A Tamron and Nikon user thinks about why to buy the SP lenses
Keywords: tamron, sp, 35mm, 85mm
Who will buy them?
Ok, time for a rant. Well, maybe not a rant so much as a musing…?
Over the last year or so, third-party lens manufacturer Tamron have been upping their game – so to speak. Producing amazing lenses like the SP 35mm f1.8 Di VC USD and the 85mm f1.8 Di VC USD. These are sexy, sharp, fast prime lenses, with everything bar the kitchen sink thrown at them in terms of Tamron’s lens and glass technology. The have VC (vibration control), USD (ultrasonic silent drive), flourite and eBand lens coatings (non-marking and anti-reflective), extra low-dispersion glass elements (to reduce chromatic aberrations), and XR (extra refractive) glass to help produce a smaller and lighter end product. As I said – everything but the kitchen sink. It all sounds amazing.
But this isn’t an article about how great these lenses are – or how sharp they are, or how fast they focus – or anything to do with image quality. I have never used any of these new Tamron primes, have never even so much as held one in my hands. And I probably never will. And that’s the subject of this article.
When I think of Tamron, or Sigma, or Tokina, I think of excellent lenses (which most of them are) at an excellent price. Case in point – Tamron’s SP 24-70mm f2.8 Di VC USD (more in the forums on the SP 24-70). It’s a classic lens, loved and owned by many a serious amateur photographer (and probably more than a few professionals). It’s got great optics, in a small and lightweight package, at a very good price. At the time of writing this it retails for $1,300 USD. I don’t know about you, but $1,300 USD is still a reasonable amount of money to spend on one lens – especially for a hobbyist who has a family to support and bills to pay. But it pales into insignificance (almost) when you compare it to the $2,400 USD that Nikon is asking for their AF-S 24-70mm f2.8 ED VR. There’s just no way I’ll ever be able to afford the Nikon 24-70mm f2.8 (even second hand). But I just might, one day, be able to own the Tamron at half the price.
And surely, that’s the point of third-party manufacturers – isn’t it? Almost all the quality, at almost half the price. Otherwise, what’s the point of third party products?
This is what I’m struggling with over the latest lens releases from Tamron. As fantastic as I’m sure the lenses are – I think they’ve missed the point of the role a third-party lens manufacturer fulfils in the marketplace.
I’ve said this so many times on my blog – but I’ll say it again – my purchasing decisions are always constrained by my budget. In anything. But especially in photography. I want the best bang I can get for my buck. And usually, that best bang has come from Tamron, Sigma or Tokina – the third party manufacturers.
But let’s also be real about this for a moment. I’d rather have a Nikkor (or Canon/Pentax/Olympus). Given the choice between the Tamron 24-70mm and the Nikkor 24-70mm, I’d take the Nikkor every time – if money was no object. If I won lotto tomorrow and could choose any lenses I wanted for my kit, it would be the actual manufacturer’s lenses every time. No question.
So when Tamron release a 35mm f1.8 and an 85mm f1.8 that are more expensive than Nikon’s offerings, my brain almost explodes! I mean really – what are they thinking?
This is not all about image quality
I’m sorry, but for me – and I suspect for a good many of you too – purchasing decisions come down to price. The Tamron SP 35mm f1.8 blah de blah de blah retails new for $570 USD at the time of writing this. The Nikkor AF-S 35mm f1.8G (Full frame FX version) is $530 USD. I suppose if you simply must have VR in your 35mm, then the Tamron is a bargain. But even though the Tamron is only $40US more, I’d go for the Nikkor – every time.
As a DX shooter, I also have the option of the Nikkor 35mm f1.8G DX lens, at $196 USD. Guess which one I’m going to go for? It’s a no brainer. And please don’t tell me that the Tamron is $370 USD better than the Nikkor. I’ve owned the 35mm f1.8G lens and it’s a stellar performer with exceptional I.Q. It may not have as good a build quality as the Tamron – but it will be ‘good enough’, and $370 USD cheaper. And that there is the whole argument we used to be able to use to justify purchasing third-party lenses in the first place. Not quite as good – but good enough….
It only gets worse for the Tamron 85mm f1.8, retailing in early 2017 for $750 USD. The Nikkor AF-S 85mm f1.8G - $480 USD. Again, just a no brainer.
I can see Tamron’s dilemma – I truly can. They are producing fantastic lenses, with all the greatest technology thrown in to entice buyers. Yet all that technology must come at a price. I get that. But when third-party lenses become more expensive than the manufacturers own products, then Houston, we have a problem. Who’s going to buy them? If they are more expensive than the Nikkors, then not me. And are they really going to entice people away from the manufacturer’s own product for a higher price? I think not.
if you want to read more about SP lenses from Tamron
We have the whole list of Tamron SP articles under the "sp" tag.
