Review: Tamron 85mm f1.8 Di VC USD (Canon EF)

When Tamron announced their new initiative to make major improvements to their lenses, the quality of the products was rather mixed–and so that made me a bit scared about the new Tamron 85mm f1.8 Di VC USD. But they’ve taken some time, improved things even more and with that said, they’ve created a lens that could arguably be called the absolute best value 85mm lens for DSLR cameras.

The lens features 9 aperture blades, 13 elements in 9 groups, weather sealing, an actual metal barrel, and a very overall light weight of approximately 23 oz to 25 oz. At $749, you’re getting what looking on paper to be one hell of lens.

And in all honesty, I actually want to buy one.

All product photos shot on the latest edition of the EyeEm Magazine.

Chris Gampat The Phoblographer Tamron 85mm f1.8 Di VC extra sample images dumbo (4 of 6)ISO 4001-200 sec at f - 1.8

Pros and Cons

Chris Gampat The Phoblographer Tamron 85mm f1.8 review sample portraits Natalie (3 of 4)ISO 1601-1600 sec at f - 2.5

Model: Natalie Margiotta

Pros

  • Super sharp image quality
  • No focusing issues with the Canon 6D or other Canon SLR cameras
  • Fast focusing
  • Weather sealing
  • Nice feel in the hand
  • Vibration compensation built in is a godsend
  • Fantastic color
  • A unique look that makes everything seem like it’s got quite a bit of Clarity in Lightroom increased.
  • Beautiful bokeh

Cons

  • Quite honestly, not a single thing is wrong with this lens.

Gear Used

The Tamron 85mm f1.8 Di VC USD was used with the Canon 6D, Shanny flashes, Phottix flashes and the Canon Elan EOS 7 camera.

Tech Specs

Specs taken from the Tamron listing page

Model F016
Focal Length 85mm
Maximum Aperture F/1.8
Angle of View (diagonal) 28°33′ for full-frame format
18°39′ for APS-C format
Optical Construction 13 elements in 9groups
Minimum Object Distance 0.8m (31.5 in)
Maximum Magnification Ratio 1:7.2
Filter Size φ67mm
Maximum Diameter φ84.8mm
Length* 91.3mm (3.6 in) Canon
88.8mm (3.5 in) Nikon
Weight 700g (24.7 oz) Canon
660g (23.3 oz) Nikon
Aperture Blades 9 (circular diaphragm**)
Minimum Aperture F/16
Image Stabilization Performance 3.5 Stops (CIPA Standards Compliant)
For Canon : EOS-5D MarkIII is used / For Nikon : D810 is used
Standard Accessories Lens hood, Lens caps
Compatible Mounts Canon, Nikon, Sony***

Ergonomics

Before you start, this video shows you how the images were shot.

Chris Gampat The Phoblographer Tamron 85mm f1.8 Di VC review product images (4 of 8)ISO 4001-50 sec at f - 2.8

Consider that Tamron has always been very much about being simple with their lenses and you’ve got some of the understanding behind how they created the 85mm f1.8 Di VC USD. It’s got a slightly textured metal body; though some may want a tad more texture for better grip.

Looking straight down at it, what you’ll see is the distance scale for focusing. Above this you’ll find the rubber focusing ring–which is quite textured for better grip.

Chris Gampat The Phoblographer Tamron 85mm f1.8 Di VC review product images (3 of 8)ISO 4001-50 sec at f - 2.8

Looking at the front of the lens, you’ll find the 67mm front filter thread. Tamron keeps all markings off of here.

Note that without the lens hood, the lens package overall is quite small.

Chris Gampat The Phoblographer Tamron 85mm f1.8 Di VC review product images (5 of 8)ISO 4001-50 sec at f - 2.8

On the side, you’ll find all the controls. Here you can set the lens to manual focus or autofocus and you can also activate the vibration compensation.

Build Quality

Chris Gampat The Phoblographer Tamron 85mm f1.8 Di VC review product images (7 of 8)ISO 4001-50 sec at f - 2.8

This lens is weather sealed; but they’re calling it moisture resistance. You can feel it at certain parts like at the lens mount. Though I didn’t give the lens a whole lot of abuse it was in camera bags being tossed around on the NYC Subway during heavy commutes and it also survived a rainfall.

You can tell that this is one of Tamron’s new SP lenses because it has the brass white ring towards the back.

usd

Here’s the weather sealing diagram; the blue is where sealing is placed.

Autofocus

Chris Gampat The Phoblographer Tamron 85mm f1.8 review sample portraits Jenna (1 of 1)ISO 16001-60 sec at f - 2.8

Jenna Black

The image above was shot with a flash placed into the pizza box and it’s for a personal series that I’m working on. In the very dim 9pm light in Madison Square Park, I was able to still get sharp focusing on Jenna’s face without AF assist. Granted, I needed to use the center focusing point with the Canon 6D–but that camera also doesn’t have the best AF to begin with it in some situations.

The focusing from this lens is just as fast as Canon’s own 85mm f1.8 lens; which is quite a feat for it to be capable of.

Ease of Use

Chris Gampat The Phoblographer Tamron 85mm f1.8 Di VC review product images (6 of 8)ISO 4001-50 sec at f - 2.8

Slap the lens on the camera, point, shoot and enjoy. That’s really how simple it is to use this lens. During my tests, taking the camera and lens in and out of a bag didn’t make the AF and VC switches move at all. That’s just great design in effect!

Image Quality

ALL IMAGES HAVE EXIF DATA IN TACT. CHECK THE FILE NAMES OR CLICK ON THE IMAGE AND FIND IT IN THE URL.

