Tamron SP 45mm f/1.8 VC: Is it Worth the Money?

Tamron SP 45mm

It’s a weird focal length, is fast but not ultra-fast, and costs more than twice what a half-decent 50mm prime lens would go for. But it’s also got image stabilization. So is the Tamron SP 45mm f/1.8 VC lens for Canon, Nikon, and other bodies worth the money? You might be surprised at the answer.

Tamron SP 45mm f/1.8 — Tech Specs

  • Focal Length: 45mm
  • Mount: Canon EF / EF-S, Nikon F, Sony A
  • Max/Min Aperture: f/1.8 – f/16
  • Aperture Blades: 9
  • Focus Type: AF + Manual
  • Glass: 10 Elements in 8 Groups
  • Filter Thread: 67mm
  • Dimensions / Weight: 2.6″ x 5″ x 5″ / 19oz (540g)

Lens Overview

45mm might seem like an odd focal length, but Tamron claims it’s the closest angle of view you can get to how a human actually sees the world (on a full-frame sensor). And I agree that it does feel a little bit more “natural” than either 35mm or 50mm focal lengths. It’s not dramatically different, but it’s pretty good marketing on Tamron’s part.

Overall, this is a solid lens. It’s very well built (it’s comfortably heavy), has weather sealing, offers vibration compensation (image stabilization), and has a respectably fast f/1.8 maximum aperture. It just feels robust and has a great look. Image quality is very nice as you will see in the sample photos below.

What’s in the Box

The Tamron SP 45mm f/1.8 comes with you’d expect of a lens in this price range: lens cap, back cap, lens hood (petal type), and instructions / warranty card. The packaging itself is impressive and nicely finished and put together.

The Good

After spending a couple afternoons shooting with this lens, there are some standout qualities:

Fast Glass with Image Stabilization

Okay, so f/1.8 isn’t the widest aperture you can get in a “normal” perspective lens, but it’s definitely on the fast side of things. Sure, the Canon 50mm f/1.2 is super-fast, but it’s also more than 3x the cost of this Tamron, and it doesn’t have built-in image stabilization.

Including image stabilization in a normal-perspective lens was an industry first for Tamron with the SP 45mm. And it’s a robust system, offering 3.5 stops of stabilization performance (according to Tamron). In my tests, it works quite well and is very quiet.

The moderately fast f/1.8 aperture plus the effective image stabilization make the Tamron SP 45mm a perfect lens for hand-held shooting in low-light situations. It’s also ideal for street photography.

Close Focusing Capability

This isn’t a macro lens, but it can focus as close as 11.4″ (0.29m). It won’t replace a dedicated macro lens, but it can get the job done for certain macro needs.  Compare this performance to the Canon 50mm f/1.8 STM, which has a minimum focus distance of nearly 14″ (0.35m). Doesn’t sound like much, but it makes a big difference.

High Image Quality

Wide open, there is pronounced vignetting, but this is not uncommon in fast non-telephoto lenses. The Tamron SP 45mm is fairly sharp at maximum aperture and by f/2.5 gets really sharp. Overall, it delivers great image quality wide open, and things improve by a noticeable but not great amount as it is stopped down to about f/5.6. The sweet spot seems to be around f/2.2 – f/2.8.

Sample images shot with Canon 6D at ISO 100. No post processing other than minimal sharpening of RAW images.

Bokeh is Round and Smooth

Because of the 9 aperture blades, bokeh is round and smooth at all f stops. Some would say that it lacks character because of this, but I find that unremarkable bokeh is less distracting (especially for portraits). Whether you find round/smooth bokeh to be a good thing or not, you can rest assured the Tamron SP 45mm does not produce harsh or ugly bokeh “balls” or highlights.

Weather Sealing

This lens has Tamron’s version of what Canon and Nikon call “weather sealing”. It’s fortified against dust and moisture at several points, and the mount ring has a rubber dust seal to help keep particulate matter out of the camera body. This is something you don’t see on budget lenses. Canon doesn’t include weather sealing until you get into their “L” series pro lenses (and even some of those don’t have full sealing).

Focus Ring is Beefy and Smooth

It’s big, it’s easy to grip, it’s smooth as butter, and it has enough range of motion to make focusing easy. Can’t really ask for a better manual focus ring.

The Medium

Here are some things that may or may not be detractions from the overall quality of the lens:

Focusing is Very Smooth and Accurate but Slow

The feel of the Tamron SP 45mm while it is focusing is very nice. Like butter, actually. And while not as quiet as Canon’s Ultrasonic technology, it’s also reasonably quiet. The only flaw here is that focus speed is rather slow but just about any standard. On the plus side, however, it doesn’t do a lot of “hunting” for focus. Once it locks on, it’s good to go.

This lens is not going to be ideal for fast-moving subjects, such as sports, kids, or wildlife, because of the slowness of the focusing.

Chromatic Aberration is Visible at Wider Apertures

I was hoping this lens would exhibit essentially zero chromatic aberration (green and purple fringing on highlights and lighter colors), but alas it does show some at wider apertures. It is mostly gone by f/2.8 and totally gone by f/4. This isn’t a major issue, as CA is easily removed in Lightroom or Photoshop. But it does bear noting.

Noticeable Vignetting at Wider Apertures

Like most non-telephoto lenses, this lens exhibits vignetting (darkened edges) at wider apertures. It’s quite pronounced at f/1.8 and trails off quickly, having fully dissipated by f/4. On the plus side, Photoshop and Lightroom have a lens correction profile for this lens, and it totally negates the vignetting (if it is something you want to get rid of…a lot of people like the look that vignetting brings to certain photos).

The Bad

I’m happy to report that I can’t find anything “bad” about this lens. 🙂

So, is it Worth the Asking Price?

In my opinion, it is worth the current retail price of ~ $399 USD. I wouldn’t call it a “great value”, nor do I think it is overpriced. If you shop around, you can usually find it a few bucks cheaper or with some “free” accessories. I got mine with a UV filter, 64GB memory card, cleaning cloth, and some other stuff for the regular retail price.

A lot of people would prefer to get a cheaper alternative 50mm lens, but there’s nothing else out there right now that has a normal perspective AND built-in image stabilization. The Tamron SP 45mm really is unique in this regard. It’s also far better built than any of Canon’s 50mm offerings (under $1200, that is).