Following the eager reception of two very successful zoom lenses from Tamron — namely the 17-28mm f/2.8 and 28-75mm f/2.8 — Sony full-frame shooters were excited at the prospect of Tamron releasing affordable, compact primes.
The Tamron 35mm f/2.8 is not quite what customers were expecting: given the constant aperture zooms, most were anticipating a small but relatively quick prime, perhaps somewhere around f/1.8 or f/2.
The compromise over Sony’s own 35mm f/1.8 would then be through build quality and maybe corner sharpness. Instead, this compromise arrived through a slower aperture and one other slightly unexpected aspect.
This lens is small, lightweight, and relatively inexpensive, and its macro performance is certainly appealing – but do its idiosyncrasies make it a worthwhile purchase?
Tamron 35mm f/2.8 Specs
- Macro functionality is fun
- Sharp images, even wide open
- Contrast is impressive when shooting into the sun
- Aberrations are barely noticeable
- Not actually that small or light for an f/2.8 prime
- Autofocus is slow and noisy
- Aperture range: f/2.8 to f/22
- Compatibility: Sony Full-Frame
- Angle of View: 63° 26’
- Maximum Magnification: 0.5x
- Macro Reproduction Ratio: 1:2
- Minimum Focus Distance: 5.9” / 14.99 cm
- Optical Design: 9 elements in 8 groups
- Diaphragm Blades: 7, rounded
- Image Stabilization: No
- Filter Size: 67 mm (Front)
- Dimensions: 2.87 x 2.5” / 73 x 63.5 mm
- Weight: 7.4 oz / 210 g
- Retails for around $350
Build & Ergonomics
Unlike the metal shell of the more expensive Sony 35mm f/1.8 lens, the Tamron 35mm f/2.8 lens has a plastic body that is reassuringly sturdy to the touch and has a pleasant weight to it.
At first glance, you’d be forgiven for thinking that this is a small, lightweight lens. However, when you consider that the obvious counterpart – the Samyang AF 35mm f/2.8 – is less than half the weight (3 oz/85.6 g) and almost half as long, this could be considered quite large for a lens with a maximum aperture that is not particularly fast for a prime.
That 67mm filter thread is in line with other Tamron lenses, something that the manufacturer is clearly intent on keeping the same across its range of Sony glass.
The focusing ring is smooth, though the feel is not as refined as more expensive lenses, and there is no AF/MF switch which is fairly typical of lower-end lenses made for Sony cameras.
The first time that I fitted this lens to my Sony a7 III, it required an unexpected amount of force to twist it home, but this has since loosened up to normal levels after a month of regular use.
In short, focusing is very accurate but noticeably slow, especially compared to the zippy Samyang AF 35mm f/2.8.
Unlike the Tamron 17-28mm f/2.8 and Tamron 28-75mm f/2.8 lenses, which use RXD (Rapid eXtra -silent Drive) motors, the manufacturer has opted for an OSD (Optimised Silent Drive) to facilitate its 1:2 macro capabilities.
Focusing at such small distances – the minimum focusing distance being 5.9″ (14.99 cm) – requires the greater precision of the OSD motor. This comes at the cost of speed, however.
Though it doesn’t hunt around wildly, the Tamron 35mm f/2.8 takes a moment to decide to focus and is then slow to drag the elements into place. Performance is slightly worse in low light.
What’s also noticeable is the sound. Tamron might describe this focusing motor as “Optimised Silent,” but it’s anything but quiet. The initial whir of the motors is relatively calm but there’s a significant click once the elements have moved into place.
Images are sharp, with impressive performance wide open. Chromatic aberration is pretty much invisible and the corners are pleasingly crisp at f/2.8, though they are softer than at the centre, as you would expect.
Corner sharpness improves as soon as you stop down to f/4 and beyond.
Flaring is largely absent and bokeh is fairly smooth thanks to the seven aperture blades.
The Tamron 35mm f/2.8 barely loses any contrast when pointed into direct sunlight, which is a definite advantage over the Samyang AF 35mm f/2.8.
Tamron 35mm f/2.8 Sample Images
Check out these sample images taken with the Tamron 35mm f/2.8:
Value for Money
The Samyang AF 35mm f/2.8 is around two thirds the price, but there are some disadvantages if you go for that cheaper, smaller option: image quality isn’t quite as good and there is no weather sealing to the point that it seems to eat dust.
By contrast, the Tamron 35mm f/2.8 is well sealed and offers very sharp images with good contrast, but the autofocus speed will be disappointing at this price point unless you particularly like its macro capabilities.
Tamron 35mm f/2.8 Review | Conclusion
In an ideal world, I’d like to merge the Samyang AF 35mm f/2.8 and Tamron 35mm f/2.8 lenses, giving me a walkaround prime that’s small and lightweight with weather sealing and zippy autofocus. Instead, we have two lenses that both fall short.
Macro lenses usually have a much longer focal length, so the 1:2 ratio offered by the 35mm is nice, but it doesn’t make it a serious tool. I definitely enjoyed shooting some close-ups of lichen and pine needles, but this functionality definitely doesn’t outweigh my appreciation of fast autofocus.
Tamron has come up with an interesting lens that simply will not have the broad appeal of the Tamron 17-28mm f/2.8 and 28-75mm f/2.8, even when you take into account that this is a prime lens rather than a zoom.
The aperture is not wide enough to get Sony shooters excited, and that’s before you consider the sluggish autofocus.
Unless the macro features get you inspired or you really need the weather sealing, I’d personally opt for the Samyang AF 35mm f/2.8 as a walkaround pancake lens, or save up for the Sony FE 35mm f/1.8 which is twice the price but twice the lens without being that much bigger and heavier.