I’ve always liked macro lenses. They can be a great amount of fun, and they can put the world in an interesting perspective that we don’t generally see everyday. Macro lenses can also be very versatile, as they can function well as mid-telephoto lenses and are often fantastic for portraits as well.
I first got my hands on the Tamron 60mm f/2 macro a couple weeks ago, and had a lot of fun shooting with it, despite some frustrating shortfalls. I’ve now had some more time with it, so click past the break for my full review.
|Approx. 2.87 x 3.15″ (7.29 x 8.00 cm)
|13.76 oz (390 g)
Design and Ergonomics
This lens reminds me a lot of Nikon’s G lenses; made almost entirely of plastic, but it doesn’t necessarily feel cheap. It even has a nice gold ring around it, which makes it fit right in with the rest of your Nikon glass collection. I must say, I was pleasantly surprised to find a focusing distance scale on top of the lens, which tends to be a pretty rare find on lenses in this price range these days.
The Tamron 60mm f/2 macro has an all metal mount, despite the rest of the lens, including the 55mm filter threads, being plastic. On the mount, you’ll find the contacts for Nikon’s AF/AE and aperture control. This is a fully automatic lens, and all functions including autofocus work as expected.
The focus ring is very large, spanning about half the entire length of the lens. It feels relatively smooth, and supports full-time manual focus, which means you can grab onto it and tweak your focus, even if the switch is set to AF. That can be pretty handy if the AF system isn’t quite behaving properly–more on that later.
This lens is designed to be used only on APS-C format DSLRS, so while it’s a 60mm lens, it becomes a 90mm when mounted on a cropped sensor DSLR, like my D7000. Also, despite most macro lenses typically being only f/2.8, this lens opens all the way up to f/2, producing even shallower depth of field and letting in a bit more light than your typical macro.
Wide open, it has the tendency to be a little soft, with some fairly severe chromatic aberration. Stop it down a tiny bit though, and it starts to get ridiculously sharp. At f/3.4, you still get some wonderful smooth bokeh, but your in-focus elements will be razor sharp. Speaking of bokeh, this lens produces very pleasing out-of-focus elements. It’s creamy, and melts away quickly with no distracting sharp edges.
At a focusing distance of just 0.23m, it’s amazing how close you can get to your subject, and how incredibly thin your depth of field becomes at that point. With true 1:1 macro, you can easily make mundane, everyday things seem beautiful.
When mounted to my D7000, it has a really nice feel to it. It balances on the body well, and is long enough to give you a great way to hold your camera when walking around. It features entirely internal autofocusing, which means the front element won’t move or rotate during focusing. It’s nice to not have to worry about your hands getting in the way of focusing.
This lens has proven to be quite a bit of fun to shoot with, but I’ve discovered a glaring issue that really began to bother me, and may end up being a deal breaker.
The autofocusing is horribly slow. I understand that it has a very long focusing range to move through, but it is so slow that it makes it almost entirely unusable for any sort of action whatsoever. I know it’s not designed for action or street photography, but AF this slow will undoubtedly affect any type of shooting style. The AF is smooth and virtually silent, but you’ll regularly find yourself staring at your watch waiting for it to figure out what it is you want in focus.
Not only is the AF slow, but it hunts constantly. I got in the habit of pre-focusing, by manual focusing to roughly the range I wanted to shoot at, so the AF only had to fine tune my selection. Even then, it would regularly hunt all the way from one end of the focusing range to the other, often taking 3–4 seconds to finally lock onto the selected point.
It’s a shame, because a lens at this focal length, and at f/2 aperture, crisp focus is absolutely critical, as your in-focus plane is very thin. Thankfully, focus has proven to be accurate, and doesn’t seem to need any fine-tuning, but no modern lens should take this long to sort out the focus.
If you can tolerate the focusing issues, the resulting images from this glass will not disappoint. As expected, it makes a fantastic portrait lens, and even proved itself to be quite a lot of fun to shoot with in a studio setting. 1:1 macro is a ton of fun, and I think you’ll find yourself getting uncomfortably close to just about everything around you to capture some interesting shots.
This is a very difficult piece of gear to review, and I’ve found myself a bit torn at the end. On one hand, it’s optically impressive, and produces images that rival lenses twice the price. But on the other hand, the AF issues are glaring, and can prove to be endlessly frustrating during a shoot.
If slow autofocus isn’t a concern for you, I don’t think you’d be disappointed with this lens, and at only $424 on Amazon, the price is difficult to beat. But if you’re easily frustrated by imperfect AF systems, this one will drive you absolutely insane. You may be better off with something like the Nikon 60mm f/2.8G Micro-Nikkor, which costs only a bit more, and is compatible with full-frame DSLRs.
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