonic vibrations that produce force, causing rotation of the focusing ring of the lens for fast and smooth auto-focus drive.
What mounts does this lens support?
This lens is compatible with full-frame Canon EF and Nikon F mount DSLR cameras. It is also compatible with both of their mirrorless systems using the respective Canon RF-EF and Nikon Z-F adapters.
Build Quality, Construction, and Design
Some general specifications, the lens opens to a maximum of f/1.4 and closes f/16, a respectable range. And for filters, it uses the 72mm filter thread. And the close focusing distance is 0.3m (11.8 in), so the lens can work as a semi-macro lens if need be.
Internally, the optical construction includes a dense arrangement for a fixed focal lens. It features a total of 14 elements in 10 groups. Four of which are Low Dispersion (LD) elements to combat chromatic aberration, a form of noise that reduces image sharpness, particularly in the edges in the form of color fringing. And it also features three Aspherical elements to minimize distortion.
This configuration combines to virtually eliminate on-axis chromatic aberrations and flares that typically plague fast-aperture lenses as the lens aperture opens for a more faithful depiction. It also provides a robust metal alloy build and leak-resistant seals throughout the lens barrel for weather sealing.
Tamron has also installed a 9-blade diaphragm to retain smooth circular-shaped and soft out of focus rendering. And this configuration avoids the standard rugged aperture geometry to produce genuinely beautiful defocus blur in front of and behind the plane of focus. The bokeh is visually pleasing and provides an artistic feel. And, lastly, it features an electromagnetic diaphragm system for Nikon-mount lenses for more precise aperture control.
For autofocus, it provides a system that is specific to this lens and brand new for Tamron. It combines Tamron’s Ultrasonic Silent Drive along with the new Dynamic Rolling-cam mechanism. These combine to reduce load and enable the heavy focusing unit to move with incredible speed and accuracy. The USD motor also delivers quiet autofocusing, though not entirely silent like the stepping motors used in mirrorless lenses.
Externally, the lens consists of a single MF-AF switch, which switches between manual and autofocus. And it provides a large manual focus collar ring, which offers good resistance and a firm feel during use. The focusing collar also provides a full-time manual focus override for instantaneous fine adjustments to the point of focus. And adjusting the collar disengages the autofocus regardless of whether or not the lens is in the manual focus mode.
The lens also features the revamped BBAR-G2 Coating. This second-generation coating is a groundbreaking advancement that reduces flare and ghosting when shooting in backlit conditions.
On top of that, Tamron has also provided the lens with a fluorine coating on the front element. Fluorine has excellent water and oil-repellent properties, making the surface more resistant to damages and easier to clean. And adding this coating not only reduces dust and fingerprints but also scratches as well.
The only real drawback is its rather hefty size. For the Canon variant, the lens alone weighs 805g or 28 oz, making it the heaviest of the lenses in its competing class. The reality is that the lens alone weighs significantly more than compact most mirrorless cameras, and is quite heavy.
Image quality is an area this lens undoubtedly shines in both rendering and sharpness. Even wide open at f/1.4, the lens remains sharp, and details are crisp. The only minor drawback in this regard is that there is a slight vignette at f/1.4 and f/2.0. However, by f/2.8, this vignette cleans up, and the lens performs admirably throughout the remainder of the range.
When shooting in backlit conditions, you’d expect to see minor chromatic aberration and ghosting in areas of contrasts in the background. However, with the aspherical and low dispersion elements have virtually eliminated any presence of artifacts with this lens. And, overall, very little, if any, ghosting occurs, while details and contrast remain excellent.
Autofocusing performance is also excellent and remarkably fast. We tested this lens in combination with the Canon 5D Mark III, and the combination delivers resounding speed and accuracy during testing. The USD motor, coupled with the newly redesigned Dynamic Rolling-cam mechanism, provided consistent focusing speed across all shooting situations tested. Single-shot and point-to-point focusing was brilliant.
The focusing collar of the lens also offers hard stops, which is beneficial when recording video for added precision, and welcomed addition. And the full-time manual focus override system was quite helpful during video recording. Overall, the results are impressive in both performance and functionality. And in this regard, this lens undoubtedly rivals the first-party competition.
The bokeh and background defocus blur are also excellent. The blur gently blends away from the ultra-sharp in focus areas and delivers the signature velvety Tamron appeal. Though, it is essential to note that Bokeh, in general, is quite a subjective aspect of a lens. And every photographer has differing views on what they consider pleasing, so this is an aspect you will specifically need to decide if you like or not.
What ultimately sets this lens apart from the competition is its performance, which is easily on par, if not better than, its first-party alternatives. What’s left is a lens that rivals the first party competition in both build and performance. And to kick it off, it retails at a affordable price, which is quite the bargain considering what’s offered here. Overall, it’s price and performance ratio makes this an extremely compelling option for those shopping for this focal length for DSLRs.
And overall, it’s an attractive prime lens for those looking for added versatility in low light shooting or depth of field on a budget.
The only real drawback with this lens is its hefty size. Bar none, it’s the largest lens of its competing class, so if you’re looking for the lighter offering, this may not be the lens for you. Otherwise, it has virtually no compromises or drawbacks.
Nevertheless, in many ways, this particular lens represents the culminated effort over the last decade in moving from a more consumer-based budget alternative and third party manufacturer. Instead, to focus on rivaling first-party lenses and they’ve now become premium alternatives, much like what Sigma has done with their recent Art series.
This lens, in particular, offers a build quality and performance that rivals the first-party competition, most notably the Canon 35mm f/1.2L II, Sigma 35mm f/1.4 Art, and Nikon 35mm f1/4 G lenses. While, simultaneously, undercutting both first-party manufacturers in price by nearly 50%. And offering far better value than the Sigma. Quite the feat.
Below are a few examples of what you can expect from this lens. If you wish to take a look at RAW files for this lens, click here. If you want to see a more extensive image gallery, then what is displayed below on our site, click here.
In the end, the Tamron 35mm f/1.4 truly represents what Tamron has claimed. And yes, the rumors are true, this is easily their top lens and one that provides enormous value for money. It represents the culminated effort over decades of refinement, into a single product. And that product is now taking the reign as the best 35mm released to date.