One of the most useful lenses any photographer can own is an ultra wide-angle zoom lens. One of my favorite zooms in this category is the Tamron 15-30mm f/2.8 lens. Tamron recently released the upgraded G2 version of their already great SP model and I wanted to see if this redesigned lens was worth the upgrade.
The Tamron SP 15-30mm f/2.8 lens was first released towards the end of 2014. Back when it first came out, it was hailed as one of the sharpest ultra wide-angle lenses on the market, and many landscape photographers even preferred it over the flagship Canon and Nikon versions. The Nikon 14-24mm f/2.8 lens was the previous end all, be all ultra wide-angle lens and even had a slightly wider field of view. When it was released, it was a whooping $2,400 (but now is down to $1,800). To my shock, Canon still doesn't have a zoom wider than 16mm with an f/2.8 aperture, so if you want a fast ultra wide-angle lens for landscapes and astrophotography, you need to get their 14mm f/2.8 prime lens for $2,100.
When the Tamron SP lens was released, it was priced competitively at $1,199, and with its anti-glare Nano coatings, lighter weight build, and powerful Vibration Compensation stabilization built into the lens, it pretty much dethroned the Nikkor 14-24mm lens for the majority of photographers. I was pleasantly surprised when I first heard the rumors of a new, redesigned Tamron 15-30mm f/2.8 lens because this beloved lens was only four years old and Nikon hasn't redesigned their 14-24mm lens since 2007 when it was first released with the D3 (that seems so long ago). With every new iteration of a flagship lens, the price usually goes up while the older version usually drops in value.
As an owner of the original Tamron 15-30mm SP lens, I had to ask the question: "Is the new G2 lens worth the upgrade or has the SP version become the best deal in photography?"
The most obvious change Tamron has made to this lens comes with the overall updated styling. The 15-30mm zoom lens is the third professional f/2.8 lens to get the updated G2 treatment with their flagship 24-70mm and 70-200mm lenses being updated over the last two years. I actually did a thorough review of the 70-200mm lens when it was released and found that it was a worthy upgrade to the older SP version. In that video not only was the G2 a much better built lens, but it actually proved to compete closely to Nikon's nearly $3,000 70-200mm f/2.8 FL lens.
If you are familiar with the G2 styling, the new 15-30mm lens looks and feels exactly like those two other lenses. It's sleek, smooth, and overall one of the best looking lenses currently in the Fstoppers office. Tamron has added some extra weather sealing to the lens compared to the older SP and the buttons have been updated to be a bit more tactile than before. I love the new look of these buttons but I have noticed that I tend to accidently bump the AF button into manual focus a lot more on my 70-200mm so I might actually prefer the stiffness of the older SP buttons. It's a small thing to harp on but if you shoot fast action sports or weddings, it's definitely a pain when your lens isn't in AF anymore because the button has been nudged.
From a lens element stand point, the G2 lens is nearly identical to the SP lens with no extra glass elements being added. The new G2 model, also labeled as A041, does have newly designed eBand coatings that use nanotechnology as well as updated broad-band anti-reflection coatings. These lens coatings are supposed to increase contrast, reduce glare and ghosting, and repel water better than the previous SP version of the lens. Even with these additional features, as a whole, it doesn't appear that the G2 lens is a completely redesigned lens but rather a slightly upgraded version of the old design that should give you slightly better image quality. How much better is this image quality? Let's check out the real-world tests to find out.
This is probably the one test that every person considering buying the G2 lens is going to be interested in. There are already a bunch of articles and videos out there comparing the older Tamron SP lens to the comparable Nikon and Canon models, and this review isn't meant to be a shoot out to determine which one is the absolute best. However, I did want to compare the already stellar SP lens to the new G2 lens to see if buying the upgraded lens was worth the extra cost.
For me the most important test was to determine if one of these lenses was more or less sharp than the other. This includes shooting wide open at f/2.8 (astrophotography and weddings) as well as stopped down to f/8 (landscapes and architecture). Below are two tests shot at both of these apertures with the lens set to its widest focal length of 15mm.
As you can see, the difference isn't that big, and at times it is almost impossible to differentiate which image is sharper. As explained in the video, sometimes one lens would perform better on one corner and the other would perform better at another corner. In the center, both lenses were about the same. With this test I might say that the G2 lens is slightly sharper than the SP but not by more than 5 to 10 percent max.
I then did these same tests at 30mm to see if one lens would be sharper at the telephoto side, which would mainly be used for street photography, weddings, slightly wide-angle portraits, and maybe some architectural work. To my eyes, the results were pretty much the same as what I found in the 15mm tests with the G2 lens once again performing maybe 5 to 10 percent better than the SP. Overall it isn't a huge difference, certainly nothing you would notice zoomed out or posted to the web, but if you wanted the absolute best image quality for large printing (or because you are neurotically obsessed with image quality), the G2 is definitely the winner.
Overall, as much as I would love to recommend one of these lenses over the other, when it comes to image quality alone, they are so very similar that I'm not sure you are going to lose sleep over either of these choices. Keep in mind, these files above are full 100 percent crops off a Nikon D850 so even with the G2's slight overall sharpness, you are probably only going to notice this in real life if you print massive poster-sized prints and saw each image side by side. Even then I'm not sure you could accurately pick which image was shot with which lens.
Vignetting and Distortion
Another important test in determining which lens was the best was the vignette and distortion tests. Because the field of view is so extreme and the physics behind wide-angle glass is so stringent, nearly every wide-angle lens is bound to have some level of distortion and vignetting. Again, my goal wasn't to test these two lenses against every other lens on the market but rather to just compare them to each other to see if the G2 has any major improvements or shortcomings over the older SP lens.
