For all the competitiveness of the DSLR lens market, Tamron has had the 90mm Macro focal length largely, though not exclusively, to itself. As any runner knows, sometimes the hardest person to compete with is yourself. Finding new ways to eek out improvements isn’t always easy. Fortunately, with the new SP 90mm f/2.8 Macro, Tamron has a fairly good template to follow: the earlier refreshes of its SP 35mm and SP 45mm lenses, which delivered improved optical performance inside a new lens body.
Like its predecessors, this update to Tamron’s 90mm Macro (model F017) is a true macro lens offering 1:1 magnification. Unlike older versions, the SP 90mm delivers improved image stabilization (dubbed Vibration Correction or VC). The lens can now correct for XY-shifts thanks to a new, built-in accelerometer, to keep images sharp when you’re moving. The VC is good for 3.5 stops of image stabilization, per CIPA standards.
Tamron also tweaked the software controlling the lens’ Ultrasonic Silent Drive actuator to improve autofocusing accuracy when shooting objects at close range.
The lens has a focus limiter so you can constrain your focusing distances, which helps you achieve focus quicker when you know the general distance of the subject you need to have in focus. You can focus on objects as close as 11.8 inches. The lens has a full-time manual focus override function that lets you manually adjust focus even when autofocus is engaged.
Importantly, the SP 90mm is one of two new lenses that will work out-of-the-box with Tamron’s forthcoming TAP-In Console (the new SP 35mm and 45mm lenses will require a firmware update before they’ll work with the Console). Using the Console, you’ll be able to do your own lens firmware updates without having to ship the lens back to Tamron, as has traditionally been the case. You’ll also be able to make adjustments to VC, full time manual focus override and the focus distance limiter. The Console brings Tamron in line with rival Sigma, which has offered a similar accessory for its lenses for some time now.
The SP 90mm Macro lens accepts 62mm filters and stops down to f/32. It’s available now in Canon and Nikon mounts. A Sony version, without VC, is coming later this year.
The SP 90mm Macro inherits the same good looks and solid build quality of the earlier SP series refreshes. The lens is weather sealed and has fluorine coating on the front lens element to make it easier to wipe away dirt, water and smudges.
The focus ring is huge and turns smoothly. “It feels great to hold,” says New Jersey-based photographer and director David Patiño, who helped us test the lens.
At 21.5 oz, the SP90mm is lighter than both Nikon’s 105mm f/2.8 Macro and (by a hair) Canon’s 100m f/2.8L, while offering excellent durability. Focus distance and magnification markings are easy to read through a wide window on the lens body.
IMAGE QUALITY AND PERFORMANCE
Patiño used the 90mm Macro for both still portraits using his Canon 5DS and for b-camera video duties on a 5D Mark II. In both cases, Patiño says, he came away impressed with the results. For a portrait of a man against a deep black background, the Tamron was able to resolve all the details of his 5DS while preserving contrast. “It’s really sharp,” Patiño says.
“It makes a great portrait lens, there was great compression of the background.” He says it compares very favorably to his Canon L-series 100mm Macro. Autofocusing was speedy and accurate, he adds, though the lens was left on manual for most of the video work.
Tamron has a bit of a unique niche with the 90mm Macro as neither Canon and Nikon have this exact focal length in their arsenal. Instead, Canon markets the EF 100mm f/2.8L Macro IS ($850) and Nikon pitches the AF-S VR Micro Nikkor 105mm f/2.8G ($900). All share some form of image stabilization, but Tamron’s lens is priced extremely well relative to its competitors.
Whenever we turn a piece of gear over to Patiño, we typically end with a simple question: “Would you buy this?” In the case of the Tamron SP 90mm the answer was unequivocal. “Absolutely.”
PROS: Excellent image quality; great value; durable design; large focus ring; great value for the price; weather sealed.
CONS: No Sony mount at launch.
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