Late last year, Tamron introduced the first two prime lenses in a redesign of its premium SP line of lenses, the SP 35mm F/1.8 Di VC USD and SP 45mm F/1.8 Di VC USD. The new design of the SP line features upgraded construction and materials, including a metal barrel and sealing for moisture and dust protection, along with thoughtful ergonomic improvements.
This year, Tamron extended these improvements to two more prime lenses, the SP 90mm F/2.8 Di MACRO 1:1 VC USD and the SP 85mm F/1.8 Di VC USD. Like the SP 35mm F/1.8 and SP 45mm F1/.8, the new primes exhibit the attention to build quality and handling that is the result of what Tamron refers to as its “Human Touch” design philosophy. Details like the generously sized focusing ring and VC (Vibration Compensation) and AF switches deliver pleasing and precise handling. As we noted in our review of the SP 35mm F/1.8 and SP 45mm F1/.8, the oblong design of the switches may not sound noteworthy on paper, but in field use it makes it intuitively easy to switch between auto and manual focus—something we can’t say for typical lens switches that are often small and delicate.
Both lenses feature nine aperture blades and a circular diaphragm, which Tamron notes is almost perfectly circular up to two stops down from the maximum aperture. The lenses also incorporate Tamron’s Vibration Reduction system for up to 3.5 stops of image stabilization when shooting handheld.
True 1:1 Macro with the SP 90mm F/2.8
Of the two new lenses, the SP 90mm F/2.8 Di MACRO 1:1 VC USD is the more versatile for nature photography because of its true 1:1 macro magnification. Lenses in the 90mm to 105mm range are popular for macro work because they provide 1X magnification but allow some working distance, meaning you get a close-up perspective without needing to be right on top of your subject. If you’re using this lens with an APS-C sensor camera, its focal length is equivalent to approximately 135mm.
The lens offers focusing as close as 0.3 meters (11.8 inches) and, to improve the speed of AF performance, includes a focus limiter control with three settings: 0.3 to 0.5m, 0.5 to infinity and full range.
Fast maximum aperture with the SP 85mm F/1.8 Di VC USD
Tamron positions the SP 85mm F/1.8 Di VC USD as a portraiture lens, and it’s ideally suited for that, but it’s a nice lens for nature work, too. The fast maximum aperture allows you to create beautiful soft focus effects and shallow depth of field to draw attention to specific elements in your compositions. When used with an APS-C sensor camera, the focal length is equivalent to approximately 127.5mm.
For macro work, the SP 90mm F/2.8 is the better choice—the SP 85mm F/1.8 Di VC USD’s maximum magnification ratio is 1:72, and its minimum focusing distance is 31.5 inches. That said, we were very pleased with the sharpness and limited depth of field effects we achieved with this lens shooting at the minimum focusing distance.
Tamron SP 90mm F/2.8 Di MACRO 1:1 VC USD
- Maximum Aperture: ƒ/2.8
- Minimum Aperture: ƒ/32
- Minimum Focus Distance: 11.8 inches
- Filter Size: 62mm
- Length: 4.6 inches (Canon); 4.5 inches (Nikon)
- Weight: 21.5 ounces (Canon); 21.2 ounces (Nikon)
- Mounts: Canon, Nikon, Sony
Tamron SP 85mm F/1.8 Di VC USD
- Maximum Aperture: ƒ/1.8
- Minimum Aperture: ƒ/16
- Minimum Focus Distance: 31.5 inches
- Filter Size: 67mm
- Length: 3.6 inches (Canon); 3.5 inches (Nikon)
- Weight: 24.7 ounces (Canon); 23.3 ounces (Nikon)
- Mounts: Canon, Nikon, Sony