Tamron’s 90mm macro lens has always had good reputation as a high quality macro lenses. I have a couple of macro lenses, one of them is a Tamron AF 90mm f/2.8 SP Di (old model from 2000s). Despite the Tamron is my oldest and cheapest macro lens, I found it is the one I used the most because of it’s excellent picture quality and it’s versatile 90mm focal length. If you follow me on Flickr you probably have noticed most of my Lego photos were taken using the Tamron 90mm. So I’m quite curious to find out how the latest Tamron SP 90mm f/2.8 Di Macro 1:1 VC USD (model F017) performs when compares to my old Tamron lens.
The F017’s optical formula consists of 14 elements in 11 groups, which includes 1 low dispersion and 2 extra low dispersion elements. The front surface has fluorine coating to repel water drops, dirt and grease. Tamron also claimed the lens has improved weather sealing as well so it would be great for people who like to shoot outdoor quite a bit under various weather condition.
Comparing to my old Tamron 90mm macro, even though they are both mostly made of plastic, F017’s build quality is definitely a lot better. It feels more solid and higher quality. Overall just a lot nicer. Even the hefty lens cap gives you some kind of premium quality feeling despite it’s also made of plastic, but high quality plastic. I also love the new Tamron SP lens design. It’s simple, and looks classy and unique.
The F017 has three switches on the body, AF/MF, VC and the focus limiter. The switches don’t feel filmsy at all and easy to operate.
One thing I really don’t like about my old Tamron macro lens (despite I still use it all the time) is that the autofocus is slow, painfully slow and pretty loud as well. This is largely due to the fact that my old Tamron is a screw drive autofocus lens, but in general, autofocus speed on most macro lenses is just slow due to the wide focus range. And that’s part of the reason why I almost left it in manual focus mode permanently. Surprisingly the F017’s autofocus speed is fast, very fast! And not only that, the autofocus operation is almost completely silent as well. There is a focus limiter switch which gives you three options: Full, 0.5m to Infinity and 0.3-0.5m. But even if you leave it on the “Full” setting, the focusing speed is still pretty good and snappy. So I would normally leave it on Full, unless I’m shooting close-up/macro then I’ll switch it to the 0.3-0.5m to minimise the chance of autofocus hunting (i.e. camera can’t find the correct focus distance). Setting the autofocus to 0.3-0.5m mode also make the autofocus works very well when taking macro photos. With the Tamron F017, I’m happy to shoot in autofocus mode most of the time even when I’m taking macro photos.
Picture quality wise, I was really happy with my old Tamron 90mm macros so I expected the new F017 to deliver excellent image quality as well. And of course Tamron didn’t disappoint me at all. At f/2.8, centre sharpness is already very good and corner isn’t too bad neither. If you stop down to f/4, then the lens is already incredibly sharp from centre to the edge and remain like that until diffraction kicks in at smaller aperture. Sharpness is just excellent.
Flare control is quite well and keep to minimum level under most scenario thanks to Tamron’s eBAND and BBAR coatings. The included lens hood is pretty deep which also helps minimise lens flare and should physically protect the lens very well.
Vignetting is well controlled. At f/2.8 there is only a small amount of vignetting, and when shooting real life photos you probably won’t notice any vignetting from f/4 onwards.
Bokeh is quite good and smooth and while there is a bit of halo sometimes overall it doesn’t really look nervous. There is a little bit of swirly bokeh at maximum aperture but nothing too dramatic. If you don’t have a dedicated 85 1.4 or 1.8 lens and want to use the Tamron SP 90mm f/2.8 Di Macro 1:1 VC USD as your portrait lens, you should be happy with how the lens renders and dissolves the out of focus background area.
There is very minimal amount of chromatic aberration even when shooting high contrast scenes at maximum aperture. And most chromatic aberration disappear once you stop down to around f/5.6.
A common problem when taking macro photos is that you have to stop down the lens quite a lot (f/16+) to get enough depth of field. This means you have to either bump up your ISO a lot or you have to put your lens on a tripod to avoid any motion blur due to the slow shutter speed. It would either affect the image quality (if you bump up the ISO a lot) or slow down your shooting speed (if you have to carry and setup a tripod)
Luckily, the Tamron F017 is a VC lens which means it has a built-in optical image stabiliser, and this makes taking macro photos so much easier and faster when compare to a non-stablised lens. F017’s image stabiliser seems to work very well even when I’m taking macro photos. Normally when I’m taking handheld macro photos with my D800, I would set my shutter speed to around 2 x focal length. But with the F017, I managed to shoot static objects as slow as around ½ focal length shutter speed and still get a very good percentage of sharp photos. It allows me to lower the ISO by around 2 stops which results in very noticeable improvement in image quality.
The new Tamron SP 90mm f/2.8 Di Macro 1:1 VC USD is another solid lens in the new Tamron SP lineup. It’s image quality is excellent, build quality is very good. The VC (image stabiliser) works very well even when taking macro photos and I’m really impressed by the autofocus performance and honestly I can’t really think of much to complain about this lens. And just because it’s a macro lens doesn’t mean you can only use it for taking macro photos. The nice bokeh, 90mm focal length and relatively fast aperture means the F017 can also be used as a decent portrait lens as well.
Are you looking at buying your first macro lens? I highly recommend you to check out the Tamron F017.
All samples are converted from RAW to JPG using Adoble Lightroom CC 2015.5. Adjusted to taste but with ZERO vignetting, CA, distortion correction.
Reviewer: Richard Wong
Richard is a multi-award winning wedding/portrait photographer based in Auckland, New Zealand. Richard’s website is www.photobyrichard.com
If you like my review, please follow me on Facebook 🙂
All photos and text Copyright© 2016 www.photobyrichard.com. All photos and text may not be copied or reproduced in any format without obtaining written permissions