Tamron 180mm Di f3.5 Macro Lens Review
About the Tamron 180mm macro lens
The Tamron macro lens is one of only a few third party long macro lenses. This lens comes in Nikon, Canon and Minolta Maxxum (now Sony) mounts. I have tested a Nikon mount example with the Nikon D70 and D200. Auto focus performance may differ for different lens mounts.
This lens goes to lifesize without any accessories. The lens has 14 elements and a 7 bladed aperture, and has 72mm filter threads. The lens comes with a large lens hood, a more or less useless case and a tripod collar. A decent front lens cap of the center-pinch style is also included with the lens.
Here's the case, hood and lens on the Nikon D200.
Optically, this lens leaves little to be desired. Sharpness is great down to the diffraction limit, distortion virtually non-existent, chromatic aberrations are practically absent and flare and ghosting are very well controlled. It appears that the lens out-resolves the 10MP D200 sensor in the f4.5 to f9 range. Contrast improves to about f8. The sharpness holds up well to about f14 when diffraction starts to be the major limitation. When at the minimum focus distance the affective aperture is f5.6 and correctly shows up as such on the D70 and D200. The front element is 10 inches from the subject at the minimum focus distance.
Light falloff is scarcely detectable wide open on the D200, and is completely gone by f4.5.
The out of focus areas are very pleasantly rendered with smooth transitions. I would rate the lens as having very nice bokeh.
I have never had a single problem with flare or ghosting with this lens. Even long exposures at night with points of bright light are no problem for this lens. The lens comes with a large hood, but mine sits unused. Some people may want to keep the hood on to protect the front element, as it's not recessed into the lens much.
Distortion is basically non-existent. Distortions and light falloff is so low that this is my lens of choice for stitching high-resolution images. A sample stitched image using the Tamron 180mm can be seen here.
The auto focus on the Tamron 180mm macro is very slow, noisy, and accurate. I find that this lens will auto focus accurately at high magnifications, unlike most other macro setups I've tried. This lens unfortunately does not have a focus limiter, which would really speed up the AF for normal use.
Build Quality, Design and Handling
This lens is almost entirely made of plastic. It's very well made as far as plastic lenses go. There is no wobbling or shakiness. I would prefer a metal-bodied lens, but the plastic build does keep the weight down to 30 ounces. The plastic used in this lens also does not mark easily, unlike other plastic lenses I've seen. This lens has a wide focusing ring that's nicely damped, but my lens after six months of use has developed an annoying squeak when manually focused. It takes a little less than half a rotation of the focus ring to go from infinity to lifesize, with the majority of the rotation in 1:1 to 1:3 magnification range. The focusing ring is pulled back to switch to manual focus, but unfortunately, it makes a loud plasticy clicking noise when switching between AF and MF. I would prefer if it were Nikon AF-S style where the lens could be manually focused in AF mode at any time, but this would be very hard to do considering the long focus throw, and would most likely not manual focus as smoothly. The lens does not change length when focused. The lens has a focusing scale that has feet, meters and magnification listed.
Scroll over to see the lens in manual focus mode.
The Tamron 180mm also has what is labeled “Filter Effect Control”. This is a ring at the front of the lens that when turned rotates the front filter threads. This is designed to make using polarizers and grad filters easier to use when the lens hood is attached. Personally, this is the last lens I would want this feature on due to the fact that I rarely use Polarizers or graduated filters with this lens and if I did I would not be using the lens hood, and that this feature is a nuisance when close-up accessories such as ring flashes are used.
The tripod collar is adequate, but could use improvement. It is quick to put on and take off, which I often find to be useful. The lens does not have to be taken of the camera to remove the tripod collar.
This lens has 72mm filter threads instead of standard 77mm. I will have to buy a 72 to 77mm step-ring and a new Nikon 77mm cap for my lens.
Ant. Tamron 180mm macro and 36mm extension tube.
Past lifesize with the Tamron 180 Macro
I have tried teleconverters and extension tubes with this lens when I need to go higher than 1:1 and generally find that extension tubes are easier to work with. On the Nikon D70 and D200, auto focus works very very slowly but adequately accurately with either the Tamron SP 1.4x or 2x teleconverters or less than about 40mm of extension. I have the Kenko extension tube set that includes 36mm, 20mm and 12mm. Infinity focus is, of course, not possible with extension tubes. All the photos in my Photomacrography gallery were taken with the Tamron 180mm and extension tubes.
Image degradation is apparent but not serious when the Tamron SP 1.4x or 2x teleconverters are used.
I have not tried a close-up lens with the Tamron 180mm yet, but, without trying it, the 77mm Canon 500D and a 72-77mm step ring would be my recommendation.
The Tamron 180mm macro is a good choice when pure optical performance is desired. The handling and auto focus speed could be improved, but for many, manual focus is the only option for macro photography anyway.
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