Tamron SP 90mm/2.8 Macro VC USD, is it a good choice ?
My first Macro lens i bought back in 1992 was the Tamron SP 90mm/2.5 (1:2 ratio, Manual Focus) , i really liked that lens, very good for the price. I used it until i switched to digital in 2006 and found that it was prone to sensor flare. After that over the years i’ve used many Macro lenses from Nikon, Olympus (OM and m4/3), Vivitar 90-180mm Flat Field but mostly from Pentax. Before switching from Pentax to Canon i was owning 3 Macro lenses: Pentax DA 35mm/2.8 Macro Ltd, SMC Macro-Takumar 50mm/4 and Pentax DFA 100mm/2.8 Macro WR. The Pentax DFA 100mm Macro WR is my favorite Macro lens that i’ve ever used, so when i switched to Canon i wanted to have the same advantages …. Weather sealing and IS (IBIS for Pentax) since i like photographing frogs i often shoot in wet and muddy habitat and also often handholding my camera because a tripod is not always practical.
At first, i wanted to buy the Canon 100mm Macro IS L, price, size and weight were cons for that lens compared to what i was used with my Pentax (FF lens also). Then i found that Tamron was making a 90mm Macro with VC and weather sealing (Unfortunately not available in Pentax mount), smaller and lighter than the Canon. Sure it does not feel as solidly built than the Canon and especially the Pentax which the barrel is made of metal, but it’s good quality plastic and should be able to survive regular use in the field. A Canadian store had a good rebate on the Canon but especially on the Tamron (600$ CDN) … more than 400$ cheaper than the Canon! So after reading reviews and user opinions i finally pulled the trigger on the Tamron 90mm Macro VC USD, as a bonus here in Canada the Warranty from Tamron is 6 years.
For the moment i will be owning only 1 Macro lens for my Canon kit so a lens in the 90mm-100mm range was my choice. A longer Macro lens is helpful for insects that are difficult to get close, for the moment i will use Ext. tubes on my 70-200mm/4 L if i need more reach when photographing Frogs.
This lens is Weather sealed but couldn’t find a definitive answer on how much weather sealed it really is, so i did sent an E-Mail to Tamron Canada and the next day i received the following answer:
“The weather sealing on your 90mm F/2.8 VC lens is provided by the gasket on the rear of the lens. There are no other gaskets or seals in the lens.”
Compared to the Pentax DFA 100mm Macro WR, which have several gaskets inside the lens also, the Tamron can’t be used in constant rain like the Pentax can, but there is no gap between the focusing ring and the plastic barrel, so maybe it can take some light rain, the weak point might be the switches. The seal around the lens mount doesn’t look as tough as the one on the Pentax DFA 100mm Macro WR but i will have to wait and see how well it will hold-up in the long term.
I made a short video showing the gasket on the rear mount of the lens:
The lens is made of plastic but feels solid, i like tha it’s an IF lens, it will not extend when getting close to my subjects. The focusing ring is large and easy to grip. I would have liked the focusing ring to be more progressive, by that i mean taking more turn from infinity to minimum focusing distance (it takes 1/2 turn from minimum to infinity). Because of that, at close range, just a little turn of the focusing ring and it makes a big difference on where the focus is made, compared to the old Manual focus lenses it’s not as easy to use … but most of the AF lenses suffers from that unfortunately.
On the lens you will find 3 switches (focus limiter, AF/MF and for the VC On/Off), all 3 are easy to use and i have no complaint about them.
Before going to results in the field i want to talk about a little thing that i like about that Tamron lens …. the lens caps ! They are the best i’ve seen on a lens, thick enough and easy to use with a good firm lock, easy to use even in winter with cold fingers, same for the lens hood. Compared to the Canon front lens caps which are the worst i’ve used , too thin and difficult to use.
Results in the field
Modern Macro lenses are all very good, the choice of one over another is based more on features and focal length. Depending on your needs and the subjects you want to photograph there is a Macro lens that is more suited for the task.
The lens also performs very well at normal shooting distances, like this shot of a frozen waterfall, taken at f/11, tripod.
