March 17, 2016
Tamron has recently updated their already excellent SP 90mm f2.8 Di VC USD lens. The “old one” has the catalogue number of F004 while the latest one got its number designated as F017. The look of the new lens is in line with Tamron’s other latest lenses, like the SP 35mm f1.8 Di VC USD and the SP 45mm f1.8 Di VC USD. The lens barrel is a smooth black finished aluminum housing with an easy to grip rubberized focusing ring. The lens is moisture resistant with rubber gaskets protecting the lens interior not only at the lens mount but at every joint, including the switches on the lens barrel.
The optical formula of the new lens is practically identical to the F004 version’s design, 14 lenses in 11 groups. Like its predecessor the new one also have one LD and two XLD elements. Tamron’s eBand and BBAR coatings, like in the F004 version, provide excellent anti reflection properties.
I have recently had the opportunity to handle the new lens at my local dealer’s shop and compared it quickly to my “old F004” and to my Micro Nikkor 105mm f2.8 VR lenses. Nothing serious just to get a feel of the lens. I was mostly curious about the VC performance and focusing acquisition of the new design. I didn’t expect anything revolutionary though since the F044 version had already proved itself as an outstanding performer with its IQ on par with the Nikon lens. A noted Canon professional even found it somewhat superior to Canon’s flagship EF 100mm f/2.8L Macro IS USM lens.
The F017 got a new VC design that suppose to improve on vibration control over a wider range of focusing distances. This translates to expectedly improved VC at closer distances where the effectiveness of vibration control loses its edge. Well, it seemed to me that indeed the lens was compensating a bit better at close-up distances than the previous version did. However, the VC mechanism had a grinding noise that the F004 version didn’t have. I tried two copies of the lens and they were the same in this respect. I heard this noise issues from other fellow photographers too who had tried the new lens. However, the noise didn’t have any negative effect on general functioning or IQ though, it was just there which I was not fond of. The F004 lens is quiet, it barely hums when its VC is engaged.
So, what is my opinion? The new lens is as good as it gets as of image quality, sturdiness and good looks. Just like the older version it is at the top of the optical food chain. It looks extremely handsome and professional. It feels well built with the new housing. That said, I had no issues with the build of the older version either. It has a strong polycarbonate housing and carries the same six year Tamron warranty in Canada and the USA like the new one does. It is also moisture resistant although the new version may have improved in this respect. I used the F004 version in drizzling rain a few times and it didn’t get any moisture inside. So I put down the differences between the two lenses as primarily aesthetically design considerations, a touch improved VC in closer focusing distances and perhaps a little improvement in dust and moisture sealing. With other words it almost doesn’t matter if you take one or the other into the field, they both will work professionally.
As of value for the money? Tamron lenses in general carry a very good value with great IQ. My opinion is that at the given moment the F004 has a better value factor. No surprise here since its otherwise decent retail price has been further reduced to clear inventories. Whereas the new lens has the “newly out of the mint” price. That will probably change in a year or so, unless exchange rates go haywire. Anyhow, if I were to buy a 90mm Tamron macro lens today I would opt for the F004 version. Purely for the sake of saving some money. The old version is so good that even if the new one is somewhat updated the difference would not show in photographic results. The same size of enlargement can be produced from files captured by either of the two lenses. Both lenses carry the same six year warranty in Canada and the USA. So it is immaterial whether one has aluminium housing and the other has high impact polycarbonate housing. Furthermore, high end polycarbonate is so durable that it takes a lot of effort to damage it, no worries there.
So, there is no wrong choice that one can make between the two lenses. If one prefers the slick anodized aluminium design then go for it. If someone else prefers to save some money then it is fine. As of the time of writing this blog the new F017 lens retails for $999.00 in Canada and the F004 listed as $899.00 but can be had for $649.00 from an authorized dealer in Toronto. I bought one for my grandson for that price, it is a substantial savings. In the USA B&H lists the F017 for US $ 649.00 whereas the F004 is $599.00 after rebate, so the savings are less there.