Tamron Macro Lens Comparison - Nikon D600
I have owned a Tamron 90mm f2.8 for about four years and have used it on a variety of Nikon bodies. The results have been very good. Hoping to gain the benefit of Vibration Control (Image Stabilization) for my handheld macro shots of flowers and critters I ordered the Tamron 90mm f2.8 VC. An additional 2 or more stops would be very useful for capturing more candid and fleeting shots. The promise of better sharpness was also attractive.
Comparing the two lenses on a Nikon D600 has led me to return the newer Tamron 90mm f2.8 VC. It turns out the VC version is sharper at f2.8 and f4, but the difference is pretty negligible once you hit f5.6, and basically gone by the time you hit f8 and f11, my preferred apertures for the candid shots.
But the real disappointment was with the VC benefit working at macro (1:2 to 1:4, not even 1:1) scales. I estimate the benefit of the VC lens to be about 1, perhaps as much as 2 stops. Not enough to change the way I work, and putting the lens on a tripod or monopod negated the benefit of the VC, and perhaps resulted in slightly softer images.
If I were buying one of these lenses for the first time I would probably opt for the Tamron VC version, but as I already own the non-VC version there was insufficient benefit to move up.
A few additional points:
1. Neither of the lenses is as sharp as an older manual Nikkor 105mm f4 lens that I have. They are pretty close but the Nikkor is sharper and provides better contrast.
2. The VC version of the Tamron 90mm f2.8 lens seems to be about 5mm longer than the non-VC version, perhaps an effective 95mm. This is when the lenses are placed on a fixed position camera, so it may be an issue of how far the lens projects from the body, or the placement of the lens elements relative to the subject. The VC version has one optical element basically at the front of the lens and suggests the use of filter is advisable. The non-VC version has a recessed front lens element seemingly protected from accidental damage.
3. The VC version seems to be about 1/2 or 1/3 stop slower than the non-VC version when shooting in manual mode.
4. The non-VC version works quite nicely when used with an adapter on the Olympus m4/3 system. The images are sharp, contrasty and benefit from the camera's built-in image stabilization. And the effective 180mm focal length permits not getting too close to a 'nervous' subject. But of course it requires manual focusing but will auto meter if used in Aperture Priority mode.
All of this of course largely fits with the technical observations made by the DxO folks.