Fstoppers Reviews the Tamron 90mm f/2.8 VC Macro Lens

Fstoppers Reviews the Tamron 90mm f/2.8 VC Macro Lens

There have been a few really great lenses released in the past couple months hogging the spotlight, so it wouldn’t surprise me if the newly released upgraded Tamron 90mm f/2.8 VC Macro passed under your radar. I’ve had a few weeks with it and have mixed feelings on Tamron’s latest prime.

Tamron’s 90mm f/2.8 SP Di MACRO 1:1 VC USD replaces the aged SP 90mm f/2.8 Di Macro Autofocus Lens for those of you keeping track, and sells for $750 from various retailers. At that price point, it’s not expensive but it’s not cheap enough to qualify as an impulse buy either.

When you first pick up this lens, what is going to strike you most is how light it feels. Shooting on heavier lenses for the past few months, it was a little bit of a relief, but that was also mixed with a major question: how good is the build quality? Like a majority of Tamron lenses, the body of the lens is plastic and rubber with no visible metal parts. I have mixed feelings about this. After holding heavy and well-built lenses from Canon and Sigma, “sexy” is not an adjective I would use to describe the Tamron 90mm. Sure, we save a lot of weight by using more plastic parts, but it just doesn’t feel like a “wow” lens. This of course doesn’t take away from the performance of Tamron lenses, which we know can be really great products. But look and feel matters a lot, and with their competitors upping their game in recent months Tamron might want to consider a design upgrade.

Included in this iteration of the 90mm lens is the much-loved Tamron Vibration Compensation. The VC is clutch for video, but it also allows the shooter to get tack sharp still images shooting as slow as 1/20 of a second shutter speeds without a tripod. How often will you be doing this? That’s a question only you can answer. What matters is that you can.

I also really appreciate how quiet this lens is. Outside of being able to hear the VC humming in the background, the lens is very quiet. Tamron’s Ultrasonic Silent Drive is exactly that: fast and silent.

Another thing I like is the internal focusing system that keeps the lens the same length regardless of focusing. This would be more impressive if the lens was a variable focal length lens, but it’s still a nice feature.

Right around the contact point where you connect the lens to the body of your camera, Tamron added a rubber “seal” which helps keeps the internal components dry. It’s not what I would call true weather sealing, but it’s a nice touch that will make a difference in wet weather.

Take a look at the bokeh in the image below. Bokeh is really not something high on my list of priorities. It’s less important to me, but I do appreciate that it’s a big deal for a lot of you.

90mm-macro-sample-shot-1

The image quality is good, but nothing to get overly excited about. I would say that in the spectrum of prime lenses available, this is just about average performance. That is not a bad thing, as that means that it manages to hold its own in a field full of fantastic prime lenses (I think the one clear area that Canon really has an advantage over Nikon is in the performance of their prime lenses). There aren’t any major chromatic aberration issues to report. Even in a lighting setup that is nearly always a sure fire way to get aberrations to appear, what I managed to produce was extremely minor. This lens performed as well as, if not better than, expected.

5Z5A2522 1

 

Below you can take a look at some 100% crops of images shot on the 90mm. Like I said, it exhibits good performance. Click on the images below to see them at max resolution.


90mm sharpness 1
90mm sharpness 2

 

Though I was satisfied with the performance of this lens overall, there was one major place where I was continually disappointed: auto focus accuracy. Though the AF was fast and silent, it had difficulty finding a focus point in both bright light and low light situations. It performed adequately in normal light situations, but at both ends of the light spectrum the lens would oscillate in and out in the most irritating way. This is one area where I really want to see high performance, and the Tamron let me down. When I shoot macro either I’m in my studio or out and about, and in both cases the lens really was unable to give me a consistent or clear accuracy on my target. The performance seemed to be a little better on the 5D Mark III than it was on the 60D, but in both cases it struggled. I don’t want to fuss with my lens, I just want to shoot, and 60% of the time I was taken out of my element by the inaccurate AF issues.


IMG_4063
This happened far too often.

 

What I liked:
Light weight
Large, comfortable focus ring
Vibration compensation
Quiet auto focus motor

What could use improvement:
Aesthetics of the build
Poor accuracy of auto focus

This isn’t a bad lens. Quite the opposite, it’s a good lens. Good, but not great. At its price point, Canon shooters are going to be weighing the Tamron against the Canon 100mm f/2.8 Macro IS L (which is only $900 now). They also can choose the non-L glass 100mm f/2.8 macro lens from Canon which is only $515 now. That leaves consumers with the decision: save up a little more and get the Canon lens and L glass, or take a $150 comparative discount and get Tamron’s superior Vibration Compensation engine. Or consumers can ignore stabilization all together and throw get the cheap Canon for less than both those options. What should you do? Weigh your options and go with what you think will serve you best for your particular needs.

Grab the Tamron 90mm f/2.8 Macro VC Lens for $749.

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10 Comments

Save up and get the Canon 100mm L glass. The cheap build is unacceptable at their price point but the real true deal breaker for me is the autofocus inconsistencies. 

In addition, how many macro shooters really rely on good lighting? Lots! Therefore, what's the real upside of having VC? I guess it's cool to have than not though...

Ian Ludwig's picture

This guy landed in my driveway and I had just enough time to grab my macro lens from my back, swap it and crouch down. Granted, this was with the 100L IS but I would never go back to not having VC/IS/VR for a macro lens. Handheld at 1/40th:

http://www.flickr.com/photos/ianludwig/7701697206/in/set-721576129239776...

Because it's way better to handheld a macro lens with VC

I just don't see the importance of fast AF on a macro lens unless the dual purpose (portrait as well) is part of the marketing. Hell most of us Macro geeks use tripods and focusing rails.Not too mention 5x/10x live view focusing.

Ian Ludwig's picture

I agree with everything you said but surely you have had a time where busting out the tripod, head and rail would have meant you miss the shot? I love sitting with my rail setup and waiting but I have had a few times where it wasn't available and having the ability to do a handheld 1:1 macro photograph was made possible due to the IS.

Spy Black's picture

"I think the one clear area that Canon really has an advantage over Nikon is in the performance of their prime lenses"

You really need to have side-by-side proof of this before making such statements. I would put it more an six of one and half a dozen of another. More surprising is the rise of third-party lenses that beat both of these guys at their own game.

Yeah, I found that comment about Nikon vs Canon glass a bit out of place as well. I'm no fanboy for either side since I shoot with both, but I find that statement very subjective and slightly inaccurate.

If I must break it down...

Both offer good macro lenses and mid range telephotos (ie, 105mm & 135mm), both have have great fast aperture 85mm primes, and both have decent fast aperture 35mm primes (beaten by sigma now it appears). The larger disparity comes from the fast aperture 24mm and 50mm primes. In the opinion of most the Nikon 24mm is superior, but the Canon 50mm 1.2 is far better than the cheap Nikon 50mm 1.4.

At any rate, why bother bringing subjective bias into an otherwise objective lens review?

No question for me, why would you not spend the extra $150 and get the EF 100mm 2.8L IS ? The 1:1 magnification doesn't hurt the Tamron's prospects though.

Seems like right off the bat the reviewer had his mind made up about the lens. Most reviews I've read highly praise this lens.