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04-22-2008, 01:55 PM   #1
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Macro lenses - comparison

OK - I know this has probably been done to death, but scattered across several threads, so I wondered if we could condense the accumulated wisdom of the PentaxForumites into one thread?

To start the ball rolling, I am very interested in a comparison between three macro lenses:

- Tamron SP AF 90mm F/2.8 Di Macro

- Sigma APO 180mm F3.5 EX DG HSM MAC (also the 105 and 150mm versions)

- Vivitar series 1 105mm

The particular aspects I'm looking for are the sharpness and IQ, the focusing using AF on a K10 or K20 body, the bokeh, and any PF or CA problems. I live in Queensland, Australia, where very bright sunlit days are commonplace, and CA/PF problems would be perhaps more obvious.

I should point out that I already own the Tamron SP90, and am considering a longer focal length macro such as the Sigma 180 for bugs and water insects.

I did read with great interest the thread by Jay Sherman re the Tamron 70-300 used as a macro - but how would this compare to say the Sigma 180 macro prime, for example?

One last point - any information re availability of the Vivitar lenses (none available here in Australia as far as I can find out), just in case my LBA takes me in that direction....

OK - over to you macro experts for comments

04-22-2008, 03:30 PM   #2
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Pete, there is no Sigma 150 macro for Pentax system. It's such shame since that one is much better than its brother, the 180 macro. I've done a macro comparison in the past between the Vivitar 105, Tokina 90, and the Voigtlander 125:

https://www.pentaxforums.com/forums/pentax-slr-lens-discussion/22210-macro-sh...ific-test.html

Basically, the Voigtlander came out the best in term of sharpness. For CA and PF, the Voigtlander will definitely beat these two due to its APO elements. And even with these elements, it's only slightly worse in bokeh department compared to the Tokina and Vivitar. When I stop down, they're pretty similar in performance.

Please keep in mind the sample variation, since some Vivitar owners don't believe the lens to be that soft at wide open. I had the Tamron SP 90 DI before the Vivitar, but I liked the Vivitar more due to its build and handling. I felt that the IQ was similar between these two.

I just received the DA 35 yesterday. I made a quick comparison between this lens and the VL125 during a lunch break today. At 1:1, wide open and f/4, the DA 35 is as sharp as the VL. The DA 35 has a warmer tone compared to the VL. At macro distance, I don't see any trace of PF even under harsh lighting:

04-22-2008, 03:36 PM   #3
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G'day Pete,

This should be interesting. I've been pleased with my FA 100/2.8 macro, but have been intrigued about how the longer focal length macro lenses perform as well. I'd also like to see the Viogtlanders in the comparison (not that I could find one such gem) - but I'm afraid I'd start to salivate over them...

I had a Sigma 70-300 "macro" and has quite disappointed with it as a "macro" lens. At 200-300mm, where you can start to use the close focus function (min 95cm) the performance is poor unless lighting conditions are perfect. There's no comparison between one of these zoom "macros" and a dedicated fixed focal-length macro lens...

I cannot comment on the Tammy zoom, but I'd say the true macros would make a significant improvement to the quality and magnification of the images compared to the consumer zoom "macros"...
04-22-2008, 03:49 PM   #4
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Thanks guys - yes, the primes SHOULD do a better job, but those pics put up by Jay Sherman are pretty impressive, taken with the Tammy 70-300 macro on a K20D

The one I've been considering is the Sigma 180, which is only just now becoming available in Australia and still on special order only so far.

The main difference between the Sigma 180 and 150 is that the 150 is f/2.8 while the 180 is f/3.5, but apart from that I don't know of performance differences. And as pointed out above, the 150 is not yet available in a Pentax mount.

The water bugs I want to shoot are pretty skittish and the longer length lenses would stand me a better chance of getting the pictures.

Awaiting more comments, and any other combinations that anyone wants to suggest, such as a Vivitar plus teleconverter, or whatever - all appreciated.

04-22-2008, 05:40 PM   #5
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The term 'macro' as applied to zooms is a misnomer - true macro is 1-1 magnification only, everything else probably should be referred to as 'close-focus', although so many people refer to 1-2 magnification as macro now that it's almost become defacto. When you see 'macro' on a zoom, it's marketing.

The Tamron 70-300 is an excellent close-focus lens for the price, but it can't touch my Viv S1 105 macro, really. You can get some very nice 1-1 shots by cropping to 1-1, especially with the K20D, but it's not going to be quite the same.

I don't think you'll ever be able to achieve the super sharp 'bug-eye' closeups with anything but a true 1-1 macro lens - I'm talking about the quality you see in national Geographic, Nature, those kinds of publications. You can get close to it with non-macro lens using diopters, etc, but there's definitely a quality difference from, say, the VL 125, Tokina 90, Tamron 90, and Viv 105. It's sometimes hard to see on web-sized reductions, but blown up to full screen or larger, you'd see the difference. Still, you can get some exceptional shots with a good close-focus lens and a diopter or extension tubes.

I've used the Tamron 90 for a day (friend's,) played with a VL 125, used a couple others here and there, and have not really ran across a 'bad' 1-1 macro. I especially liked the Tamron 90 I used, but had problems with the AF - when I focused manually, I got some really, really nice shots.

But the only thing in the world I'd trade my Viv 105 S1 for is the VL 125 - just as sharp, a bit warmer, I think, and almost no CA to speak of. Of course, they're going for $1000 right now, if you can pry them out of their owner's cold, dead hands (not suggesting anything there,) and the Viv S1 105 can be had for less than $400, and even less than $200 if you're extremely lucky.


