A wise man once told me that a photograph’s quality could be judged simply by how much information it conveyed to the viewer. While this is not an absolute by any means what said has stayed with me through the years. I feel like that subconsciously drove me, at least in the beginning, to gravitate more towards wide-angle lenses. After all, the more you can see within a frame the more of the story you can tell, right?
Unfortunately, wide-angle lenses hold no secrets. A low quality wide-angle is as easy to spot as a salt shaker at a pepper convention (real-time analogy folks) and this can spell bad news for even the most well composed photo. You see, the wider the lens the more inherent distortion and corner softening there is to deal with…this is just the nature of the beast and this problem seems to be compounded as the aperture grows wider. Some lenses handle these damnable evils better than others.
Tamron SP 15-30mm F/2.8 Di VC USD G2
When Tamron asked me to have a look at their second generation 15-30mm F/2.8 in Canon mount I jumped at the opportunity to get my hands on such a versatile and fast wide-angle. I had just reviewed their 17-35mm F/2.8-4 and was blown away by the insane image quality right out of the camera. Feel free to check out that review here. If the 15-30mm was anything like its close cousin then I knew I would be in for a treat.
I’ve evaluated a lot of camera lenses with twelve of them(thirteen now) being made by Tamron and it’s not often that the shear physicality and appearance of a lens catches my interest. When I cracked open the box of the Tamron SP 15-30mm F/2.8 Di VC USD G2 I was met with something comfortingly familiar and at the same time refreshingly unique. First of all, this lens is not small. In fact, it’s one of the most robust(dare I say chubby) lenses I have ever handled. When you take into account it sees at a 15-30mm focal length, packs in 18 lens elements, vibration compensation and does all this while maintaining a constant F/2.8 aperture the form factor becomes more understandable if not down right impressive.
Before we get too far ahead of ourselves, here are a few core stats provided courtesy of Tamron. See the full information page here.
- Length- 45mm (5.7 in) for Canon and 142.5mm (5.6 in) for Nikon
- Weight- 1,110g (39.2 oz) for Canon and 1,100g (38.8 oz) for Nikon
- Maximum Width- 98.4mm(3.87 in)
- 9 aperture blades(circular)
- Minimum focus distance- .28m(11 in)
- View angle- 110°32′-71°35′ (for full-frame cameras ) 85°52′-49°54′ (for APS-C cameras)
At nearly 2.5 pounds(1,110g) you would think this would be a wrist breaker. For me, mated with a Canon 5D MK3, the 15-30mm balanced surprisingly well for its heft. For those times when you’re shooting with a tripod make sure that all your knobs and clamps are fastened tightly, especially during long exposures as the heavy front end of this lens can cause camera drift.
More than just good looks…
Externally, the SP 15-30mm G2 is gorgeous. As with most modern Tamron lenses the aesthetically conscious among us can rest easy knowing that the lens looks absolutely fantastic. Tapering down from the lens hood the lines of the lens seem to flow calmly towards the mount with no abrupt changes or disruptions. The entire body is matte black with white lettering and of course includes Tamron’s signature “SP” metallic color ring at the base.
The zoom and focusing rings are the grippy rubberized variety and offer good handling for zoom and focus. There is a super crisp view window to keep track of focus distance and the AF/Manual and VC switches are equally well executed and placed conveniently for easy reach.
A feature that I love talking about when it comes to camera lenses is weather sealing. The SP 15-30mm has that heart-warmingly visible rubber gasket along the lens mount that never fails to make me feel more secure each time I attach the lens to the camera.
The rest of the lens is also clad in moisture resistant weather sealing armor that will help the 15-30mm stand up to harsh outdoor conditions or when that wedding reception turns a little rowdy.
If you haven’t noticed, the front element of the SP 15-30mm is, shall we say, bulbous.
Not that there’s anything wrong with that. The majority of lenses that dip down into this range of wide-angle focal length at this speed generally display relatively huge front elements. In fact, one of my favorite lenses of all time and a personal workhorse of mine is the Rokinon 14mm F/2.8 which has a huge front eye. However, a problem arises with lenses which employ these kind of front elements. Namely, the use of lens hoods and filters becomes slightly challenging. Tamron has found a great way to work around these issues by incorporating a two-part lens hood which provides ample yet non-intrusive coverage no matter the focal length. Even though the lens zooms internally(doesn’t get longer) the hood compensates for the increased zoom automatically.
The included lens cap is large and might be a little surprising if you’ve never used a lens with a non-removable hood. There is simply no way around this I’m afraid. But hey, look at the bright side. You’ll always have a bowl with you in case someone wants to share their Cheerios.
As for the filter problem, in the case of my beloved Rokinon 14mm I’m simply out of luck. This is not so with the Tamron 15-30mm G2.* Take another look at the rear of the lens. Notice anything?
Whoever answered “yeah, the big read box” can see me after class.
Anyway, the exciting part is that even though the front element of the lens makes using filters impractical(but not impossible) the rear of the lens has incorporated a holder for rectangular gelatin filters like these. This is similar to the drop-in filters found on some ultra-telephoto lenses. In the case of our lens all you would need to do is trim the gel filter of your choice to fit the slot(about 29mmx34mm) on the back of the SP 15-30mm G2 and boom. You’re in business. This is an excellent way to be able to use ND filters and polarizers while still enjoying that super wide-angle luxury.** Well done, Tamron!
