GEAR REVIEW - TAMRON SP 90mm f/2.8 Di (272E)
The Tamron SP 90mm f/2.8 Di was my second macro lens. The first was its much older, manual focus brother - the SP 90mm f/2.5. This came in Adaptall-2 mount and had developed a solid optical reputation since its introduction in 1979. It was that sharp that photographers back in the day, considered it almost too sharp for portraiture, because it would reveal all the blemishes in the skin. Soft focus lenses were definitely the popular choice, mainly because of the lack of editing hardware and software, that we readily take for granted today.
A blisteringly sharp lens, the SP90 can certainly hold its own against the likes of Nikon and Canon macro primes. Solidly built, with some nice features, it delivers very sharp images. Tamron didn't slack on the build quality, with a metal mount, high quality plastics and an intuitive push-pull AF/M engage barrel. A useful focus limiting switch shortens the focal range when working at either end. The rubber grip is comfortable and enables good contact with your finger tips.
It also has its own focus motor, making it compatible with entry level Nikon's that lacked one on the camera body. Earlier versions of this lens would only auto focus on "Prosumer" and professional cameras, so if picking up a used copy make sure it is compatible with your camera.
Another appealing attribute was the weight. At 400g it's very lightweight making it enjoyable to use for extended periods. Price wise it was certainly an attractive alternative to the Micro-Nikkor 105mm VR. At £360 its some £250 cheaper.Unfortunately there are some negatives to the lens. Unlike the 105mm VR which is internal focusing, the front of the SP90 extends to focus, quite substantially in fact. If using the lens with extension tubes to increase the magnification and shorten the working distance, I found the subject would get hit by the lens barrel on occasions. Used without tubes this doesn't happen but, is worth pointing out.
The second drawback is the auto focus speed, which I found to be painfully slow on the Nikon D90. This made it somewhat frustrating for portraiture. If the focus missed, it would hunt repeatedly in less than bright conditions. For macro, slow focus speed isn't really a problem. Due to working at such shallow depths of field and achieving critical focus, macro photography is generally best performed manually anyway. The lens also lacks any vibration reduction which was one of the reasons I opted for the Micro-Nikkor.
Tamron have recently given the SP90 yet another revamping, with an overhaul of the optical design, adding vibration control, extra low dispersion glass elements and advanced lens coatings. Tamron's VC has garnered a lot of praise in recent years and is regarded by some to be the best out there. Optically it outperforms the Micro-Nikkor 105 f/2.8G VR. Not bad for a lens that is actually £250 cheaper than the Nikon offering!!
If you're looking to get into macro photography and want something that will perform well but won't break the bank, then the Tamron SP90 Di 272E is a definitely a solid performer. If you can live with its potential shortcomings some of which may not affect you, then the reward is extremely sharp images. Personally, I'd plump for the new version with vibration control and USD motor.