Originally written on March 23, 2017
Last updated on March 28, 2017
More articles that might interest you
Airy Magnien (Airy) on May 26, 2020
I also beg to disagree. For one thing, the Tamron 45/1.8 (which I own) is an excellent lens, sharpness- and bokeh-wise. The only relative minus is a very slight lack of contrast. Night shots are usually very good too, to the point that I'd pick the Tamron every now and then for such use (my alternatives being the Zeiss 35/2 ZF2 and Noct Nikkor: the Tamron is definitely the cheapest alternative). VC is not the only selling point, but I found it to be very useful: one of my favourite subjects is shooting pipe organs or other artwork in dark places (churches, museums) where tripods are not welcome, not to mention flashlights. Besides, I simply cannot lug around serious tripods when walking over long distances (getting old...) or riding cheap flights. So when the alternative is VC + 1/4s versus ISO 12800, I'll definitely go for VC, shoot three shots and select the best one (usually, only one is blurred). The result is much better IQ, even though my camera (a Df) is no slouch at 12800 ISO.
Gregory Lewis (Leatham) on September 24, 2017
I don't think Tamron missed the point at all. Vibration Control is a rare thing in prime lenses and Tamron are providing users with a real alternative. The 45mm is now my main lens because I can do things I could not do with Nikon products. The image quality is better than any of the current Nikon 50mm lenses plus I have 100% consistently sharp exposures down to 1/8. Perfect for car or plane museums and any type of indoor exhibition. My answer to "And are they really going to entice people away from the manufacturer’s own product for a higher price?" is an emphatic "Yes". Tamron supplied what I wanted. Nikon did not.
Hans Kuwert (nikonus) on May 15, 2017
Seems the build quality is based labor costs ,material and brand name . Some of the plastic tubes are just as good as the high end metal bodied lenses .. Consider the consumer use would be easier than pro requirements . The third party glass can be just as good on some models . Old school thought was better resale on brand name lenses . We live on reviews and word of mouth for our next buy . It ends up being a budget issue , for lenses under 125 mm the quality differences seem less . Up over 200 - 600mm it night and day between brands . The VR and AF-S is nice , while other brands fall short in the early years its fairly close these days . Two of my school buddies have been pro for 35 yrs , I laugh when their gear for the day is a 1970s lens worth the price of an SD card . Shoot everything on manual .
Wayne Lorimer (wjlorimer) on March 28, 2017
Thanks for everyone who has taken the time to comment and consider this article so far. I've enjoyed reading and pondering every one of them. If I may just pick up on a couple of re-occuring themes; Yes, Zeiss makes VERY expensive, and very good glass. And that's the point of Zeiss isn't it? They 'might' be considered a third-party lens manufacturer - but they have ALWAYS been about the very top-end. You know if you buy Zeiss glass it's going to be a: good and b: damn expensive. So no, I don't see them as refuting my initial question at all. Many have also continued to bring Sigma into the equation - and quite rightly as a major third-party player. And I still think that on the whole, Sigma is getting it RIGHT! Both in terms of features and price. TN Args makes a great point - although I also find it a rather disconcerting one. By staying in Japan, are the third-party manufacturers going to have to charge more for a 'better' product than Canon/Nikon who quite happily build plastic lenses off-shore? Do Nikon (and Canon) need to up their lens quality game? All very interesting questions....
TN Args (Args) on March 27, 2017
Zeiss make third party lenses. Do they have to be cheaper than Nikon? (Since you say this is not about image quality) Sigma's CEO is now saying that their traditional budget lens market is no longer profitable, because they insist on making their lenses in their Japanese factory and not going to India or China like Nikon and Canon have done for their cheaper lines. So they now focus on the unique e.g. f/1.8 zooms, and the extraordinary e.g. Art series.
John Hernlund (Tokyo_John) on March 27, 2017
"....everything but the kitchen sink..." Everything but an aperture ring. If they were smart, they could really make Nikon look stupid (with their anti-compatible G lenses) by including this simple feature. It would certainly set them apart, at a higher level.
Roger Kocken (Roger Kocken) on March 26, 2017
Lots of interesting comments on Nikon versus 3'rd party lenses. Price, IQ, build and features are all important in a lens buying decision. I'm glad Tamron came out with these new lenses. The new lenses may make Nikon question there lens line. Should we offer VR in normal and wide angle primes? Metal versus plastic construction? The point is with more options all the lens manufactures have to bring their "A" game, be innovative and reduce cost. This is consistent with some of the other comments.