I finally had some time and opportunities (spring was late this year and subjects were difficult to find), this lens performs really well and IQ is very good. I have no doubt and use it at any aperture, sure there is a little drop of resolution as you stop it down to f/11-16 but still very usable, wouldn’t use f/22 as the drop in IQ is too much for my taste.
The Bokeh looks good even if there is some Bokeh fringing (green in the OOF background), which is not that evident at normal viewing distance, i can live with it. In the photos posted here the OOF area are smooth and doesn’t distracts the eyes from the main subject.
This lens is bigger and heavier than my previous Pentax DFA 100mm Macro WR but it handles quite well on my 7D and T3i and it works well for ground level subjects with the VC and the articulated LCD of the T3i.
Tamron produced different versions of this 90mm (f/2.5 and 2.8) over the years and they all have a very good reputation for delivering great results and this one is no exception, Tamron did another great version of their 90mm Macro. It may not be as weather sealed as my Pentax DFA 100mm Macro WR was, but it’s a great lens that fits my needs and at a very good price. If you’re looking for another option than the Canon, Nikon or Sony brand Macro lens in that range this one certainly deserve a good look before taking a final decision. I will post updates when i will have more experience with that lens for photographing Frogs at my favorite pond.
Macro Photography: part 3
Now that i talked about the gear and how to use it, i will talk more about the artistic part and how to record and compose shots. The good thing about Macro/Close-up photography is that you can do it everywhere, you don’t need to live in a wild area, you can get some great shots even in your backyard. When i’m walking in the forest most of the time i’m looking on the ground to find an interesting subject. Once you found something interesting you will need to look for the best angle from which to photograph it, walk around (if possible) and get down on your knees if necessary.
I like this photo of a young Leopard Frog that i took early one morning on the shore of a small pond because it shows the animal in it’s habitat. There is enough DOF on the frog but not too much that the background would become distracting, the Bokeh of the lens also helps here. The low point of view and the dew covered grass adds to appreciate that little fellow.
Pentax K-01 with DFA 100mm Macro WR, ISO 1600, 1/60 sec. at f/5.6, handheld.
Background and DOF control
When shooting Macro photos you need to be aware of the background and always position your camera and also choosing the appropriate aperture to blurr the background so it will not distract the viewer from the main subject. You might need to move some weeds or branches in the background to have a cleaner composition. Color of the background can affect the final look of your shots and give different feelings when looking at the result.
Sometimes the background can add to your subject especially if the subject is smaller in the frame and it’s part of the habitat (like the photo above of a Leopard Frog).
Pentax K-01 with DFA 100mm Macro WR
You might need to control the light hitting your subject, you can use a flash, but personally i prefer natural light (i don’t own any flash). I often use myself, camera bag or even took off my shirt to shade my subject from direct sunlight when necessary. If i need to fill-in some light i use my DSLR book (which is always in my bag) to do that or you can have a small reflector.
I was looking for photographing frogs at one of my favorite pond and saw this Crab spider with her prey on a flower. Since they were underneath the petals the light was not so good so i used my DSLR user guide to fill-in some light, even then the white petals were blown-out but i can live with that. So always keep your eyes open, you never know what you can find.
Pentax K-01 with DFA 100mm Macro WR, tripod.
Often the most difficult part is finding an interesting subject, taking time to look around, taking time to relax will open your mind and be more productive than walking too much in hope of finding a better place. Usually the longer i stay at the same place the best shots i get. When i’m shooting frogs it’s the same thing, i try to find the frog that is in a better surrounding and let me get close enough to make a good photograph. After that i work around it and try different lenses if possible.
This was taken after a rainy day followed by a cold night, the water drops just frozed on the leaves. The difficult part was finding a subject with a beautiful surrounding. The technical part was easy, just stopped down the lens to have enough DOF to render everything in sharp focus.
Sony NEX-3 with SMC Macro-Takumar 50mm/4, tripod.
Don’t be afraid to experiment with shutter speed, DOF, lenses or even WB and ISO. Modern cameras give you a lot of choices and you’re only limited by your imagination. Don’t forget to bring your camera with you as often as you can since a Macro lens and a camera don’t take that much space and you never know when a small subject will cross your road.
Pentax K-01 with DFA 100mm Macro WR, Tripod.