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Canon EF 100mm f/2.8 Macro USM vs Tamron SP Autofocus 90mm f/2.8 DI Macro Lens

by Richard Harris, 2003


Due to the fact that in many (but not all) markets the Tamron 90mm f/2.8 Macro is substantially cheaper than the Canon EF 100mm f/2.8 Macro USM the question as to how the two lenses compare seems to crop up extremely often on the photo.net boards. What’s more, as an owner of the third party offering I have often wondered how it compares to the Canon lens. Like many others before me I have occasionally toyed with the idea of upgrading one day, however instead I decided to rent the Canon lens and do a side by side comparison. The tests were carried out with my EOS 10D and all the samples shown are unprocessed and straight from the camera.

Both lenses have excellent reputations however the Canon lens is generally considered to be the better product, so I was very curious to see just how much there is between them.

Handling

The Canon lens is the larger and heavier of the two, and it’s front element is exposed right at the front of the lens, whilst the Tamron’s front element is very deeply recessed inside the lens barrel. This presumably has the effect of shielding it from flare without the supplied lens hood being fitted, however it does reduce the effective working distance from the subject a little since there is an extra couple of centimetres beyond the front element.

The Canon should always be fitted with its optional (and expensive) lens hood, since the front element has absolutely no protection from stray light without this.

In terms of handling, the Canon is the obvious winner since it has USM and FTM. Autofocus is quick and accurate, although not quite as fast as with my 300F4 L. This relative (and slight) slowness is probably down to the enormous focusing range, from 1:1 to infinity. Remarkably, the lens seems to autofocus right down to it’s minimum focusing distance fairly reliably, meaning that it is feasible for AF to be used for macro work. Obviously in most cases manual focus will still be best when working at high magnification, but I can see where AF might be useful with moving subjects.

The Tamron’s AF performance, while not on a par with the Canon, is also pretty good. AF is fast but slightly noisy (no USM motor here), however it is only effective at longer ranges, at close range the AF hunts a lot and often fails to lock on. For macro work with this lens manual focus is the only viable option. The Tamron also does not have FTM, instead it uses a clutch mechanism on the focusing ring itself to switch between AF and MF. This system works well enough but is not as easy or ergonomic as Canon’s full time manual focusing.

Both lenses have excellent manual focusing rings, which are easy and pleasant to use. I personally prefer the smaller build and lighter weight of the Tamron lens, but overall the Canon is a much better mechanical design.

Sharpness

For this test the lenses were mounted on a tripod and a cable release was used. I was very careful to check for accurate focus before each shot.

The lenses have different focal lengths, in this test though I did not try and compensate for this by moving the camera forward, it seemed more logical to keep it in the same spot and simply ignore the difference in magnification. It is still perfectly possible to judge the performance of both lenses despite this difference.

This is what the full image looks like:

lens test image

Below is a 100% crop from the centre portion of the frame, in each case the Tamron sample is on the left, the Canon is on the right. No post processing has been done, these images are straight off the camera.

F2.8 F2.8
F5.6 F5.6
F8 F8
F16 F16

Next up is a sample from the corners, again the Tamron is on the left, the Canon is on the right:

F2.8 F2.8
F5.6 F5.6
F8 F8
F16 F16

It seems to me to be a dead heat, in this test at least. Both lenses perform very similarly, they are very slightly soft and dull at F2.8, but sharpness and contrast improve by F5.6, F8 doesn’t seem any different but by F16 there is some softness creeping back in. The corners are slightly softer than the centre, but performance seems to still be excellent in both cases.

I have a feeling this result may well upset a few Canonites, but there it is. Both lenses are clearly excellent and the Tamron lens can quite easily match its more expensive cousin, even wide open. Results on a higher resolution full frame camera might well be more revealing, but on my EOS 10D at least there seems to be very little between the two in terms of sharpness and contrast.

High magnification

disclaimer: This test was carried out for the sake of completeness, it wouldn't make sense testing macro lenses without some high magnification samples. However there are many problems with any test done at a magnification close to 1:1, simply because it is extremely difficult to focus with 100% accuracy at this level of magnification and depth of field is so extremely shallow that the slightest focusing error would render the test meaningless. In the light of this I will state that this test should only be viewed as representative of my own efforts and should not be held as being a guaranteed benchmark.

