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Nice Macro/Portrait Hybrid
on September 16, 2009
I had this lens on order for months, hoping to be one of the first to get it as soon as it was available for a Nikon mount. When I first heard the announcement of this new lens from Tamron, I was more excited than I have been for a while over new glass! As a pro photojournalist, I have quite a bevy of lenses. I was interested in this from past experience with Tamron lenses, notably the 90mm f/2.8 1:1 Macro. I have used this lens on a just-about weekly basis for over 10 years. I do not have the latest version of the 90mm, but the one I have is still working incredibly well, and I have never had a single problem with it, even as much as I have used it. The main things I loved about that lens is the absolutely wonderful bokeh, impeccable sharpness, and nice color rendition. The AF could of course be better, but maybe it is in the newer versions, I can't say. I became aware of the 90mm lens over 15 years ago when I bought the 90mm f/2.5 version of the lens for Minolta, which I used on several Maxxum 9000 bodies for many years. I absolutely loved it, so when I made the switch to Nikon, I bought the newer one, although I have always wondered if they could make it faster, as the old one was 2.5, although not a true 1:1 macro (It was a 1:2, with a extension tube to make it 1:1).
As I bought the 90mm to use on FM2 and F5 film bodies, I thought it extremely suited for portraiture at the 90mm focal length, and used it for that purpose as much as for macro work. But with the switch to digital and the cropped format, 135mm is a bit tight for most of the portrait/environmental portrait work I do. I then started using the wonderful Nikon 50mm f/1.4 for most of that work. I also own the Nikon 85mm f/1.8. Both lenses are sharp, bright, great lenses. But they do not focus very close. Hence, I found myself constantly switching between the two Nikkors and the 90mm Tammy for studio, fashion, food and portrait photography.
Enter the 60mm. Its basically back to the 90mm focal length on (cropped sensor) digital cameras. If I shot mostly with a full-frame (FX sensor) camera, I wouldn't be so interested in this lens however. The working distance of 100mm even beats the 90mm for macro shooting. If I were a full-time macro shooter I might suggest an even longer working distance to keep shy bugs and such happy, but as I said earlier, this lens is a nice hybrid for macro/portraiture use.
I have only limited use of this lens as of this writing (just a few days), but this is my thoughts so far:
PERFECT PORTRAIT LENGTH OF 93MM, with MACRO WORKING DISTANCE of 100mm.
A f/2 APERTURE! This was probably one of the main selling points for me. Although, I must express why I am a little disappointed in that regard. From tests I have done so far, f/2 does not seem to come into play until around 14 feet to infinity. At focusing distances closer than 14 feet, the lens switches to f/2.2. It switches from 2.2 to 2.8 between 12-ish feet and a foot (that's not bad really, so you still have 2.8 all the way up to a foot in front of the lens). All true macros will do this to my knowledge, the physical parameters of focusing so close loses light. I was expecting this. But I absolutely think/wish the lens would stay a true f/2 in the portrait-shooting distances (3-8 feet lets say). Of course, its still a good deal faster than 2.8. But using the lens in studio settings or in manual modes or with manual flash settings, the aperture / exposure shifts could be annoying. And you are not getting the low-light usefulness of f/2 for any portrait-distance use.
This lens is a true INTERNAL FOCUSING lens!! I find this a monumental breakthrough for a 1:1 macro lens! The front element does not move, the lens maintains its length at any focusing distance, even at minimum. Filters stay in the mounted position. It uses a 55mm filter thread, which is very common and useful. I have many SFX filters in this thread that I can use for this lens. The hood is a nice length and stays put, and is easy to take off and put on. Seems as though it would protect the front element well and controls flare pretty good from what I can see.
The BOKEH OF THIS LENS IS SUBLIME!!!, (just as I hoped it would be). It has inherited the beautiful out-of-focus highlights that distinguishes the 90mm. Although, I was a bit skeptical as I noted that the 60mm employs a 7-blade diaphragm rather than the 9-blade of the 90mm; but the roundness of the blades seems to make a nice effect regardless.
The Autofocus on this lens is usable. It is much better than on my old 90mm. Most of the time, it seems to focus rather quickly and accurately. It makes a slight noise, but is not harsh or too loud. It will at times not find focus and rack in and out, slowing performance. It really SHOULD have a limiter switch as the 90mm does to limit focus to two distance groups. This is particularly useful to keep the lens in the focus areas you are intending, be it portrait range use or close-up macro work. It does not have a limiter switch! The full-time manual-focusing override is very nice however. It feels good in the hand. The manual mechanism however seems to be a bit hard to find focus at times; I can focus much finer and smoother with other manual-focusing lens rings. But it works, and I may become more used to the feel of it in time. Being able to 1:1 macro focus with decent AF/IF and manual over-ride (without having to move the switch or push-pull a clutch mechanism) is nice. Keeping it around 3 inches in length (at any focus distance) is very nice. It is a little over 5" in length with the hood attached.
THE LENS IS VERY SHARP, EVEN AT f/2! It's even sharper stopped down a bit. But the bokeh and sharpness at f/2 is amazing! The out-of-focus planes are very smooth. The sharpness seems very flat from the center to the edges (as all macros should be).
THE COLOUR RENDITION IS WONDERFUL! Seems slightly warm and somehow smooth. Skin tones are very good.
Seems well-made and robust. Is hard, slightly rough-feeling plastic with metal mount. Black matte finish blends well with Nikon bodies. I have no worries about quality issues. Especially with the standard 6-year warranty from Tamron USA. My copy is #0007** and it states it is made in Japan. It is rather light but solid feeling, and balances well on camera.
Shots so far with this lens are as hoped for. I am greatly pleased with this lens, especially for use on a DX-sensor camera. ****Really wish it would maintain f/2 from at least 4-6 feet, rather than 12-14 feet though!*** But so far I really like and HIGHLY RECOMMEND it for portrait/macro use on DX cameras.