Tamron is on a roll lately. Everything they've released in the last two years has been a tremendous improvement, and for the first time I can (with a straight face) say that many third party lenses are better than the Canon/Nikon stuff.
The Tamron 15-30mm f/2.8 is no exception. This lens has taken its rightful place on my camera as my DSLR wide angle lens of choice.
Let's Start with the Conclusion of the Testing
The Tamron 15-30mm f/2.8 is very sharp, has few technical flaws, focuses quickly, and performs well enough for me to use it as my primary DSLR wide angle lens. It's best feature is the image stabilization, and the price is very reasonable.
But it's not all roses and unicorns, on the long end the lens just isn't quite as sharp, it's way too heavy, and it's difficult to use filters on this lens because of the protruding front element.
In my opinion, this is the best wide angle lens on the market right now.
On the wide end, this lens does remarkably well with sharpness. The corners aren't quite as sharp at the center, but are they ever? That being said, the corner sharpness is still quite well controlled on the wide end.
I haven't done any direct side-by-side scientific tests with the legendary Nikon 14-24 (a lens I am very familiar with and shot for years), but eyeballing it, I'd say it's right on par. That's quite a statement if you know how well regarded the 14-24 has been in the landscape photography world. It has been the unquestionable sharpness king of the wide angle world for years.
As you zoom in to the longer end, you see a little bit of the sharpness start to dissipate. I'd say you start to see the reduction around 24 or 25mm. Even at 30mm the lens is still very good, but not as good as on the wide end. As far as I'm concerned that's not nearly as much of a problem as if the wide end weren't sharp. So the quick answer is to just shoot this lens as a 15-24 by not zooming in further.
Image Stabilization: The X factor
The real x factor on this lens is image stabilization. Tamron is putting VC (image stabilization) on everything lately! When I first heard the specs of this lens that it would include image stabilization, I thought it was quite unnecessary. Longer lenses need image stabilization, but it's still nice to have on shorter lenses.
Surprisingly, I found the image stabilization to be quite handy. I used the Tamron 15-30 f/2.8 on a recent photography workshop in Guilin China (click the link for details on next year's trip), and found that the VC came in handy quite regularly. As we traveled on bamboo rafts down the Li River, I couldn't set up a tripod on the raft so I did a few handheld landscapes and some of them turned out quite good.
I even used the Tamron for some environmental portraits/street photography when I wanted to include a lot of scenery around people and used the image stabilization there as well. Since the lens extends to 30mm, it's really a quite versatile lens so having the image stabilization really helps.
Two Things I Don't Like
The two real negatives about this lens are: (1) the weight, and (2) inability to easily screw on filters.
I've been traveling quite extensively to do photography around the world this year, and weight has become a significant factor in my buying decisions. In fact, it even pushed me to sell my Nikon gear and shoot a Fuji XT1. The Tamron 15-30mm f/2.8 is a heavy lens. It's even slightly heavier than the super heavy Nikon 14-24mm f/2.8 (Fuji weighs 1100 grams and the Nikon is 1000 grams).
The other problem is that the front element protrudes out and prevents filters from being screwed on the non-existent filter threads. You will have to get specialized on-hood filters from Lee or Cokin for this lens if you want to use filters. But even as a landscape photographer, I really don't use filters nearly as often as I used to in the pre-Lightroom days. I wouldn't let a different filter requirement keep you from this awesome lens.
Focus seems very fast and accurate over all. I haven't seen any issues at all.
Focus breathing is something I'm always very concerned with when I pick a wide angle lens. I'm pretty picky about my compositions, so I don't like it when I get my composition perfect, and then focus and it changes the framing. I know I should focus first but I often forget. Focus breathing seems reasonably well controlled. It's still not perfect, but I'm yet to find a wide angle that doesn't have annoying focus breathing.
Compared to Other Wide Angle Options
Let's put it this way. It's definitely better than the Tokina 16-28mm. It's better than both the Nikon and Canon 16-35's. It might be better than the Nikon 14-24mm, and it's also a lot less expensive.
If that wasn't clear enough, I'll put it this way. I used to own a Nikon 14-24mm and a Nikon 16-35mm. I still own a Tamron 15-30.
I really like the lens cap on this lens. I know that's a funny thing to mention, but it's the only lens cap that I actually use because it just pops on and off the front of the lens hood. It stays on when it's supposed to be on and comes of readily. I wish all lens caps were that way. If they were, I might actually use them.
The lens hood is fixed on the lens and is not removable, which is done to protect the front element. When the lens is zoomed in and out, the front element moves in and out, but the lens hood remains still.
For those who are more concerned about buying a lens as a fashion accessory, the lens has a new tungsten color ring at the end. Not sure why that matters, but Tamron actually put some thought into the color. Funny.
The lens overall is really THICK. It's like a little tank turret on the end of your DSLR.
Pricing and Where To Buy
I buy all my photography gear from Amazon for a few reasons: (1) In most states you don't get charged sales tax, (2) their return policy is absolutely awesome whereas a lot of photography suppliers have really strict policies, and (3) if you look on the right hand side of the listings for lenses, you can often buy the gear used for a little discount.