Real-world Review: Tamron SP AF 60mm f/2.0 Di II LD Macro for portraits

While preparing this review, I was reminded again of how ridiculously long the names of Tamron lenses can get. See the name of the lens in the title of this article and think it looks long? Well that is actually not the full name because I trimmed it for the title. For the sake of completeness, I will reproduce the full name of the lens I am reviewing: Tamron SP AF 60mm f/2.0 Di II LD [IF] Macro 1:1. Whew! For the sake of readability I will abbreviate it as the Tamron 60mm f/2M in this review.

As suggested by the review title, I use this lens for portraits only and not for macro work. So those looking for opinions on macro performance may be better off looking elsewhere. I also shoot wide-open 95% of the time with this lens, so those looking for information about optimal aperture and sharpness should also probably look elsewhere. Finally, I shoot pictures of real people, not charts in a laboratory. If you are looking for sharpness graphs you should also probably look elsewhere.

I should also clarify that because of privacy concerns, I am unable to share portrait images I shot using the Tamron 60mm f/2M. You will just have to take my work for it on how it performs.

Build and handling

Weighing only 350g, this is a very nicely-sized lens for APS-C DSLRs. Not too heavy or bulky, though not too light either. For macro and portrait work which requires a methodological and slower approach, it feels reasonably portable and easy to use. I primarily use this lens indoors, so I cannot comment about its ruggedness in tough outdoor environments and conditions. But as long as you do not intend to bring it through deserts, over mountains or under waterfalls, I won’t worry about carrying it outdoors.

One important drawback to note is that the focus ring is too stiff for a macro lens. I have used several macro lenses before, including this lens’ cousins the VR and non-VR versions of the Tamron 90mm f/2.8 macro. The focus ring on the Tamron 60 f/2M is noticeably stiffer and more difficult to operate. In fact if I bought this lens solely for macro purposes, I will be using manual focus 99% of the time and the stiff focus ring would have near-disqualified this lens as an acceptable tool for macro photography. But since I am just using this lens for portraits and I use AF 99.9% of the time, that’s OK. 🙂

Auto focus

Macro lenses are generally not known to be super fast or efficient at auto focus. Most of them tend to focus in, then focus out, then either finally nail the focus or never focus properly at all. Hence most people doing macro photography just rely on manual focus. Although the auto-focus performance of the Tamron 60 f/2M does not break this mould, for portrait photography it is actually reliable and sufficiently fast enough on the Nikon D7500 I am using it with. No complaints about auto-focus for my use cases.

Performance

Like most Tamron macro lenses, this lens only reaches its maximum aperture of f/2.0 when focused at infinity or near-infinity. This is different from Nikon-branded macro lenses, which typically achieves maximum aperture at noticeably shorter distances. The maximum aperture you will get most of the time with the tamrom 60mm f/2M is f/2.2. Since I use maximum aperture for subject isolation frequently, f/2.2 is the aperture I end up using nearly all the time. Hence my performance review for this lens is based on portrait photography at f/2.2, which is quite a challenging condition for any fast prime lens.

The good news is that the Tamon 60 f/2M fares quite well wide-open. Vignetting is noticeably low, even though this is easy to correct in post production. I have not noticed a lot of chromatic aberrations. Spherochromatism is so well controlled and minimal that you will have a challenge removing what faint traces of it that do show up in an image. You may not even notice it unless you have an eye for searching for it during post-processing. Spherochromatism performance is definitely better than the Nikon Nikkor 35mm f/1.8G DX(abbreavaited 35 f/1.8G DX).

However when it comes to image resolution wide-open, it lags behind the 35 f/1.8G DX. The cheap and fantastic 35 f/1.8G DX is a very competent tool, as even wide-open at f/1.8 the details in focus are very well-defined. In comparison, with the Tamron 60 f/2M at f/2.2, details that are in focus are less well-defined. Now that does not mean that details are blurry, but there is definitely space for improvement. In practical terms, no one will notice details at the point of focus could benefit from some improvements from social media sized images or small prints. With large prints, your audience will have to be standing really close to notice the imperfection. In addition, a little post-processing touch-up can fill in some desired detail sharpness. By around f/2.4, the Tamron 60mm f/2M starts to catch up with the 35 f/1.8G DX’s wide-open sharpness.

The Tamron 60mm f/2M also tends to be a little clinical in its rendering of light compared to some Nikon prime lenses. Some Nikon primes paint light transitions in an image in a very pleasing manner, delivering a subtle hint of depth and character. This Tamron is more “flat” in its rendering of light. Character and nuances in a lens is not something that most people will notice. If you do not care for it, that is fine. If you see it, then it is just a little imperfection you have to learn to accept.

Usage

The Tamron 60mm f/2M holds a very unique and special position in the body of lenses available to Canon and Nikon APS-C DSLR users. It has the honour of being the only fast prime lens which provides close to a 85mm full-frame equivalent focal length to those users. This is an excellent portrait focal length for the APS-C format, and the fact that it can do macro as well is a useful bonus feature.

I mentioned before in my review of the 35 f/1.8G DX that it is great for shooting environmental portraits, but close-ups create too much distortion on the subject’s face, making them look fatter than they actually are. Using the Tamron 60mm f/2M relieves this problem immensely. If you do head shots you will still notice a little bit of distortion on your subject’s face. However, that is entirely consistent with what we know about focal lengths for portraiture. Using full-frame focal lengths as a reference, we have 50mm or lower for environmental portraiture, 85mm for closer general portraiture, and at least 135mm for distortion-free head-and-shoulders shots. The Tamron 60mm f/2M fills in the duties of a 85mm full-frame equivalent portrait lens nicely.

Conclusion

Much of the appeal of the Tamron 60mm f/2M lies in the fact that it is the only fast prime lens available to Canon and Nikon APS-C DSLR users that fills in an important focal range for portraiture. If you re-read what I wrote about performance, you get the impression that there are several improvements that can be made. And you are right! I do wish that the performance could be a little better wide-open. Even so, you could still make great pictures with it. I definitely do not consider this a bad lens. If I had to put a measuring scale to it, I will say it is “very decent” for portraiture, bordering on “good”.

Some will think that maybe they should just get a full-frame 50mm lens and use it on their APS-C camera bodies. I consider that a poor solution if you already own a 35mm prime lens. We want a focal length longer than 35mm on APS-C because of portraiture distortion when we move close to our subject. In my opinion, moving to 50mm on APS-C does not relieve that problem sufficiently. But that is only my opinion, so users are free to to suit their artistic and creative preferences. But I have to say that testing with an 18-55mm zoom lens, I am not satisfied with the differences between 35mm and 50mm. But if you don’t already own a 35mm prime lens, then I suppose picking up a 50mm prime lens to use with your APS-C body is reasonable.

As of now, The Tamron 60mm f/2M can be bought at a cheap price if you know where to look. The one I picked up is the last copy in the store and they sold it to me at a clear-out price. It is not a very new lens, and Canon and Nikon are on the verge of moving full-steam with their mirrorless camera strategies which could potentially signal the end of F-mount and EOS-mount lenses. So sellers could be looking to clear this from their stock, and you could get good bargains for it. If you are looking for something decent and affordable to use before Canon/Nikon’s mirrorless APS-C product lines are sufficiently mature for you to switch to them, this is a nice lens to pick up in the interim.

Happy shooting!

-WY

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