Fstoppers Review: Taking Tamron’s 15-30mm f/2.8 Di VC USD G2 on the Road

Fstoppers Review: Taking Tamron’s 15-30mm f/2.8 Di VC USD G2 on the Road

Tamron has long been known as a reliable manufacturer of high-quality lenses, and their recent series of SP lenses has more than demonstrated their commitment to excellence. Through priorities for speed, clarity, optics, and a field-friendly design, Tamron has created a fabulous workhorse lens in their new 15-30mm (Model A041). The lens replaces the previous Model A012, delivering a variety of new features that make the lens not only faster and more reliable than its predecessor, but allowing it to yield surprisingly crisp, beautiful images. I put the 15-30mm G2 to the test on my recent 17-day journey through Belize, traipsing through Mayan ruins, along wind- and salt-swept beaches, and in the most humid of jungle environments. Let’s take a look at how this sweet piece of glass performed.

Practicality

As a travel photographer, I always carry a reliable ultra-wide zoom lens in my kit. Previously, I had relied upon Canon’s 10-22mm, but since I had been shooting with the crop sensor 7D Mark II, that lens was the equivalent of 16-35mm. For this trip, shooting with my Canon 5D Mark IV and the Tamron 15-30mm, I was dealing with the typical field of view I’d come to expect from an ultra-wide zoom. That set things up nicely for swapping out one lens for the other and maintaining my regular workflow.

The first thing I noticed about using the Tamron lens was its weight and size. At almost 2.5 pounds, and just shy of 6 inches long by nearly 4 inches in diameter, this is not a petite lens. It’s actually kind of a beast. In fact, because of its size and weight, I opted to leave some of my other go-to lenses at home to make room in my kit. The size and weight while shooting were negligible, because I have a very comfortable camera strap and wiry little forearms, but when the lens was in my backpack, I definitely noticed the extra weight. 

Heavy but not too heavy...

The second consideration that took some adjustment was the aspherical design. The lens has a protruding front element and an integrated flower-shaped hood. As a proven klutz, aspherical lenses make me nervous about dings, dust, and scratches, but this lens boasts a fluorine coating similar to the protective filters I use on my more expensive lenses that made me feel more confident that the odds were in my favor. That said, the lens cap is massive in order to accommodate the depth of the front lens element and integrated lens hood, so it doesn’t easily fit in a pants or shirt pocket. 

A hockey puck of a lens cap

In terms of adjustable features, the lens is pretty streamlined and simple to use. There’s the standard Autofocus and Manual Focus switch and a switch to turn the Vibration Compensation off and on. For the majority of my trip, I kept Auto Focus and Vibration Compensation on. With powerful and fast dual microprocessing units (one for AF, one for VC) in the lens, it made sense to let the lens do what it was built to do. The only other moving parts on the lens are the zoom and manual focus rings, both of which feel good in your hand and rotate smoothly in even the most humid conditions. There’s nothing worse than a jerky zoom ring. Actually, there’s plenty worse, but you know what I mean. It is worth noting that the lens zooms in the opposite direction of what Canon users will be used to. Twist to the left to zoom out. That took a day or so of annoyance before I got used to it.

With only two switches on the lens, it's hard to mess anything up.

Overall, the lens feels really solid. There’s nothing delicate about it. Tamron built this lens to stand up to rugged use and you can feel it. Visually, it looks cool as hell. I had a couple of people ask me about the lens, because it looks so cool. I do think that lenses look more professional when they can zoom without physically extending, as is the case with this lens. 

Features and Performance

What looks like a sexy yet unassuming lens actually has a ton of features and design considerations included. Lots of the features inherent in the lens are things I didn’t even think about while shooting, but definitely noticed when reviewing my photos. The 15-30mm G2 is very thoughtfully designed.

Here’s what’s under the hoodm so to speak:

XGM (eXpanded Glass Molded Aspherical) Front Lens Element and Multiple LD (Low Dispersion) Lens Elements

Without getting too technical, because we're photographers, not scientists, Tamron has designed the lens with 18 lens elements in 13 groups to ensure fabulous clarity and resolution throughout the frame and at all focal lengths. The practical result is a reduction in the chromatic aberration and distortion that plague most wide angle lenses.