For this test I mounted the camera on a Gitzo Explorer tripod, set up a 550EX to the side of the subject and connected the camera to my computer via USB. To ensure the best possible focus I used angle finder C to manually focus and then took a series of test frames with focus bracketing which were then compared on the computer screen at 100%, and the focus was fine tuned until it was as good as I could get it. Mirror lockup and a cable release were used, although using the 550EX as the lightsource should help to minimise vibration problems anyway.

I also tried autofocus but at this magnification it wasn't reliable enough to give results that could be used usefully in a lens test. While the Canon lens autofocused far more reliably at this magnification than the Tamron ever could, manual focusing proved to be much more accurate still (AF was always slightly soft in comparison). I presume that the tolerances for AF just aren't fine enough for such demanding conditions as are encountered at 1:1.

Sample image

This is the full frame, a coin taken close to 1:1.

These are 100% crops from the centre of the image:

F2.8 F2.8
F4 F4
F5.6 F5.6
F8 F8
F16 F16

Interestingly, although the Canon lens appears to be very slightly sharper wide-open, once the lenses are stopped down a little the Tamron seems to have far better contrast, colour and detail. Contrast from the Canon lens doesn't really catch up until F8, which seems to be the sweet spot for that lens, while the Tamron actually seems best at F5.6. At F16 both lenses lose some sharpness due to diffraction although the Tamron still appears slightly sharper.

While these results can't be held as being conclusive, it does appear as if the Tamron is the better lens for macro work. One caveat being of course that lens sharpness is one of many variables for this type of work, and indeed typical macro apertures will be around F16 where both lenses have lost some resolution. At this level most shooters will have enough problems with depth of field and focusing to lose too much sleep over minor differences in lens sharpness.

To illustrate this point here is a 50% sample of the F16 files with unsharp mask applied, as you can see the differences are still visible but very subtle, and sharpness is very good. The Tamron lens does undeniably show more detail though.

F16 @ 50%

F16 @ 50% USM applied.

I would also have liked to show some corner samples to give an idea of corner sharpness and the flat field ability of each lens, but unfortunately this wasn't possible as I don't have the means of guaranteeing that my samples were parallel with the film plane. At these magnifications there is no room for error, and the only way I could guarantee that what was being tested was the lenses as opposed to my ability to line up the subjects with the film plane would be with a precision made copy stand - which is an item I don't own.

Bokeh, colour and flare

Here is a close up sequence comparing both lenses at varying apertures, again the Tamron is on the left and the Canon on the right:

F2.8 F2.8
F4 F4
F5.6 F5.6
F8 F8

Some general notes: in both cases colour and contrast visibly improve by F4, but the Canon lens has a warmer colour balance and more saturated colours. Bokeh seems very similar with both lenses in this particular test. It’s smooth and pleasing, the Tamron’s may be ever so slightly softer.

This following sequence was designed to test both bokeh and flare resistance:

F2.8 F2.8
F4 F4
F5.6 F5.6
F8 F8
F16 F16
F32 F32

Unfortunately there appears to be about 1/3 of stop difference in exposure between these two sequences, which makes colour differences unreliable. Having said that the Canon does seem to hold detail better in the brightest parts, beneath the flame of the nearest candle.

Bokeh is again very similar with both lenses, wide open both have a pleasing rendition of the highlights. Stopped down the Canon has a nicer star pattern on the highlights, with fewer points arranged in a neater pattern.

Wide open the Canon has a tiny bit of flare by the nearest flame, however stopped down this seems to disappear. The Tamron however seems to suffer from very visible flare artefacts when stopped down. This is the only really disappointing result so far from the Tamron lens, and gives an indication of why that front element is so deeply recessed. The Canon is a definite and dramatic improvement in terms of flare control.

I have also tried a couple of other tests pointing the lenses straight at light sources and both do actually seem to resist flare pretty well in most circumstances, these are full frames:

Sun @ F32

Sun @ F32

Lightbulb @ F32

Lightbulb @ F32

Working Distance, focal length and background control

For this test, I measured the working distance from the front of the lens housing (not the front element itself or the film plane like in many tests) to the point of focus at maximum magnification. The Canon has 15cm (just under 6 inches) free between the front of the lens and the subject, while the Tamron only has 11cm (just over four and a quarter inches). The Tamron lens is actually 2.5cm (1 inch) inside the housing, which could have yielded more working distance had the lens been designed differently, but obviously Tamron decided flare control was a more important issue than working distance.