Joseph shank (Kjshank2) on March 26, 2017
I recently purchased the nikon 35mm 1.8g fx, I looked long and hard at the tamron before I pulled the trigger. It seems like a really nice piece of glass, and it offers vc which no one else does in a nikon mount. That is worth a few more bucks to someone who needs, or thinks they might need it. I think we are about to see some sort of shift between nikon and third parties. Im guessing the competition from the third parties is going to drive the quality of nikons lenses up. This may have already started with the 105mm. I think they may have built that lens to such a high quality that sigma wont be able to build an art series competitor to it at the steep discount they are used to.
Phil Clavey (Philnblanks) on March 26, 2017
Yes. I think Sigma's strategy is very shrewd, but I think Tamron is missing the mark. I sure have no problem going with a 3rd party lens that is superior in performance. And if it's at a lower price point, that's a great value. I do like that Sigma's Art series are pushing Nikon and Canon to up their game. We all win.
Mark Virgil Stephan (Mark37814) on March 25, 2017
Some of us are challenged physically and VR, VC or OS or in my case IBIS with my Sony dSLR's is necessary. I have to have it to shoot handheld images. When using lenses without stabilization I use a monopod or tripod. So I think there is a market for Tamron's VC lenses. I've often wished my 85 f/1.4 AF-D lens had VR. Why not Nikon? my 85 f/3.5 Micro features VRII!
Wayne Lorimer (wjlorimer) on March 25, 2017
Phil has hit the nail on the head (thanks Phil) - I am really coming at this from a marketing standpoint, and I think that Tamron's market positioning in this instance is all wrong. I said right from the start this this wasn't about I.Q. or features, but about how they were positioning themselves with their price point. Many have mentioned the Sigma 'Art' series lenses, but I think Sigma have got it right (mostly), whereas Tamron has got it wrong. Sigma 'Art' lenses are generally still cheaper (and in some cases much more so) than the Nikkor equivalents. Case in point; The Sigma 'Art' 85mm f1.4 is $1,200. The Nikkor 85mm f1.4 is $1,600. So yes, I'd SERIOUSLY consider buying the Sigma at $400 cheaper. And there are lots more examples: Sigma 35mm f1.4 Art $900 - Nikkor $1690. Sigma 24mm f1.4 Art $850 - Nikkor $1995. So yes - on features, on quality, and on price, the Sigma Art lenses make a lot of sense and I can see why they are selling well. I guess only time will tell for Tamron?
Carl Crosby (wile e coyote) on March 24, 2017
Mick Klass (mklass) on March 24, 2017
I disagree with some of this. If the lens is superior, and I can afford it, I'll ye the lens regardless of manufacturer. By thinking you should always buy Nikon, you, in fact, justify their policy of charging a premium for the Nikon name, even when the lens is only as good or worse than the 3rd party lenses. I happen to like Sigma lenses because I think they offer equal or better quality for a better price. In some cases, their lenses, particularly the Art lenses, can be more expensive than some of the Nikons, but the IQ is also superior. But for those on tighter budgets, they offer a decent lineup of Contemporary lenses with good optics and very good prices. I do agree that Tamron is barking up the wrong tree by putting VC on these lenses. It isn't needed. But my guess is that is their justification for the price, because I don't think the optics are that much better than Nikons. I think Tamron is trying to go upmarket. But much like the $80,000 Volkswagen, it may not be a successful strategy.
Paul Boden (greenhorn) on March 24, 2017
I think both Tamron and Sigma are trying to overturn a long held prejudice that their products are inferior and cheaper than Canon/Nikon. There are still many photographers who sneer at third party lenses. They are playing the long game so that eventually their lenses will not be regarded as the cheap alternative. If the Tamron lenses have VC and better build quality surely it is reasonable that they should be more expensive, all other things being equal. Paul
Phil Clavey (Philnblanks) on March 24, 2017
This is really all a matter of marketing, but generally I agree with you, Wayne. The cost to manufacture is only part of the equation. Positioning of the product versus competition and the company's business model also factor in. Private label manufacturers (or in this case Third Parties) generally don't have all the expenses that OEM's have and are built to be profitable with slimmer margins. So we can probably assume that Tamron can manufacture and sell any given lens for less money than Nikon. Pricing can also be used to position the product and I suspect Tamron is trying to tell consumers 'hey, our stuff is so darn good it costs even more than Nikon'. If we charge as if we are a Rolex instead of a Timex, people will (maybe) perceive us that way. But...$750 vs $480??? That's laughable. I do not and have never owned a Tamron or Sigma lens. But I am tempted by some of Sigma's Art lenses because they look to be demonstrably and significantly BETTER than the current Nikon equivalent. But guess what...in pretty much every case they cost LESS than Nikon. Based on pricing, Tamron would have us believe that Sigma lenses are at the bottom for quality, Nikon in the middle and Zeiss and Tamron at the top. I think their marketing department has made a mistake. Especially on something like f/1.8 lenses which are pretty pedestrian. Maybe the prices will come down over time and maybe Tamron is trying to carve out a niche with top-of-the-line f/1.8 lenses, while Sigma Art competes with f/1.4 lenses. We'll have to see how they test out, but at a 56% premium they better be very, very good.
