The Tamron 90mm f/2.8 Di VC USD Macro has to been given the added reference number of ‘F017’ simply because it’s got the exact name as the previous model. The other word that is significant is ‘Macro’ as the lens has a true 1:1 ratio or 1x maximum magnification, which means subjects can be at infinity or big enough to fill the frame. Very handy indeed.
As a macro lens the focal length falls in the middle of the range, being slightly wider than what is usual for a macro lens, but it’s also a nice focal length for a variety of applications. An obvious one would be for portraits, which usually starts with an 85mm focal length, so the Tamron SP 90mm F/2.8 is at least near. This means the lens can swap between portrait shots then straight into small details without a lens change.
The Tamron SP 90mm F/2.8 has a simple and straightforward design that is elegant in appearance. The barrel is made from aluminium alloy and feels extremely solid. A large front focusing ring is accompanied by three switches and a distance scale. The three switches comprise of a Focus Limiter to optimize the autofocus, an AF/MF switch and lastly the VC On/Off to control the image stabilization. The lens is rated as moisture resistant and has a mount gasket and very good seals on other parts of the lens. The total aperture range goes from f/2.8-32, through nine rounded aperture blades, a fluorine coated front element and weighs in at 610g. The filter size is the more unusual 62mm and with all focusing done internally with internal rotation, you can use any type of filter you like. The Tamron HF017 lens hood is also included, which is a simple and straight design, which stores nicely on the lens when reversed. The lens is also compatible with Tamron’s TAP-in Console, for fine tuning autofocus and any firmware updates. Lens mounts available are for the Canon EF, Nikon F and Sony A, but with no VC.
The lens can also be used on APS-C sensor cameras which will produce a 144mm focal length, which will essentially produce tighter shoots and possibly more useful for macro work. The f/2.8 aperture may seem at first not as wide as expected on a prime lens, but f/2.8 is still capable of producing nice bokeh and lets in enough light to be versatile.
The Vibration Compensation (VC) is a nice addition to this lens and works very well. Tamron hasn’t given a stop rating, but it’s in the vicinity of three stops, which is good enough to get some relatively low shutter speeds while still handheld.
The autofocus distance range switch provides ranges of 1.64′ (0.5m) – 8 and 0.98′ (0.3m) – 1.64′ (0.5m) to provide better autofocusing, especially for Macro work. The autofocus system works very well, very quietly and especially with central focus points. There is always fast focusing with this lens and it only starts to struggle in very low light.
The first thing to notice with this lens is that it is pretty sharp when wide open at f/2.8. The lens hits its optimum when stopped down to f/4, providing the best corner to corner sharpness. The center of the frame is impressively sharp at f/2.8 and although ultimate sharpness comes in at f/5.6, the lens is very impressive across the range.
Levels of vignetting are reasonable at f/2.8 and completely gone by f/8. The same goes for chromatic aberration and Lateral CA which can always be rectified in postproduction.
Bokeh is very pleasing with the lens, producing almost rounded highlights via the a 9 blade diaphragm. Background elements blend into each other nicely and the lens also copes with relatively busy backgrounds. Maybe not as pleasing as a lens with a more shallow depth of field, but the f/2.8 was probably included as the lens also performs macro work.
Image quality is overall very good and as this lens doubles as a Macro, sharpness and color rendition are very good at this price point.
How Does It Compare?
Comparing the Tamron SP 90mm F/2.8 against competitors provides different focal lengths with most of the others being around 100-105mm. Tokina produces a 100mm lens which is at the bottom of the price range and in this case, it’s better to save up for the Tamron. At the other end of the spectrum is the Zeiss Milvus 100mm f/2 lens which goes wider, but is only manual focus and doesn’t have any image stabilization. It may be slightly better optically, but it’s also far more expensive a lens.
The nearest comparison is the Sigma 105mm OS Macro lens which has comparable optics and also works in the Macro field. Compared to the old model, the F017 performs better, especially wide open, but not significantly more after f/4.
Tamron is definitely producing some class beating lenses and the Tamron SP 90mm F/2.8 is no exception. The lens produces very good image quality, with sharp images across the board and most importantly at a very good price point. The Macro facility will give any photographer plenty of room for creativity, all packaged up in a nice simplistic design. If you need a portrait and Macro lens in one without breaking the bank you should definitely shortlist this lens.
No f/1.8 or below