Both these measurements were done without lens hoods on, if you fit a hood to the Tamron it will almost touch your subject at 1:1, the Canon has a little more clearance. Working distance is only really an issue with live subjects such as insects, however it is important to many macro shooters and if you are one of those who needs as much distance as possible the Canon lens is the better choice.

There is however one situation where less working distance is actually a good thing, which is working with flash at high magnifications. The closer your flashgun is to the subject, the softer the light. If you have an external flashgun mounted on a bracket over or near your lens, or a unit such as an MT24-EX, every inch closer that the flash heads are to your subject will result in better and softer light.

Below is an example of a photo taken with a 550EX mounted on a cheap bracket to position it very close to the subject, and with an small reflector (cannibalised from a Cokin filter box) tied by elastic bands on the other side of the lens barrel to provide some fill. This is a very low tech and low cost solution to macro flash that produces some very pleasing and soft light. Obviously the further away from this rig the subject is, the less attractive the light becomes.

Soft flash

Macro flash, hand held @ F5.6

Another important consideration with macro photography is focal length: longer focal lengths give you much more control over the background. This is because at any given magnification, a longer lens will include less of the background in relation to the subject. So where a 50mm lens might make it difficult to control what background you have behind your subject without a great deal of repositioning, with a 300mm lens the smallest shift in position will radically change what is visible behind your subject.

I had harboured some concern about the Canon’s internal focusing mechanism which focuses closer by reducing the focal length of the lens. The advantage of this system is that the lens does not change shape when focusing, and remains constant in length all the way to 1:1. The obvious disadvantage is that a shorter focal length results in less background control, however since the Canon is a longer focal length than the Tamron at the outset it should still retain the advantage unless the IF reduces the focal length of the lens very drastically indeed.

The following image was taken at 1:2 magnification, with the remote control unit placed about 20 cm (8 inches) behind the ruler. The aperture was set to F32 to maximise the depth of field. As usual the Tamron sample is on the left and the Canon is on the right.

focal length comparison

focal length comparison @ 1:2

It seems that the IF does not shorten the focal length of the Canon lens too drastically, and that even at high magnification the focal length is still clearly longer than the Tamron's 90mm. The Canon lens includes less of the background than the Tamron does, so for background control the Canon is again at a slight advantage.

It is also worth noting that the Tamron lens focuses closer by extension, which means that the lens barrel lengthens as magnification increases, and it's length goes from 9cm (3.5 inches) at infinity to 14cm (5.5 inches) at 1:1. This does not affect the working distance mentioned earlier since I have measured this from the front end of the lens barrel, not from the film plane.

Compared to...

One caveat of testing lenses with a digital camera is that the limitations of the camera sensor will affect the test and subsequent results. It's possible for instance that one lens is actually much sharper than the other but that my camera simply isn't able to resolve enough detail to demonstrate this. However I know from my own experience that lens quality does indeed show up fairly obviously with the 10D. Whilst I do believe that both the lenses on test here are probably capable of outresolving my camera's sensor, I thought it would be of some benefit to compare the performance of these two excellent lenses against a potentially inferior model. Here is a shot which compares the two primes against a Canon 28-80 consumer zoom. The difference in quality is very apparent.

consumer lens comparison

Compared with a consumer 28-80 zoom @ F5.6

Conclusion

This exercise has surprised me somewhat in that I knew the Tamron lens was considered pretty good, but I did expect the Canon model to be significantly better. In this test at least, this hasn’t proven to be the case. Both lenses display excellent sharpness and contrast, and the only significant advantage the Canon has is in it’s vastly superior flare control. Other differences are fairly minor: the Canon lens has better saturation, more working distance and better AF – it is clearly a superior product – but the Tamron does very well to come so close (and to even surpass the Canon lens at high magnification) especially when you consider that it is up against one of Canon’s very best.

