Tamron SP Di 90mm f/2.8 Macro AF Lens Review

By Nathaniel Stephan
Last Updated: April 21, 2019
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Tamron 90mm f/2.8 Macro Lens Review

Used copies of the Tamron SP Di 90mm f/2.8 Macro lens have the best price/performance. The lens is sharp from f/5.6-f/11 with no chromatic aberration. Weighing 418g (14.7oz), the lens is the lightest macro lens I have reviewed in the 90-105mm focal length range. Working distance is comparable to 105mm lenses because the front element is recessed.

Lens Specifications

ManufactureTamron
Made inJapan
Year Released2003?
Original Price$479.95 ($30 rebate)*
Elements Groups10 ele. 9 gr.
Focal Length90mm
Aperturef/2.8-32
# Aperture Blades9
Aperture ControlElectronically Controlled
Focus TypeManual & Auto
Hard Infinity StopYes
Magnification1:1
Minimum Focus Distance29cm (12”)
Working Distance10cm (4")
Filter Threads55mm
Weight418g (14.7oz)
Dimensions⌀72mm x 120mm (2.8" x 4.75")

Price was taken from an archived Adorama page from June 19, 2004. There was a $30 rebate being offered at that time.

Accessories

Comes with a lens hood, part 2C9FH, that has a bayonet mount on the outside of the filter ring. The front element is located far enough back in the lens that the lens hood is unnecessary.

Lens Design

A notable design feature is the clutch style switch to change between auto and manual focus.

There is no need to be able to see the barrel of the lens to move a switch or locking ring. As long as you can find the rubberized focus ring, you can make the switch.

Pulling the focus ring back for manual focus will reveal a blue line above the focus ring. I find the clutch easier to use than the focus selection methods on other macro lenses.

The limit switch on the side of the lens limits focus from infinity to 45cm. Autofocus is faster and more accurate with close focusing disabled. Newer macro lenses can have several focusing range settings.

Close focusing causes the front of the lens to extend out from the barrel. The front element/group(s) and the aperture move forward together.

There is no change in the distance between the front element and front of the lens. Focusing at 1:1 does not cause the lens to become front heavy or unbalanced.

A majority of the weight stays in the rear of the lens, which makes it easy to keep steady.

There are 9 aperture blades. More blades will produce smoother bokeh when the lens is stopped down.

Among the lenses in the Tarmon's price range, 9 is the most aperture blades offered in any lens.

Build Quality

The outer shell and front extension are plastic. The bayonet mount is nickle platted brass.

Unlike older lens, the plastic contains fiberglass fibers for reinforcement.

There is also a slight amount of texture either painted on or as part of the injection molding process.

The only area of concern are the plastic filter threads. Heavy use from filters or a ring light can cause wear over time.

At 450g with both caps and the lens hood, the Tamron is the lightest telephoto macro lens I have owned. Having a shorter focal length of 90mm versus 105mm is part of the reason.

As a comparison, the Nikon AF Micro Nikkor 105mm f/2.8 also has a plastic barrel, but it weighs 574g with caps.

Usage & Working Distance

A Nikon D750 was used for testing. The is well balanced on the camera. The light weight makes the lens easier to carry around than my other macro lenses. Nothing about the layout of the lens has bothered me.

The focus ring is large and the widest part of the lens. There's about 540 degrees of travel from infinity to 1:1 and 200 degrees from infinity with the limit switch on.

Working distance is 4" (10cm) when at 1:1 magnification. The Lester A. Dine 105mm f/2.8 has 5-5/8" (14.3cm) at 1:1 and the AF Micro Nikkor 105mm f/2.8 has 5-3/8" (13.6cm). A lens hood will be needed far more often with the Dine or Nikkor because their front elements are no recessed. When using a lens hood, there will be no difference in working distance between the lenses.

Autofocus performance is mediocre. Focusing closer than 10 feet (3m) causes the effective aperture to be f/3.2. As a result the f/2.8 focus points will not longer work. The motor is slow and loud, which shouldn't come as a surprise because of the distance the lens moves to focus. With the limit switch set, the autofocus is usable.