As you can see in the video above, both lenses perform almost identically. All the vertical lines are fairly straight and as you shift between both images, you can't see any major changes in barrel distortion or pincushion distortion.
To test the vignetting, or darkening of the corners, I decided to shoot straight up into the blue sky. Since most vignetting occurs when the lens is wide open and at the widest field of view, for this test I compared both lenses when shot at f/2.8 at 15mm. As you can see in the downsampled images above, the G2 definitely has less vignetting than the SP lens. Of course any minor amount of vignetting like this can be easily fixed in Photoshop or Lightroom but if you want the lens with the most even exposure corner to corner, the Tamron G2 is going to win out ever so slightly here as well.
One of the biggest upgrades to the Tamron G2 lens is actually hidden underneath the fancy aesthetic redesign. If there was one thing that might have made the older SP lens fall short against the other flagship lenses made by Nikon and Canon, it would probably be a slower autofocus motor. I was happy to find out that Tamron has greatly improved the autofocus motor in the new G2 lens.
While I wasn't able to do a very objective test between these two lenses, I can say that the autofocus on the G2 lens did seem to snap into focus a little quicker than the SP. It is also slightly quieter as it sweeps from its minimum focusing distance to infinity. Keep in mind, all ultra wide-angle lenses are still relatively quick to autofocus because the range from the nearest focusing point to the furthest focusing point is relatively short compared to longer lenses. This means that quick autofocus on an ultra wide-angle lens isn't quite as crucial as it would be on say a 70-200mm or a 200-400mm lens. Even if the lens misfocuses a bit or if you trigger the shutter before obtaining perfect autofocus, most wide-angle lenses have such a large depth of field that your images will still be sharp. So while the faster autofocus found on the G2 is definitely appreciated, it's not a feature that would have me running to upgrade the lens unless I specifically photographed live action sports.
Another big upgrade that you might not immediately notice with the G2 lens is it now has the ability to be finely tuned with Tamron's Tap-in Console. This docking station, shaped like a rear lens cap, is a powerful tool because it allows you to adjust your lens to perfectly match your camera's autofocus. Years ago there was no way to easily adjust the focusing communication between your camera and your lens. Maybe eight years ago or so, camera manufacturers started including very basic lens calibration settings in their cameras to help photographers dial in better focus for each of their lenses. Now with the Tap-In Console, you can upgrade your lens' firmware as well as customize very specific functions of your favorite lenses. Some of these features include focus adjustments, focus limiter, and how your vibration compensation works.
Vibration compensation is Tamron's version of image stabilization (Canon) or vibration reduction (Nikon). For years, Lee and I have been using Tamron lenses mainly because we have found their VC to be more stable and powerful than Nikon's VR. Our initial reason for buying Tamron lenses was because we started Fstoppers as photographers who were also interested in shooting video, and at the time, Nikon wasn't making many professional f/2.8 lenses that included VR. While Nikon has finally released their 24-70mm VR II, they still do not offer an ultra wide-angle f/2.8 lens with vibration compensation. Therefore if you are looking for a lens that can be used both for still photographs and has lens stabilization for video work, the Tamron 15-30mm SP or G2 are obvious choices.
As you can see in the video, I wasn't able to see Tamron's claims of 4 to 4 1/2 stops of stabilization when shooting photographs (at least not at 1/4 or 1/2 a second exposure times) but I was able to see how much more stable the G2 lens is compared to the SP when shooting video. For photos I would say both versions of this lens would give you 2 or maybe 2 1/2 stops of vibration compensation but they both produce much smoother video than hand holding a lens without any sort of stabilization. Also, in our 70-200mm f/2.8 test between Nikon and Tamron, the G2 telephoto lens also showed better stabilizing power than the Nikon version. All in all, if stabilization is important to you, I can confidently say that Tamron's VC hardware is second to none.
The one variable that really makes this comparison between the SP and G2 lens a little more murky comes with the price of these two lenses. Up until now, I really don't see any reason not to buy the G2 lens over the SP lens. The new G2 lens wins in new features, aesthetic design, vignetting, autofocus speed, and possibly narrowly wins in sharpness. Overall the G2 lens improves upon the SP lens in every way even if that improvement is only 5 to 10 percent.
However, the price of the G2 lens at the moment of writing this article is $1,299 on B&H Photo while the SP lens is only $1,099. For $200 more, I would no doubt recommend picking up the G2 lens over the SP lens. That being said, at the time of producing this video, the Tamron SP lens was actually on sale for $899 and from time to time you can still find it on sale on Amazon (B&H will match the price).
So if you are looking to pick up your first ultra wide-angle lens, and the SP lens is on sale for more than $200 over the G2 lens, I would highly recommend picking up the older lens and saving close to 30 percent on your purchase. Once the SP price moves towards $1,099, I really think the G2 lens is the better buy for all the extra features you will get with the updated lens.
Keep in mind, the new Tamron G2 15-30mm lens is only available for Nikon and Canon mounts (sorry Sony) and does include a nice rear filter holder in the Canon mount. If you shoot Sony, you are stuck having to get the older SP version but I don't think you will miss out on raw image quality if you had to go that route. If you are like me and already own the SP lens, it might be hard to justify spending more money for this new updated lens and then having to go through the hassle of selling your older lens, but that is a decision you have to make for yourself.
Overall, I'm extremely excited that Tamron has once again produced a high-quality lens that can compete with and even beat flagship lenses offered by the major brands like Nikon and Canon. Although I don't personally shoot at the ultra wide-angle range all that often, this lens has been a pleasure to use when I do wind up photographing landscapes, architecture, or astrophotography.