Tamron SP AF 90mm f/2.8 Di Macro Lens Review

Tamron SP AF 90mm f/2.8 Di Macro Lens Review

The Tamron 90mm f/2.8 Di Macro Lens is a popular short-telephoto macro lens - Popular because of its modest size, good image quality, decent AF (autofocus) and reasonable price.

ModelWeightDimensions w/o HoodFilter
Canon EF-S 60mm f/2.8 Macro USM Lens11.8 oz(335g)2.9 x 2.7"(73.0 x 70.0mm)52mm
Tamron SP 90mm f/2.8 Di Macro Lens14.3 oz(405g)2.8 x 3.8"(71.0 x 97.0mm)55mm
Canon EF 100mm f/2.8 USM Macro Lens21.1 oz(600g)3.1 x 4.7"(79.0 x 119.0mm)58mm
Canon EF 100mm f/2.8 L IS USM Macro Lens22.1 oz(625g)3.1 x 4.8"(77.7 x 123mm)67mm
Sigma 105mm f/2.8 EX DG Macro Lens15.8 oz(450g)2.9 x 3.7"(74.0 x 95.0mm)58mm
Sigma 150mm f/2.8 EX DG HSM Macro Lens32.0 oz(895g)3.1 x 5.4"(80.0 x 137.0mm)72mm
Canon EF 180mm f/3.5 L USM Macro Lens38.4 oz(1090g)3.2 x 7.3"(82.5 x 186.6mm)72mm
Sigma 180mm f/3.5 EX DG APO HSM Macro Lens33.6 oz(965g)3.2 x 7.1"(80.0 x 182.0mm)72mm
Tamron SP 180mm f/3.5 Di LD Macro Lens32.0 oz(921g)3.3 x 6.5"(84.0 x 165.0mm)72mm

 
Its small size and light weight make the Tamron 90mm f/2.8 Di Macro Lens a non-burden to take with you. Build quality is decent though not quite as good as the Sigma 105mm f/2.8 EX DG Macro Lens' build.

Canon, Sigma and Tamron Macro Lens Size Comparison

Above, from left to right, are the Sigma 105mm f/2.8 EX DG Macro Lens, Tamron 90mm f/2.8 Di Macro Lens, Canon EF 100mm f/2.8 USM Macro Lens and Canon EF 24-70mm f/2.8 L USM Lens (for size comparison). The same lenses (sans Canon 24-70) are shown below extended to their maximum lengths.

Canon, Sigma and Tamron Macro Lens Size Comparison - Extended

Obviously the Tamron 90mm f/2.8 Di Macro Lens extends significantly during focusing - as much as 50% or 2" (50.8mm) at its 1:1 macro minimum focus distance setting. A lens that extends this much at this short focus distance requires a little extra effort to prevent bumping a subject while making adjustments.

ModelMFDMWDMM12mm ET25mm ET1.4x2x
Canon EF-S 60mm f/2.8 Macro USM Lens7.9"(200mm)3.5"(90mm)1x1.28x1.61xNN
Tamron SP 90mm f/2.8 Di Macro Lens11.4"(290mm)3.9"(99mm)1xYY
Canon EF 100mm f/2.8 USM Macro Lens12.0"(300mm)6.0"(150mm)1x1.19x1.39xNN
Canon EF 100mm f/2.8 L IS USM Macro Lens11.8"(300mm)5.9"(146mm)1x1.17x1.37xNN
Sigma 105mm f/2.8 EX DG Macro Lens12.2"(310m)4.8"(122mm)1xNN
Sigma 150mm f/2.8 EX DG HSM Macro Lens15.0"(380mm)7.6"(194mm)1xYY
Canon EF 180mm f/3.5 L USM Macro Lens19.2"(480mm)9.5"(240mm)1x1.09x1.21xYY
Sigma 180mm f/3.5 EX DG APO HSM Macro Lens18.0"(460mm)1xYY
Tamron SP 180mm f/3.5 Di LD Macro Lens18.5"(470mm)1xYY

 
The manual focusing ring is smooth and nicely sized. Like the Sigma 105mm Macro, the Tamron 90 utilizes a focus ring push/pull motion to engage/disengage the AF clutch. Fortunately and unlike with the Sigma, the Tamron does not require an extra switch setting change.

Tamron 90mm Macro Lens Push/Pull AF/MF

The above photo shows the AF/MF positions and the blue ring that indicates the MF position.

Tamron 90mm f/2.8 Di Macro Lens AF performance is decent. Speed is slow but very usable. Accuracy is good even in AI Servo mode. Sound is an audible buzz. The focus ring does not turn during AF.

