8 Makros in comparison

Tamron 2.8/90 SP AF - Sigma 2.8/105 EX AF - Canon 2.8/100 USM

Tamron 3.5/180 AF DI - Sigma 3.5/180 HSM AF - Canon 3.5/180L USM

Sigma 2.8/50 AF EX - Canon 2.8 MP-E65
Macros should be built to keep their optical performance even at a magification around 1:1 related to 35 mm film format and it seems to difficult however for the entire range of adjustment from infinite into the absolute macro range. Because many investigations do not show this special macro performance, I did some investigations to explore the performance of the available 3 lenses around 100 mm, 3 lenses around 180 mm focal length, further including the sigma 50 mm and additionally included a specialist in this range, the MP-E65 magnifying lens.


In order to clarify the difference between a good macro lens and a "temporary solution", here two to 100% crops, on the left taken with the Tamron 90 macro, on the right with a Tamron 28-75 @75 zoom with a distance ring ring, both at f=8. One can see very clearly the image interferences, much chromatic aberation. Using a higher aperture would decrease the problems and improve the quality, but it will be unable to reach the performance of a genuine macros hardly. Very high-quality filter lenses can improve the performance dramatically, shown in chapter 4 and 5.

Overview technical data:



Length infinite/near
 Diameter  Filter

effective work distance
 Canon 100

 600 g

 119 / 119

 79 mm

 58 mm

 Sigma 105

 450 g

 95 /147

 74 mm

 58 mm

 12 cm
 Tamron 90

 420 g

 91 / 152

 71 mm

 55 mm

 9,5 cm
 Canon 180

 1090 g

 186,6 / 186,6

 82,5 mm

 72 mm

 23,8-7,5=16,3 cm*
 Sigma 180

 945 g

 179,5 / 179,5

 80 mm

 72 mm

 22,8-9=13,8 cm*
 Tamron 180

 920 g

 165,7 / 165,7

 84,8 mm

 72 mm

24,5-9,5=15 cm*
 Canon MPE 65

 730 g

*98 / *227

 81 mm

 58 mm

 9,5 cm*
 Sigma 50

 320 g

 64 / 104

 71,4 mm

 58 mm

 3,9 cm*


* effective work distances: if the frontlinse is relatively deeply built into the lens, a sun shade seems not necessary. On the other hand a sun shade is a must, if the front glass determines the length of the lens. Since these sun shades are partly very long, they change the effective work distance. For this cases in this column s first the effective distance is indicated, then the length of the sun shade, to be substracted from the effective working distance (-), and the remaining effective distance as third number. Since these shades of the 180 mm lenses are bulky, one should consider to change them against a smaller type.

* Canon MPE 65: the lens can be adjusted only to a range from 1:1 to 5:1 according to 35 mm, using it on a 1,6 crop camera 1,6-8x related to 35 mm. The indicated work distance refers to 1:1 and/or 1,6:1.

* Sigma 50: remaining working distance at 1:1 magification is very small, the sun shade, if used, will strongly shade even the photographic object. This limits its usability very much.



 Sigma lenses:

The 180mm is really durably built, all shim free from play, it has the most solid connection of the sun shade of all 3 180's macros. AF speed is poor despite ultrasonic drive.

The two other focal lengths are mechanically the weakest of all other lenses in the test, the extending tubes have a lot of slackness, the 50mm more than the 105mm. AF speed of 50's and 105's is the slowest is in the test, often still pumping with back focus tendency. I hae the impression that "available steps" are too large.

The front glasses of 50's and still more of the 105's are quite deeply build in the tube, so they can be used without a special sun shade.


 Canon lenses:

The 180 mm as als the 100mm are ultrasonic lenses, especially the 100 mm is very fast, with far distance the fastest objective in the test, however not always accurately, which partly can be seen in the test results. Despite USM the 180mm is very slow, helpfull may be to focus it manually into the proximity of sharpness, then the accurate sharpness is rapidly reached. If one lets it start with infinite, some seconds will past, until adjustmant starts. The MPE65 illustrated in the center is a magnifying lens without AF, drives out tremendously far. All Canons are built absolutely sturdy (in another class then all others, but therefore also clearly more heavily), all adjustement rings works marvelously, absolutely nice is the possibility of being able to intervene in the current AF manually. Coupling rings for macro lightnings are integrated at the 100mm and the MPE65, the 180mm needs an adapter ring. Absolutely weak are Canons plastic sun shades.


Tamron lenses:

Both are made of plastic, which can be seen at the first sight of the 90 mm, whereas the 180mm submits the impression, to be made of metal. Despite its plastic fashion the 90 mm works absolutely free from slackness. Both lenses have the lowest weight of their class. The mechanical AF is to be heard clearly, moderately in the speed, but faster than the mechanical Sigma drives. Astonishing is the outstanding AF accuracy, better than Canon's lenses. AF/MF change needs a manual switch (before/back) at he adustment ring, which is unpleasant, because it requires as much strength that at macro work frequently the setting might be shifted. The 180mm Tamron has an additional, strange feature. It has an adjustment ring, which can be used to rotate the front filter thread. One can turn thereby e.g. an attached pole filter, even if the sun shade is attached. That includes the disadvantage using the 24EX-twinflash that the two lightnings may turn somewhere spontaneously depending on force of gravity effect. A fixing switch would be beautiful. The 90mm sure can be used without any additional shade due to its deeply inside lying front element, the 180 mm will need its sun shade, which is build very durably, inside provided with grooves (!).

