Tamron 90mm f/2.8 Di MACRO 1:1 VC USD SP
Lab Test Results
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September 1, 2016
by Andrew Alexander
Tamron's latest entry to macro/portrait photography is the 90mm ƒ/2.8Di Macro 1:1 VC USD SP (Model F017). That's a big name for a lens from a big name in lenses. Tamron made a great first impression way back in 1979 with its 90mm ƒ/2.5 macro (52B) in the Adaptall mount. The line of 90mm Macros that followed is legendary.
The new Tamron 90mm ƒ/2.8 SP Macro lens was released in February 2016, in Nikon and Canon lens mounts. The Sony version will follow at a later date, minus the Vibration Control feature, of course, as that is built into the Sony cameras. All focus from infinity down to a 1:1 (life-size) ratio. The lens was designed to fit full-frame sensors but will work equally well on sub-frame (APS-C) sensors with a crop factor of 1.5x for Nikon and 1.6x for Canon, resulting in effective fields of view of approximately 135mm and 146mm, respectively.
The Tamron 90mm ƒ/2.8 Macro ships with the HF017 lens hood, accepts 62mm filters, and is available now for around $650.
Note: Nikon bodies display f-stops in "effective f-values". When the focus of a macro lens is brought into the "macro range" there is a drop in the "effective f-value" and this appears in the display as a smaller aperture opening. In our tests, the "effective f-value" of this lens at the 1:1 ratio dropped to 5.6. At other macro scales we noted f-stops of 3.3, 3.8 and 4.5. Canon and Sony cameras do not interpret f-stops in this manner.
The Tamron 90mm ƒ/2.8 Di Macro VC USD SP produces tack-sharp results without much stopping down. On our full-frame body we see excellent results even wide open at ƒ/2.8, with only very light corner softness: stopping down to ƒ/5.6 gets results as sharp as the camera can manage. Diffraction limiting begins at ƒ/11, but isn't noticeable until ƒ/22; using the lens at its narrowest aperture of ƒ/36 isn't advisable as generalized softness across the frame really impairs image sharpness.
The Tamron 90mm ƒ/2.8 does very well in terms of preventing Chromatic Aberration, with negligible results in our testing across its range of apertures.
On our full frame Nikon D800e at ƒ/2.8, there was about 7/10 of a stop of falloff from the center. It improved sharply by ƒ/5.6 and was gone by ƒ/8. On our sub frame D7100, vignetting was negligible.
There was no noticeable distortion in our copy of this lens. Macro lenses are known for having low distortion as they are often used in copy work where no distortion can be tolerated.
The Tamron 90mm ƒ/2.8 uses an electric (Ultrasonic Drive) motor for focusing taking about one second to slew from closest focus to infinity, much faster than the previous (non-VC) version of this lens we reviewed. On our test bodies, focus acquisition and tracking seemed precise and sure-footed, and small changes in focus happen very quickly. Attached 62mm filters won't rotate during focusing.
Of course, this is where the Tamron 90mm ƒ/2.8Di Macro 1:1 VC USD SP really shines. The lens has a minimum close-focusing distance of 30cm, or around a foot, from the focal plane: when you consider the lens is around four and a half inches long, this means you can park your subject about six and a half inches away from the end of the lens. The magnification at this distance is 1:1, though as we noted at the outset, the effective aperture at the 1:1 ratio is significantly reduced from ƒ/2.8 (it operates more like a ƒ/5.6). Tamron has added a few features to the lens which macro photographers will expect, which we'll cover in the Build Quality section, next.
Build Quality and Handling
It's worth noting that we didn't review the previous upgrade to the Tamron 90mm macro lens, the Tamron 90mm ƒ/2.8 Di Macro 1:1 VC USD SP (F004). The lens previous to that, we did - the Tamron 90mm ƒ/2.8 Di Macro 1:1 SP AF (model 272). The real changes to the lens occurred in the transition from the 272 to the F004: the optical layout was completely redesigned, the focus motor changed to the new Ultrasonic Drive, and vibration control was added. If anything, the latest design (model F017) is a refinement to that design, adding a fluorine coating and updating the cosmetic styling to the current Tamron flavor.
