Photo packs have come a long way in the past decade, especially those that are targeted toward outdoor and adventure photographers. Alaska-based adventure photographer Dan Bailey takes a closer look...
The Tamron 60mm f/2 Di II Macro Lens [Canon], (compare prices) (or to give it its full title, the "Tamron SP AF60mm F2 Di II LD (IF) 1:1 Macro) is currently the fastest macro lens available for APS-C crop sensor cameras. Olympus has a 50mm f/2 macro, but it only has coverage for their four-thirds sensor and it has a maximum magnification of 0.5×. The Tamron 60mm f/2 macro has APS-C frame coverage plus true 1:1 (1x) lifesize magnification and is a full stop faster than similar macro lenses from Nikon and Canon.
Since most macro work is done at small apertures in order to get maximum depth of field, you might wonder why a fast macro lens would be useful. Well, there are a couple of reasons. First, the image is brighter for focusing (since focusing is done wide open). This helps both auto and manual focusing. Second, when you aren’t using the lens as a macro lens, the faster speed enables working in lower light, with faster shutter speeds and permits the choice of increased background blur in those situations where that is a desirable effect. With a focal length of 60mm, the Tamron 60mm f/2 macro makes a good portrait lens and for portraits a fast lens is often desirable to isolate a subject from the background.
On Nikon and Sony APS-C DSLRs the Tamron 60/2 macro would have the same angle of view as a 90mm lens on a full frame camera. On Canon APS-C DSLRs, the view is equivalent to that of a 96mm lens on full frame.
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[Note: all testing and comments are based on the use of the Tamron 60/2 macro lens in an EOS EF compatible mount with the lens mounted on a Canon EOS 40D DSLR body.]
Physically, the Tamron 60/2 macro is quite small, measuring about 2.9" in diameter and 3.15" in length. Since focusing is internal, the lens does not extend and the front element does not rotate when focus is adjusted. Despite the relatively fast aperture, the Tamron 60/2 macro only requires a 55mm filter. A conventional (round) bayonet mounting lens hood is supplied with the lens.
Construction of the lens seems solid and the extensive use of plastics means that it’s not too heavy at around 14oz.
In manual focus, the wide rubberized focusing ring has about a 260-degree rotation to take the lens from infinity to closest focus (1:1 at 9.1" from the focal plane). There is a distance scale, which is marked in both feet and meters, but no DOF markings. At the closest focus, the working distance (distance from the subject to the front of the lens without the hood) is around 4". Though the 60/2 macro doesn’t use any type of ultrasonic motor, it does have full time manual focus, meaning that after AF you can rotate the focus ring to manually “touch up” the focus if desired. There is an AF/MF switch if you want to go into a fully manual focus mode.The focusing ring does not spin during autofocus.
Manual focus works OK, but feels a little “sticky”, at least on the lens sample I tested. There’s enough friction to stop the focus ring from moving too easily but there’s a slight tendency for it to stick slightly so when it’s rotated there’s a small focus “jump”. For the technically inclined you could think of it as the difference between static and sliding friction. I’d perhaps describe the action is “tight” or “stiff” rather than “well damped”. Not a major problem but it is worth commenting on. There is also a very small amount of play in manual focus, maybe around 0.5mm in terms of the rotation of the focus ring. Combined with the slightly “tight” operation, this makes it tricky to rock focus back and forth, which is the usual way of determining focus and detecting the point at which the image is sharpest. Again it’s nothing that stops you from eventually getting accurate manual focus, but it is a bit annoying and requires a little extra time. The good news is that autofocus appears to work very well and is very accurate, even at 1:1 macro magnification, so if your point of desired focus is under one of the camera’s focus zones, you really don’t need manual focus.
As you would expect from a macro lens, the Tamron 60/2 macro is well corrected for distortion at all focus distances from 1:1 macro to infinity. Chromatic aberration is also well controlled though very slight color fringing at the edges of the image can be seen across the focus range. Vignetting is fairly mild.
Though the Tamron 60/2 macro is designed only for use on APS-C crop sensor cameras, even the Canon version can be mounted on a full frame body since the Canon mount version of the lens is physically compatible with the EF mount, unlike Canon’s EF-S mount lenses, which will not physically mount on their full frame bodies. As expected, on a full frame body there is extreme vignetting, but if this was the only macro lens you had in your bag and you’d forgotten your crop sensor body, in a pinch you could use it on a full frame camera and crop the image later.
I did two sets of resolution tests: one at a “normal” focus distance (around 2m) and one at 1:1 macro using a special “chrome on glass” high resolution transmission target.
At normal focusing distances at f/2 there is slight softening and lowered contrast when compared with the lens stopped down, but f/2 is certainly a very usable aperture. In the center of the frame just stopping down to f/2.8 is enough to bring the image quality up a notch and little improvement can be seen by stopping down further (at least when using an EOS 40D). In the corners the image quality peaks around f/5.6 at which aperture corner and edge quality are very similar. Distortion is negligible and chromatic aberration is slight.
