Nikon 105mm Macro vs Tamron 90mm Macro

Nikon 105mm Macro vs Tamron 90mm Macro

Nikon 105mm Macro vs Tamron 90mm Macro

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Two Super Macro Lens Compared

TrueToad
/ Categories: My Reviews

Compatibility Note: As of June 2021 The Tamron 90mm SP VC USD Macro Lens is not compatible with the Nikon Mirrorless Z cameras.  Although Tamron has released several firmware updates for some of their lenses the Macro lens remains non-compatible.  If you are considering a Nikon Mirrorless camera in the future I would recommend a Nikon Macro Lens.  Read Tamron's Press Release

Bottom Line Upfront (BLUF):  If you are shooting on a Nikon DSLR I recommend you consider a Tamron 90mm SP VC USD macro lens.  It is a top-shelf Macro lens and Tamron has done an excellent job in producing this high-quality piece of glass.  This lens excels as a macro and general-purpose lens.

I originally tested this lens back in 2017 and shortly thereafter bought my own copy even though I own the very nice Nikkor 105 macro.  I found the Tamron to be easier to use *not bulky, the color and contrast from the Tamron is simply wonderful.

In this article I will compare two Macro Lens that are renowned for their abilities, the Nikon 105mm f2/8 VR Macro and the Tamron SP 90mm Macro f/2.8 Di VC USD, both lenses are considered top performers. I will have side-by-side images taken under the same conditions and lightings to show the results from both Nikon 105mm Macro and the Tamron 90mm Macro.

Below is the grid are the technical specifics of both the Nikon 105 and Tamron 90. Tamron not only is smaller, lighter but over $200.00 cheaper 😊 and that made me very happy. 

 

 

 

 

Nikon 105mm f/2.8 Macro  Tamron SP 90mm Macro f/2.8 VC USD 

Which is Better on Paper

Nikon 105

Tamron 90

Price

$899.95

$649.00  (FO17 Model)

-

++

Warranty  5 years 6 Years  + ++

Construction

Mostly Metal

All Metal

+

++

Weather-Sealed

Yes & Rear Gasket

Yes & Rear Gasket

=

=

Focal Length

105mm

90mm

Subjective

Subjective

Angle of View

23 degrees

27 degrees

Subjective

Subjective

Max Aperture

f/2.8

f/2.8

=

=

Min Aperture

f/32

f/32

=

=

Aperture Blades

9

9 circular type

=

=

Min Object Distance

12 inch (.314m)

11.8 inch (.3m)

+

++

Macro Ratio

1:1 (life-size)

1:1 (life-size)

=

=

Front Filter Size

62mm

62mm

=

=

Front Filter Material

Plastic

Metal

=

+

Length

116mm (4.6 inches)

114.6mm (4.5 inches)

+

++

Weight

720 g (25.4 oz)

610g (21.2 oz)

+

++

Special Glass Elements

1 ED

1 LD, 2 XLD

+

++

Optical Construction

14 elements 12 groups

14 elements 11 groups

Subjective

Subjective

Image Stabilization

Yes VR

Yes VC & Gyro

+

++

Coatings

Nano & Super Integrated Coatings

Fluorine, eBAND, BBAR

=

=

Focus Motors

Silent Wave

Ultra-Silent

=

=

Focus Type

Internal

Internal

=

=

 

As you can see from the “ON_PAPER” comparison above, the Tamron should be a strong consideration and in most areas edges out the legendary Nikon 105mm Macro.

Here are a few images shot with a Nikon 105mm and the Tamron 90mm - same ISO shutter and f/stop.