Rick Walker (walkerr) on March 24, 2017
(Edited by walkerr Friday, 24 March 2017 ) I think you're a bit locked into how things used to be rather than how things are today. If third party manufacturers can produce lenses that have advantages relative to roughly equivalent Nikkors, why shouldn't their market prices reflect that? Why should photographers looking for things like image stabilization not have an alternative? Are all third party lenses supposed to be cheaper than Nikkors, including Zeiss Otus lenses? Should the Sigma ART 50mm 1.4 cost less than the Nikon 50mm 1.4 AF-S G even though it's considerably better in terms of sharpness and contrast? While anyone buy them? Well, Sigma ART lenses are selling extremely well. Yes, it's nice to have less expensive options, but that's only one of the possible discriminators with lenses. I don't see anything wrong with having variety and paying for what you get in terms of features rather than just a brand name.
Wayne Lorimer (wjlorimer) on March 24, 2017
Nothing wrong with promoting 3rd party lenses - and there's nothing wrong with 3rd party lenses in general. I also have a Tamron 70-200mm :-) For me it's NOT about I.Q. Or the latest tech. Or which focuses faster. (I am, however, often wary of the 'old tech' argument. Newer is not necessarily better). For me, the very notion of '3rd party lenses' creates a distinct category in my approach to lens buying. They will be a: of 'good' quality, b: with 'good' optics, c: at a 'GOOD' price (i.e. cheaper than the manufacturers own products). That's true of ANY 3rd party product - surely? And Joseph - excellent point! VR would be handy for the videographers among us and would certainly be a valid reason to op-t for the Tamron primes with VR. I'm not a video guy, so for me it wasn't on my radar.
Wayne March (wamarchfl) on March 24, 2017
Don't get me wrong I am not promoting 3rd party lens. I am just an engineer who has spent $40k+ on camera gear. I endeavor to get the most bang for my dollars
Joseph shank (Kjshank2) on March 24, 2017
Is it possible people are willing to pay for the vr if they plan on using these lenses for video?
Wayne March (wamarchfl) on March 24, 2017
I can hand hold at 1 second.
Wayne March (wamarchfl) on March 24, 2017
Peter I own it too. But it's old tech. Tamron is brand new with VR and more lensdes. Sharper at 15 not vingnetting off cllolor adoration wide open etc.. Not promoting just saying it's may be worth it.
Wayne March (wamarchfl) on March 24, 2017
I own the Nikon 70-200mm and the new Tamron 70-200mm. The Tamron acquires focus faster, it is sharper and gives better color rendition.Check out the reviews and look for your self.
Wayne Lorimer (wjlorimer) on March 23, 2017
Hi Wayne. Ummm, actually, I think your lens purchases really just proved my point? The Sigma is $400 cheaper than the equivalent Nikkor, while the Tamron is half the price! Under what criteria do you come to the conclusion that they are 'simply better'? I appreciate that lens decisions can also be subjective - and I would agree that just because it says 'Nikkor' doesn't mean it's immediately better than everything else. Of course not. But if we're talking about Nikkor primes compared to Tamron's latest offerings (and we were), then I really think Tamron (and maybe Sigma) are shooting themselves in the foot by making their products more expensive than the manufacturer's own offerings. I'm sure Nikon's not complaining - although I hope it doesn't mean a price hike? I'm really just questioning the role of a third-party lens manufacturer in the marketplace. Yes, competition is great - but do we want competition to drive the prices up, or drive them down? When the third-party offerings are starting to be more expensive than the manufacturer's own products, then yes, I think we do have a problem. And No, I wouldn't put Zeiss in the 'third-party' lens manufacturer category at all. But even if i did, then we just get back to the same argument. Would I buy a Zeiss at twice the price of the equivalent Nikkor? Nope.
Peter Geran (gearsau) on March 23, 2017
Why is the Tamron 15-30 f2.9 better than the Nikon? I have owned my Nikon 14-24 f2.8 since 2010. Extremely happy with it.
Wayne March (wamarchfl) on March 23, 2017
I think you are missing the point. Case in point I just purchased the Tamron 70-200mm f/2.8 and the Sigma 85mm f1.4 Art lens to use with my D5 and D810. Why, they are simply better. Yes I can afford the Nikon versions. In fact I am thinking about selling my Nikon 14-24mm f/2.8 for the Tamron 15-30mm f/2.8. Why its better. Yes in the past you had to give up something when you got a third party lens. Would you put Ziess in that category. Nikon makes some good lens but that doesn't mean that they are best in class. By the way I did by the Nikon 200-500mm f/5.6 over the Tamron and Sigma offerings for my D500.