Best Ammo for Full-Frame Canons-Macro lenses for Canon Full-Frame cameras

H(19_2014_Best-Ammo-for-Full-Frame-Canons)1Last month (August 2014), we carried a comparative review of Macro lenses for Nikon FX bodies. This time, it is the turn of Macro lenses for Canon Full Frame bodies. As mentioned last month, we approached all lens manufacturers for their Macro lenses. While the initial list included Sigma also, the representative for the company politely informed us that they did not have any macro lens available in India. So here we are comparing the Canon EF 100mm f/2.8L Macro IS USM, Canon EF 180mm f/3.5L Macro USM, Tamron SP 90mm f/2.8 Di VC USD, and Tamron SP 90mm f/2.8 Di.

Design and Build Quality
The Canon lenses are heavier and better built than both the Tamrons. The Canon 180mm has metal exteriors, while the other three are made of polycarbonate materials on the exterior. The 180mm is also the best built lens in the lot. But being the older one amongst the three, it lacks the rubber weather-sealing ring near the lens mount. The Tamron 90mm non-VC lens also lacks this rubber ring. All the lenses have metal lens mounts. The Tamron 90mm VC (since both the Tamrons have nearidentical designations, we would use VC or non-VC to distinguish between the two) is the third in weight.

Key Features
The following table will give you an idea of how the key features are matched. Both the Canon 100mm and the Tamron 90mm VC feature image stabilisation in the form of IS (Image Stabilisation) in the Canon and VC (Vibration Correction) in the Tamron. The Canon 180mm offers the longest working distance, while the Tamron 90mm non-VC offers the shortest working distance. Both the Canons feature Ring-Type Ultrasonic Motors (USM), while the Tamron 90mm VC features Ultrasonic Silent Drive. The Tamron 90mm non-VC does not feature any high-speed motor. Both the Tamrons carry identical specifications of their Nikon mount versions, except that all of these Canon mount lenses (including the Canon lenses) have a fixed minimum aperture of f/32 (the Nikon system allowed the lenses to go beyond f/32, limited only by the lens specifications)

Now let us check the comfort factor in using these lenses. The 180mm is the heaviest at 1090g, followed by the Canon 100m at 625g. Holding the 180mm in the hand is quite strenuous and you would require a tripod most of the time. Canon has included a tripod mount ring (tripod collar) with the lens so that I balances well on the tripod. The Canon 100mm has a slightly tapering design, which makes it comfortable to hold. The Tamron 90mm VC lens is slighly bulkier at the gripping position, though it is lighter than the Canon 100mm. The Tamron 90mm non-VC has the least circumference, and has a nice push-pull type AF/MF switch, but the lack of internal focussing makes the lens barrel extend considerably during focussing. All the lenses feature focus limiter switches, enabling faster focus both in AF as well as MF modes. The Tamron 90mm VC lens has the best grip on the focussing ring followed by the Tamron 90mm non-VC. Both the Canons are equal when it comes to the grips.

The lenses were tested on a Canon 6D body (full-frame) and the images were captured in JPEG format to keep the consistency with internal sharpening applied. IS/VC was turned off and the camera was mounted on a sturdy tripod. AF Speed

All lenses except the Tamron 90mm non-VC feature high-speed motors. With the focus limiter switch set to ‘Full’, both the Canon 100mm and the Tamron 90mm VC focussed equally fast. The Tamron 90mm non-VC was slightly slow and noisy. The Canon 180mm was slow in slight low-light situations probably due to the slower maximum aperture. However, it focussed fast in bright light and also when the focus was limited to 1.5m to infinity.