Nikon 105MM   Tamron 90mm
Bumped Contrast for Details - Nikon

Bumped Contrast for Details - Nikon

 
Bumped Contrast for details - Tamron

Bumped Contrast for details - Tamron

 
Handheld Nikon

Handheld Nikon

Handheld Tamron 90mm

Handheld Tamron 90mm

Full Crop Fly - Nikon

Full Crop Fly - Nikon

Image
 

Both Nikon and Tamron have been manufacturing macro lenses for a long time, and both companies have fans of their Macro lens products.  I own and use both of these lenses now, and find myself reaching for the Tamron over the Nikon for my macro work. Out in the field both handle very nicely and weigh close enough that you may notice Nikon is a bit heavier. Because I  carry a 7-pound lens for my wildlife photography, when people ask me if this Macro heavy I say no, @ 1.5lb approx., these are on the smaller side for their focal length.  Both lenses are easy to hand carry and shoot without becoming overly tired, and that brings us to the optical/image stabilization:

Tamron VC: Tamron uses what they call XY VC image stabilization that can compensate side to side and laterally – similar to what Nikon refers to as Sports VR used on Nikon’s higher-end Super Telephotos.  In this regard, I can state that Tamron has remarkable stabilizing abilities for handheld shots, again and again - the VC nailed it. Take a look at the photo above, which was handheld. Plus Tamron's VC is silent, or soo quiet at least I don't hear it or any noise picked up in the video.

Nikon VR: Nikon's 105mm lens use Nikon's traditional Vibration Reduction (VR) which is a mainstay on their newer lenses. Being a user of many Nikon lenses with VR I find the Nikon 105mm Macro does an adequate job to help me get handheld photos. There is some chatter during the operation. While the Tamron VC is nearly silent.

Who has the better Image Stabilization? Hard to measure, but my basic testing shows that Tamron is better and if sound matters - Tamron is a clear winner.  Nikon claims 3  stops, while Tamron claims 3.5 stops, but from my experience, I am very impressed by how well Tamron performs. I seem to get better results with Tamron when hand-holding – but, remember 90mm is not 105mm, Tamron seemed to have push image stabilization to the next level. Tamron uses an accelerometer with a gyro to detect shake/movement on the XY axis.

Image
Manual and Automatic Focusing: Nikon 105mm Macro and Tamron 90mm SP Macro are fast and quite. I find the Nikon performs better autofocus in lower light while the Tamron performs better overall in normal lighting conditions. I hear very little motor noise from either – whisper-quiet, and this is good news for video users. Both lenses offer focus over-ride from automatic focus to manual focus, and both lenses have large, firm, responsive focus rings.  * Tamron focus rotates opposite from standard Nikon lenses, and so, you may find yourself focusing out when you should be going the other direction.

Focus Speed: I find the Tamron SP 90mm better overall. Tamron is super fast and almost silent in the operation.  Looking through the viewfinder from near to far focus is ridiculously fast.

Focus Limits: This is where Tamron got it right. I don’t understand why Nikon does not have a three focus position limiter on any Nikon lens, to my knowledge. Setting the lens to a specific distance makes sense in controlled situations.  Tamron offers three limits while Nikon provides 2 (near and far). On the Tamron, you can set the focus limit to near out to 5meters, or limit the focus to middle distance, or full range.

Focus Breathing: Both the Nikon 105mm and Tamron 90mm show some focus breathing; Focus breathing causes the image size to change as you focus, slight but still present.

Outdoor Weather Sealing: I feel confident both are outstanding as far as lenses go. Tamron claims throughout the glass to have water and dust seals. While Nikon lists the Nikon 105 lens as “weather sealed”. One thing that cuts down on dust entering your lens is “Internal Focus, ” and both Nikon 105mm Macro and Tamron 90mm Macro have internal focusing.  Tamron uses the Fluorine coating for the exterior lens – this is great! Nikon uses Fluorine on some of their lenses but not the 105mm. Fluorine makes the glass very resistant to dust and water, stuff slides off or is easy to wipe off without streaks.

Optical Performance: Both Nikon 105mm Macro and Tamron 90mm Macro are very sharp lenses across the entire focus range. Now, splitting hairs and this is where we either need specialized equipment or make a judgment call based on our experiences and images over time. 

