Tamron SP 35-80mm/2.8-3.8 CF Macro

5 Frames With a Surprisingly Good Tamron Zoom – By Roland Casselbrant

About five years ago a friend of mine showed me an old hard case that contained two old Pentax ME and a couple of Tamrom Zoom lenses with the intent to sell them to me.

I love to make a good deal and to expand my ever growing collection of analog cameras so I said I give the cameras a test drive before I decided. After establishing that both cameras worked really well, we agreed on a price and I have used them both, now and then, ever since. The lenses in the case were nothing really exciting so they just ended up in the cabinet where all my other photographic equipment waiting to be rediscovered.

Until today that is.

When I held the lens, a Tamron SP 35-80mm/2.8-3.8 CF Macro in my hand, I decided that I should try it out and to actually get to know if it is usable. I have always preferred prime lenses just because, I feel, prime lenses make me a better photographer. A prime lens forces me to get in closer to the subject and that usually just makes a more appealing photograph. This is a way of photography that works for me, we all find our preferred methods, but I may have become a little comfortable in my habits. So bear with me on this maiden voyage.

Since film photography has so many parameters that come together in creating a photograph, I try to test my lenses on a digital camera first. Mostly to have the same ground for comparing the results and knowing what exactly the lens brings to the table, so to speak. I love to use and shoot a wide range of different films and this makes it hard to compare lenses between each other when I most likely tried them on different cameras with different films, so I use my trusty Pentax K-5 digital whenever I try out a new lens.

First picture taken with the lens
A bit underexposed but the first shot shows a surprisingly sharpness and a smooth painting bokeh

The sharpness is really good and I start to get a bit of a surprised look on my face. My preconception against old zoom-lenses is about to undergo a metamorphosis. The lens is well built, has 9 elements in 8 groups and a large front element with a 62mm filter thread. On my lens is an old Toshiba UV-filter, so after cleaning the filter I was good to go. After hiding from the strong sunlight in the first picture I went out to test the lens and myself in the world of long shadows.

After a week with dark clouds and a lot of rain, the day for testing this lens is sunny. Sun is perhaps the worst weather possible for my way of shooting pictures. Mostly because I am too lazy to bring a flashlight most of the time. But in the Scandinavian autumn and winter the sun never manages to rise especially high in the sky so a sunny day here involves a strong light from the side with extremely long shadows. Not the simplest conditions for photography. But at the same time good conditions for testing a lens.

The Tamron lens at f8
At f8 this old Tamron handles the sharp light far better than the kit-lens that came with my much more modern Pentax K-5 I used for this shot

After just a few hours with this lens I started to fall for it. The sharpness surprised me a lot but with a good amount of contrast it seems like I had a hidden gem in my closet for the last five years. This Tamron lens is handling colours just as well as it handles everything else and I will probably keep using this lens more in the future.

After seeing the results from today’s shooting I can absolutely see myself trying to shoot some film with it. It will handle both color and black and white nicely.

Nice details from the Tamron lens

The Tamron lens handles both light an shadow

Nice color rendering

The Tamron SP 35-80mm/2.8-3.8 CF Macro did a great job. It comes from an era in time of photography when zoom-lenses were something new and the different manufactures found and used different solutions for their lenses. I guess I have been put off by the large amount of low quality lenses that entered the market in the beginning. But when I look closely at the pictures I have taken with my Tamron I can’t find any visible distortion which was my main concern about using old manual zoom-lenses.

After using the lens I went out and looked for more information about the lens and on a couple of forums I found it seems to be a consensus that this was one of the best zooms of its era. Only really challenged by some contemporary Nikkor lenses…

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20 thoughts on “5 Frames With a Surprisingly Good Tamron Zoom – By Roland Casselbrant”

  1. I have a whole bunch of Adaptall and Adaptall 2 lenses with various interchangeable mounts, and have always been impressed with their performance. Lovely primes you should consider acquiring. Nice photos, by the way. Cheers, Rock

  2. Been out with my 35-80 this morning,it’s my second one after the first one died and is an excellent standard zoom on the Sony A7 mk2

  3. For us older types the good performance would not be a surprise as the SP Tamrons were high quality, the SP standing for Special Performance (if memory serves me right)

    Like the Vivitar Seies 1 lenses, these were more expensive and as good as or better than own brand lenses.

