Tamron 60mm f/2 Macro Lens Review


The Near-Perfect DX Portrait Lens

Copyright 2012 Thom Hogan

Lens Formula
14 elements in 10 groups; 2 LD low dispersion elements.
Other Features
Internal lens motor (AF-S equivalent) focus, Internal focus, 55mm filter size. Comes with hood, 7-blade aperture. Focuses to 9 " (0.23m).
Size & Weight
About 3.1" (80mm) long from mount, 13.8 ounces (390g).
Price
US$525 (US$100 rebate available in US in 2012)

The Basics
Several DX macro lenses exist, and the Tamron 60mm f/2 is one of the more interesting ones. As readers of this site know, I'm a huge fan of the old Tamron 90mm f/2.8 macro lens. It's a great performer at a modest price. So what happens if we were to make an exact equivalent for DX? Well, you'd end up with a 60mm f/2, and hey, that's exactly the lens we're looking at in this review.

At first look, the 60mm does indeed look to be a smaller version of the 90mm, right down to the gold band at the middle. Instead of the push/pull focus switch on the current 90mm f/2.8, the 60mm f/2 uses a regular switch at the side of the lens. Instead of the deep set front element of the original 90mm, the 60mm has the front element right out at the filter rings.

We have a focus scale, but without DOF or IR markings. And that's about it for the basics. This is a simple prime, so the lens doesn't have a lot of bells and whistles.

The one thing it does do is focus to 1:1. That means objects at close focus are recorded the same size as they exist in nature. Given that the DX sensor size is about 24mm wide, that means if you focus on a 24mm-sized object at the closest focus distance, your object comes out full frame.

Which leads me to an aside: some Web sources incorrectly write that a 1:1 lens gets 1.5:1 reproduction on a DX/APS body. Nope. 1:1 is 1:1. At 1:1 an object is rendered at it's actual size. Of course, if you had a 36mm object that rendered at 1:1 and full frame on an FX body, you would end up with a crop of that object in DX. But 24mm of the object would be recorded across the 24mm width of the DX sensor (leaving off 12mm: "the crop").

The lens uses 55mm filters and is made in Japan.

Handling
There's not a lot to talk about with a simple lens. The focus ring, when set for manual focus is coarse and not very precise (there's some slop in its positioning vis-a-vis the actual focus position). The ring runs about 200° to go from close to infinity focus, which is a long throw compared to most DX lenses. You can override autofocus if you need to, but the same thing applies: since the ring is not smooth and precise, it can be a little frustrating to lock in a precise focus compared to some lenses. It's not terrrible, but this lowers the build quality to consumer levels, in my opinion.

The lens doesn't extend during focus, even when going 1:1: all focusing is handled by moving elements internally, which is nice, as it doesn't impact the short working distance (a bit over 3").

Another aside: working distance is the distance from the front lens element to the subject at 1:1 (or whatever the maximum reproduction ratio is for the lens). When working distances get too short, it's hard to light (or keep from shading) your subject, and insects will easily spook.

Performance
Autofocus: Many Tamron in-focus lens motors recently have been, to put it mildly, not up to the level of Nikon and Sigma. I actually think that Tamron messed up their 17-50mm f/2.8 when they added an in-lens focus motor. But on the 60mm, the motor performs fine, with plenty of snap considering how far that it might have to move the lens elements from close focus to infinity. The only complaints I have is that it is noisy (whiny) and in long moves, you can see it stepping through positions rather than be continuous.

Sharpness: Some of you reading this may remember that I've praised the Tamron 60mm f/2 as a good portrait lens for DX. You're about to find out why. Typically in head and shoulders portraits, you want strong central sharpness and don't care so much about the edges. You want the background to blur nicely, and you don't want anything to detract from your central subject.

So guess how the optics perform on this lens?

Even at f/2 the central area is very good, maybe even excellent. I have no real issues with the central region from f/2 through f/11 (after f/11 diffraction is going to significantly steal MTF on almost every current DX camera). At f/2 the corners are clearly soft. They never get to execellent at any aperture, but they improve out through about f/5.6 and are certainly usable from f/2.8 onwards, with f/5.6 probably being the peak sharpness.

This isn't bad performance for macro or portraits. In both cases far edges of the image tend to be things where softness is tolerated (if not actually sought out), and the central performance is excellent, exactly as you'd like.

For example, take the image, below. Shot at about 4' and f/2.2, it has that very pleasing center sharp that fades to softness at the edges. Note in particular the hair to the left, which slides nicely out of the DOF and also slides nicely softer as we move closer to the edge of the frame. In essence, you get more attention drawn to the eyes and face, which is where you want it. Also note that the background, while not completely out of focus, is not overly busy, either.