All in all I would say that in those places where the price of both lenses is fairly close the Canon is probably the better choice, but where there might be a significant price difference (such as in the UK where I live) then the Tamron is certainly worth considering since it delivers oustanding performance to rival and sometimes better it’s more expensive counterpart.

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Readers' Comments


Add a comment



Carl Smith , August 11, 2003; 12:12 A.M.

I used the tamron quite a few times. Its a really great lens, and overall I'd recommend it. But i did buy the Canon USM after using it.

And so here's why... Obviously I don't have samples of shots comparing and I can't pick up another Tamron easily right now. Although I did get to use a couple of the tamrons, one I borrowed and another a friend owned. So my experiences aren't based on one sample of each lens. I own the Canon but used another one before buying it.

I found that sharpness is about the same but a little better wide open. It's simply one of the sharpest lenses i've ever used. However once you close them down any they're basically the same, which is real damn good.

The Canon is definitely warmer, and has better flare and ghosting control in my experience. It also handles subtle details very well, and gives you "creamy" tonalities when used properly. I find the Tamron less "creamy" but certainly has good contrast. As far as bokeh was concerned I saw no contest, the Canon lens was a clear winner here. In the samples I used it was one of the clearest defining characterists that set these lenses apart aside from cost and focal length.

For the money the Tamron is a sure winner, but my concern was in total overall performance and i found the Canon to be better. Its not tons better, but its better and enough so that I bought one for the way I use it. the AF isn't much concern when I shoot macro, I use manual, but it does work remarkably well, even close to 1:1. I don't see much reason to advertise that but it's there. Overall these are among the best of the best in macro lenses for this range and if you didn't need the subtle benefits in the Canon I'd recommend the Tamron to you, as I have to plenty of people I know.

On the other hand, since I bought it the Canon has dropped in price considerably. Go figure.

So I'm not contesting the opinion of this article, just offering a different one. No samples to show so take it as you will. =) You win with either of these lenses, the Tamron gives you the best bang for the buck but I find the Canon gives a little bit more in performance. Whether its worth it to you is a matter of opinion, and I probably sound like some sort of a lens snob now.

Umit D , August 11, 2003; 04:12 A.M.

It is evident from the sample pics that Tamron has a much better background blur. This lens seems like a gem, I would also like to see a comparision with 105/2.8 AF Nikkor.

Markus Ehrenfried , August 11, 2003; 06:11 A.M.

I personally like the fast and decisive USM autofocus of the Canon 100mm lens. Actually it's the first macro lens I know of where AF is quite useable, even in the macro range! I found that it works e.g. for insects pretty well to preselect one AF sensor and let the camera focus. You can quickly decide if the focus is indeed there where you want it and take a picture -- or try again. IT'S DAMN FAST!

Chip L , August 11, 2003; 06:12 A.M.

Thanks for quantifying what many other magazines have been saying. I have tested the Nikon mount before, and found it to be a very sharp lens. Many people couldn't believe that the Tamron was a worthy competitor to the Nikon and Canon offerings. It shows that third party lenses do offer value and performance.

Carl Smith , August 11, 2003; 09:29 A.M.

I agree Chip, these are all excellent lenses. I'll have to look through my shots again and see, but it seemed to me that the Canon had better bokeh. Maybe I'm backwards. It depends on what you shoot though so who knows.

There doesn't seem to be much market for a bad macro lens though.

Carl Cherry , August 11, 2003; 02:16 P.M.

If future EOS compatibility and resale value are any concern, one would be much better off shelling out extra $$$ for the Canon. You won't need to re-chip your lens when the EOS-9000sD comes out and you can get nearly all your money back if you decide to upgrade to the 180 f3.5L.

Whayne Padden , August 11, 2003; 08:04 P.M.

This review compares favourably with that recently in the British mag Popular Photography (I think). There it was also found that the Canon was the best macro on the market, but the Tamron was only a hair behind, followed closely by the Sigma 105 Macro. In fact all the lens tested were of high quality. I would be interested to see if Tamrons new SP 180 f/3.5 Macro can equal the performance of it's little brother.

Bob there's a test I would like to see Sigma 180 vs Tamron 180 vs Canon 180.

Alex Lofquist , August 11, 2003; 08:36 P.M.

