The Tamron SP 45mm f/1.8 Di VC USD is a standard focal length prime lens announced in September 2015 for Canon EF and Nikon F cameras. With its wide aperture of f/1.8 and built-in image stabilization (at the time of its announcement, it was the world’s first image-stabilized standard prime), it is an ideal lens for low-light photography designed for both enthusiasts and professionals.
Tamron put everything in its arsenal into this lens to make it the best available standard prime lens on the market – from eBAND and fluorine coatings and a high-speed ultrasonic silent drive (USD) autofocus motor, all the way to a weather-sealed design. Thanks to its complex optical design featuring 10 elements in 8 groups (two of which are molded glass aspherical elements and one low-dispersion element), the Tamron SP 45mm f/1.8 Di VC USD is also designed to yield very sharp images, even at the widest aperture.
Since Tamron released its SP 45mm f/1.8 Di VC USD lens, I have wanted to test it out, as I have heard so many great things about it from my friends and peers. Let’s take a look at it in more detail.
Build Quality and Handling
The build quality of the SP 45mm f/1.8 Di VC USD is that of a pro-grade lens – Tamron has done an amazing job with it. With its sturdy metal lens barrel and a metal mount, the only plastic parts of the lens are the very front of the lens barrel, as well as the plastic switches on the side of the lens. This means it is designed to last, and I am sure it would, even with a heavy amount of field (ab)use.
The bottom of the lens has a “Made in Japan” stamp, and strangely, there is another “Designed in Japan” white label right next to it. While it is great to know that these lenses are designed and made in Japan, the white label is not engraved – it is just white paint. After using the lens for a few weeks, some of the letters on the label started to wear off. It is not a big deal for me, but I wish Tamron either engraved it onto the lens or did not have it at all.
The focus ring is very smooth. As you reach the end of the focusing range on either side, there is a noticeable stop, but it is not a hard stop like on some older manual focus lenses – the ring continues to rotate. Although there is a glass element on the rear side of the lens, the whole rear group of lenses moves in as you focus toward close focus, exposing the inner parts of the lens. So if you plan to change lenses in dusty conditions, you might want to change the focus position to infinity first – this minimizes the chance of dust or debris getting into the lens.
The lens has two switches on the side – one for image stabilization (VC On / Off) and one for focusing (AF / MF). The rear of the lens has a rubber gasket on the mount, which helps protect both the camera and the lens from dust/debris from getting into the camera or the lens. The Tamron SP 45mm f/1.8 Di VC USD is weather-sealed, which makes it a great candidate for outdoor photography.
The front element is recessed but not very deeply, so cleaning it should not be too much of an issue. The 67mm filter thread is plastic, similar to what we see on many other enthusiast and pro-grade lenses out there, including ones from Nikon. The HF012 petal-shaped hood is included with the lens. It snaps easily on the lens and stays pretty snug without any noticeable play.
Overall, Tamron has done an amazing job with the build quality and handling of the lens. We used this lens on the Nikon D780 DSLR and the Nikon Z-series cameras with the FTZ adapter, and it handled very well, as expected.
Vibration Compensation / Image Stabilization
As I have already pointed out, the Tamron SP 45mm f/1.8 Di VC USD is unique because it comes with optical image stabilization – something no other F-mount lens does. We have previously written several articles on the benefits of image stabilization and its usefulness in the field, even when using wide-angle lenses. This makes the SP 45mm f/1.8 stand out, especially in low-light situations. Wedding and event photographers struggle quite a bit when shooting indoors or outdoors in low light, so having an image-stabilized setup is always an advantage.
However, every image stabilization seems to have pros and cons, and the Tamron SP 45mm f/1.8 is no exception. First, if you plan to use the lens on a tripod, always turn the vibration compensation (VC switch on the lens) off. Since the lens cannot detect tripod use, it will continue to try to stabilize the lens, resulting in blurry images. Second, if you don’t let the lens stabilize a little first and just shoot away, you might end up with slightly blurry images, especially in the slow shutter speed range. Lastly, don’t forget to turn off image stabilization when using it on a camera with built-in image stabilization (such as the Nikon Z6 or Z7) since the two systems might end up working against each other.
Other than that, Tamron has done a great job by incorporating optical image stabilization into the SP 45mm f/1.8 lens. I personally found it to be incredibly useful as a travel lens for this reason.
Tamron armed the SP 45mm f/1.8 Di VC USD with its Ultrasonic Silent Drive (USD) autofocus motor technology, which results in both fast and silent autofocus operation. Generally, the autofocus performance of the Tamron SP 45mm f/1.8 Di VC USD is quite good, but the consistency and accuracy of the lens vary. If you plan to use this lens on a DSLR camera, get the Tamron Tap-in Console. While my sample did not have to be adjusted on the Nikon D780 DSLR, I know that other photographers who own this lens had mixed results on their cameras. After using the Tap-in Console and adjusting autofocus, most of the issues disappeared.
Another potential problem is with using Canon DSLR cameras. I noticed that Canon shooters generally experience more autofocus problems with Tamron lenses than Nikon shooters, and I am guessing this has to do with differences in autofocus system implementation – perhaps Tamron did not do as good of a job with AF on Canon.
Lastly, while autofocus speed is quite decent, I noticed that autofocus accuracy can sometimes be spotty. I noticed it when testing the Tamron SP 45mm f/1.8 Di VC USD in the lab. With a well-illuminated chart that contains plenty of high-contrast areas, the lens sometimes indicates good focus, but when zoomed in and looked at closely, it is actually not. Forcing the camera to refocus sometimes fixes the problem, but not always.
From this standpoint, autofocus accuracy isn’t very consistent, which is unfortunate.
The Tamron SP 45mm f/1.8 Di VC USD has an impressively close minimum focus distance of 0.29m, which is an amazing feature since you can get very close to your subjects and isolate them from the background. As a comparison, both the Nikon 50mm f/1.4G and the Nikon 50mm f/1.8G have a minimum focusing distance of 0.45m, while the Sigma 50mm f/1.4 Art is at 0.4m. This makes the Tamron SP 45mm f/1.8 stand out.
But does that become a real advantage in the real world? In my opinion, yes, it certainly does. By moving closer to your subject and shooting at or near minimum focusing distance, you can effectively enlarge background blur significantly, as can be seen in the image below:
This makes your images look like they were shot with a macro lens. Just be careful when photographing people or animals at close range – as you can see, it distorts their facial / body features due to perspective distortion.
One thing to note, as explained on the next page, is that this lens has a very strong amount of Longitudinal Chromatic Aberration. Note how the whiskers of the cat in the above image transition from green to purple color.