I've found one thing to be true about real, quality macro - the subjects don't seem 'small', they seem like they're as big as you, and that you've temporarily fallen down into their strange world. The Viv S1 105 and VL 125 can take you down there. It's magical stuff.




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Last edited by jsherman999; 04-22-2008 at 05:53 PM.
04-22-2008, 05:52 PM   #6
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QuoteOriginally posted by jsherman999 Quote
I've found one thing to be true about real, quality macro - the subjects don't seem 'small', they seem like they're as big as you, and that you've temporarily fallen down into their strange world. The Viv S1 105 and VL 125 take you down there. It's magical stuff. .
Amen to that!!

QuoteOriginally posted by aegisphan Quote
Pete, there is no Sigma 150 macro for Pentax system. It's such shame since that one is much better than its brother, the 180 macro.
I totaly agree, actually I would like to have a 180mm as sharp as the 150mm.
04-22-2008, 06:54 PM   #7
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Thanks for the replies guys - all good points. I take your point about zoom "macros" too Jay. I have the Tammy SP90 and have had some excellent results with it.

As posted on another thread - is there much improvement at that range of focal length, between the Tammy SP90 and the Vivitar 105? If so - where can I find some cold dead hands to pry one from?

The longer focal length lens I'm looking for is for those skittish water bugs (I'm a keen fly-fisher), so any suggestions for something better than the Sigma 180?

Keep the comments coming
04-22-2008, 07:40 PM   #8
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Better than the Sigma 180... dare I say it.... FA*200 Macro

04-22-2008, 07:49 PM   #9
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I have a Pentax A 2X-S on the way (thanks Lewis) and I'll test it out on my Viv S1 105/2.5 when it gets here, should be interesting:-).
04-22-2008, 07:49 PM   #10
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QuoteOriginally posted by Buddha Jones Quote
Better than the Sigma 180... dare I say it.... FA*200 Macro

See: "Cold, dead hands".



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04-22-2008, 08:06 PM   #11
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Pete - I recently picked up a Sigma 180 and have been very impressed with it so far - color, sharpness, bokeh all very nice. I haven't had a chance to do a direct comparison with my Vivitar 105, but I picked up the Sigma for the greater working distance. ( I still lust after the Voigtlander 125... LBA is a wicked, wicked thing). The Vivitar has served me well and I may never part with that lens... it's just too cool and the results are pretty amazing for the $180 I paid for it. I never thought I would enjoy a manual lens so much and appreciate the art of "focus trap".

The bugs are just starting to come out here so I'll try to post some comparison shots soon.

Here's a few recent shots with the 180 and K20D (and there are several macro shots with the Vivitar 105 and K10D in my PBase Macro Gallery)

1/500s f/9.0 at 180.0mm iso640

1/500s f/6.3 at 180.0mm iso100

1/2s f/10.0 at 180.0mm iso200

1/4s f/6.3 at 180.0mm iso200

1/160s f/13.0 at 180.0mm iso400
04-22-2008, 08:09 PM   #12
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Buddha - is that FA* as in "FA Star"? If so, I can't see any listed as available here in Australia from the usual sources. All I can find is the FA 200mm f/2.8 - no mention of Macro.

Bud - that Sigma seems to be pretty sharp, especially the forked tongue...! But how do you get so close to a politician?
04-22-2008, 08:22 PM   #13
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QuoteOriginally posted by Derridale Quote
Buddha - is that FA* as in "FA Star"? If so, I can't see any listed as available here in Australia from the usual sources. All I can find is the FA 200mm f/2.8 - no mention of Macro.
Pentax made 2 different FA series 200mm lenses:
- FA* 200mm f/2.8 ED tele
- FA* 200mm f/4 Macro ED
04-22-2008, 08:28 PM   #14
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Aha - thanks for that info. I can't find the FA* anywhere in Australia through the usual suspects.

I guess I'll wait for further comments on this thread, especially re the longer focal length macro lenses. If the Pentax is significantly better than the Sigma 180, then I might have to go to the Marketplace section to see what's available....

Anyone care to comment on the comparison between the Tamron SP90 and the Vivitar 105?

Perhaps dividing the comparisons into the medium tele macros like the Tammy 90, and the long focal length macros like the Sigma 180, would be appropriate. I want to get a long focal length macro as stated, but also would like to know if there is a significant improvement to be had by upgrading my Tammy 90, now that I have the K20D body with better resolution.
04-22-2008, 08:35 PM   #15
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The FA* 200 macro is a rare lens. It would pop up at most once or twice a year at an insane price. At this focal, 180-200, you have at least 2 meters away from the snake. With PP cropping, you can be much further to achieve that kind of detail.

As for the different working distance between the 90 and 105, it's not that noticeable. I think you look at about 2cm gain at most (speculation, not scientific). However, from 90mm to 125mm, you're looking at a healthy 8cm gain. From 90mm to 180mm, you gain around 17cm (almost 7 inches).

However, going to a longer focal doesn't always mean a good thing. You have to deal with the weight. In addition, you can get away with a shutter 1/60 on your Tamron, but definitely not with the 180. So you need a good flash system or increase your ISO and/or steady hands. Thus, the shorter macro might have an upper hand for this kind of situation, like the DA 35 for casual macro under the shade with no flash.
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