Darkening of Corners
To test Darkening of corners, we kept the Peripheral Illumination Correction feature in the camera enabled so that we could pick the best performance of the lenses. All the lenses were tested at their widest aperture. All lenses exhibited  Darkening of Corners at different levels. The Canon 100mm and the Tamron 90mm non-VC controlled darkening very well, with the Tamron leading the pack. The Tamron 90mm VC lens followed the Canon 100mm and the Canon 180mm came last. Flare and Chromatic Aberration To test Flare and Chromatic Aberration, we usually photograph  strong sunlight peeping through branches. But the monsoon clouds spoiled our plans and hence we had to simulate the situation in the studio.  A studio light was kept behind a cardboard with holes punched on it to test flare and chromatic aberration. Chromatic aberration control in the camera was enabled. All the lenses except the Tamron 90mm VC controlled flare very well. While the Canon 180mm was free of any Chromatic Aberration, the Canon 100mm and the Tamron 90mm VC produced very slight magenta fringing. The Tamron 90mm non-VC lens produced heavy purple fringing. Distortion We did not observe any distortion in any of the lenses, and hence they all share full points.

Evaluating the sharpness of macro lenses at 1:1 magnification is very challenging because of the very shallow depth-of-field. Even a fractional difference in alignment of the film plane with the subject plane can make a significant difference in the depth-of-field and hence the sharpness. Because of the inconsistency in results, we did not take into account the peripheral sharpness. Comparing the centre sharpness, all the lenses had their sweet spots at f/8. All the lenses except the Tamron 90mm non-VC gave the sharpest results from f/8 to f/16. The Tamron 90mm non-VC reproduced the sharpest images from f/5.6 to f/11. After the sweet spots were determined, we compared the images with 1:1 and a slightly less magnification so that the effect of shallow depth-of-field could be minimised. The results are summarised in the final table.

Value for Money
The Canon 100mm retails at an MRP of Rs.65,995, while the Canon 180mm carries a price tag of Rs.104,995. The Tamron SP 90mm non-VC lens retails at Rs.28,900, while the Tamron SP 90mm VC is priced at Rs.39,800.

CANON EF 100MM   F/2.8L MACRO IS USM             76%
Design and Build Quality                                              16/20
Key Features                                                                    15/20
Ergonomics                                                                      18/20
Autofocus and                                                                     5/5
Burst Shooting
Darkening                                                                            4/5
of Corners
Flare and                                                                             4/5
Chromatic Aberration
Distortion                                                                           5/5
Sharpness                                                                       2/5
Sub-Total                                                                  20/25
Value for Money                                                      7/15
Total                                                                      76/100

F/3.5L MACRO USM                                                  65%
Design and Build Quality                                     18/20
Key Features                                                           12/20
Ergonomics                                                          13/20
Autofocus and                                                        3/5
Burst Shooting
Darkening                                                                2/5
of Corners
Flare and                                                                 5/5
Chromatic Aberration
Distortion                                                                5/5
Sharpness                                                              3/5
Sub-Total                                                              18/25
Value for Money                                                     4/15
Total                                                                      65/100

TAMRON SP 90MM F/2.8 DI VC USD                    81%
Design and Build Quality                                     15/20
Key Features                                                           17/20
Ergonomics                                                            16/20
Autofocus and                                                              5/5
Burst Shooting
Darkening                                                                      3/5
of Corners
Flare and                                                                    3/5
Chromatic Aberration
Distortion                                                                 5/5
Sharpness                                                             5/5
Sub-Total                                                            21/25
Value for Money                                                12/15
Total                                                                  81/100

TAMRON SP 90MM F/2.8 Di                           78%
Design and Build Quality                             14/20
Key Features                                                  14/20
Ergonomics                                                     15/20
Autofocus and                                                  3/5
Burst Shooting
Darkening                                                         5/5
of Corners
Flare and                                                           2/5
Chromatic Aberration
Distortion                                                           5/5
Sharpness                                                         5/5
Sub-Total                                                        20/25
Value for Money                                             15/15
Total                                                              78/100

As we said in the last issue, choosing a specialist lens is no mean feat. For photographers doing professional work, image quality and working distance are more important than the price of the lens, while amateurs are more concerned about the price. This review provides the complete data that can be used by both amateurs and professionals. Please note that the test result reflects the performance of the test equipment that the manufacturers provided to Smart Photography, and the results could vary from piece to piece. Overall, the Tamron SP 90mm f/2.8 Di VC USD wins this test, mostly due to the pricing.
Sujith Gopinath