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Tamron SP AF90mm f/2.8 Macro & SP AF200-500mm f/5-6.3 Di LD (IF) Nature Photography

Tamron SP AF90mm f/2.8 Macro & SP AF200-500mm f/5-6.3 Di LD (IF) Nature Photography - ePHOTOzine’s Will Cheung puts two Tamron lenses, the SP AF90mm f/2.8 Macro and the SP AF200-500mm f/5-6.3 Di LD (IF), to the test.

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Category : Lenses and Optical Items
Product : Tamron SP AF 200-500mm f/5-6.3 Di LD
Price : £770
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Will Cheung gets hands-on with two popular Tamron lenses, the SP90mm f/2.8 and the SP 200-500mm f/5-6.3, and takes them back to nature.

I know it sounds blindingly obvious but I will say it anyway. The real challenge of nature photography is getting close enough to the subject. Field craft and a knowledge of the subject are important, but so too is having the right lens, either to make a distant subject bigger in the frame or to let you focus close enough to reveal fine detail of smaller subjects.

Tamron’s lens range includes products that fulfill both functions. For my back to nature adventure I used the SP AF90mm f/2.8 Macro and the SP AF200-500mm f/5-6.3 Di LD (IF). It is worth pointing out that both optics suit full-frame as well as cropped sensor DSLRs. For this feature I used Nikon D300 and D700 DSLRs, so both formats were tried.

My plan was to test the telephoto zoom at Northshots, which is based in the Cairngorms, shooting red squirrels and any birds that might venture along. For more on Northshots, click on www.northshots.com.

Given the lack of bugs and pretty blooms in the middle of a snowy winter, with the macro lens I decided to enjoy the warmth of indoors, exploring flowers and enjoying fine detail and subtle hues of blooms from the local supermarket.

Tamron SP AF90mm f/2.8 Macro


The Tamron SP AF90mm f/2.8 Macro lens gives up to 1:1 lifesize magnification, making it perfect for floral photography. These shots show what can be achieved with soft window light, a tripod and a sheet of white card acting as a reflector.

I know the SP AF 90mm f/2.8 Macro well and have used one regularly. Indeed, I have used its predecessors going back many years, so I am well aware of its optical prowess and it is capable of producing excellent quality images. Our recent full test on this actual sample confirmed that the optic I had on my Nikon was a cracker.

The current model is much lighter than its forebears but that does not compromise its handling and it balances well on my Nikon D700 and D300. In fact, its lighter weight can make it easier to handhold at slower shutter speeds without camera shake spoiling pictures. Of course for this shoot in my living room I was using a tripod, releasing the shutter with a remote release or self-timer - the latter is fine if you are not trying to 'time' a shot.

Being able to shoot general subjects, as well as being able to focus close enough for lifesize reproduction without the need for any additional accessories, is a major benefit.

The lens’s autofocus is swift, sensitive and quiet in general use. Like every macro lens I have ever used though, when you start getting in close, it is worth considering switching from AF to manual. This is not to say that the lens cannot focus, it is just that if the camera and lens do decide to search for focus you could potentially lose an image. A really handy feature on this lens is its focus limiter switch so you can set the lens to operate from infinity down to 0.45m or from 0.4m to 0.25m.

Pulling back on the focus barrel takes you from AF to manual and a positive click confirms that you have changed focusing mode. The manual focusing barrel is really smooth with enough resistance for positive focusing.

Image quality from this lens, as I have already suggested, is excellent and makes this a really rewarding lens to use. Whether shooting at wide apertures or stopped down to its minimum for maximum depth-of-field I had no reservations about image quality. I like using wide apertures for very selective focusing effects and this lens is perfect for this technique because wide aperture performance is impressive.

Here, I shot some close-ups, but its focal length makes it perfect as a portrait lens for a flattering perspective. Another good point of design of this lens is that its front element is deeply recessed and even though a hood is supplied, you might not need to use it.

For a full technical review of this lens, please click here.

Tamron SP AF200-500mm f/5-6.3 Di LS (IF)

The SP AF200-500mm f/5-6.3 Di LD (IF) I was less familiar with, compared with the 90mm macro lens, but I felt its massive range in a compact, portable package would be perfectly well equipped, on paper at least, to deliver frame-filling images of twitchy birds.

As well as a sturdy tripod, I packed my Nikon D700 and D300 DSLRs. Both the optics here are full-frame as well as APS-C sensor size compatible. The cropped sensor of the D300 meant that on the long zoom I had the equivalent of an amazing 300-750mm lens in the 35mm full-frame format.

