Thursday, March 19, 2015

Review Part 1: Tamron SP 90mm f/2.5 Macro (on MFT)

In this post I will give you a brief review on the Tamron SP 90 lens as a portraiture lens and as a macro lens when mounted on a Micro Four Thirds camera. In part 2, I will review how it performs on a full frame sensor.

P.S. Look how elegant the top plate on the E-M1 looks. Now compare that to the bland Sony A7II I showed you earlier.

I bought this lens from eBay for a very attractive price after reading a few reviews about how well it performed, and after seeing many convincing images on the Flickr pool for this lens. Reports usually mentioned great sharpness wide-open and beautiful bokeh. To quote Kirk Tuck when I mentioned this lens to him, he said that he remembered this lens to be "sharp and kind". Exactly!

You know I am fond of tight head shots like the one above, you know I consider the Olympus 75 f1.8 to be the best lens I have for MFT, and you know how much I enjoyed shooting the Canon 200L on a full frame body. When I thought about the Tamron, I thought it would be nice to have a fast; long lens that is reported to produce soft backgrounds, and doubled as a macro lens too. The lens is 180mm equivalent on MFT (ignore the wrong focal length at the footer of the images, my mistake), which is usually used for tight head shots when coupled with a fast aperture, full length shots with nice background compression, or as a macro lens with a long working distance which enables you to shoot small stuff without sticking the lens very close to the subject (very useful when shooting insects).

There are two versions of this lens that I know of. The original 52B lens, which looks quite old, and is made out of metal and very heavy. And the 52BB version that I have which is made mostly of plastic and a few metal parts. It looks modern and is very light.

Just look how smooth those images look. After using the lens for some time now, I am very pleased with how it performs in all scenarios. It is a true bargain and the best value for money lens I own. Very sharp wide-open. Dreamy backround rendering. Very smooth and accurate focusing ring. Nice macro capabilities. What's not to like? Check those wide-open crops:

The lens is quite compact, even after adding the adapter to convert to MFT mount. However, when focusing at macro distances (less than ~ 80cm) the lens starts extending considerably, until it reaches almost double its original length at the closest focusing distance. One of the recommendations I read in the reviews is to always use a lens hood, since the lens can flare easily when there is a light source that hits the front element. I bought a collapsible rubber hood, and I keep it on the lens all the time.

One of the benefits of shooting MFT is that I don't have to stop lenses down to get acceptable DOF. And in turn I can use lower ISOs. That's one of the attributes of shooting a smaller sensor. I hardly stop down this lens unless I am shooting macro or products that need a large depth of field (the Vintage Sewing Machine images were all shot at f/8). Here are a few more samples for your entertainment. All shots are wide-open, except for the last product shot (lit by two soft boxes) which is stopped-down. Look how well this lens renders the backgrounds.

As you can see from the pictures, the lens has a focusing ring, a clicky aperture ring, and a distance-scale window; which is immensely useful in macro shooting. Focusing this lens on the E-M1 is a piece of cake using either focus peaking, magnification, or both. And because this lens is sharp wide-open, it makes focus peaking even easier to identify since there is good contrast/sharpness available for the peaking engine to use, unlike the Canon 55 f1.2 which is soft wide-open that you can hardly see exactly what's in focus unless you use magnification.

Stabilization on the E-M1 is delightful to use with this lens, there is no shaking in the viewfinder even when shooting macro. And I was able to get away with slow shutter speeds given the 180mm effective focal length.

This lens can shoot 1:2 or 0.5x macro, which means half life size on a full frame sensor. And it has another accessory (effectively an extension tube) that enables it to reach true 1:1 or 1x magnification. Instead of searching for that accessory on eBay, I bought a cheap 3-piece Fotodiox extension tube kit from Amazon, knowing that using two of these pieces I would get 1x magnification, and that using all three pieces would give me more magnification (I searched for the length of the original Tamron extension tube that makes it reach 1x magnification). Here's what the extension tubes look like:

And here are a few macro images taken without using the extension tubes:

In order to show you the difference between the closest distance focusing with and without using the extension tubes, I decided to pick a difficult target. I put an iPad Air (this thing has a retina display, i.e. very tiny pixels) against the wardrobe in vertical position, and decided to see how close I can get to the see the individual pixels.

First without extension tubes. I will show you how close I could get, then show you a 100% crop.

Not very good. You can see the individual pixels, but nothing more. Now let us add the full set of extension tubes (did I mention they don't have electric contacts? I didn't need them since the lens adapter itself didn't have such contacts) and see what we can get.

Impressive, eh? And here is a funny shot of the full kit.

That concludes the first part of my review. In the next part I will show you how this lens works with the Sony A7II.

Before I leave you, I want to show a new piece of gear that I bought: the tiny table-top Oben TT-50 tripod. It is very small, light, cheap and sturdy. You saw how it shot the iPad pixels at 1/10 second with all that length and weight on the front of the camera. It has a very good ball-head and it lets you to put the camera very close to the ground. I bought this one despite have at least three other table-top tripods because of its small size so that I can take it everywhere.


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