Tamron's Vibration Control system for image stabilization has undergone an upgrade as well. The new Floating System provides enhanced imaging performance by changing the spatial relationships of element groups as the focus moves from infinity to macro mode, and the length of the lens barrel remains constant. XY-Shift compensation utilizes an accelerometer to improve VC (Vibration Control), purporting to give you steadier off-tripod results.
While the previous F004 version of the lens featured moisture and dust resistance, the F017 claims to have improved on this. Moisture-Proof and Dust-Resistant Construction (rubber seals on all switches, the metal lens mount and between the focusing ring and the lens barrel) broaden your outdoor shooting in foul weather.
The design of the lens offers a large manual focusing ring, and three operating switches. The first switch activates or deactivates Vibration Control (VC) image stabilization. The second activates or deactivates autofocus. The third switch limits the focusing range into three categories: the full range (between 0.3m and infinity), an intermediate range (between 0.5m and infinity) and the macro range (between 0.3m and 0.5m).
The manual focusing ring is a generous 1 1/2 inches in width, with deep rubber ribs for texture. The ring will turn forever in either direction, with soft stops to let you know you've reached either the minimum close distance or infinity distance. The focusing scale is noted in both feet and meters and displays the macro reproduction ratio.
Our testing with the Vibration Control system bears out Tamron's claim of 3.5 stops of hand-holding improvement, though Tamron does indicate in its literature that the impact of VC is reduced when the lens is focused closer to its maximum reproduction ratio. Check out our IS Test tab for more information.
Tamron 90mm ƒ/2.8 Di Macro 1:1 VC USD SP ~$479
Apart from the new cosmetic styling, there aren't a lot of differences between the specifications of these two lenses, leading one to believe the performance would be quite similar. However, the new F017 version of the lens offers improved weather sealing, a fluorine lens coating, and compatibility with Tamron's TAP-in console.
Nikon 105mm ƒ/2.8G IF ED AFS VR ~$900
It's been a while since we had this lens in our test lab - we didn't even have a full frame digital camera to test with at that point - and its performance shows that lenses have improved significantly since then. Its performance at ƒ/2.8 is not great, while stopping down to ƒ/5.6 offers the best results. However, it is as tolerant to CA, corner shading and distortion as the Tamron, and offers similar performance for image stabilization.
Canon EF 100mm ƒ/2.8L Macro IS USM ~$850
The Canon 100mm macro has been upgraded a bit more recently (if you count 2009 as recent) but it offers excellent performance, at least on par with the Tamron.
Sigma 105mm ƒ/2.8 EX DG OS HSM Macro ~$620
The Sigma 105mm offers a similar macro experience to the Tamron, at a similar price. It also offers optical image stabilization (OS). It's not as tolerant to chromatic aberration, but it is excellently sharp, especially when stopped down. Unfortunately, it's not compatible with Sigma's USB dock (similar to Tamron's TAP-in console).
With a retail price difference of around $200 between the F004 and the F017, many users may wonder if there's a reason to buy one over the other. When you compare the specifications, you see that the the two are almost identical, and we had managed to test the F004, my guess is that you'd see almost identical performance, too. Apart from the cosmetic update, there are some practical reasons: the F017 offers better weather sealing, and it is compatible with the Tamron TAP-in console system, which allows the photographer to update firmware and enter customized setups into the lens.
On its own merits, the Tamron 90mm ƒ/2.8 (F017) is an excellent lens, offering tack sharp images unhindered by chromatic aberration, corner shading or distortion. Its macro features are excellent, as is its price point, meaning that if you're looking for a macro lens to add to your bag, you really can't go wrong with this one.
The VFA target should give you a good idea of sharpness in the center and corners, as well as some idea of the extent of barrel or pincushion distortion and chromatic aberration, while the Still Life subject may help in judging contrast and color. We shoot both images using the default JPEG settings and manual white balance of our test bodies, so the images should be quite consistent from lens to lens.
As appropriate, we shoot these with both full-frame and sub-frame bodies, at a range of focal lengths, and at both maximum aperture and ƒ/8. For the ''VFA'' target (the viewfinder accuracy target from Imaging Resource), we also provide sample crops from the center and upper-left corner of each shot, so you can quickly get a sense of relative sharpness, without having to download and inspect the full-res images. To avoid space limitations with the layout of our review pages, indexes to the test shots launch in separate windows.
Tamron 90mm f/2.8 Di MACRO 1:1 VC USD SP
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