Tamron 90mm Macro Lens Focus Limit Switch

Unique is Tamron's use of a dial for the focus limit switch. It is slightly harder to bump the dial to a different setting and it works fine. In the limit position, the Tamron 90 will autofocus between 11.4" and 15.75" (290mm and 400mm) or 17.7" (450mm) and infinity. The in-between distance is marked in white and visible in the focus window. Focus hunting can be dramatically reduced by using this feature. Of course, full range autofocus is available in the full setting.

Overall, Canon's USM AF is much nicer, but the Tamron performs better than the Sigma 105 in this regard.

Canon, Sigma and Tamron Macro Lens Size Comparison With Hoods

With their hoods in place, from left to right, are the Sigma 105mm f/2.8 EX DG Macro Lens, Tamron 90mm f/2.8 Di Macro Lens and Canon EF 100mm f/2.8 USM Macro Lens. The Tamron and Sigma lenses come with a hood included while the Canon hood is optional. As is obvious below, these macro lenses become much more similar in size when extended 100% at their maximum magnification of 1:1 or 1.0x.

Canon, Sigma and Tamron Macro Lens Size Comparison With Hoods - Extended

As most macro lenses are very sharp, so is Tamron 90mm f/2.8 Di Macro Lens. In fact, it is probably best-known for being sharp. It is sharp wide open and shows a little improvement when stopped down (most notably in the corners). If you are shooting at macro subject distances, you will most likely be using very small apertures to gain all the DOF (Depth of Field) you can get. Here, diffraction is going to be the biggest enemy. Images become soft beyond f/16 or so.

Flare is reasonably well controlled - much better than the Sigma but slightly behind the Canon. Some CA is visible in the corners at f/2.8, but this clears up when stopped down a couple of stops. Distortion is negligible. Vignetting is not significant even on a full frame body - similar performance to the Sigma and a small amount better than the Canon.

With a 9-blade aperture, the Tamron 90 Macro has decent bokeh (OOF blur quality). Bokeh is hard to compare with the other two macro lenses I've been mentioning because they are slightly different focal lengths. The 90mm is noticeably shorter than the Sigma 105mm and the Canon 100mm - and it produces a slightly less-diffused background blur.

I created the follow comparison image to show a downside of the Sigma 105mm f/2.8 EX DG Macro Lens, but I think it has merit in this review as well.

Short Telephoto Macro Lens Contrast Comparison

The above near-center 100% sample crops were from the Sigma 105mm f/2.8 EX DG Macro Lens (left), Canon EF 100mm f/2.8 USM Macro Lens (center) and Tamron 90mm f/2.8 Di Macro Lens (right). All crops are from an un-moved, tripod-mounted Canon EOS 1Ds Mark II with identical settings for each photo (1/100, f/8, neutral contrast, AWB, mirror-lockup, 2-Second self-timer). Lens hoods were in place. All were shot within 4 minutes of each other at approximately 4:20 PM on Feb 24th - late on a very clear winter day - facing southeast. You can determine where the sun is by the direction of the shadows (far out of the picture). The Sigma, by virtue of its longer focal length, has less sky (brightness) in the picture (inset is a full-frame down-sized image from the 105). The difference in contrast is big. This comparison shows the Tamron to easily beat the Sigma but trail the Canon in handling this scene.

Short Telephoto Macro Lens Size Comparison

The Sigma and Tamron macro lens objective elements are deeply recessed (better-protected, harder to clean) while the Canon's is not. That is a unique-sized 55mm filter thread you are looking at on the Tamron lens. The front element does not rotate.

The Tamron 90 Macro ships in a padded drawstring lens pouch and includes a lens hood (that may not be needed due to the deeply-recessed front lens element). Tamron's center-pinch lens caps are great - the rear caps are not so great as they only attached in one position.

The Tamron 90mm f/2.8 Di Macro Lens is available in Canon (reviewed), Nikon, Sony/Maxxum and Pentax/Samsung mounts. I feel obligated to let you know that there are potential issues with third party lenses. Since Tamron reverse engineers (vs. licenses) manufacturer AF routines, there is always the possibility that a new body might not support an older third party lens. There are examples of this happening in the past. Sometimes a lens can be rechipped to be made compatible, sometimes not. Second, there is the risk of a problem that results in the lens and body manufacturers pointing blame at each other. However, Tamron USA's 6-year warranty is far superior to Canon's standard 1 year warranty (though many credit cards will double the Canon warranty for you).

In summary, the Tamron 90mm f/2.8 Di Macro Lens is simply a nice lens. Use it for macro photography, portraits or any other use a reasonably fast 90mm lens has for you.

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