My Tamron 90mm macro lens

I quite enjoy macro photography. When I used to use my Fuji S9600 as my main camera, it had a super macro mode, which allowed me to focus on objects as close as 1cm. That was pretty handy for macro shots and the results were generally good – such as this disgusting pupa.

Since swapping the S9600 for a Canon EOS 450D DSLR, I don’t have a macro facility. The best I could get was my Tamron 70-300mm telephoto zoom lens which allowed 1:2 magnification at full zoom. But the subject had to be at least 1.5m from the camera and image quality wasn’t great, so it wasn’t really a solution.

I bought a set of EF mount macro extension tubes from eBay. These sort of replicated the behaviour of the S9600, by allowing the camera to focus closer. By spacing the lens further from the camera body, it’s possible to focus down to just a few millimetres away from the end of the lens, so tiny objects can fill the frame.

However, as EF lenses are electronically controlled, you lose autofocus and the ability to shoot with the aperture anything other than wide open. Naturally, the depth of field is then very shallow. Sometimes it works, like in this photo of a pound coin, but it’s quite frustrating not being able to stop down.

The other disadvantage of “cheating” at macro by focusing closer is that it’s hard to get light onto your subject, because the snout of the lens casts a shadow. When I use my macro LED ring flash, some of the objects I photograph have to be so close to the end of the camera that they are within the ring flash and hence get no light.

So I decided the only real solution would be to buy a proper macro lens with 1:1 magnification. I considered the Canon 60mm macro as the cheapest entry-level macro lens, but unfortunately it’s EF-S mount and can’t be used on 35mm SLRs, such as my EOS 300. If I’m going to shell out for a lens, I want it to work on all my cameras.

The next lens up in Canon’s range is the 100mm macro, which is EF mount, but is unfortunately quite a bit more expensive. I watched a few second hand lenses on eBay but the auctions always closed for prices significantly higher than I was willing to pay – especially as macro photography is only an occasional treat for me.

The two main rivals of the Canon 100mm are the Tamron 90mm and the Sigma 105mm. The Sigmas are rarer but there were plenty of Tamrons on eBay. The first few auctions for the 90mm finished at quite high prices but eventually I found one ending at an awkward time and won the auction for a bargain price. The lens is second hand but very new; mint condition and boxed in all original packaging.

The main disadvantage of the Tamron compared against the Canon is that the Canon has an ultrasonic autofocus motor, and full-time-manual focussing. As nice as those things are, they weren’t worth an extra £150 to me. The Tamron lens flips between manual and autofocus by sliding the whole focus ring back and forth, which is much nicer than fumbling for a small switch on the side of the lens barrel.

The Tamron 90mm feels solid compared with some of my other lenses – most of them budget ones. It’s reassuringly heavy and feels like an expensive lens. The autofocus is quite slow and quite loud, but this doesn’t matter. When I’m composing a macro scene, I can take all the time I like.

The main gripe is that the lens barrel extends by about two inches when focussing. You have to be careful not to bump into your subject if you are working at close range.

I’ve only owned the lens for a few hours, but I can see it’s a fantastic lens. The images are very sharp and almost completely free from any aberration. When I have some time to experiment with some small subjects, I’ll see what I can come up with. But for the time being, here’s a picture of a piece of Velcro.

7 thoughts on “My Tamron 90mm macro lens

  1. It seems really strange that a lens that’s designed to get up really close changes length. But I’m a staunch non-fan of lenses where the end extends or rotates.

    (Except the 24-70 f/2.8L which is very clever indeed – all movement goes on inside the hood which is fixed)

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    1. Yes, I’m not a fan of lenses where the end rotates, because it’s a pain to use with polarising or graduated filters.

      I don’t mind ones that extend if I’m using them for landscapes or whatever, but for macro, it does seem strange.

      This lens can’t focus down close enough to actually crash into the subject as it pops out, but movig the front element as much as 2″ during focussing obviously throws it out of focus, so the lens tends to search back and forth a bit before it settles. Luckily there’s a switch to limit focussing only to a close range which helps to work around the problem.

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    1. I bought some lenses similar to those. It was actually a screw-on fisheye lens that unscrewed into two halves; one half being a close-up lens.

      It did allow for pretty good magnification but the chromatic aberration was awful and probably more importantly, to get huge magnification of small items, you have to get very close. Then you quickly find that the camera is casting a shadow over your subject and it’s really hard to get extra light in there.

      Those were the two main reasons I bought the Tamron macro lens. Its closest working distance is some 40cm (I think) between the sensor and the subject, so there’s plenty of room for light.

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