After analyzing the infinity sharpness of the candidates in Part 1 of this series, we are looking at the opposite direction of the focus ring. For a versatile do-it-all standard zoom lens, the macro capability is an important factor of the overall performance. Details in documentation-, wedding-, product-, nature- or food photography are typical applications for a standard zoom as a pseudo-macro. In photographic history, the macro feature of zoom lenses was often a shameful marketing trick without any serious usefulness. Let’s check out the performance of the of the Sony FE 2.8/24-70 GM, Tamron 2.8/28-75 Di III RXD and the Sony FE 4/24-105 G OSS.
General Macro Capability
The chart below demonstrates what magnification the three lenses can provide at their extreme focal lengths.
Sony 2.8/24-70 GM: Nothing remarkable, Low magnification at the wide end, higher magnification at the long end.
Tamron 2.8/28-75 Di III RXD: Very comparable to the GM at the long end but great magnification at the short end. Having useful magnifications at the short and the tele side offers more creative possibilities. Take a look at the chest of the pilot at 28mm: It is very dark because the lens is so close that it shades the subject.
Sony 4/24-105 G OSS: Low magnification at the short end but good magnification at the long end. This combined with the longer focal length makes this lens the most useful for photography of larger insects like dragonflies or butterflies (or anything else that can run/fly away).
Having a lens with good magnification is worthless if the image quality can’t keep up with the crop of a lower magnification. This is especially true in times of accessible 42+ MP sensors and/or high resolution pixel shift modes in many high end bodies.
I took images of Text (alligned planar to the sensor) and looked at the sharpness of the focused area, the size of the sharp area (no lens was able to render the whole image circle sharp at MFD) and aberrations. Below you see 100% crops of the sharp area:
The table below shows my rating for the test:
|Sharpness in the focused spot
|Size of the sharp area
|Sony 2.8/24-70 GM, 24mm ,f2.8
|Sony 2.8/24-70 GM 24mm, f5.6
|Sony 2.8/24-70 GM, 70mm, f2.8
|Average outside of sharp area
|Sony 2.8/24-70 GM 70mm, f5.6
|Tamron 2.8/28-75, 28mm, f2.8
|High LaCA and SA outside of sharp area
|Tamron 2.8/28-75, 28mm, f5.6
|High LaCA outside of sharp area
|Tamron 2.8/28-75, 75mm, f2.8
|Low contrast, LaCA and SA outside of sharp area
|Tamron 2.8/28-75, 75mm, f5.6
|LaCA outside of sharp area
|Sony 4/24-105, 24mm, f4
|Sony 4/24-105, 24mm, f5.6
|Sony 4/24-105, 105mm, f4
|Sony 4/24-105, 105mm, f5.6
Sony 2.8/24-70 GM: Good image quality at MFD, low aberrations and useful sharpness.
Tamron 2.8/28-75 Di III RXD: Very sharp at 28mm but small area of sharpness and aberration plagued peripheral areas.
Sony 4/24-105 G OSS: Low aberrations and useful size of the sharp areas. Sharpness at the long end could be better though wide open.
Macro images almost neccesarily contain unsharp areas, so the quality of the bokeh is very important for the general perception of image quality. Furthermore, bokeh is still very subjective and a personal thing. For me, good bokeh means clean and smooth out of focus areas.
First let’s start with the general image impression. The scene below contains backlight waterdrops and is very demanding (many highlights and high contrast), a kind of worst case scenario. You see that the three lenses render differently, much more than the specs would make you expect. The potential subject isolation (at the same focal length) is of course larger with the f2.8 lenses. Nevertheless, depth of field is so thin at high magnification that this is not neccesarily important. Personally, I like “dreamy” looking images like the one in the header, so I still tend to use f2.8 even near MFD.
If we take a closer look (1:4 magnification is enough), we see more of the characteristics of their respective bokeh:
Sony 2.8/24-70 GM:
wide open: Slight outlining with chromatic aberrations wide open, slight onion ring structures, nice shape until the edges.
stopped down: Rough structures inside of the bokeh balls, outlining is more pronounced.
Tamron 2.8/28-75 Di III RXD:
wide open: Overcorrected SA with extremely bright outlining. Trioplan-“Qualities”. Oddly cut bokeh balls and chromatic aberrations towards the edges.
stopped down: Slight onion ring structures and chromatic aberrations towards the edges. Otherwise good bokeh quality.
Sony 4/24-105 G OSS:
wide open: Slight outlining, onion rings and chromatic aberrations. Bokeh balls are slightly distorted towards the edge.
stopped down: Outlining and onion rings are more pronounced.
As a bonus, I added the short end (28mm) of the Tamron 2.8/28-75 wide open and at f5.6. I think that the bokeh wide open is surprisingly good, especially after what we have seen at 75mm. The bokeh balls at the edge are cut off due to mechanical vignetting but the outlining is well controlled and contrast is low. Chromatic aberrations are visible in the outling at the edge. At f5.6, bokeh balls look more distorted as we know it from many wide angle lenses. Chromatic aberrations are also more pronounced. If depth of field allows, I prefer to shoot wide open.
The Tamron 2.8/28-75 looks like a macro specialist under the standard zooms on the paper. Can it live up to that in practical work? Mostly yes! Sharpness is useful at both ends. Macro images at 75mm and f2.8 have a odd characteristic that I dislike a lot. Low contrast of the subject and crazy outlining will be interesting for Trioplan lovers at best, I am not one of them. Stopping down to f5.6 tames the beast and turns this into a good macro option. What makes this lens special is the 28mm macro feature which is a very serious option when it comes to sharpness and rendering.
The Sony FE 4/24-105 G OSS takes the good second place in my personal order as it has the longest focal length and the highest magnification at the long end. It renders acceptably there and can be very useful for nature photography.
The Sony FE 2.8/24-70 GM does nothing special for me at macro distances although it keeps image quality and sharpness mostly under control which makes it still useful for documentary work.
If macro is your thing, getting a decent macro lens is a good idea anyway. Nevertheless, having macro capabilities within a twist of a zoom and a focus ring can be a useful addition for almost everybody.
Go back to Part 1: Sharpness (infinity)
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