There's fabulous clarity and minimal distortion in the photos I shot with this lens.

Chromatic aberration is still present in many of the photos I took with this lens, though it's significantly reduced beyond any other ultra-wide-angle lens I’ve ever used. Fortunately, the chromatic aberration is so insignificant in this lens that one click in Lightroom is all you need to fix the issue.

Here, you can see a shot straight out of the camera with a bit of chromatic aberration in the bottom left corner and the one-step Lightroom fix.

f/18, 1/250, ISO 500, 15mm

Let's take a closer look at that aberration.

Distortion is basically a non-issue with this lens. I photographed Chaa Creek Resort in San Ignacio, Belize with this lens to see how it would stand up in architectural and real estate applications and I was really impressed by the overall look of the images. Some wide-angle lenses force you down Lightroom’s Transform tool rabbit hole. Not the case with the Tamron.

Move the slider below to see the teeny bit of distortion that's easily corrected with one click in Lightroom.

Nice, clean architecture images.

Clean lines and no aggressive angles like you might be used to seeing with some other ultra-wide angle lenses on the market.

As with all ultra-wide angle lenses, there will always be a bit of distortion as you move objects toward the edges of the frame. Check out the difference in the distortion of the clay mask when centered in the frame versus set more toward the bottom of the frame.

AX (Anti-reflective eXpand) Coating

Tamron created a new proprietary variety of anti-reflective coating for this generation of the 15-30mm that reduces reflection, ghosting, and flare equally across the entire surface of the lens. Historically, the periphery of aspherical lenses have been weaker in terms of reflections and flare, but this new coating technology provides even coverage and performance. 

Knowing about this coating, I tried my damnedest to get some ghosting and flare in my shots. This was the best I could do:

This flare is a big improvement on what I'm used to seeing with an ultra-wide angle lens. It's easily fixable.

Precision Autofocus

With excellent and surprisingly quiet USD (Ultrasonic Silent Drive) technology, autofocusing is smooth, fast, and actually silent. As I mentioned earlier, the lens has dual microprocessing units, so the autofocusing system has a dedicated microprocessor to ensure quality performance. One cool feature is the Manual Focus Override that allows you to latch on with autofocus, then tweak focus slightly using the focusing ring, a feature that came in handy more than once on highly specific shots of teeny, lightning-fast hermit crabs.

The incredibly fast autofocus let me lock on to these frigate birds flying far overhead. This is far beyond what I would expect of a wide angle lens.

Vibration Compensation

What other lens manufacturers call “Image Stabilization,” Tamron refers to as Vibration Compensation. Regardless of title, this redesigned feature has been upgraded from the previous generation of the lens and has its own dedicated microprocessor, allowing photographers to work in low-light situations, stop down as needed, and work handheld for up to an extra 4.5 stops.

As with most image stabilizing features, as long as I was shooting handheld, I kept the VC running, and I definitely noticed an overall sharpness in the lowest lighting conditions.

Really nice clarity and resolution, even in bad light.

Rear Filter Holder

For the Canon mount version of the lens, Tamron has included a slot for thin gelatin-style filters to be inserted. This is a feature I didn’t personally use, as I’m already heavily invested in front element filters. It is nice to have the option though.

Fluorine Coating 

As I mentioned earlier, Tamron has added a fantastic and durable fluorine coating to the lens. On my trip to Belize, I photographed in all sorts of conditions. Blowing sea spray and sand were everyday nemeses, but the fluorine coating took them in stride and a lens cloth was all I needed to keep things tidy.

Moisture Resistant Construction 

This lens is effectively weather-sealed, and I can’t say enough good things about it. There’s often a moderate amount of discomfort and anxiety when it comes to taking a borrowed lens out of your home and into wholly unpredictable conditions. Over the course 17 days in Belize, this lens dealt with dust, rain, sea spray, salt, and the occasional accidental dose of bug spray and sunscreen. It stood up to all of it beautifully, and I’m ready to put the lens back in the box in mint condition and send it on its way.

