This hands-on review provides some initial impressions on shooting with the Tamron 15-30mm f/2.8 VC. I always try to take a practical, hands-on approach with my gear reviews, so you won’t find any formal sharpness testing and other technical assessments. If readers are looking for that kind of information there are plenty of other photography sites that take that approach with their reviews. As many readers of my blog know I always prefer to shoot images hand-held so this article has quite a bit of emphasis on using this lens in that manner. NOTE: click on images to enlarge
Construction and Features
The Tamron 15-30 mm f/2.8 VC lens is similar in construction to the other recently launched zoom lenses from Tamron like the 150-600 mm VC. The lens is hefty for a zoom of this type and weighs in at 2.43 lbs. (1.1 Kg). As a result the Tamron 15-30 mm feels very solid and well built.
The controls for AF/MF focus and vibration control feel tight and well designed. The focusing ring is located closest to the camera mount, with the zoom ring positioned further away. Both feature well-grooved surfaces for good control.
Compared to the Nikkor 16-35 mm f/4 VR, the Tamron is physically larger in terms of both diameter and length which makes sense given its constant aperture of /2.8 compared to f/4 on the Nikon lens. The Tamron 15-30 mm f/2.8 features a rounded front lens element like the Nikkor 14-24 mm f/2.8.
The Tamron is designed with a double, petal housing which offers additional protection for the front lens element. When shooting at the long end of the zoom range (30 mm) the front lens element is in a retracted state. The front lens element extends out when shooting at 15 mm. I must confess that it felt a bit uncomfortable at first shooting with the Tamron 15-30 mm because I could not put a protective filter on it. After an hour or two it was a non-issue. It was reassuring to know that the lens cap fit nice and snugly. I didn’t have any issues with it inadvertently coming off the lens so it did provide good, consistent protection.
As you can see in the image above, when the lens is fully extended out and the front lens element is exposed, it still sits back from the leading edges of the double petal hood. Knowing this I felt a lot more comfortable using the lens for some close-up images.
You may be wondering why I would put such an ugly image as the one above in this article. I wanted to test the effectiveness of the eBAND anti-reflective coating on the Tamron 15-30 mm and this looked like a good opportunity to do so. If you look at the top of the image, in the centre and in the corners, you’ll notice some spot lights shining directly at my camera. I positioned myself to try and attract as many opportunities for lens flares as I could. When I took this photo I could clearly see a number of flare spots all along the bottom of it in my viewfinder. To my surprise they did not show up at all on my actual image.
So, a few days later when I was at Ruthven Park I decided to give the lens a more difficult challenge and I positioned myself so the Tamron 15-30 mm would catch some quite strong direct sunlight coming from the top corner of the frame. In this instance I did get some flare on my image as you can see in the bottom left-hand corner and also on the second pillar from the right.
I liked the sharpness of the Tamron 15-30 mm f/2.8 VC lens and found that it held up even at fairly slow shutter speeds. There was a bit of softening along edges and in corners at maximum aperture, but I did not find it worrisome at all for the type of work I do.
Many people wondered when Nikon introduced the 16-35 mm f/4G VR wide angle zoom why they chose to add VR to that lens as they felt it was an unneeded feature. Being a current owner and user of this Nikkor lens I can attest to the fact that the vibration reduction helps to extend the low light use of the lens when a photographer does not have a tripod with them. I’ve been able to successfully shoot the Nikkor 16-35 mm f/4 VR at slow shutter speeds like 1/4 and 1/3 of a second and I was looking forward to putting the Tamron 15-30 mm f/2.8 VC through its paces.
To demonstrate the additional creative opportunities that the vibration control on the Tamron 15-30 mm f/2.8 provides I took the image above. At 1/40 of a second the waterfall looks coarse. Depending on a photographer’s vision they may be happy with the appearance of the water, or they may want it to look smoother by using a slower shutter speed. If they did not have a tripod with them many people would find it difficult to hand-hold a non-VC lens at a slow enough shutter speed to achieve a smoother look to the waterfall.
To achieve a smoother look to the water I took my ISO down to 100 and also stopped the Tamron 15-30 mm down to f/11. I took the image above hand-held at a 1/2 second exposure. I think the shot above produces a very different effect than the previous image. Depending on personal taste a photographer may, or may not, like the second image better. To me, having VC on the Tamron 15-30 mm f/2.8 lens just adds another important creative dimension to the lens. If you look closely at the bricks you’ll notice they aren’t quite as sharp in the second image. I’m not sure if this is due to my hand-holding or from a bit of diffraction shooting my D800 at f/11.
