As Professional Travel Photographers we have never really needed to shoot Macro images. However, since starting our Meetup group we have met many photography enthusiasts that were interested in this genre. We were fortunate to have been given the opportunity to test both the Tamron AF 90mm f2.8 Di SP Macro and Tamron AF 90mm f2.8 Di VC USD Macro. The Tamron 90mm is often called the “portrait macro” because the focal length is also ideally suited for portraits.
What’s the difference between the two lenses you ask? Well, in image quality we really haven’t been able to pick them apart. Not surprising, as most Macro lenses over the last 40 years are known for their extraordinary sharpness. The Tamron AF 90mm f2.8 Di SP Macro (Model: 272E) is the older of the two lenses and apparently has been a legend of a lens for Macro photographers for many years. As a matter of fact, there have been different improved versions of this lens released over the last 30 years. The Tamron AF 90mm f2.8 Di VC USD Macro (Model: F004) was only released in 2013. Both lenses have a 1:1 magnification ratio.
There is quite a price difference between the 2 lenses with the only difference being;
- The F004 model has ultrasonic autofocusing (faster & quieter internal focusing) while the older (272E) lens barrel extends when focussing at closer distances making the length grow substantially (see above image)
- The F004 model also has VC (vibration compensation) which will allow you to handhold at slightly slower shutter speeds while attaining a low ISO setting (although this feature is not available on the Sony mount as Image Stabilisation is available in-camera).
- Slight improvement in sharpness, reduction of flare and chromatic aberration which is due to technological advances in the glass elements
The build quality of both lenses is excellent and have a very smooth focus ring. Unlike most lenses where there is a small switch for changing between Auto/Manual Focus – switching between manual and auto-focus on the 272E model is via a focus clutch mechanism by moving the focus ring back and forth. It will reveal a blue-coloured ring when in Manual Mode. We quite like this feature as it can be done without taking your eye away from the viewfinder. This is great for using AF and then switching to Manual Focus to fine-tune the focus although you will find that switching between the two will require some fine-tuning.
The newer lens (F004) has been weather sealed which is an improvement over the older model and these days is quite a necessary feature for all lenses and camera bodies. It features a virtually silent USD (Ultrasonic Drive) and Vibration Compensation which is Tamron’s version of image stabilisation which is finding its way into many lenses these days. Tamron claim that this will allow you to handhold at shutter speeds up to 4 stops slower. We always take these claims with a grain of salt and always halve the number of f-stops that they recommend. Therefore when using this lens we would recommend only handholding 2-3 stops slower.
Resolution – both lenses are outstanding at the critical apertures from edge to edge. Wide-open both lenses are great but at f/4, f/5.6 & f/8 they are brilliant although based on the charts below the newer lens is sharper across the board, which is to be expected. From f/11 and onwards the quality deteriorates due to diffraction but this is normal for any lens.
All in all, we have had a great experience with both of these lenses. They are both a delight to use. There is, however, a substantial price difference between the two and this is understandable considering the improvements that have been made to the newer model. The 272E model currently retails for AUD$400-450 and the F004 model for AUD$700-800 (if you have a Sony camera you can buy this for just over AUD$500 but you will need an adapter to work on E or FE mount cameras). Below is the recommendation of OpticalLimits.com for these lenses and we would have to concur.
Conclusion: If your specialty is Macro Photography with the occasional portrait shoot we would recommend you splash out and buy the more expensive Tamron AF 90mm f2.8 Di VC USD Macro (Model: F004) however if you are adding another lens to your bag for the occasional Macro and portrait shot we would go for the Tamron AF 90mm f2.8 Di SP Macro (Model: 272E) which is the lens we will be purchasing (UPDATE: we purchased, and have been using this lens for over a year and are extremely happy with the results for both Macro and Portrait shots). Either way, you will not regret your purchase of either of these lenses.
Note: The mounts available for Sony are for A-mount cameras. If using an E mount or FE mount camera you will need to purchase an adapter.
Below are some of the image we have taken with the lenses –
UPDATE: The Tamron AF 90mm f2.8 Di VC USD Macro (Model: F004) has now been superceded by the SP 90mm F/2.8 Di MACRO 1:1 VC USD (Model: F017) adding XY-Shift compensation to reinforce VC functionality, advancements in USD control software to improve the AF speeds and a high standard of Moisture-Proof and Dust-Resistant Construction has been added to prevent intrusion of dust or water droplets.
If you have any comments or questions about these lenses then we’d love to hear from you.
Tamron AF 90mm f2.8 Di SP Macro (272E) – Purchase this lens on Amazon Australia / Amazon
Tamron AF 90mm f2.8 Di VC USD Macro (F004) – Purchase this lens on Amazon Australia / Amazon
Tamron SP 90mm F/2.8 Di MACRO 1:1 VC USD (Model: F017) – Purchase this lens on Amazon Australia / Amazon
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