Which 100mm macro lens should I choose for my full-frame camera?

Monday January 23 2012

Lens Recommendations
Which 100mm macro lens should I choose for my full-frame camera?

We have just tested the Tamron SP AF 90mm F/2.8 Di MACRO on both Canon and Nikon mounts, giving us the opportunity to review the performance of all the lenses in this category (though we’re waiting for the results of the latest Sigma 105mm f 2.8 EX DG OS, which should come our way soon!).

Before launching into our comparisons, let’s take a little closer look at how the two versions of the Tamron lens perform:

Tamron SP AF 90mm F/2.8 Di MACRO mounted on a Canon EOS 1Ds Mark III and on a Nikon D3X:

With a DxOMark overall score of 23 for the Canon mount and 22 for the Nikon, the two 90mm Macros are for all intents and purposes identical.

Strong points:

  • Excellent sharpness.
  • No distorsion.
  • Attractive price.
  • Very reasonable weight.

Weak points:

  • Vignetting, with a loss of 1EV in the last 1/3 of the field at f/2.8.
  • Noticeable chromatic aberrations in the corners.

What might be the best 100mm macros for Canon cameras?

DxO Mark Score:

And the winners are ...

Of note for those with a limited budget, Sigma and Tamron offer very satisfactory alternatives in terms of image quality... and which are nearly 2 times less expensive than the L series.

Also note that the Canon EF 100mm f/2.8 Macro USM is a bit dated: there is a 10-year gap between the first and fourth versions.

Comparison: Tamron SP AF 90mm F/2.8 Di MACRO Canon vs Sigma 105mm F2.8 EX DG Macro Canon vs Canon EF 100mm f/2.8 Macro USM on a Canon EOS 1Ds Mark II

Comparison: Tamron SP AF 90mm F/2.8 Di MACRO Canon vs Canon EF 100mm f/2.8L Macro IS USM vs Carl Zeiss Makro-Planar T 100mm f/2 ZE Canon on a Canon EOS 1Ds Mark III

The most and least sharp:

  • The most, at 59 lp/mm: Carl Zeiss Makro-Planar T 100mm f/2 ZE Canon
  • The least, at 57 lp/mm (3-way tie!):
    • Canon EF 100mm f/2.8L Macro IS USM
    • Tamron SP AF 90mm F/2.8 Di MACRO Canon
    • Canon EF 100mm f/2.8 Macro USM

Note: The difference between the Zeiss and the other cameras is very small, and in fact all the lenses have excellent sharpness.

The most and the least bright:

  • The most, at 2.2 T-stop: Carl Zeiss Makro-Planar T 100mm f/2 ZE Canon
  • The least, at 3.4 T-stop: Canon EF 100mm f/2.8 Macro USM

Note: The difference of 1.25 EV can be important under low-light conditions.

The most and least amount of vignetting (again, “the most” is not good here):

  • The most, at -1.5EV (2-way tie!): Carl Zeiss Makro-Planar T 100mm f/2 ZE Canon and Canon EF 100mm f/2.8L Macro IS USM
  • The least, at -0.9EV: Sigma 105mm F2.8 EX DG Macro Canon

Note: Vignetting equal to or greater than -1.5EV is significant and noticeable.

The most and fewest chomatic aberrations (again, “the most” is not good here):

  • The most, at 11µm: Canon EF 100mm f/2.8L Macro IS USM
  • The fewest, at 3µm: Carl Zeiss Makro-Planar T 100mm f/2 ZE Canon

Note: A LCA score of 3µm means that the aberrations are so insignificant that no post-production editing is required. But at 11µm, LCA is starting to get serious, which means a significant increase in post-processing time.

What might be the best macro lens for Nikon cameras?

DxO Mark Score:

And the winners are ….

Comparison: Tamron SP AF 90mm F/2.8 Di MACRO Nikon vs Sigma 105mm F2.8 EX DG Macro Nikon vs Carl Zeiss Makro-Planar T 100mm f/2 ZF2 Nikon on a Nikon D3X

The rankings here are a bit less close, with both Nikon and Carl Zeiss providing an exceptional lens for Nikon mounts.

Tamron SP AF 90mm F/2.8 Di MACRO Nikon

Strong points Weak points
Excellent resolution Noticeable chromatic  aberrations
Zero distorsion Transmission not as  good as the Zeiss
Price  
Weight  

Sigma 105mm F2.8 EX DG Macro Nikon

Strong points Weak points
Excellent resolution Transmission not as good as the Zeiss
Correction of distortion Heavier than the Tamron
Correction of chromatic aberrations More expensive than the Tamron

Carl Zeiss Makro-Planar T 100mm f/2 ZF2 Nikon

Strong points Weak points
Excellent resolution Significant, visible vignetting
Zero distorsion Price
Very bright Weight
Excellent correction of chromatic aberrations  

All this said, if you want to own the best macro lens for your Nikon, you will want the Nikkor AF-S VR Micro-NIKKOR 105mm f/2.8G IF-ED (DxOMark score of 34).