Result: due to their robustness the Canon lenses are unequalled, although also the Sigma 180 and Tamron 180 are very solid. Very weak are Canos plastic sun shades, which can be attached only badly leading to the risk of destroying their mounts as even the bajonet on the lens' side. The shades of all other lenses are clearly better. Both other Sigma lenses look a littlebit shaky, the tubes have some slackness. The Tamron 90mm looks somewhat cheaply do to its plastic design, but mechanically it is however absolutely free from slackness.

Optical performance

General notes to the tests

Files were stored in RAW, files were developed with C1Pro (color alignment with magic pencil, saved as 8-bit JPEG, uniform slight sharpening) shots done with Canon 1Ds accomplished fixed at a reproduction rack, chip level and object level accurately flat aligned with spirit level, exposure in AV mode, release with cable, SPV switched on, all at 1:1 magification, control by means of a 2x magnifying viewer. All lenses were examined at a small railway model (Maerklin Z), because the plan parallelism of the object could be controlled here surely. The original project to take a highly detailed fern branch as test object made difficulties, because its leavelets began to roll up due to drying out at the examination time. So only the 100mm's were examined at this test object.

The flat arranged object was exposed with 2 lamps (from both sides). Using Photoshop small crops from the corner and the center were taken in each case and arranged on an overview(see below).

Click on the overview loads the frame with 100% crops at full size !

1. test object: mini railway model. The position of the cutouts are indicated by yellow lines, the cutout near center was divided into 2 parts (along the blue lines), which were added together to reduce necessary space.

2. test object: Fern whisk. The judged cutouts are blue framed. In order to keep the fern whisk flat, a normal small 35 mm slide frame was fixed on the whisk. Some shading of the whisk at the edges occur due to the slide frame, but may have no effect on the result.

At this fern whisk only the 100mm lenses were examined.


1. overview: alle lenses near the center.

2. overview: all lenses at the margin.


Outstanding performance of the MPE65, as well at the corner as the center at all apertures. Outstanding also the performance of the Sigma 50 mm, whereby this lens' contrast behavior may profit something to changed light conditions. (Due to the very small object distance I had to change the position of the lights to avoid shading). This becomes also clearly apparent at the colour. But optically it is an outstanding lens over the entire image field.

Within the row of the lenses around 100 mm the Tamron 90 clearly topped all its competitors, remarkable further the security of the AF. Though the Canon in this comparison performed better than in the "fern test", it does not reach the Tamron. Its AF problem can be seen at f=11. Clear loser is the Sigma 100, at the edge only usable above f=8, in the center at f=5.6. I even tried it by manual focussing, but didn't get better results. At apertures higher then 16 all 100's show a reamrkable decrease pf performance due to diffraction.

Within 180mm row again the Tamron is the "over flier", immaculate from the edge to the center at all apertures. At f=4 the Canon has some weakness at the corner, in the center it is perfect even at f=4. The Sigma is really good in the center at f=5.6, top at f=8, at the edge only at f=11. Screen 22 is still quite well useful with the 180ern.


3. Test:

Around 100 mm Lenses at all apertures in the center and in the corner. No doubt on Tamrons leadership at any relation.



A dramatic improvement of the optical performance at high magnifications can be reached by use of a high-quality add on lens (Leica Apochromat for the 2.8/100 Apo macro). Therefore further tests with such Apochromaten were accomplished, see below.


 4. Test:

The magification was adjusted to a cutout of 24x36 mm, now all lenses can work in a better corrected dimension, leading to a great improvement especially of the lenes, which performed more bad without the attachement.


5. Test:

One can adjust a stronger magnification even with good results about 2.5 x of the maximum enlargement without attachement is possible.

I lossed one picture of the Sigma, therefore the white gap.

My conclusions: Optically the Tamron SP90 is clear the best objective of the 100mm row. Its AF meets absolutely precisely, is however slowly and rather loud. The Canon is optically in the center not many worse, drops however at the edge at far opened apertures, whereby a AF problem may take place. These optical disturbances at close range can be equalized by an optically high-quality attachement to a large extent. Above f=8 all lenses show no real differences, diffraction loss make f=32 rather worthless. The Canon has the fastest AF with far distance, although not as surely adjusting as the Tamron. One has the impression that the AF jumps perhaps in steps, whereby the Tamron offers simply more finely gradated steps than the Canon. As expected outstandingly the MPE65 as a specialist, optically as mechanical. Optically the Sigma 50mm is nearby, but mechanically it is a worse thing.