    I couldn’t justify the expense at the time!

  4. Shubroto Bhattacharjee

    Excellent results, Roland.
    SP stood for Super Performance. This designation was used for top-tier lenses from Tamron.
    Enjoy your find!

  5. I agree with other commenters here that the Tamron SP lenses were top-tier offerings meant to compete professionally with lenses from major manufacturers of the day. I also think the autho made an unfortunate omission in that they did not state in the article that this 35-80mm lens is an Adaptall-2 variant. While you can clearly see this in the photo of the lens at the beginning of this article, leaving out this information in their writing might cause some readers to think this lens can only be used on K-mount cameras. This is not true however, because the Adaptall-2 mount can be used on a large number of cameras of many different lens mounts with the use of a relatively inexpensive mount adapter. I have one of these SP Adaptall-2 lenses with adapters for Contax/Yashica, M42, and Canon FD. The adapters can be found for $10-25 and can really expand the number of cameras such a lens can be used with.

  6. Castelli Daniel

    Hi Roland,
    My comments will echo other people who have posted. I always liked the Tamron SP lenses. That also goes for the Vivitar Series 1 line of lenses. I was still teaching photography in 2008 when a photographer dropped off a box of Canon gear. He had switched to digital, and we were still shooting film. One of the ‘goodies’ was a new Canon F1 and a Tamron macro lens. The kids loved working with that combo! Lots of eyeball & tattoos pics. All sharp & contrasty.
    I wish you continued good photo adventures with the lens.

  7. This is my go-to zooms lens! The adaptall system is a stroke of genius – I don’t use zoom much so it’s amazingly convenient to have a high performing one that I can throw on any of my cameras.

    As others have said, the SP series were their top tier lenses. I have found this lens lacks a bit of sharpness in the macro range … But just wait until you try the 90mm f2.5 SP adaptall for macro (or anything really). It’s a real gem.

    1. I will 100% agree that the Tamron Adaptall-2 90mm f/2.5 SP Macro lens is a top performer. It’s very good for macro and it’s a lovely portrait lens.

  8. I am so old I bought one of these new and used it in my job as a photographer for a small newspaper. I used it on a Pentx MX. It was especially good at 35mm. On the longer end I would switch to the Tamron adaptall 90mm macro, a great lens. The 24mm 2.5 was my other favorite Tamron in those days. The 28 was good but hard to find so I got a lens that I can’t name because the website keeps changing the word to moron but it starts with a k and rhymes with moron.

    1. The thing with zoom lenses for me is the size and the weight. But this one is so good I really will be using it. And after a long period of obscure M42 lenses, and particularly vintage German lenses, I think it’s time for an Japanese period for a while. There are plenty of interesting lenses out there.

  9. There are some very fine Tamron SP zooms out there. Never had the SP 35-80, but the contemporary SP 70-150 f/2.8 is nice, not just an interesting special effects lens but is also pretty sharp when used normally. My favourite is the SP 24-48, fairly compact and again providing decent quality (albeit it really needs it’s dedicated hood, which can cost almost as much as the lens these days). Not a fan of either 70-210 but the SP 80-200/2.8 LD is very good indeed and the 60-300 has a good reputation but neither of these is compact!

  10. Marco Debiasi

    I also have a copy of this zoom that I used on my film cameras and now with an adapter on a Fujifilm X-E2 camera. I remember it as very good when I used to take slide photos with it. It is still very good on a digital APS-C camera (where its focal length roughly corresponds to a full-frame 50-120 mm). On my digital camera I find that wide open at 80 mm is less sharp and has a little of ‘glow’ to its images which I use to my advantage in taking portraits. Otherwise it is generally sharp and with negligible color fringing. The main drawback of this lens is a pronounced barrel distortion at 35 mm which was clearly visible in my slides but is much less evident on the APS-C format.

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