                The Nikon 105mm Macro is renowned as a macro lens and no one states otherwise it has a long history of being a very sharp macro tool. I love the results you get with this lens and rarely are any images not sharp due to optical performance. Nikon uses Nano and Super Integrated Coatings to help improve optical performance in tricky lighting, but read the next statement about Tamron.

                The Tamron 90mm Macro is also renowned as a macro lens and has a long history optically. I honestly feel the Tamron 90mm SP Macro lens outperforms the Nikon optically.  Tamron touts more LD and XLD glass elements throughout the lens and uses coatings that are claimed to reduce glare, ghosting, and anti-reflection, called Extended Bandwidth & Angular-Dependency on top of BBAR – Broad-Band Anti-Reflection coatings.  In bright lighting conditions or is reflective I get the impression that the Tamron 90mm SP Macro is superior.

Bokeh: Nikon 105mm Macro and Tamron 90mm Macro being f/2.8, neither are considered as head and shoulders over each other in this race.  But once again, Tamron used a nine-blade round diaphragm, making the background softer than Nikon's nine-blade setup. If you need creamy Bokeh - go for a Nikon 105 f/1.4 or similar. Both Nikon and Tamron are just about equal @ 2/8.

Build and Quality: Tamron 90mm Macro lens and Nikon 105mm Macro lens has been delivering top-quality performance and both lenses now originate from Japan. Tamron has made the most significant improvements in quality and construction over the past years, and this example is outstanding when you pick it up and use the instrument. Build quality was an area Tamron needed to improve on – and they certainly did with the SP line.  Pound for Pound both Nikon and Tamron macros are remarkable in their quality and craftsmanship.  Tamron simplified the look without gaudy bands or placards, just a single silver ring at the base with a smooth surface.  The Nikon shell is a tactile, positive feeling with a mix of plastic and metal construction using a slight bump texture.  I try not to bang my lenses around so; both seem to withstand normal professional use. A comparison between the two is subjective for which is better.

Image
Future Proof: Nikon has camera Firmware updates, and newer Nikon cameras such as the D series have a way to calibrate lens focus.  But when using 3rd party lenses, you are at risk that the "new" Nikon focus algorithm will not be compatible with your lens. Tamron helps solve this with the TAP-in Console. The TAP-in console allows you to configure your lens. $60.00 option - the Tamron should have a coupon for 1/2 price off :( on the purchase.  I have not tried using the Nikon built-in lens calibration system - but if front or back focus is an issue, this may be an easy fix using it.

Where do you go from here: Sorry to be similar to others on the internet. I feel confident with this spectacular 90mm from Tamron It is a very nice positive experience for everything a Macro lens should be. Tamron 90mm SP f/2.8 Macro VC USD is a very wise consideration, otherwise, buy the Nikon 105mm f/2.8 Macro if using a Nikon camera body and have the additional $200.+ Dollars to spare. 

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Photographer's Notes

Tamron 90mm SP Macro Lens Nikon 105mmm Macro Lens

Lens
  • Tamron 90mm f/2.8 SP VC USD
  • Nikkor 105mm f/2.8G IF-ED Micro
Camera Body
  • Nikon D500
  • Nikon D810

Comment

TrueToad · 12/15/2017 12:02:20 PM

Shout out to RL for pointing out the primary image was captioned incorrectly. Thanks!!

Jane Barjer · 11/2/2018 1:59:19 PM

Will this Tamron lense fit a Nikon D300 and a D5100?

TrueToad · 11/3/2018 7:04:06 AM

Yes - both the D300 and D5100 are compatible with the Tamron 90mm Macro. The D300 & 5100 are crop sensor cameras and will increase the field of view by 1.5 thus the 90mm will be equal to a 135mm. I use my Tamron 90 on my crop body D500 and enjoy the combination. The Tamron is a great Macro lens and I recommend it for Macro and other Photography.

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