Of course it’s one thing to try and shoot a landscape image at a slower shutter speed and quite another to try a close up image like the one above. I took a number of test exposures of this subject matter and found that I could get good, clean images virtually every time when I shot at 1/4 or 1/3 of a second. Even at 1/2 second this image is still usable. I think that most photographers with reasonable technique could shoot the Tamron 15-30 mm f/2.8 VC hand-held at 1/4 or 1/3 of a second successfully.
I always like to push things as far as I can when I review gear just so I can see what happens, and that’s what I did with the above image. I wanted to see if I could hand-hold the Tamron 15-30 mm VC for a second or more and still get a usable image. The photograph above was shot hand-held at 1.3 seconds. Here is a 100% crop from the image.
I did have quite a few failed attempts before I was able to get this image, and a few more just like it. I had to brace myself up against a ledge in order to capture acceptable images at these very slow shutter speeds. My take-away from this little challenge is that the vibration control on the Tamron 15-30 mm is very effective and could add 4 stops depending on a photographer’s technique.
When shooting with a wide angle zoom like the Tamron 15-30 mm it is always good to remind ourselves about framing our initial image to allow for perspective adjustments later on.
I used DxO ViewPoint 2 to make some quick and easy adjustments to the image above, as well as a number of other images in this article.
I think photographers who specialize in real estate photography will really enjoy the Tamron 15-30 mm. Not only does it provide a practical focal length range for that kind of work, but the vibration control and f/2.8 make it a great choice for interior images where lighting could be a challenge and the photographer may be too cramped to use a tripod.
While a 1 mm difference may not sound like anything to worry about, it is a noticeable difference that needs to be considered when purchasing a lens of this type. If you compare the above image which was taken with the Nikkor 16-35 mm f/4, with the image below taken with the Tamron 15-30 mm f/2.8, you will see a difference in field of view.
Both images were taken from exactly the same vantage point. Many photographers may find the difference is not of any concern at all, while for others it may be critical. Some may even opt for the Nikkor 14-24 mm for the increase on the wide end of the zoom.
Since the lens does have a minimum focusing distance of 11 inches I did try some close up images.
I really enjoyed shooting with the Tamron 15-30 mm f/2.8 VC. Focus was fast and accurate, even under lower light conditions. The vibration control worked very well and added a lot of additional capability to the lens, and coupled with the constant f/2.8 aperture will make real estate photographers very happy indeed. Sharpness and colour rendition were both solid.
Many professional photographers will want to compare image quality with the Nikkor 14-24 mm f/2.8. Given that both lenses are f/2.8 constant aperture zoom lenses this does make a lot of sense.
The Nikkor 14-24 mm costs $2,200 in Canada compared to $1,350 for the Tamron 15-30 mm VC. From a practical standpoint I think budget will be an important consideration for many buyers. Since the Nikkor 16-35 mm f/4 VR costs about $1,400 in Canada, many buyers will be comparing these two lenses rather than with the 14-24 mm.
Whether an individual buyer chooses the Tamron 15-30 mm f/2.8 VC or the Nikkor 16-35 mm f/4 VR will come down to some basic differences between the lenses and how these match up against a specific buyer’s needs.
Real estate and wedding photographers may lean toward the Tamron if they need a faster lens that provides additional width on the short end. Other folks may prefer the Nikkor 16-35 mm if they aren’t as concerned about losing a stop of light, and want some additional capability at the long end of the zoom. The 16-35 would also allow the use of filters without needing to buy an expensive kit.
One thing is certain, there is a lot to like about the Tamron 15-30 mm f/2.8 VC and many buyers will be giving it serious consideration as it represents excellent value.
Additional Sample Images
Unfortunately the weather did not cooperate very much at all during the very limited time I had with the Tamron 15-30mm f/2.8 VC. Most days I faced rainy conditions, with sporadic breaks where it was just overcast. I had one sunny morning and that was basically it. The selection of images for this preview suffered as a result. I was able to get a small collection of real estate/architecture related images, as well as some limited landscape images.
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