I do a fair amount of general photography outside of planespotting, so I was in need of a standard zoom lens to replace the crappy kit lens that I was using (which came from my old Rebel SL1). I eventually settled with the Tamron SP AF 17-50mm f/2.8 XR Di II LD, which many refer to simply as the Tamron 17-50mm f/2.8. Tamron makes two versions of the 17-50mm f/2.8, one with VC (Vibration Control, another name for Image Stabilization) and another one without (which is the one I’m reviewing). I was able to pick up this lens second hand for just over $200 USD, which is not too bad as it normally retails for $500, but is quite old. According to this test done by the-digital-picture.com, the Tamron 17-50 f/2.8 is supposed to have image quality on par with the much more expensive Canon EF-S 17-55 f/2.8 IS USM, which is regarded by many as a fantastic lens.
My experience so far with this lens has been positive. The build quality of this lens is superb, as it has a solid metal construction and a metal mount. The focus ring doesn’t travel very far so precise manual focus is a bit tricky, but I like the fact that there are numerical markings to show far away you’re focused. Both the focus and zoom rings have a rubber grip, are nice and smooth. Focusing happens internally, but the lens does extend and retract as the zoom ring is turned. The front element doesn’t turn when zooming, but I imagine very few people would be using a graduated ND filter on this lens as it’s definitely a walk-around lens and not specifically meant for landscapes.
Here is an image quality test that I did in my garden with the lens at various focal lengths and apertures.
If we zoom in, you can clearly see the details, including the scratches on the watering pot. Even wide open, sharpness is still quite impressive.
Once we stop down the f/5.6, sharpness improves even more.
My only complaint about this lens is that it looks horrible and is reminiscent of the top of a soda can. It’s a short and stubby lens, and only slightly larger than the 18-55 STM kit lens. As it is an f/2.8 lens, the center portion where the zoom ring is located is nice and bulky, and feels solid in you hand. As you move further forwards, the diameter gets smaller like a Nikon kit lens, but then increases once you get past the focus ring and to the filter thread. See why I think it looks like a soda can? I wish the design team at Tamron had put a bit more time into the aesthetics of the lens. Aside from that, I think the only other way to improve on this lens would be to add image stabilization, which Tamron did with the slightly more expensive VC version of this lens. Due to the lack of image stabilization, you’ll lose almost two stops of light because you’ll need a much faster shutter speed to prevent camera shake, at least 1/60th of a second at 50mm. Even then, there’s occasionally a small amount of camera shake due to uncontrollable vibration as the camera’s releasing the shutter, especially when shooting at night. I wasn’t able to find the VC version of this lens as I bought mine second hand, but if you can, it’s definitely worth the extra price. Some say that the VC version is less sharp, however it’s worth the trade-off as the difference in sharpness is minuscule and worth sacrificing for stabilization.