Clearly, one test is worth a thousand expert opinions!

Bob Blakley , August 12, 2003; 01:23 A.M.

I'm not at all surprised by the findings here. I have the Tamron 90/2.8 macro - along with LOTS of other lenses for various systems, including e.g. Nikon, Olympus, and Leica, and the Tamron is one of the very best I have.

It's a beautiful, warm soft portrait lens. It's a terrific macro lens, with beautiful bokeh.

It beats the Nikkor 105 macro hands down. It beats the 85/1.4 Nikkor too.

And it beats the Olympus 85/2.

I don't own any Canon equipment, but my guess is, no matter how good the Canon lens is, the Tamron can't be far behind and might well be ahead.

It's really an outstanding performer, and for the money can't be beat in my opinion. Highly, highly recommended.

Miguel Rizo , August 13, 2003; 04:12 P.M.

Hello everybody, First at all I want to thanks Richard for the good article/review.

I have both of them, BUT the old canon. I also have some FTM from the svensk Photo Magazine, where it says that the ny Canon USM at 1:2 is not as sharp as the Tamrom 90 (which can only be measure at 1:5 by technicals impediments!!) I don't know. Both I have, Tamron and old Canon they are in a practical way nearly identicals. I don't use digital, I'm an old fashion dias photograph, an it means that I se my photos in 100x100 cm which gives me a good idea of what is sharp and what is not. That difference you all can se with a 100-200% digital crops, if I can not se them in my 150x150 dias projection screen, I don't think they are so important. May be the only thing I could say about them, is that canon, at f/2.8 from normal distance (portrait) is a LITTLE bit better (sharper) than Tamron(?). But believe me, if you se a portrait made with Tamron, you will never think "oh!, it's a pity it's not sharp enough" You should COMPARE side by side both of them to se it. Contrast and others, if it wasn't because I have a good memory, it couldn't be possible for me to say which of my dias is been shot with Tamron and which with Canon. I've been very disappointed with third parts and I've sold all of them... except this lovely 90mm from Tamron.

AF/MF: no difference (Canon is not USM) and if it was, no matter. Never in my life I have used AF with my insects photos, and I don't use this lens neither in football/basketball photos, so I don't care. Tell me, as a landscape/nature/insect/family portrait photograph, how many photos can you miss because you don't have USM (birds photographs doesn't need to answer, thank you). I don't want to came in discussion about USM/no USM. It's just a matter of taste. Oh! and I like the way of changing AF/MF in the Tamron more than in Canon, but it's just another personal taste. Canon is stronger, at least in appearance, Tamron looks a little more fragile. So I used to take my Canon with my EOS 1n more often to my sometimes many hours insects stalking... and then I discovered that 250gr (200 gr if you have the USM) means a lot,... so I normaly use my Tamron now... and there is no difference in my pictures.

Alexandru says that Tamron is 200% useless in the field???? Is it because it doesn't have tripod collar? I could understand if if was a 300 or 400mm tele. But we are talking about a 100mm!!! Oh, and Tamron is 200gr lighter! My old Canon is 200gr heavier (only 50gr more than the USM), it has no tripod collar and I have never heart of any proffesional photograph in all the years the old canon has been nr. 1 saying "this 100mm is useless in the field!" maybe somebody has said "it could be nice if it had one" but useless...???... Well, but there is something is true, I could get more for my Canon than for my Tamron if I would sell them... BUT I WILL NOT!

Thanks Miguel (...and I think Tamrons is more elegant) (...another personal taste)

Tor Johnson, August 13, 2003; 04:25 P.M.

Practical Photography did a test of the Tamron 90mm against several other lenses including the Nikkor 105mm a few years ago. The Tamron was pretty much able to match the Nikkor in the mid-range of apetures and actually beat it at the edges of the range. I own both lenses and can confirm that the Tamron is the better of the two for my uses (portraits with the lens at F4 or F2.8 and Macro work using F22 or higher). It's really a terrific lens.

Marcio Santos , August 13, 2003; 05:53 P.M.

I am happy to see, as a Tamron owner, that by your test's samples the tamron seems better. Not that I care that much about comparisons, but the results wide open and stopped down are better in the tamron in my opinion. Also the lengedary bokeh is better and flare (to my eye) also is.