Copyright 2012 Thom Hogan

As a general optic, the 60mm f/2 might not be what you want. The center area of sharpness is not huge, as it is on a few lenses, so even top and bottom border areas can be a little soft, and they're not all that far from the center of the image circle. If you're looking for perfect edge to edge sharpness (for landscape panorama use, perhaps), this lens never quite gets there. As such, I regard it as mostly a special purpose lens (again, macro and portraits), but a very good one for those purposes.

Light falloff: It shouldn't come as any surprise that light falloff at f/2 is large, measuring in at almost a stop and a half in the extreme corners, and averaging just over a stop overall. Moving to f/2.8 knocks things down by not quite half, and by f/4 vignetting is ignorable. Again, given the subjects this lens is most suited for, none of what I just wrote should bother anyone. The lens designers certainly made a compromise, but for the intended uses, they made the perfect compromise, in my opinion.

Chromatic aberration: Well handled, period. Lateral chromatic aberration is near constant across the apertures, coming in about 1 pixel in width on my D7000. That's easily corrected both by the recent Nikon DSLR bodies, but also in post processing. Surprisingly, longitudinal chromatic aberration, typically a big problem with fast primes, is not all that prevalent. It's there in very modest amounts when shooting wide open, but not nearly at the levels I see in most normal primes (e.g. the Nikkor 50mm lenses, including the f/1.8G).

Flare: The lens comes with a rather deep hood, so flare generally isn't an issue. It pretty much takes sun-in-picture to trigger any objectionable flare, which is true of even the best lenses.

Distortion: Not exessive, but a slight barrel distortion is present, which is unusual for a macro lens. Overall, this might be about a half percent, which puts it right on my border for correcting or not correcting. For most macro and portrait subjects, you probably won't bother to correct it.

Bokeh: And here's where that good longitudinal chromatic aberration performance coupled with softer corners starts to come into play. At f/2 and even f/2.8 the bokeh is very good. Not exceptional, but very clean with very little busy-ness to it. I wish I could say that applied to all apertures, but the further you stop this lens down, the more the seven-blade aperture pattern becomes apparent. At the smallest aperture, the shape is no longer recognizable as "regular", as it has two completely flat sides that try to form a rectangle and two sides that still show a remnant of the septuple blades. While the blades are said to be rounded, they're not hugely rounded, and at small apertures you lose that sense completely.

So we've got three areas to cover here in the wrap-up:

Macro: As a macro lens, the 60mm f/2 performs quite well. I'm not a huge fan of short working distances, but if you're taking pictures of flowers and other more static subjects you'll probably find this a very workable solution. Just remember, at 1:1 you have only a bit more than 3" in front of the lens to your subject. So you have to consider how you light 1:1 subjects. I think a DX user is better served by a slightly longer focal length for macro (85/90/105mm), but that's for 1:1 work. Most people don't actually shoot that level of macro with their macro lens, so this lens may very well suffice for them.

Portraits: The best lens we've got in the quiver. The design parameters of this lens make it nearly the DX equivalent of the FX 85mm f/1.8 stopped down a stop (which is where many pros use their portrait lenses). I've been very pleased with this lens as a basic DX portrait lens, though I wish the manual focus override were smoother.

General Purpose: Here's where the Tamron 60mm f/2 falls down a bit. Corner performance never quite gets to where you'd need it to count on this lens as a general purpose lens.

Versus the Nikkor 60mm f/2.8 Micro-Nikkor: This is trickier to figure out than you might expect. The Nikkor is a very good general purpose lens on DX, partly because it's an FX lens and we're just using the DX crop at the center of it: corners are excellent. On the other hand, it isn't f/2, and it's actually too sharp for portraiture on DX, in my opinion. It also has a busier bokeh that detracts from portraits. In terms of macro work, the Nikkor is probably the better choice if you need edge-to-edge performance. So it's a tough call and depends almost entirely on what you're buying a lens for. Macros only? Nikkor. Portraits only? Tamron. General Purpose only? Nikkor. Macros and Portraits? Tamron. Macros and General Purpose? Nikkor.

Drawbacks

  • Doesn't corner well. Corners never hit the high levels of sharpness of the center.
  • Rough focus ring. Definitely not smooth, man.

Positives

  • Perfect DX Portraits. All the attributes of this lens make it the best DX lens yet for portraits.
  • Centered. Excellent center sharpness, which is typically what you want in a macro and portrait lens.
 
Quick Evaluation



Recommended

features
performance
build
value

DX portrait and macro shooters will like this lens.

Limitations


The 60mm lens has limitations you need to be aware of:

Converters: no converters are recommended.

G: Since this is a DX lens, it's not likely that you'd mount it on an older 35mm body that can't handle the lack of aperture ring or makes restrictions because it is missing.

Coverage Area: covers the full FX frame with some vignetting, but no black edges.

Version of Review:
10/16/2012: initial post.

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