First of all, this isn’t a detailed technical review of the new Tamron SP 35mm f/1.4 lens. There are plenty of those out there already. This is my real-world experience with the lens, shooting a couple of weddings, bridal portraits and some family pictures. Since I’m stuck inside with the COVID-19 stay at home orders, I decided it was a good time to post my thoughts on this new lens. I will update this post if anything changes in my option after “hopefully” shooting many more weddings later this year.
Some background on my use of prime lenses for weddings
When I started out in wedding photography over 10 years ago, I used the typical zoom lenses you see recommended by many photographers. Eventually, I got a Nikon 85mm f/1.4 prime lens that I loved. Then, for the past few years, I’ve switched to using only prime lenses for my wedding and even family photography. You can check out a popular post I made about family photography with prime lenses back in 2015. Once you’ve gotten used to the clarity, color, bokeh and viewfinder brightness of a professional f/1.4 prime, it’s hard to go back to zooms.
With my weddings the past few years, I’ve found I like to shoot them almost exclusively with 35mm f/1.4 and 85mm f/1.4 lenses. I do bring other lenses such as an ultra-wide, macro and telephoto for special circumstances, but the majority of my work is using these two primes. For my portraits of the bride and groom, and circumstances where I can step back further from a subject, I prefer to use my excellent Nikon 85mm f/1.4 lens. It has beautiful sharp focus across the frame and excellent bokeh, it’s just a fantastic lens in almost every way. However, it’s taken me a long time to find a 35mm lens that I truly love.
What led up to my recent purchase of the new Tamron 35mm f/1.4 lens
I’ve used many different wide-angle lenses for group and wedding party pictures over the years. While I liked my Sigma Art 24-35mm f/2, that lens was destroyed when I dropped one of my cameras in the marsh in Pawleys Island. Even with its unusually wide aperture for a zoom, it still never had the look of a real prime lens.
For the past few years, I’ve had a Sigma 35mm Art f/1.4 lens, which has worked pretty well. It was always perfectly sharp in the center of the image. However, I started to notice soft focus on the right side of almost every image. I could never see this problem in test charts or when testing the focus at home, but I would always notice it in group pictures when everyone was standing at a far distance to the camera.
It was probably my fault from a drop or bump of the lens. I sent the lens in to Sigma and they said they did a defocus adjustment. The lens was slightly better but still not up to my standards. I sent it in again and they said nothing was wrong with the lens and returned it. I was starting to wonder if there was just something wrong with my shooting style, but I read some great reviews of the new Tamron 35mm f/1.4, so I decided just to buy it for this new year.
Tamron 35mm f/1.4 lens sharpness across the image frame
Tamron claims this is the best lens they have ever made, that it is a milestone lens for thier 40th anniversary. The first thing they claimed was that it has “breathtaking sharpness”. So, did the sharpness take my breath away? Actually yes! This lens is very sharp. And it’s not just sharp in the center, it’s sharp across the entire plane of the image. For this review, I’m not going to show you test charts. As I said above, my issues with my previous lens would not show up in artificial tests, but only in real world use.
Thankfully, even with the virus coming, I had a chance to get some real-world testing of the Tamron 35mm f/1.4. Check out this first image of an entire bridal party. Notice how the focus is very crisp and sharp from the bridesmaid on the far left to the groomsmen on the far right. Of course, they are not all standing the exact same distance from the camera, but you can still see the overall sharpness even in the edges.
Note: For pictures in this post I’m uploading full size versions; click the image to view or download in full size.
While this isn’t a macro lens, you can get up quite close with the focusing. The next two shots I took hand-held, getting some quick detail shots before the ceremony. Even focusing close it was very accurate and the bokeh is velvety and soft. In the third picture you can see the nice round shape of the bokeh from the lights. I believe each of these pictures was shot at f/2, which I usually find as a good balance between sharpness and nice bokeh.
Even for shots at more of a distance, around f2 or below you can get some great bokeh out of this lens. I love the look of the next image with the stain glassed window and lights hanging in the background. You can see a slight flare from the bright sun in the background but it’s well controlled.
Chromatic aberration, flare and ghosting
To be honest, I use such high-quality lenses, I never have much of a problem with flare or ghosting. Sometimes, I deliberately put the sun just outside of the image, to get some “artistic” flare. However, one issue I do have frequently with my Nikon 85mm f/1.4 lens is chromatic aberration or purple fringing. Many times, when I’m shooting a backlit subject, purple edges will be all around where the subject and bright background meet. This can be corrected some in Lightroom, but it’s not perfect. The new Tamon 35mm f/1.4 lens is advertised to have a new coating and optical countermeasures to chromatic aberration. They say this is a groundbreaking advancement that provides vastly improved performance. So, let’s find out if this is true.
These next three pictures are very backlit subjects. The first picture, I can’t show in full, because the bride doesn’t want anyone to see her dress yet. So, I cropped it 100% just to show the hair and arms where chromatic aberration would be very apparent. This is an extreme backlit shot; with many lenses, like my Nikon 85mm, you would see lots of purple edges zoomed in to 100%. However, with the Tamron, I see no chromatic aberration at all! Zooming in to 100% I can’t see any evidence of purple edges or any chromatic aberration on the other two images as well. I’ve not yet had a chance for testing this lens in a lot of bright backlit conditions, but it seems to live up to the hype.
Fast reliable autofocus and focus tracking of moving subjects
This third subheading is probably the most important of all for a wedding photographer. I sometimes have 30 minutes to take all the wedding party, bride and groom pictures. I need my lens to focus quick and reliably every time, even with moving subjects. Then, later in the evening, I need fast focus even in low light conditions. Autofocus is really more a function of how good a camera is rather than a lens. Since all modern lenses have the focus motor inside the lens, a slow or inaccurate AF drive in the lens, could cause problems with the camera.
Again, this Tamron lens doesn’t disappoint. I’ve had no problems with it locking on focus very accurately and tracking subjects reliably even in low light. I could also say this about any modern lens I’ve used as well. But it’s good to know this lens is as good as any native Nikon lenses I tried. Not that it’s a big deal, but this lens also required very little AF fine tuning adjustment in camera. For example, my Nikon 85mm requires around a +17 adjustment, this lens only needed about -2, almost perfect out of box. Check out some examples of moving subjects and low light focusing below.
Some final thoughts – Moisture Resistance!
One big difference between a Nikon 35mm and a Sigma 35mm lens is weather and moisture sealing. I’ve had my old Sigma lens in light rain and never had an issue, but I was always nervous about it. The new Tamron SP 35mm lens is fully weather and moisture sealed. It has internal seals as well as the rubber seal that pushes up against the camera mount. This makes me feel a lot more confident if I have to shoot in the rain, and this is something wedding photographers have to do a lot.
The build quality and look of the lens is also excellent. I really love Tamron’s new clean and sophisticated look of thier lenses. I have Tamron’s new design 15-30mm f/2.8 lens as well and I love it. It even has a locking lens hood. It seems very solid and well-built and I’m sure it is, however only time and possibly a few bumps and drops will tell. It also can hook up to the Tamron Tap-in console. However, unless a firmware update was necessary, I can’t really see needing this because the lens is so well tuned out of the box. The Florine coating is also nice for making cleaning easier, although I’ve never had an issue with this since I use ROR cleaner.
I’m going to include a few more shots below taken with the Tamron 35mm f/1.4 lens. After a few more weddings I might add some more in the gallery below as well. If you decide to purchase this lens, please click this Amazon Link it helps me out. Let me know if you have any questions!