A great buy for the performance (not to say the price).

azfar abbas , August 14, 2003; 01:29 A.M.

Hi, I just want to add that the tamrom 90mm macro is a very good buy, considering the optical quality, but the support here is very bad. I had mine send for repairs and the just couldn't repair it. It has to be sent to Japan. Since for macro work I rarely use autofocus, so I bought a second hand lens, the tamron 90mm MF(adaptall) version so I can use it with my nikon FM10 body.

I wish I have the Canon 100mm Macro USM. :)

Chip L , August 23, 2003; 10:38 A.M.

Carl, to be fair to my knowledge there has not been issue with Tamron lenses needing to re-chipped (like comments I have heard about Sigma lenses).

In regards to used pricing it is more a relative cost issue. A quick search showed that both were about 25% less than their new pricing, regardless of which brand (Canon vs. Tamron in this case).

Chip L , August 23, 2003; 10:42 A.M.

Mark and Alexandru, I haven't done much macro work. Yet for the lightweight nature of both of these lenses I am at a loss as to the benefit of a tripod collar. For something like a 150-200mm I could see it.

Anthony Karnezis , August 27, 2003; 11:22 P.M.

I agree with the opinions of those who think the Tamron is essentially the Canon's equal in terms of overall image quality, but agree with Mark--the Canon is the superior lens overall because it is much more convenient to use for macro work, both with respect to composition (because of the outrageously expensive, poorly made, but very effective tripod collar) and hence stability on a tripod (especially with a heavy body). Since the Tamron is not significantly less expensive, the option of a tripod collar, together with the Canon's very fast and quiet AF, made it no contest.

Mike Dodd , September 15, 2003; 09:26 A.M.

An interesting comparison but why did you stop at f16 when much of the macro work especially in natural history area is done at f22 or even f32 to get enough depth of field on small insects etc. In theory the diffraction limits may apply equally but do they really apply to both lenses the same or does e.g. the design of the aperture ring make one slightly better than the other? In fact another real world test that would be of interest is to photograph say a (dead) large bee or similar insect with lots of hair all over to see how the lenses cope with difficult but realistic situations. In this case it would also be critical to get the lighting exactly the same so that flare can be properly assessed.

Dan Funk , October 28, 2003; 08:02 P.M.

The UK mag 'Practical Photography' compared 7 macro lenses in their June/03 issue (pages 106-110).

PP scored each lens in 5 catagories for:
Features, distortion & flare, image quality, handling and value for money.

Out of a possible 100 points each
here are the scores in 2 of the 5 catagories:
distortion & flare / image quality.
Sigma 50mm f/2.8 = 88/88
Sigma 105mm f/2.8 = 93/91
Sigma 180mm f/3.5 = 90/89
Tamron 90mm f/2.5 = 93/94
Nikon 105mm f/2.8 = 93/92
Pentax 100mm f/2.8 = 93/94
Canon 100mm f/2.8 = 94/95

There are some well informed comments in the article and I would strongly suggest trying to find a copy of it, to get a good idea of each lens' strengths & weaknesses, if you are looking for a macro lens.

Some of you sharp eyed readers will have spotted the Tamron 90mm f/2.5.
I could find no info about this lens on either the Tamron.com site, nor the UK distributor's site. The lens pictured in the article is different than any of the 90mm f/2.8 lenses shown on the Tamron sites. The PP article does say "this latest version" though - any links to this lens?

There is also another site that compares 8 macros.
Lenses tested:
- Tamron 2.8/90 SP AF
- Sigma 2.8/105 EX AF
- Canon 2.8/100 USM
- Tamron 3.5/180 AF DI
- Sigma 3.5/180 HSM AF
- Canon 3.5/180L USM
- Sigma 2.8/50 AF EX
- Canon 2.8 MP-E65
http://www.orchideen-kartierung.de/Macro100E.html
http://www.orchideen-kartierung.de/Macro100E.html

--

Ryan Joseph , November 04, 2003; 02:30 P.M.

