May 2013 Lens Test Tamron Main

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This full-frame, high-speed, short telephoto is Tamron’s tenth 90mm macro since 1979, but its first 1:1 close-up lens with Vibration Compensation—the only one of Tamron’s five true macros to offer it. This $750 (street) 90mm f/2.8 scales up to 135mm or 144mm on APS-C-format bodies, depending on mount (we tested a Canon-compatible sample).

Among comparable image-stabilized macros, it is the lightest, most compact, and least expensive—in some cases by far. And it’s the first to wear Tamron’s super-thin eBAND coating to suppress reflections and flare. Other pluses: one low- and two extra-low-dispersion elements to reduce chromatic aberration, moisture-resistant seals, and an internal focusing system for a fixed barrel suitable to macro ring lights and other accessories.

On a camera, the lens has a well-balanced, comfortable heft, neither too heavy nor too light. Its unusually large manual-focus ring has a smooth, nicely long turn. The large reverse-mounting lenshood snaps on and off easily; the center-pinch lens cap pops off a little too easily. The lens sports a focus limiter (full, macro-only, and 1:3-to-infinity ranges) and is well marked with a three-tier subject distance scale that helpfully lists magnification ratios.

In the field, we were extremely impressed. Colors snap in the finder, contrast is crisp to allow unusually fast manual focusing, and the autofocus, while not the quickest, may well be the quietest and silkiest we’ve experienced.

In our test lab, performance proved as magnificent. SQF scores for contrast and sharpness were in the low- to mid-Excellent range—just below those of the comparable Nikon and Sigma macros, and equal to the Canon’s. The 0.02% pincushion distortion at both near- and mid-range focusing distances was as close as we’ve seen to distortion-free. The macro range produced no corner vignetting. And at middle focusing ranges, the VC system was best in class (sometimes by a hair), averaging 3.6 extra stops of handheld sharpness.

For anyone needing 1:1 macro ability, this lens is hard to beat. Perfect for close-ups and portraits, with great distortion control and image stabilization, it comes in a relatively light, compact package that’s as favorable in handling as it is in pricing.

90mm (92.72mm tested), f/2.8 (f/2.97 tested); 14 elements in 11 groups; focus ring turns 200 degrees
Diagonal View Angle: 27 degrees
Weight: 1.28 lbs Filter size: 58mm
Mounts: Canon AF, Nikon AF, Sony AF
Street Price: $750

Distortion: 0.02% (Imperceptible) pincushion
Macro Distortion: 0.02 (Imperceptible) pincushion
Light Falloff: Gone by f/4
Macro Light Falloff: None
Close-focusing Distance: 11.75 inches
Max. Magnification Ratio: 1:0.92
Image Stabilization: 3.6 stops
Macro Stabilization: 2.75 stops

Julia Silber