We'll be honest. When we first heard of this lens, our immediate reaction was: "Wait, what?" If lenses were animals, a 45mm lens would be the giant ibis (a rare bird).
But after speaking with NJ photographer, director and frequent co-tester David Patiño, who helped us put this lens through its paces, we grew to appreciate this unique specimen.
The full frame SP 45mm F/1.8 Di VC USD (model F013) is part of Tamron's refreshed lineup of SP series lenses. The SP family has been re-engineered to cope with the demands of high-resolution sensors. It's available for Canon EF, Nikon F and Sony E mounts and it can also be mounted to APS-C sensor cameras where it delivers a 72mm equivalent focal length on Canon models and 67mm on Nikon DX format cameras.
The 45mm lens stops down to f/16 and has a nine blade, circular aperture. Unique among standard focal length prime lenses, the SP 45mm offers Vibration Compensation (VC) good for up to 3.5 stops of image stabilization, per CIPA standards.
The SP 45mm sports a moisture-resistant, metal body and flourine coating on the front lens element to make it easier to wipe away smudges and dust. At 19 ounces, it's heavier than Canon's 50mm f/1.4, but on par with the weather-sealed Canon 50mm f/1.2.
There are dedicated buttons to toggle VC on and off as well as a button to jump between auto and manual focusing. We liked that there was a manual focus override function that lets you dial in manual focus adjustments even when the lens is set to autofocus. Esthetically, the entire SP line gets a thumbs up in our book.
Patiño shot stills and video on the SP 45mm on a Canon 5D S, a Canon 80D and (using an adapter) the Sony a7 R II—all high resolution camera bodies. He tells us the lens did an excellent job resolving all of those plentiful pixels. There wasn't much in the way of chromatic aberration and the lens stays admirably sharp out to the edges of the frame throughout the aperture range, Patiño says.
While the lens' f/1.8 aperture isn't the widest in the standard prime category, it still produces a very pleasing shallow depth of field with a nice separation of foreground subject.
What We Liked
Patiño tells us the image stabilization on the lens was excellent, allowing him to shoot video handheld without fear of undue camera shake. When mounted to a Sony a7 R II (which has its own built-in stabilization), he tells us he was able to do incredibly smooth pans without a slider. When shooting stills, we enjoyed steady handheld shots down to 1/13 sec. shutter speed on Canon's 80D.
The generously-sized focus ring delivers a gentle, rolling throw which is ideal for rack focusing during filming, Patiño tells us.
Speaking of focus, we loved the incredibly close focusing capabilities. You can focus on objects as close as 11.4 inches away from the lens. With a magnification of 1:3.4, it's not a true macro lens, but you do have plenty of flexibility to move in and out on your subjects if you're so inclined.
What We Didn't Like
While the lens is metal, it doesn't have the reassuringly hefty feel that other metal lens bodies offer. It's also fairly long relative to some competitive standard primes.
We did spot some purple fringing in a few photos with strong backlighting coming from the sun, but it wasn't widespread and was very easy to clean up using Lightroom's Defringe tool.
If you've been hankering for a standard prime lens and relish the idea of image stabilization, the $600 SP 45mm is an excellent value, delivering solid image quality, good AF performance and metal build.
Yes, it's more expensive than several Canon 50mm primes, including the f/1.4. But those models lack vibration correction, moisture resistant and flourine coating. Nikon makes a 45mm lens that's more than three times the cost of Tamron's while the more comparably priced 50mm f/1.2 lacks autofocus.
When we were concluding our discussion about the lens, Patiño relayed that in the past he sometimes had a tendency to "turn his nose up" at third party lenses, that's no longer the case. "Tamron," he says, "has really stepped up its game."