My Overall Experience

The Bad

Let’s just get it out of the way before we talk about all the awesome. My primary complaint about this lens is the focusing distance. In their specifications sheet, Tamron lists the Minimum Object Distance as 11 inches. For my style of photography, that’s rough. When shooting the overall scene for something like a landscape, an 11-inch focusing distance isn’t generally an issue, but when shooting with wide-angle lenses, my personal style often includes in-focus objects in the extreme foreground. That simply isn’t possible with this lens. With a wide-angle lens, I love making smaller objects seem larger than life. After 20 frustrating minutes with an increasingly antsy hermit crab, I was out of luck. 

Shooting from overhead and about a foot away, I got this hermit crab in focus no problem.

On the crab's level, I couldn't get any closer to him without losing focus. I would have liked to get him bigger in the frame.

Without the spec sheet in front of me during my sad hermit crab shoot, I decided to do a little experiment by placing a ruler against the edge of the lens hood and focusing as close as possible. I found that in fact, the lens was capable of focusing at about 3.5 inches at 15mm. It still wasn’t close enough for me. 

The focusing sweet spot at f/2.8 is about 3.5 to 4.25 inches from the front of the lens.

The Good

The 15-30mm F/2.8 Di VC USD G2 was a fabulous and reliable addition to my camera bag during my time in Belize. Whether photographing landscapes, hotel interiors, or vast Mayan ruins, I really enjoyed the responsiveness of the autofocus, the resolution and clarity from corner to corner of my images, and the durability of the lens itself. 

Here are some of the shots I was able to achieve because I was traveling with Tamron’s fantastic lens.

Gorgeous palm trees with just the teeniest bit of converging lines and a nice, flat horizon.

Looking up a palm tree with the entire tree in focus thanks to great glass and a tack-sharp f/22.

Looking down a very narrow corridor at the Cahal Pech ruin in San Ignacio, Belize.

Really nice, subtle falloff, even at f/2.8.

Tack-sharp focus achieved right where I wanted it with a little help from the Manual Focus Override.

A beautiful sunburst at f/18 thanks to the 9-blade rounded aperture.

The ruins of Xunantunich are massive, and from this angle, there's not much room to back up. That's where a nice ultra-wide comes in.

To Sum It Up

All in all, I loved using this lens. It was a vast improvement on ultra-wide angle lenses I’ve used made by Canon, Rokinon, and Sigma. There were a variety of practical applications on this trip that were directly benefited by having it with me. Here's a more specific breakdown of my experience:

What I Liked

  • The feel of the lens is solid and comfortable.
  • The durability is helpful for a travel photographer.
  • The autofocus is fast and responsive.
  • The minimal chromatic aberration was a nice change.
  • The Vibration Control is a must for many practical applications.
  • The ability to fine-tune focus manually while in autofocus mode is a great feature.
  • The starburst created by the 9-blade aperture is really pretty.

What Could Be Improved

  • The focusing distance was a big frustration for me.
  • The lens cap is massive (though in practicality, there’s no way to solve this).
  • The ability to use rear filters is nice, but rear filters aren’t as prolific as screw-on filters. It would be great (and super convenient) if Tamron would release a set of filters for this and other lenses with the rear filter slot.
  • It would be a smoother transition for Canon shooters if the zoom ring rotated in the traditional Canon direction for Canon mount lenses.

Despite my minor annoyances, I really enjoyed this lens and it was a great addition to my trip. I would certainly consider purchasing it in the future. At just $1,299, it comes in at a lower price point than its comparable ultra-wide angle zoom lenses on the market, and it’s packed with proprietary technology and features like VC image stabilization combined with a fast, constant f/2.8 aperture that set it apart from its competitors.

Based on its performance, I could easily see integrating it in not only my travel photography, but in my commercial, portrait, and wedding workflow as well. For photographers looking for a serious performer in the ultra-wide angle range, Tamron’s 15-30mm f/2.8 Di VC USD G2 is a solid choice. 

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