Chris Gampat The Phoblographer Tamron 85mm f1.8 review sample portraits Natalie (4 of 4)ISO 1601-800 sec at f - 2.5

So here’s the section that you’re going to care about the most. For years now, I’ve been a Sigma 85mm f1.4 lens owner. Despite the fact that it’s starting to show it’s age in terms of sharpness when looking very closely, I’m still not at all dissatisfied with it. The lens is highly capable and still helps me create beautiful images in the same way that all the super antiquated Canon glass does but that people still drool over.

For what it’s worth, the Tamron 85mm f1.8 Di VC USD wipes the floor with everyone else’s lenses except for the newest offerings from Zeiss. It doesn’t have micro contrast but instead it has a couple of things that have made me change my editing workflow. I generally don’t need to do anywhere as much of a clarity increase and instead what I tend to do when working with this lens is work with the shadows and the individual color channels.

Bokeh

Chris Gampat The Phoblographer Tamron 85mm f1.8 Di VC extra sample images dumbo (1 of 6)ISO 1001-1250 sec at f - 1.8

This is a photo that was shot at pretty much the closest focusing distance. As you can see in not only this image but loads of others in this review, you’ll see that the bokeh is beautiful. It’s about on part with what Sigma can do (though a bit better) and in my opinion isn’t as nice as what Zeiss can do. However, what Tamron and Zeiss do is much different in the way it looks.

Color Fringing

Chris Gampat The Phoblographer Tamron 85mm f1.8 review sample portraits Natalie (1 of 4)ISO 1601-200 sec at f - 4.0

Straight out of the camera, I couldn’t find very much color fringing. However, it came out when I bumped up the contrast a bit in some images when developing in Lightroom. Overall though, it isn’t so terrible to the point where it will bother you when looking at the image as a whole. You’ll only see it when pixel peeping–and to be honest your clients are going to pixel peep your images; so you can relax and stop freaking out.

Color Rendering

Chris Gampat The Phoblographer Tamron 85mm f1.8 Di VC extra sample images Jenn's portraits (4 of 4)ISO 16001-100 sec at f - 1.8

The color rendering as it is from the Tamron 85mm tends to be very true to life with a tad of saturation. It doesn’t have as much contrast as Sigma and Zeiss offer out of the camera or as much saturation. But at the same time, the saturation and contrast aren’t exactly what I’d call muted. I’d say that Tamron instead took a little less liberal of an approach here.

Sharpness

Chris Gampat The Phoblographer Tamron 85mm f1.8 Di VC extra sample images dumbo (2 of 6)ISO 4001-125 sec at f - 2.8

The best sharpness from this lens comes when using a flash with the lens stopped down between f5.6 and f11. The best balance of bokeh and sharpness comes at f4. For the most part though, I almost had very little reasons to stop down below f8.

It’s sharper than the Rokinon and Sigma 85mm offerings; but not sharper than what Zeiss offers.

Extra Image Samples

Chris Gampat The Phoblographer Tamron 85mm f1.8 Di VC extra sample images Jenn's portraits (3 of 4)ISO 4001-160 sec at f - 1.8

Chris Gampat The Phoblographer Tamron 85mm f1.8 Di VC extra sample images Jenn's portraits (2 of 4)ISO 4001-125 sec at f - 3.5

Chris Gampat The Phoblographer Tamron 85mm f1.8 Di VC extra sample images Jenn's portraits (1 of 4)ISO 1601-200 sec at f - 3.2

Chris Gampat The Phoblographer Tamron 85mm f1.8 Di VC extra sample images dumbo (6 of 6)ISO 16001-40 sec at f - 1.8

Chris Gampat The Phoblographer Tamron 85mm f1.8 Di VC extra sample images dumbo (5 of 6)ISO 4001-20 sec at f - 2.5

Chris Gampat The Phoblographer Tamron 85mm f1.8 Di VC extra sample images dumbo (3 of 6)ISO 4001-250 sec at f - 2.5

Chris Gampat The Phoblographer Tamron 85mm f1.8 review sample portraits Natalie (2 of 4)ISO 1601-640 sec at f - 1.8

Conclusions

Likes

  • Build quality
  • Fantastic overall image quality that is very unique in some ways
  • Fast autofocus
  • Weather sealing
  • Fairly affordable for what you’re getting.

Dislikes

  • A bit more texture on the metal body might be nicer for grips; but even so it isn’t that terrible.

The-Phoblographer-Editor's-Choice-Award-Logo

The Tamron 85mm f1.8 Di VC USD is very, very great. It’s under $1,000 and you get a load of awesome things in this small package. This lens has sharp image quality, fast autofocusing, great bokeh, a unique look to its contrast and saturation and best of all you’ll get weather sealing. It’s lightweight and can do well in the hands of amateurs, enthusiasts, semi-professionals and professionals alike.

To wit, it will also do very well on high megapixel camera bodies. Though on that thought process, it just makes sense to move up to Zeiss at that point.

Phoblographer-Star-rating

The Tamron 85mm f1.8 Di VC USD receives the Phoblographer’s Editor’s Choice award and 5 out of 5 stars. Want one? They’re available for $749 on Amazon.

Recommended Cameras

Chris Gampat The Phoblographer Tamron 85mm f1.8 Di VC review product images (7 of 8)ISO 4001-50 sec at f - 2.8

Nikon D750: Use this camera if you’re part of the Instagram generation.

Canon 6D: Same reason as the D750

Canon 5Ds: You can use this lens, but if you’re getting this high in the megapixels you may as well go with Zeiss.

Nikon D810: Same reason as the 5Ds