Since its announcement in August of 2016, the Tamron SP 90mm f/2.8 Di Macro 1:1 VC USD has been a popular macro lens for Canon EF, Nikon F, and Sony A-mount cameras. Thanks to its 1:1 reproduction ratio, updated optical formula, latest optical coatings, optical image stabilization, a solid build, as well as a very reasonable price of $649, the SP 90mm f/2.8 Macro is an excellent third-party alternative to branded lenses.
With its optical design comprised of 14 elements in 11 groups (two of which are extra-low dispersion, and one low-dispersion glass element), it is an optically impressive lens that is able to deliver sharp images with very high levels of contrast. Similar to its other recent siblings, it features a high-speed ultrasonic silent drive (USD) autofocus motor, BBAR + eBAND coating, and moisture-resistant design. The front element is coated with fluorine coating to repel water and smudges for easier cleaning of the lens, making it an excellent candidate for shooting outdoors. Let’s take a look at the lens in more detail.
Tamron SP 90mm f/2.8 Di Macro 1:1 VC USD Specifications
- Mount Type: Canon EF, Nikon F and Sony A
- Focal Length: 90mm
- Maximum Aperture: f/2.8
- Minimum Aperture: f/32
- Macro Reproduction Ratio: 1:1
- Angle of View: 27° 2′
- Lens (Elements): 14
- Lens (Groups): 11
- Diaphragm Blades: 9 (rounded)
- LD Elements: 1
- XLD Elements: 2
- Autofocus: Yes
- USD (Ultrasonic Silent Drive): Yes
- Vibration Compensation (Image Stabilization): Yes
- eBAND Coating: Yes
- BBAR Coating: Yes
- Fluorine Coating: Yes
- Internal Focusing: Yes
- Weather Sealing: Yes
- Minimum Focus Distance: 0.30m
- Focus Mode: AF/MF
- Filter Size: 62mm
- Dimensions: 79 x 114.6mm
- Weight (Approx.): 600g
Build Quality and Handling
Tamron has done a great job with the build quality of the SP 90mm f/2.8 Macro, which feels like a pro-grade lens. It features a sturdy metal lens barrel and a metal mount, and the only plastic parts of the lens are the very front of the lens barrel, as well as the plastic switches on the side of the lens. The bottom of the lens has a “Made in Japan” stamp, and there is another “Designed in Japan” white label right next to it. It is clear that Tamron built the lens to last, even with a heavy amount of field use.
As expected, the focus ring is very smooth, although my particular sample had a slight grinding noise in it, which went away after I turned the ring back and forth a few times. As you get to the end of the focusing range on either side, there is a noticeable stop, but it is not a hard stop like on some older manual focus lenses – the ring continues to rotate. There is a glass element on the rear side of the lens to protect the internals, and it does not move in and out as you move the focus ring.
There are a total of three switches on the side – one for image stabilization (VC On / Off), one for focusing (AF / MF) and one for adjusting the focusing distance (0.5m to ∞ and 0.3m-0.5m). The rear of the lens has a rubber gasket on the mount, which helps protect the camera from dust and debris. The Tamron SP 90mm f/1.8 Di VC USD is weather-sealed, which makes it a great candidate for outdoor photography.
The front element is fairly close to the filter thread, so cleaning it should be very easy. The 62mm filter thread is plastic, similar to what we see on many other enthusiast and pro-grade lenses out there, including ones from Nikon. The HF017 hood is quite large and bulky, so it should do a good job in blocking light rays from reaching the front element (the inner part of the hood is threaded to reduce reflections). It snaps easily on the lens and stays pretty snug, without any noticeable play.
Overall, the build quality and handling of the lens is excellent. We primarily used this lens on the Nikon D780 DSLR and it worked out quite well in the field, as expected. However, when using it with the FTZ adapter on the Nikon Z7, the lens occasionally fails to read, going back and forth before eventually erroring out. Although turning the camera off and on often fixes the issue, it is an annoying problem that we’ve encountered on more than one occasion. The lens was running the latest firmware (we made sure to check using the Tap-in Console), and all the contacts were clean.
Vibration Compensation / Image Stabilization
The Tamron SP 90mm f/2.8 Macro comes with optical image stabilization, which is rated at 3.5 stops of compensation. Although it worked out quite well for us outdoors when shooting hand-held in low-light situations, there are a few important things you will need to keep in mind. First of all, if you are planning to use the lens on a tripod, always make sure to turn vibration compensation (VC switch on the lens) off. Since the lens has no way of detecting tripod use, it will continue to try to stabilize the lens, resulting in blurry images. Second, if you don’t let the lens stabilize a little first and just shoot away, you might end up with slightly blurry images, especially in the slow shutter speed range. Lastly, don’t forget to turn off image stabilization when using it on a camera with built-in image stabilization (such as the Nikon Z6 or Z7), since the two systems might end up working against each other.
Other than that, Tamron has done a good job by incorporating optical image stabilization into the SP 90mm f/2.8 Macro lens.
Thanks to the Ultrasonic Silent Drive (USD) autofocus motor, the Tamron SP 90mm f/2.8 Macro is able to focus quickly and silently. While the autofocus performance of the lens is quite good, its consistency and accuracy can vary. If you are planning to use this lens on a DSLR camera, make sure to get the Tamron Tap-in Console, in case you encounter serious autofocus inaccuracies. Tuning the lens is quite easy with the console, and it is necessary in order to make sure that you are running the latest firmware.
Another potential problem is with using Canon DSLR cameras. I noticed that Canon shooters generally experience more autofocus problems with Tamron lenses than Nikon shooters, and I am guessing this has to do with differences in autofocus system implementation – perhaps Tamron did not do as good of a job with AF on Canon.
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