The camera body and lens are just tools in photography. A top of the line body and lens are not going make you a better photographer. In fact, some combinations are going to make you appear to be a worse photographer if you are not used to working with them and know how to use them to their fullest!
I’ve loved photography and enjoyed taking ‘snaps’ every since I was a small boy. At one point I used to use a 35mm film SLR, which did a great job of teaching me about dof, exposure triangle etc. However, being involved in a bike accident that broke the SLR, along with my wrist, it was time to look for another camera and a good excuse to go digital.
At that time I was climbing and backpacking every chance I got, so I wanted something small, lightweight and compact. The obvious choice was, therefore, a digital point and shoot.
My trusty old point and shoot served me well and I still have images taken with it that I love. However, the time came to upgrade and move back to an SLR.
I didn’t want to spend too much on a DSLR and I already knew I wanted a good prime macro lens, so I set a budget and started looking.
Canon or Nikon? That was an easy answer, Canon! Call me a Canon snob, I’ve just always used Canon and always liked them.
After reading reviews, looking at sample images, taking budget and features into account (on top of finding a great deal) I decided on the Canon T3i, which was top of the ‘T’ range at that time.
I bought the T3i with the 18-135mm kit lens, so I could start using it straight out of the box and shortly after started looking for a good prime macro lens.
Even today, I still believe the T3i is a great camera that gives a lot for the money. Sure, it’s not full of all the features and high specs as the more expensive models but it still gives me everything I need, still produces great images and has never let me down once.
All my work is with my now rather old but trusty Canon T3i and I still love it.
Most, if not all photographers, will tell you that it’s the glass that makes the biggest difference to your images, rather than the body. Invest in good quality lenses. This, of course, makes total sense. The better the image that gets to the sensor, the better your resulting image will be. The sensor captures the image but it’s the lens that puts it there. (Not to mention other aspects of higher quality lenses.) Also, if you upgrade the body at some point, you will still have all of your good quality lenses to use with your new body. One point to note is that if you are upgrading from am APS-C crop frame sensor to a full frame sensor then only your EF lenses will work on full frame. EFS lenses will only work on APS-C crop sensor bodies.
So, it was time to decide on a good prime macro lens and I had narrowed my choice down to two. The Tamron SP 90mm f/2.8 and the Canon EF 100mm f/2.8. This isn’t going to be a review of the two lenses, there are plenty of great reviews online, just my own thoughts and why I chose the lens that I did.
Initially, I went with the Tamron SP 90mm f/2.8. This decision was based on price, around $100 cheaper than the Canon, as well as reviews and image samples.
In terms of image quality, the Tamron is s a great macro lens, there is no denying that. It produces sharp images and the lens itself is quite light. However, there were some things that I personally didn’t like about it….
The front of the lens extends when focusing.
The AF is a little noisy, can sometimes be a little slow and isn’t the most reliable at close distances. (I know, that’s what manual focus is for!)
There is no FTM for focus. Instead, there is a clutch system on the barrel of the lens. Pulling or pushing the focus ring switches to manual or AF. It works perfectly ok, just not as friendly or intuitive as Canon’s FTM.
The front element is recessed. This obviously helps protect the element and helps reduce flare without the need for a lens hood (although this has never been an issue for me with the Canon) but would make cleaning the lens more difficult.
So, I ordered the Canon EF 100mm f/2.8, while keeping hold of the Tamron, so I could compare them directly.
For me, there were some points that the Canon won on over the Tamron.
The canon is heavier but this is because it is better built and I personally prefer the heavier, sturdier feel.
AF on the Canon was faster and quieter, thanks to USM. It was also more accurate, especially at close distances.
The FTM was far easier to use than the clutch system on the Tamron, There’s nothing to do but adjust focus as normal.
The lens does not extend when focusing. This was a big plus for me and one of my major gripes of the Tamron.
The front element is also easier to clean as it’s not recessed.
To me, the Canon has slightly more pleasing bokeh.
I did purchase an additional lens hood for the Canon but honestly very rarely use it.
One thing that both lenses have in common, or rather don’t have, is that neither have IS. There is a Canon EF 100mm f/2.8L IS. This lens is around $400 more than the standard lens and although I have not shot with it personally, I have been told that regards image quality there really isn’t any noticeable difference. If anyone knows differently I’d be happy to hear from them.
After a few days shooting with each, it became clear which I would keep. It would be the Canon!
Both lenses produce incredible, sharp images. Image quality wise, you wouldn’t be disappointed with either but the Canon won me over on the points above.
So, the Tamron went back and the Canon is now almost permanently attached to my T3i.
As a side note, I ordered both lenses through Amazon Prime. Not only were they the cheapest prices that I could find and had free next day delivery but returning the one that I didn’t want was flawless. No questions asked and free pickup from home for return.
So, the moral of the story is….you really don’t need to have the best gear that is available, you just need to do the best with the gear that is available to you….