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Many moons ago Tamron made a zoom lens with soft focus control and it was quite the lens. They were not the first soft focus lens and they certainly were not the last, but it is the only quality zoom lens with the creative soft focus control I have ever seen. The lens is quite rare as Tamron only produced the lens from 1979-83 and it was a low production unit.

I spent a few years ‘Jonesing’ for the lens bidding on them at ebay and searching tables at camera shows like PhotoFair. I never found one I could justify the price on until I ran into a Canadian who had one that was broken. The soft focus actuation ring was stuck and the aperture diaphragm was a little wonky. So I picked it up on the cheap and promptly had it repaired. These things routinely fetch north of $400-$500 in good shape, and now I know why.

The lens is a Tamron Adaptall-2 SP 70-150/2.8 Soft Focus. With the soft focus turned off it is a very sharp lens wide open, throughout the focal range. It has three variable softness settings each getting stronger. Even on the third setting it doesn’t feel overdone like some soft focus lenses. My biggest complaint about the lens is the weight, it is a heavy beast. Tamron SP lenses in the Adaptall era were pretty stoutly built and this lens is no exception.

Some of you may remember the soft focus post I did a couple of months ago. The idea is not for the photo to be unsharp, but rather to induce spherical aberration to make the out of focus areas and smooth areas have a soft glow effect that softens the overall photo. Done right the lens will still render pin point sharp areas as sharp, like the catch lights in the eye of a model.

What I really like about the Tamron is its versatility. On a full frame camera like my EOS-R, the 70-150mm is really the entire classic portrait range. For tight close-up shots the 150mm gives the photographer a comfortable working distance. For a waist up shot the 70-90mm range might work better. It is nice to have it all in the same lens. That versatile focal range also grants a good use on APS/c cameras like my EOS M5 where the range is an effective 112-240 with the bottom of the range being in the traditional long portrait zone and the long end a solid tele for either dramatic close-ups or other long lens uses, sports, wildlife etc. I have a 0.71x focal reducer and when that is used with this lens on my M5 I get an effective 80-170mm f/2.0 soft focus!

On the up side this lens is razor sharp at all focal lengths but according to reports Tamron optimized it for 105mm. The lens has an effective soft focus system that yields excellent results. The lens has a fast constant f/2.8 aperture. The lens focuses real close for a 150mm at 3.3 feet. That yields an effective macro reproduction ratio on full frame at 1:4.8. 3.3 feet is not so good for 70mm but quite good at 150mm. As I mentioned above it is well built. It uses readily available 62mm filters. The lens is easily adaptable to a variety of SLR cameras with mounts still sold used and even some new mounts from Chinese adapter makers.

On the downside the lens is long and heavy. It has a nearly worthless built-in shade that is so shallow it would probably work on 28mm lens without vignetting. Like many other soft focus lenses I have used, the bokeh highlights become a bit more coarse when the soft focus effect is used.

In short this is a great lens for portraits and even some general purpose tele work. The size and weight are a bit of a problem when used on a modern small frame camera, but on larger cameras like the Canon 5D series or most of the vintage 35mm bodies it feels pretty good. The lens is a very capable performer with excellent optics and it even stops down to f/32!

I have a couple of sample shots one taken with soft focus at “0” (no effect) and the other taken at the maximum setting of “3.” You will noticed the soft glow all over the image taken at setting 3. But look closing at the details, they are still there. The writing around the lens ring is still crisp and readable. A diffuser filter would have lost detail and an out of focus shot would have taken the clean edge of the letters.

Tamron SP 70-150/2.8 Soft Focus set to “0” 150mm @f/2.8

Tamron SP 70-150/2.8 Soft Focus set to “3” 150mm @f/2.8

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Many moons ago, I wrote a piece on this blog about the classic Nikkor 105/2.5 lens. I went on and on about how fabulous it is with its crisp contrasty images, compact size, reasonable speed and 52mm filter size. In fact you can read that article right here as a refresher since its been a few years back. I mentioned in that article Nikon’s bigger, faster, and way spendier 1.8 version which the bigger and spendier was often too much to justify the faster.

I however have always had a weakness for fast glass. I have been fortunate enough to own some of the world’s fastest glass over the years. I even have some pretty speedy stuff now, including the Nikon AI 105/1.8. In fact I picked it up at the last PhotoFair show in Newark back in February. Now that I mentioned PhotoFair, the next show is in Newark, CA on May 18th and just around the corner, this weekend is a big show up in the Seattle area, the PSPCS show in Kent, WA. Graham and I will be there, hanging out with Emanuelle from PhotoCamera. I got a sweet deal on this 105/1.8 from Seawood Photo at PhotoFair and maybe you can find a sweet deal to at one of these next two shows!

OK, back to the lens. This is a chunky lens friends, it is about the same length as the 2.5 just a tad longer, but the filter size is 62mm instead of 52mm and it weighs in at a hefty 600g with both caps. The 2.5 comes in at a much slimmer 450g. But frankly the weight and girth is a small concession to gain a full stop of light gathering power. Yes 1.8 is a full stop faster than 2.5, so now that ISO 400 shot at 1/60th becomes 1/125th and you get even better soft background. As for the price difference, it is about two and a half times more expensive and that can take a toll on your wallet, but… worth it 🙂

I have read reports that this lens is actually sharper than the 2.5 model and honestly I don’t see it. I think they are pretty close and if you stop down the 1.8 to 2.8 it isn’t noticeably sharper than the 2.5 at 2.8. Wide open they perform similar other than the extra 2x blast of delicious EV afforded the lucky owners of the 1.8.

The shot of Betsy, my sleepy lab was done on my EOS R with the Nikon lens 1/45th at F/1.8 hand held at ISO 3200. Look how her eye just pops out against the soft foreground and background. This is what I live for, shallow depth of field and a subject the jumps off the screen or print at you. This shot does have a hint of camera shake, but I like it anyway 🙂

It should be noted that these higher speed longer lenses are difficult to get sharp focus wide open hand held. Why you ask? Because we are alive and even the steadiest hand will have some movement. If the shutter speed is fast enough to stop camera shake, it won;t stop your back and forth undulations that move the point of focus slightly ahead and behind as your move ever so slightly.

The shot below of my venerable test still life subject, the Kodak Signet 35, was done with the EOS R on a monopod 1/125th at F/1.8. I like that bokeh, it’s not really creamy and dreamy but it has just a touch of highlight harshness to add some character. These older 1970s and 80s vintage Nikon lenses are really top shelf quality. You will find your self paying well north of $300 for these in really clean shape and that is quite a bit more than the 2.5 variety. The 2.5 version was made for 40 years and the oldest versions are often under $100 while the last version the AI-S in really good shape will get up in the low 200s.

The 1.8 is worth the bulk and price to get that extra stop of speed and the extra soft background, but take it from me, a guy who has owned them both, the 2.5 is a great deal, the AI units from the mid 1970s run around $150 and they have the multi-coating so they are one of the best lens deals out there. Pick your poison fast or faster and go shoot some awesome images!

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