The Tamron SP AF200-500mm f/5-6.3 Di LD (IF) is a powerful telephoto and perfect for nature work but also versatile enough for travel and scenic shooting too.
It is an internal focusing lens, but it does grow in size during zooming.
Top left shows the lens at 200mm and the image above left shows it at 500mm.
Left: the lens hood is generously-sized.

For its focal length range the 200-500mm is surprisingly lightweight and compact, and comes with a generously-sized lens hood which adds significantly to its overall size. As the zoom is operated from the 200mm end, it does grow significantly as the front end trombones out. In terms of handling, though, the change in size has no impact on the lens’s balance which remains good throughout. It is supplied with a tripod mount that should be used when possible.

In good light, it is perfectly possible to handhold this lens for sharp pictures. However, at the long end, you need to aim for shutter speeds of around 1/1000sec if you are going to try this. The magnification at the 500mm end is amazing and you can see in the viewfinder that even the slightest movement can be a problem. On one hand, the lens’s light weight means it is very portable. On the other, a heavier lens can help make sharper shooting at comparatively slow shutter speeds much easier.

Tamron has developed a very effective lens integral Optical Stabilisation system to help minimize camera shake. The technology is relatively new and has not yet made it to the 200-500mmm lens. However, having tried the 18-270mm zoom lens with OS, I can vouch for its effectiveness and it would certainly be a very welcome addition to this lens.

On the days of my shoot, I had to make do with quite poor light but being in a hide meant that I could use a tripod or a beanbag, providing a stable shooting platform.

For the red squirrels, the hide was in the pine forest so light levels are low. The low contrast and poor lighting conditions did not favour autofocusing and while the lens did manage perfectly well I preferred to use manual focusing. I focused roughly in the right place and then adjusted focus as, for example, birds and squirrels came and went. I know such creatures are constant fidgets and, with so little depth-of-field to compensate for focusing errors, I found it best to manually tweak focus to keep the eyes sharp.

The good thing with the 200-500mm is that not much travel of the focusing barrel is needed for even major distance changes. It takes less than one-quarter turn to focus from infinity down to the lens’s 2.5m minimum focus. The manual focus barrel is smooth yet positive.

Above left is the view at the 200mm setting of the Tamron SP 200-500mm zoom. Zooming in to 380mm gives an tighter crop (above) while on left is the 500mm crop - and all from the same spot. I was in a hide with the camera and lens supported by a bean bag. At open aperture depth-of-field was almost non existent, so focusing had to be very critical.
 
Having the pulling power of the Tamron SP AF200-500mm f/5-6.3 meant that I got tightly framed images, but the stability of a beanbag or tripod is essential.


 
 

Summary

I enjoyed my time using this exciting pair of Tamron optics. They are capable of high quality images, easy to use and attractively priced compared with marquee brand lenses.

The SP AF90mm f/2.8 Macro sells at £345 and its ability as a close-up lens as well as for general use makes it a bargain.

The SP AF200-500mm f/5-6.3 Di LD (IF) is a more specialist optic and that is probably reflected in its higher price - Warehouse Express sells it for £865. This might sound a lot but it compares very favourably with long telephoto zooms from the camera brands.

For me, offering such a long telephoto focal length range without being too heavy is a boon. I would be happy to just leave it in the rucksack on the off-chance I might get the opportunity to use it. Of course, nature is one major area in which this lens excels but it is excellent for other subjects too, from portraits to urban shooting.











Tamron SP AF 200-500mm f/5-6.3 Di LD Specifications

ManufacturerTamron
General
Lens Mounts
  • Nikon AF D
  • Minolta AF
  • Canon EF
Lens
Focal Length200mm - 500mm
Angle of View5° - 12°
Max Aperturef/5 - f/6.3
Min Aperturef/32
Filter Size86mm
35mm equivalentNo Data
Internal focusingNo Data
Focusing
Min Focus250cm
StabilisedNo
Construction
Blades9
Elements13
Groups10
Box Contents
Box ContentsNo Data
Dimensions
Weight1237g
Height227mm

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Tamron SP AF 90mm f/2.8 Macro 1:1 Di Specifications

ManufacturerTamron
General
Lens Mounts
  • Pentax K SMC-FA
  • Nikon AF D
  • Minolta AF
  • Canon EF
Lens
Focal Length90mm
Angle of View0° - 27°
Max Aperturef/2.8
Min Aperturef/32
Filter Size55mm
35mm equivalentNo Data
Internal focusingNo Data
Focusing
Min Focus29cm
StabilisedNo
Construction
Blades9
Elements10
Groups9
Box Contents
Box ContentsNo Data
Dimensions
Weight405g
Height97mm

View Full Product Details

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