Hands On with the Tamron SP AF60mm f/2.0 Di II LD 1:1 Macro Lens
Sept 21, 2009
By Dan Havlik, PDN's Technology Specialist
Add in the fact that the Tamron 60mm f/2.0 ($569) is designed for more common – and less expensive – digital SLRs with APS-C sensors rather than full-frame models, and you have a Macro lens for the everyman photographer.
While making something affordable in this rotten economy is always welcome, everyman pricing can sometimes mean everyman quality, i.e. ok, decent, middle-of-the-road, not bad…dull…blah…zzzzzzz.
I'm happy to report that the Tamron 60mm f/2.0 is no snooze though. The Canon version of the lens I tested out – it also comes in Nikon and Sony flavors – performed wonderfully, offering precise close-up focusing and gorgeous shallow depth of field thanks to its fast f/2.0 aperture.
If you thought quality sub-f/2.8 glass was out of your price range, check out this Recession-friendly true 1:1 Macro lens from Tamron.
The Tamron 60mm f/2.0 is a digital-oriented follow-up to the company's long-time mid-range Macro workhorse – the SP AF90mm f/2.8 Macro 1:1. On digital SLRs with APS-C sensors – such as the Canon 50D I tested it out on – the Tamron 60mm f/2.0 becomes approximately a 93mm lens which provides a relatively comfortable working distance from the floral, fauna, and tiny critters I was photographing up close and personal.
© Dan Havlik
I say "relatively comfortable" working distance because several times I did block the light source while capturing Macro images of bugs and flowers with the lens, which is able to focus as close as 0.23mm from the subject. Typically, I like a telephoto Macro of about 150mm but that's a personal preference.
If you feel you're blocking the light with the Tamron 60mm, you might want to throw on a ring flash. (For a recommendation, check out my review of the Metz Mecablitz 15 MS-1 Digital in the upcoming October issue of PDN.) Also, I experienced no problems in accidentally capturing the shadow of the lens barrel with the Tamron 60mm f/2.0, which was a plus.
The two major attractions of this lens are its very fast f/2.0 aperture and its 1:1 "true" Macro capability, i.e. the object you're shooting a close-up of – such as an insect or delicate plant life – is the same size as the image on the digital sensor for "true-to-life capture." The fact that Tamron offers both these features in a lens designed for APS-C sensor cameras rather than pricier "full-frame" DSLRs is part of the reason the 60mm f/2.0 has generated so much excitement. (And you can't knock the $569 price tag.)
The Sweetest Spot
In terms of performance, I found the f/2.0 aperture worked very well in helping me handle mixed and low light conditions while producing artful shallow depth of field.
In one shot shown on this page, I was able to capture a tack sharp close-up of a sliver of a bumblebee's wing and surrounding hairs while parts of the flower it was sitting on washed out in a fiery red and yellow blur. (Experimenting with where to position the tiny sweet spot of focus while shooting at f/2.0 is half the fun with this lens.)
It's been a cloudy and rainy summer in New York and even though I was photographing flowers in dull overcast conditions, the f/2.0 aperture created bright, peppy results with rich colors, particularly the reds and pinks.
As might be expected, the Tamron 60mm f/2.0 also functions well as a portrait lens, producing lovely bokeh behind your subject. I do have to say I didn't achieve the same level of sharpness in my portraits as I did with my close-ups, which is not surprising for a Macro lens. (Macros are typically sharpest at their minimum focal distance.)
It's also worth noting that if you want a wider depth of field, the Tamron 60mm f/2.0 can go to f/22 which lends some additional versatility to this lens. (If you're like me though, you'll probably stick to f/2.0 for that "beautiful blur.")
In terms of design, the polycarbonate/metal Tamron 60mm f/2.0 is Spartan and solid with a comfortable rubber focus grip on the front. Because the lens uses an internal focusing system, it doesn't extended when focusing which keeps the package compact. (Though the 1.5-inch lens hood does eat into your working distance a bit.)
The Bottom Line
With the SP AF60mm f/2.0 Di II LD 1:1 Macro lens, Tamron has produced one of the best, if not the best, pieces of close-up glass of the year. And for just $569, this f/2.0 1:1 lens for DSLRs with APS-C sensors is a bargain.
Pros: A bright, fast, "true" Macro lens for APS-C DSLRs at a reasonable price
Cons: Would prefer slightly more working distance; not the same level of sharpness for portraits as for close-ups