Prices from Adorama:

Canon EF 100mm f/2.8 USM Macro Auto Focus Lens - USA: $469.95

Tamron SP 90mm F/2.8 1:1 AF Macro Auto Focus Lens with Case & Hood for Canon EOS - USA with 6 Year USA Warranty: $459.95

As far as I can see, the Canon is the better deal. I would rather get the extra 10mm, better AF, and better compatibily for 10 dollars more.

Ei Katsumata , November 07, 2003; 03:00 P.M.

Very informative article. Unfortunately, because you tested the lenses with a 10D, this article may not be too useful for film shooters (or 1Ds shooters). Because of the 1.6x lens magnification factor, you are only comparing the center portion of the lens (with respect to a 35mm frame).

Nick Lott , May 04, 2004; 05:02 A.M.

Prices from jessops.co.uk:

Tamron: £319.90
Canon: £474.90

I know which looks like the better deal from where I'm sitting...

Peter Heritage , May 09, 2004; 08:13 A.M.

(Nick,

I got my Tamron for £259 from a UK retailer almost a year ago. Since then, prices have come down another £10 - £20)

I noticed some time ago that Tamron lenses are relatively more expensive in the US, compared with OEM offerings, than here in the UK. This could be partly due to the six-year warranty (we only get one year here) or it could be just perceived value ("what the market will bear"). In absolute terms, there isn't really that much difference between the two locations (although they're still cheaper overall in the US, possibly as a consequence of current exchange rates).

What's long been the case is that Canon and Nikon are both MUCH cheaper in the US than here in the UK. I'm a Nikon shooter myself and, if anything, the situation for Nikon is even worse than for Canon. So, in the UK, like-for-like, the better Tamron lenses are ALWAYS a serious contender. In this particular case, when compared with the Nikkor 105mm micro, the choice was what you Americans would call a "no-brainer". BTW, I absolutely love this lens!

Don Farra , September 01, 2004; 04:28 P.M.

I was just wondering if the Canon 10D used in the comparison test was the limiting factor in terms of resolution? Has any one else repeated the comparison using film (instead of a CCD) with a higher resolution, like Kodak Portra 160 (reported by Kodak to have 160 lpmm). For example years ago, I compared a Vivitar 90mm macro to a Canon 100mm macro using film and was able to clearly see differences, since the recording media exceeded the lens resolutions, as far as I was concerned. It is entirely possible given the resolution limitations of the CCD that it instead of the lens is the limiting factor for sharpness. Just food for thought.

Geoffrey Fontaigne , May 20, 2005; 12:18 A.M.

I have spend a week testing both lenses on a 20D with 3 types of controlled light (Sunlight [using a blackbox parabola]), Tungsten, and Elinca Strobes) here is what I've found...

Optically

The Canon 100mm 2.8 USM is a hair more accurate in terms of it's spectral greyscale accuracy. There are 13 points of reference in the Munsell/Gretag test I used, and the lenses are identical in 5. The canon is 6% closer to actual values in 1 patch, 2.5% closer in 2 patches, 1% closer in 2 patches and 0.5% closer to actual values in 3.

In terms of color saturation and accurracy, the Canon lens is about 0.25% more accurate overall, the Tamron had slightly more accurate saturation in reflective colors: wide-gamut)

As for Sharpness, it's almost a dead heat... The Tamron lens is slightly sharper, from f 2.8-4.6, by 5.6, they are identical. Both lenses performed at a professional prime lens level.

Build

Canon uses a larger front element, and a more complex internal focusing system, resulting in more weight (about 180g). I adjusted to the difference in weight very quickly. The exteriors of both lenses are plastic, though Canon's specled finish looks like metal, and many will think it is. Canon's front element is exposed, but is both easily cleanable, and replaceable by a dealer. The Front element of the Tamron is recessed significantly, which made it slightly more challenging to clean, though it is less likely to be touched by fingers, or scratched.

Functionality/usability

Tamron's lens extends during focusing. The canon lens uses internal and rear focusing to maintain it's overall length. The Tamron Lens is slightly narrower than the Canon. Both lenses have filter rings that do not rotate during focusing. Full focal change, from close to infinity requires 180 degrees of focusing ring rotation on the Canon Lens. The Tamron lens requires almost 330 degrees. While this means the Canon's full range can be easily adjusted in one motion, the Tamron has better fine focusing adjustment, especially in the close focusing "macro" range. I understand Canon's decision, but feel that given the nature of a Macro lens, Tamron's is a better design in this regard.