When focused at 1:1 the performance follows a similar trend with center sharpness good even at f/2, but peaking at around f/5.6. At f/11 diffraction blurring starts to soften the image and the softening gets greater at f/16 and f/22. This is true for all lenses of course. A similar pattern is seen toward the corner of the image, with good sharpness even at f/2 but with best sharpness being obtained at f/5.6-f/8. Center and corner were both in good focus, even at f/2, which indicates a flat field. Distortion was negligible—in fact, I couldn’t see any even when I looked closely. I can’t say it’s zero, but it must be pretty close to zero. Chromatic aberration was similar to that at normal focus distances. Detectable, but slight and not likely to be a problem.
Focus accuracy was good. Even at 1:1 macro where DOF is very small indeed at f2 (+/- 0.07mm), AF was as good as careful MF using Live View with 10x magnification. AF was also quite repeatable, with 10 out of 10 AF shots at normal focus distances showing full resolution. Focus isn’t silent (the Tamron 60/2 macro doesn’t use an ultrasonic motor), but it’s not especially noisy either.
I measured maximum magnification at 1.04x, slightly better than the 1.0x specified
Finally just a note on aperture. Relative aperture (f-stop) is defined when the lens is focused at infinity. As the lens is focused closer, the effective speed drops. You can verify this by taking a picture (out of focus) of a uniform target with the lens focused at both infinity and closest focus. With most lenses, especially macro lenses, you will require more exposure at closest focus to give the same image density. For the Tamron 60/2, about 2 stops more exposure is needed when close focused. So, for example if the correct exposure is 1/200s when focused at infinity, you’ll need something like 1/50s when the lens is close focused to give an image of the same density, even though the aperture is indicated as f/2 in both cases.
The Tamron 60mm f/2 Di II Macro Lens [Canon], (compare prices)is a very good lens. It’s fairly small and light and it does not appear that making it a stop faster than it’s competitors has compromised the optical performance. It works as well close focused at 1:1 macro as it does at normal focus distances, so Tamron seem to have gotten their optical formulation right! The fact that it is f/2 rather than f/2.8 does make it a more useful lens for non-macro work where the extra speed enables use in lower light, and/or faster shutter speeds and/or a smaller DOF and increased background blur when you want to isolate a subject via focus. For most macro work, I suspect that the only advantage of f/2 would be a very slightly brighter viewfinder image since almost all macro work is done stopped down in order to increase the depth of field.
The only real nit-pick I have with this lens is that the manual focus operation could be a little better with a smother focus action and less play. Otherwise the Tamron 60/2 Macro is a very useful lens that is sharp, has close to zero distortion and could serve the dual duties of macro and portrait work very well.
Where to Buy
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The Canon EF 50mm f/2.5 Macro, (compare prices) is possibly the least expensive high quality macro lens and it’s 1/3 stop faster the the f/2.8 lenses (but 2/3 stop slower than the Tamron 60/2). It is very sharp and it does cover full frame, but magnification is limited to 0.5x (1/2 lifesize) without the additional 1:1 converter.
Which lens is right for you depends on whether you need full frame or only APS-C coverage, whether you need the fastest possible aperture, your focal length choice and how much you want to spend. All of these are very good lenses.
Tamron 60mm f2 Di II Macro Specifications
Lens Construction (Groups/Elements)
Angle of View (diagonal)
26° 35’ (APS-C size equivalent)
Diaphragm Blade Number
Minimum Focus Distance
Macro Magnification Ratio
Diameter x Length
2.9 × 3.15in (73 × 80mm)
Canon, Nikon and Sony
Images of a 1" acrylic cube level shot with the Tamron 60/2 lens. The upper shot was taken at f/2 while the lower shot was taken at f/8. As you can see DOF is very limited at f/2—and this isn’t a even super close-up.
Extreme (1:1) close-up of part of a $20 bill taken at f/8. This is an example of the maximum magnification you can get with this lens and covers an area of approximately 15mm x 22.5mm (the same size as the APS-C sensor). You can see there is very little distortion and that the image is sharp, edge to edge.
This is a 100% crop from the center of the above image showing that sharpness is excellent.
The ubiquitous “brick wall” shot , testing for distortion. As you can see, for all practical purposes there isn’t any.
This image was shot with the Tamron 60mm f/2 macro wide open at f/2. You can see the type of background blurring you can get at wide apertures.
Another example of blackgound blur with the Tamron 60/2 macro shot wide open at f/2.
Example of background blur at f/4. The Tamron 60/2 macro uses a 7 blade aperture, which should give rise to smoother background blur than the 5 blade aperture found in lenses like the Canon EF 50/1.8 II.