Close focusing is a challenge for autofocus. When the lens misses focus it will zoom out and then back in. If the camera is being handheld, small movements will cause the lens to miss focus due to a small depth of field. I prefer to set the magnification I want and focus by moving the camera. Unless a camera and lens combination can do in body image stacking, I don't care about autofocus.

Test Shot Sharpness Comparison

The D750 displays the effective aperture of the lens. This is why the test shots do not range from f/3.2 to f/32 instead of f/2.8 to f/32. This feature removes the need to look up EV compensation in the lens manual.

  • f/3.2 - Sharp in the center. Corners are a bit soft with a hint of chromatic aberration.
  • f/4 - A small overall improvement over f/3.2.
  • f/5.6 - Entire image is sharp with no signs of chromatic aberration.
  • f/8 - Sharpest aperture.
  • f/11 - Almost identical to f/8.
  • f/16, f/22, f/32 - Diffraction sets in and gets progressively worse.

Magnification at 1:1

Nikons display the effective aperture for lenses. This should be helpful because macro lenses extend to increase magnification. As the lens extension increases, the focal length increases. The opening for the aperture stays the same size. As a result, the effective aperture will be smaller.

At 1:1 magnification the exposure compensation is +2 EV. At the widest aperture, the camera will display f/5.6. That is because f/5.6 is 2 stops higher than f/2.8.

In practice, it did not work out well. I tried using a Minolta Auto Meter VF to get consistent exposures. Images came out underexposed. As a result, I took a few exposures for each stop and included the best one.

Used prices on eBay

There are newer versions, but the lens is still sold new for $499.00. On eBay, gray market lenses, are being sold new for as low as $290.

I checked the eBay sold listings for used lenses on January 2, 2019. eBay shows the sold prices for the previous 3 months. The bottom of the price ranges are the lowest 'Buy it Now' listings that sold. All the lenses I saw appeared to be in very good or better condition. 'Sold' in the table below only includes used lenses.

MountPrice RangeAuction LowSold
Nikon F$145-225$11039
Canon EF$140-210$11931
Sony A$130-140$11513
Pentax K$180-235None6

There were two surprises from checking prices. First, I was not expecting to see auction sales for a low as there were. Plenty of lenses with hoods and caps were selling for less than half the price of a new gray market lens.

Next, Pentax K mount lenses are the most expensive mount. There were a total of 6 lenses that sold, all were 'Buy it Now' listings. A limited supply is likely what keeps the price higher than other versions.

Comparable Lenses

Conclusion

There is no reason to buy a new copy of the Tamron 90mm f/2.8 SP Di. If you want a new lens, buy either of the two newer versions of the lens.

Used lenses offer the best price to performance value I have seen for a macro lens. You can't go wrong picking up a copy at the lower end of the price range. Put in the time and effort to snipe an auction and you can make out like a bandit.

If you use lots of filters, you might want to pass on the lens. As noted above, the filter threads on the lens are plastic.

An alternative in the same price range are any of the Kino Precision made 105mm f/2.8 macro lenses. I have a Lester A. Dine version that has impressive performance. For a more money there is the Tokina 100mm f/2.8 AT-X Pro. I have not used the Tokina, but it has a reputation for being a bit better than the Tamron.

Lens Versions

  1. Tamron SP 90mm f/2.5 1:2 Macro 52B Adaptall 2
  2. Tamron SP 90mm f/2.5 1:2 Macro 52BB Adaptall 2 - 55mm filter threads
  3. Tamron SP 90mm f/2.8 1:1 Macro 72B Adaptall 2
  4. Tamron SP AF 90mm f/2.8 1:1 Macro 172E
  5. Tamron SP Di 90mm f/2.8 1:1 Macro 272E
  6. Tamron SP 90mm f/2.8 Di VC USD 1:1 Macro
  7. Tamron SP 90mm f/2.8 Di 1:1 Macro VC USD IS

This version is also available in the following mounts: Nikon F, Canon EOS, Pentax K, and Sony A.

The K mount version is the only version that has a aperture ring. An adapter will not need electronics to control the aperture. That makes the K mount version the easiest to adapt to mirrorless cameras.

Nikon, Canon, and Sony all have adapters so their SLR mount lenses can be used on their mirrorless cameras. These adapters are more expensive than the lens.

Reference Sources

Tamron USA Discontinued Products

Tamron Instructions Manuals

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