Alternating between AF/MF on the Canon is done through a small switch on the barrel (consistent with their entire line). In the Tamron, the focusing ring is pressed forward or back along the lens. Personally, I often hold my lenses by the focusing ring, and sometimes apply pressure while shooting. I found Tamron's design to be less than optimal, though I was able to quickly adjust. Tamron's focusing ring is narrower compared to Canon's.

Neither lens has a rubber gasket at the camera mount, as found on Canon "L" Lenses. This would be a welcome addition.

Both lenses have focus limiting switches of varying designs; they are well made, neither stood out.

Close focusing distance, if measured from the film plane to the focal plane, is almost identical for the lenses, within 3 cm.

AutoFocus

The Canon lens has AF functionality that is far faster and quieter than the Tamron. The FTM on the Canon is a huge benefit for photogs who focus on an area of high contrast, and then adjust our focus slightly. The Tamron does not have this option in the current model. The Tamron lens tended to be slightly more accurate in the Autofocus, and one can get used to the switching from auto to manual, but I found the Canon faster (yet less accurate) overall.

Flare - Hood

The Tamron is designed in a way where it doesn't need the hood (provided). Canon's lens does require the hood to be used (purchased seperately). I found the design of Canon's hood to be better, photo-velvetine is sprayed on the interior, as opposed to black plastic grooves on the Tamron. Both hoods mount to a plastic bayonette on the front of the lens (this part is prone to damage and vulnerable). Both hoods functioned well, though the Tamron hood seemed unecessary.

Price

In the US, the lenses currently have the same price, 449.00 after rebates. The canon lens requires you to buy the optional hood, $40.00 . The Tamron lens comes with the hood, and a Leatherette soft bag.

Kit prices... with Hood and Soft Lens Case

Canon - $505.00 Tamron - $449.00

Conclusions

First, these are both excellent lenses. From an optical perspective, There is a marginal egde to the Canon overall in spectral accurracy, and a marginal edge to the Tamron in sharpness.

Canon is faster and quieter in AF, with no lens length change, and has MTF. Tamron is more accurate in AF mode, though slower and noisier. The focusing ring allows for more fine adjustment than on the Canon (especially valuable if you do a lot of tripod mounted manual focusing macro work). AF-MF switching on the Tamron is slightly awkward. The Tamron is slightly lighter. Canon is self contained with less visible moving parts, and is in my opinion less prone to off axis issues do to use/abuse.

My suggestion:

If you're buying the lens as an all-around, and you commonly use AF functionality, I'd get the Canon. If you are rough on your equipment, get the Canon.

If your reason for buying is to get a manual focusing macro lens for use off a Tripod, with occaisional AF use, get the Tamron. If you don't need super-fast AF, and a little noise is in AF mode is ok, get the Tamron.

To Canon:

I suggest you consider increasing the overall focusing ring rotation; it will slow the AF slightly, but the gain in fine focusing will be more beneficial to users. Add a rubber Gasket at the lens mount!

To Tamron:

I suggest implementing MTF, and changing the AF/MF adjustment method to a switch like the focus limiter, or like the AF/MF switch on the Canon Lens. A more powerful, yet quieter AF motor would be positive. A wider (fatter) focusing ring would be advisable. Add a ruber Gasket at the Lens Mount!

Pat Nighswander , April 21, 2006; 02:54 P.M.

I am very happy with my tamron f 2.8 90 mm Di and I always check here to research a lens before buying. Thank you you have helped me lots. nighs

Randy Richards , January 05, 2008; 02:11 P.M.

HI All, I am interested in buying a macro for my Canon Digital. Does anyone know if I can get away with buying a 50mm f1.4 canon lens and the canon close up ring. Would the quality of my shots compare with either this Tamaron or the Canon 100 mm macro. Randy in Vancouver

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Phillip Burdine , January 17, 2011; 08:05 P.M.

Excellent test Richard and great comments. It doesn't help me with the decision but at least I know I'll be happy either way.

Thank you all

frank hubert , June 01, 2011; 01:55 P.M.

Great optics not so great focusing. I use this lens in manual only with great results.


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