Image stabilization at 15mm? Yes, really.
As a general rule, the shorter your lens the less noticeable camera shake becomes in your photos. Of course this isn’t really a “rule” but it’s more or less true that image stabilization usually doesn’t show up on lenses in the focal range of the 15-30mm G2. And yet, Tamron has included their estimable image stabilization or as they have named it, Vibration Compensation(VC).
Tamron reports the VC on the 15-30mm F/2.8 to be workable in attaining a 4.5 stop exposure cushion to help you in shooting lengthier shutter speeds handheld. I have to admit, I found myself leaving the VC turned off much of the time during my tests as I was primarily shooting with a tripod. That being said, the VC worked beautifully when it was used. Here’s a half-second exposure of lilies that I shot at F/14; both handheld and cropped to approximately 1:1. The results are blindingly apparent.
Performance and Image Quality
We briefly mentioned that wide-angle lenses, particularly those with large aperture capabilities, generally suffer from two problems to varying degrees: distortion and corner softness. For most of my tests I wasn’t pulling any punches. I shot the Tamron 15-30mm G2 at F/2.8 and at 15mm in most cases. I have to say that the results were fantastic. I’ll let the photos do most of the talking. Here’s a RAW file from my Canon 5D MK3.
The giant Redwood trees give a huge(literally) since of scale as to just how wide 15mm truly is on a full-frame DSLR. In terms of distortion the Tamron performed beautifully with that spherical barrel distortion being wholly manageable.
Now, let’s zoom in on that right corner to have a look at the corner sharpness.
The softening at the corner is extremely minimal in my opinion. Sharpness seems to be virtually identical to center with only a slight loss in detail at 15mm.
“But Adam…you said that you shot wide open at F/2.8!” And YES! I surely did! Take a look at this photo from a full moon night in the Mojave Desert.
It too is a RAW file with the red light originating from my headlamp. Let’s take a look at the corner of this photo but this time from the bottom left.
The blades of that desert grass is still visible which remarks quite favorably to the corner sharpness of the 15mm-30mm G2. In these low light situations it’s great to see a fast wide-angle being able to perform with these kinds of results at its widest aperture. After all, what’s the use of having an F/2.8 lens if you need to stop down in order to achieve usable results?
Color, Contrast and Autofocus
Some other points to mention about Tamron’s new 15mm-30mm is that it reproduces color and contrast with beautiful effectiveness. The RAW images coming out of the camera looked spectacular(for RAW files at least) and left plenty of room for working with the images in post. Here is a RAW file from New Mexico. Again in quite low light and but shooting stopped down to F/20, which is just below the minimum aperture ability of F/22.
And now with some post processing to bring out those ridiculously gorgeous southwestern colors and textures.
Autofocusing was extremely fast and accurate with the G2 15mm-30mm. There was no need to make any micro adjustments. That being said I feel I should mention that this lens, along with virtually all of Tamron’s lenses produced in recent years, is fully compatible with the Tamron TAP Console which can be used for tweaking the lens and updating firmware. What a weird and incredible time to be a photographer!
Final Thoughts on the SP 15-30mm F/2.8 Di VC USD G2
I’ve shot with the Tamron SP 15mm-30mm G2 for over a month. In that time it’s drank in scenes from the Redwoods of California to the deserts of the Mojave; from the coast to the mountains and a few places in between. As I think about it, there wasn’t one time when I ever felt limited, which is strange considering this lens is essentially an ultra-wide angle. I suppose what I mean is that in terms of low light performance and compositional variability, the SP 15-30mm G2 handled everything I threw at it and came out on the other side ready for more. I was impressed by its sharpness when shooting at that wide open F/2.8 aperture and the fact that I could gobble up an incredibly wide viewing angle while keeping distortion on the low side of the spectrum. As someone who shoots a good amount of landscapes and night skies I feel like this lens not only kept up with me but would also fit right in during other situations such as adventure photography or environmental portraits. If you shoot events or weddings you’ll love the extreme coverage this thing offers as well as that fast F/2.8 aperture. The lens isn’t small but it’s most decidedly not unmanageable either. It actually balanced out surprisingly well even when mounted on my first generation Sony A7R….
The bottom line? I would recommend the Tamron SP 15-30mm G2 to anyone looking for a fast, pro-grade ultra-wide angle lens but who needs a little bit more versatility in their lives. At 15mm this lens offers enough scene coverage for all practical purposes. Zooming in to 30mm enables even more opportunities for tighter compositions and virtually distortion-free photo-making. If weight and size are less important to you than superb image quality and performance then I can highly suggest the SP 15mm-30mm F/2.8 G2 from Tamron.
At the time of this review the Tamron SP 15-30mm F/2.8 Di VC USD G2 is listed for less than $1,300 from most reputable dealers.
*Filter option currently available on Canon mount version only.
**The gel filter, if used, will be extremely close to the rear lens element when at 15mm focal length.