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Tamron SP 35mm f/1.4 Di USD test: setting the standard

Posted on Jan 14, 2020

The Tamron SP 35mm f/1.4 Di USD was introduced to celebrate the 40th anniversary of the brand’s SP lens series with the claim that it’s the best lens it has ever made. Will Cheung puts the lens through its paces in London.


When it comes to choice, it’s true that photographers have never had it so good, whether that’s with cameras, lenses or even tripods. This, of course, is very much a good thing.

But what if this all changed tomorrow and you had to choose just one of each item to enjoy your passion for photography? Deciding on one camera, one tripod and one bag is fairly easy, but picking just one lens to go into your bag is a challenge. It depends so much on what you photograph and how you interpret your subject.

Personally, I enjoy shooting a wide variety of subjects, but mostly I shoot landscapes, urban scenes and people, so I need a lens that is versatile and suits my photographic style.

The Tamron 35mm SP f/1.4 Di USD would be on my very, very short shortlist. The 35mm focal length gives a slightly wider view than a typical standard lens on my preferred full-frame format, but its perspective is very similar to that of the human eye. It’s a great all-round focal length that suits so many subjects.

Tamron SP 35mm f/1.4 Di USD test

The fast f/1.4 aperture is so useful as light levels drop, and there’s the possibility of shooting wide open for creative beautiful bokeh effects when the opportunity arises. The moderately wide focal length also means that by stopping down to f/11 or f/16, there is the potential for plenty of depth-of-field for scenic shooting.

But the Tamron offers so much more than a fast aperture and a versatile focal length. The lens uses an advanced optical configuration for cutting-edge image quality, a state-of-the-art autofocus motor for fast, responsive and
near-silent focusing, and advanced lens coatings to help defeat flare and ghosting in strong lighting situations.

Of the 14 elements arranged in ten groups, half are special glass with four LD (Low Dispersion) and three GM (Glass-Moulded aspherical) lens elements. The advanced optical design delivers sharp images across the frame and into the corners even at wide apertures, and minimises any chromatic aberrations that can have a negative impact on image quality.

Fast and quiet autofocusing is delivered by Tamron’s own USD (Ultrasonic Silent Drive) motor, and that’s aided by its all-new Dynamic Rolling-cam mechanism that moves the focusing group of lens elements rapidly and accurately. The AF system is designed to give reliable service in the extremes of low and high temperatures and that is helped by moisture-resistant seals to keep out the elements.

Finally, we have the innovative Tamron BBAR-G2 (Broad-Band Anti-Reflection Generation 2) coating to suppress flare and ghosting, maintaining high contrast levels even in the challenging lighting situations. The front lens elements also boast a fluorine coating that has excellent oil- and water-resistant properties and makes the surface much easier to clean.

Tamron SP 35mm f/1.4 Di USD test

On paper, the Tamron SP 35mm f/1.4 Di USD has all the credentials to be my lens of choice, but how does it perform in practice? To find out, I took the lens, attached to a Canon EOS 5D Mark IV, on a photo walk around London.

The combination is nicely balanced with plenty of room to support the lens securely with the left hand while keeping a couple of fingers on the manual focus lens barrel, so fine-tuning focus is instantly possible if required.

I had the camera set to a small zone of five AF points, moving these around quickly using the camera’s focus lever when the subject was off-centre. AF was impressively fast and smooth, too, with no searching, and the process is effectively silent, so it is not going to be distracting in quiet scenarios – and on the street it is effectively inaudible.

AF accuracy and speed are real benefits in street work, where even the slightest hesitation means the moment could be lost. No such problem here. The responsive AF just got on and did its job, both via the optical viewfinder and in live view when touch AF was available, so I could pay attention to composition and timing.

The lens’s fast aperture came into its own when the clouds came and lighting levels fell in the city streets, and the viewfinder image was always lovely and bright. Dull light can make life difficult on the street, where fast shutter speeds are essential to stop any camera shake or subject movement. You need to increase ISO to give fast shutter speeds, but the option of opening up to f/1.4 meant I prioritised picture quality and kept my ISO down to minimum for as long as I could.

Most of my shots on this day were shot between f/1.4 to f/5.6, which helped me keep action-stopping shutter speeds around 1/500sec or higher. Importantly, image quality is so impressive, even wide open at f/1.4, that it can be used knowing images will be pin-sharp.

That was evident when I got home and checked out my pictures on a 32in monitor. Shots bristled with fine detail, were razor sharp, with contrast high, giving crisp images, colours were spot on and I had no issues with flare when shooting towards the sun.

There’s no doubt that the Tamron SP 35mm f/1.4 Di USD is a very fine lens optically and, with its great handling, it has great potential for all occasions.

For more information, please visit the Tamron website.

As featured in issue 73 of Photography News.

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