Thank you for Nordic Digital for providing the lens for testing purposes.
Lizard. ISO 200, 1/640s, F/7.1
Tamron 90mm 1:1 Macro F/2.8 VC USD is the latest addition of macro lens selection of Tamron. SP stands for Super Performance, the recent 24-70/2.8 VC USD and the 70-200/2.8 VC USD are from the same series and this can easily be told considering the high build quality of all these lenses deliver. The Tamron 90mm Macro lens features new ring-type focus (USD) and vibration control (VC) compared with its predecessor Tamron 90mm F/2.8 Macro 1:1 Di. Let's take a look what the lens is capable for and what are the performance impressions shooting under different circumstances. Technical information (ISO, shutter speed, aperture) is written below each image (VC is off unless stated otherwise).
Tinkler. ISO 400, 1/320s, F/4.5
The lens is full frame one - 36x24mm - so you can easily use it with both with your FX (full frame) or DX (aps-c size DSLR) camera. I picked Canon 60D this time (18mpix APS-C) to see how well the lens renders the image to the (relatively) small pixels of the Canon's excellent DX DSLR camera (the pixels are, for example more than 2x smaller physically, than the ones at Canon 5D Mark II (21mpix at 36x24mm sensor).
Fishing net. ISO 100, 1/160s, F/3.2 (The pink/red area at the background is actually another fishing net - so considering this you can evaluate the bokeh).
Eyelash. ISO 200, 1/400s, F/5.0
The housing of the lens is plastic, the build quality feels solid, the rubber-coated focusing ring feels smooth and comfortable with excellent grip to fingers. No zoom ring this time as the focal length is fixed. The unit feels lightweight with the weight measuring 550g (1.2lb) only. Bayonet mount is metallic so no cheap solution here.
Bug. ISO 320, 1/125s, F/4.5
Ceramics. ISO 400, 1/250s, F/4.0
You can find 3 buttons at the lens, placed traditionally in a way you can access it with your left hand easily: AF/MF button; VC on/off; finally, the 3-stage focus limiter button (good job Tamron - really useful feature since the autofocus has now option to make its job quicker at certain working conditions). As usual to the USM-type autofocuses, the focus can be modified manually at any time.
Beetle. ISO 100, 1/80s, F/6.3
Macro lens are well known for its excellent image quality. The predecessor (Tamron 90mm Macro without VC/USD) was already well respected - how does this new unit meet the expectations? So here I am finding myself equipped with a couple of days of time, a nice Canon body with the lens and a bunch of memory cards and spare batteries ready for extensive shooting. It's summer time so the best time to capture some bugs and flowers at northern hemisphere.
Towers. ISO 400, 1/250s, F/4.0
The Macro 1:1 means you can capture "life size" image with the closest focus of the lens. So if you focus your lens as close as possible at full frame lens, you can capture a 36x24mm frame of your subject. This size is perfect to accommodate every kind of bugs, butterflies, flowers and other small objects we might find interesting to take a photograph of.
Skin of a grass snake. ISO 400, 1/125s, F/5.6
The image stabilizer works well. I find it especially useful when shooting footage. Most of the situations I shoot stills I find the stabilizer turned of (I find it often turned off at my other lens as well) however you can be sure the VC saves you some great shots at modest light conditions and I was able to shoot great portraits hand held with the shutter speed as low as 1/30 and 1/20.
Soldier Ant. ISO 1250, 1/160s, F/5.6
Typically, the image is somewhat soft with the aperture wide open, it get's better at F/4, very good at f/5.6 and superb starting F/6.3(7.1) - sounds like a general characteristics of a high quality F/2.8; however the image quality and the way the lens renders certain image at given aperture depends on several factors, so you may get surprisingly great results with the lens wide open, or you may complain about the image quality when the lens was stopped down. In general I was happy with the results of Tamron's latest 90mm, and it delivered expected results per aperture.
Horsefly. ISO 200, 1/500s, F/7.1
I also tried to use the lens as a "scanner" by photographing old film negatives. With a special setup (film frames set at back-lit glass surface) and a camera on tripod with the lens set somewhere between F/7.1-9 I got really pleasant results. The lens always outperformed the old film, I would say I even did not need all the 18 megapixels the 60D has got. Focusing and DOF was not a problem once the camera was carefully set up.
Film "scan" - ISO 100, 0.4s (tripod), F/8 (The image above was originally shot with a Pentax MZ-50 SLR camera and a Tamron 70-300mm F/4-5.6 LD lens (Yay! It was Tamron again :-)) using Fujifilm Superia 200 back at year 2002. I cannot tell about the exact shutter speed and aperture, but as much as I can recall I would think the lens was set at 300mm with the aperture being F/5.6 (there's some CA visible at contrasty areas).
Snout beetle. ISO 800, 1/40s, F/6.3, VC ON.
Caterpillar. ISO 200, 1/200s, F/8 (This one is actually a real tiny one, so the focus is near at its closest point - you can see this by really thin DOF as well, despite the relatively small aperture - F/8).
A couple of words about the (auto)focus. As typical to the macro lens the focus shift is long which makes the focusing tricky both when you are using manual or automatic focus. The AF limiter makes it easier at certain conditions - when you are shooting, for example, portraits; or when you are working with very close distances, so a real macro world.
Bulrush. ISO 200, 1/500s, F/5.6
Pattern Eye. ISO 400, 1/30s, F/5.6, VC ON.
Manual focusing works really well. I often used live view with magnification (Cheers to Canon, the "flip out + twist" LCD screen of 60D is really a pleasure to use) to choose a part of the composition to focus on - and had no problems to focus very, very precisely.
Automatic focus works well as well. I tried to fool the focus with several different (and not that easy) conditions, and of course, at some cases the AF failed (i.e. focusing really thin object against intensive light), but this would have failed with other cameras/lens as well, so the result was as expected. For this test, I always used the center cross-type focus point. At the end I was happy with the result - if you are not going extreme, focus is precise at 99% of the time.
Flower. ISO 400, 1/25s, F/6.3, VC ON.
Do I need to tell about the bokeh this time? :-) Yes, since it is very very good. The bokeh itself is (again!) a complex topic, depending of the build (straight/rounded) and number or
diaphragm blades (the more rounded the aperture, the better the bokeh), but also on the light conditions available at out of focus area. Also, how close or far is the focus. The closer the focus, the better the chances to have superb bokeh. Since the macro lens have the ability to focus really close, we basically cannot talk about "bad" bokeh at all. For the portraits, the bokeh was also very good.
Lizard II. ISO 400, 1/400s, F/7.1
So what would be the final word for the lens overall? Tamron has made it again! Sharp lens, quick/accurate focus, image stabilizer, excellent build quality. Also relatively lightweight. I have no hesitation to recommend the lens for serious macro shooters so be sure you try it out for yourself when going out for the hunt of good macro photography.
Blue Nails. ISO 800, 1/50s, F/7.1