Lens review

Tamron SP 85 mm f/1.8 Di VC USD

12 April 2016
Arkadiusz Olech

11. Summary

  • solid, stylish and sealed casing,
  • excellent image quality in the frame centre,
  • very good image quality on the edge of the APS-C sensor,
  • good image quality on the edge of full frame,
  • lack of problems with chromatic aberration,
  • negligible distortion,
  • imperceptible coma,
  • good correction of astigmatism,
  • blurry areas pleasant to look at,
  • silent and accurate autofocus,
  • good work against bright light,
  • five-year guarantee period.


  • significant vignetting on full frame,
  • noticeable spherical aberration,
  • front-focus depending on the distance from the target.

The Tamron SP 85 mm f/1.8 Di VC USD impressed us with its resolution results in the centre and on the edge of the frame. Even though it is a bit slower, it can compete on equal terms with new record-breaking devices like two Zeiss 1.4/85 lenses. It also defeats without any problems 1.8/85 constructions produced by Canon and Nikon. What’s more, the Tamron corrects most of basic optical aberrations properly well.

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Unfortunately there were also slip-ups. It seems every producer has their own weak point, an area in which their optics specialists simply fail. In the case of the Nikkors it is the longitudinal chromatic aberration; in the case of the Tokinas it is the lateral chromatic aberration and the Tamrons experience most serious problems with spherical aberration. The tested lens is another device, after the journalistic SP 24–70 mm f/2.8 VC the 1.8/85 VC model, which has pronounced issues in this area. Of course the company might save the situation a bit by introducing new software which will eliminate the focus shift but it is just about alleviating the symptoms, not fighting the real reasons of the problem.

The front-focus depending on the distance from the photographed object is another problem. What’s interesting, you won’t see it while taking photos by apertures from f/2.8 upward because it is eliminated by the shift of the focal point due to spherical aberration. Still by f/1.8 and by f/2.0 it is clearly visible. When you take photos from small distances the lens hits the aim as it should but when you increase the distance you have to set the AF microregulation at about 6 units. We hope that sending the lens with a body in for a calibration service might solve that problem. Additionally you should keep in mind the fact that the front-focus issues, described here, are specific for the specimen we were sent. There is no guarantee other specimens of this lens, especially if attached to different cameras, will perform in a similar way.

To sum up, the Tamron 1.8/85 VC is a very well-done lens which, in skillful hands, is able to provide exceptionally sharp photos. It’s a pity it is not flawless; with its present price customers might opt for cheaper system devices. Optical stabilization and solid build quality are certainly two big assets but not everyone will be inclined to pay for them an additional and noticeably higher sum of money.