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Review: Tamron 17-50mm f2.8 VC (Nikon Mount)

The Tamron 17-50mm f2.8 VC is an extremely popular lens amongst budget conscious users. With a constant f2.8 aperture throughout its zoom range and the added value of having vibration compensation it’s not hard to see why consumers spring for this lens. Designed for those with APS-C sized sensor cameras, the equivalent focal range on a Nikon DSLR such as the D5100 is around 25.5-75mm; making it an essential event and workhorse lens for many pros and semi-professionals.

But is all perfect with the lens?

Equipment Used

Also used was the Nikon SB-600 flash.

Tech Specs

Information taken from the B&H Photo Video listing of this lens.

Performance
Focal Length 17 – 50 mm
Aperture Maximum: f/2.8
Minimum: f/32
Camera Mount Type Nikon F
Format Compatibility Nikon DX
FX in DX Crop Mode
Angle of View 78° – 31°
Minimum Focus Distance 11.4″ (28.96 cm)
Magnification 0.20x
Maximum Reproduction Ratio 1:4.8
Groups/Elements 14/19
Diaphragm Blades 7
Features
Image Stabilization Yes
Autofocus Yes
Tripod Collar No
Physical
Filter Thread 72 mm
Dimensions (DxL) Approx. 3.13 x 3.7″ (7.95 x 9.40 cm)
Weight 1.25 lb (570 g)

Ergonomics

The Tamron 17-50mm f2.8 VC lens is overall, really quite small for a zoom lens. Even when it is fully zoomed out, it still is very small. Additionally, it’s also quite light.

The lens itself is covered in markings and textured rings to make ease of use more user friendly. For example, the main ring comprising most of the outside is the lens’s zoom ring. Above that though is the small focusing ring. Note that it can only really be used in manual focusing mode and that there is no autofocus override other. In order to use this ring, you’ll physically need to switch the lens to MF.

The switches to do just that are located on the left of the lens. This is also where the Vibration Compensation (VC) is activated.

In the lead image of this post, you’ll find that there is a locking mechanism. That allows the user to lock the lens in place at 17mm so that the lens doesn’t extend out during transport. When locked, you can also use the lens as a prime instead of a zoom. As a photographer that primarily uses prime lenses, I was excited for that feature and I only zoomed in and out only when I needed to.

Focusing

As stated earlier on in this post, focusing must be done either fully manual or full auto; there is no in between. On my camera body, I felt that the lens sometimes front focused. That is not correctable with a D5100 via Nikon’s AF-Fine Tuning, but if I had a D90, D7000 or D300/D300s, it would have been much less of an issue.

At this point, I should also state that fine tuning the autofocus for zoom lenses is ridiculous and really shouldn’t be done. For best results, you should send the lens back to the manufacturer to have it calibrated. The reason why this won’t work so well is because you’ll need to fine tune for every single focal length. That is also why AF Fine tuning (or Microadjustment for Canon users) works best with prime lenses.

Instead, Nikon’s D5100 has a digital rangefinder that lets you know when something is actually in focus by giving you a confirmation light when manually focusing. The problem though is that you’ll need to switch the lens into the manual focus mode after letting it autofocus to get a subject in focus.

In practice, that’s quite tedious and not practical at all.

Ease of Use

Overall, the lens is actually quite simple to use. Once again, being a photographer that primarily shoots with primes, it’s nice to have the extra versatility providing I instinctively don’t walk right up to my subject instead. Add onto that fact that the lens also has a fast f2.8 aperture, and you’ll be even more content.

In general though, I often didn’t zoom in or out at all and instead just kept the lens at a set focal length and instead worried about getting the exposure perfect and focusing on my subject.

Sharpness

This lens is tack sharp; providing your subject is in perfect focus. But even when stopped down, the lens is still also very sharp and resolves lots of detail. In fact, it even resolves detail that you don’t want. For example, in some portraits that I shot throughout my time with the lens, many subjects had blemishes, skin peeling, etc that required me to spend lots of extra time in Lightroom to get rid of all that.

But the sharpness factor once again very stunted by the fact that the lens can also misfocus and instead focus on the ear or mouth vs the eyes. If this isn’t a big enough issue when you’re using a specific autofocusing point, it will become an issue of larger proportions when you focus and then recompose.

Here is another biggie that factor’s into the lens’s use: your nervousness during portrait sessions. Though I’m usually calm and cool, I was recently tasked to photograph Vincent La Foret. In the image above, the camera and lens nailed the focusing and brought out lots of details. However, we ended up using the photo down below of the photography and cinematography master.

The image above is a very good portrait of Vincent, but when I came back to my computer to edit the files I saw that the focusing was off. However, the photos were going on the web, and most people would not be able to tell.

So in addition to my sharpness issues, if your images are going on the web, you shouldn’t have a problem for the most part.

Image Quality

The color rendering of images shot with this lens tend to lean more towards the cool side of the spectrum and will require color balance editing in post-production.

In addition to color balancing, you’ll find yourself sharpening your images quite a bit when you’re shooting at f2.8. Even though the lens is quite sharp wide open, you’ll still often find that they can be sharper. However, once stopped down to f4 you’ll be satisfied with the results.

What’s even nicer about this lens is that there seems to be no color fringing at all throughout the times that I’ve tested it.

Though the colors are very good, I actually wish they were better. Since using Zeiss lenses, I’ve become spoiled by just how good the color rendition is.

Additionally, when I used Nikon’ 24-70mm f2.8 ED AF-S on this body, all the images had a special color rendition to them and microcontrast that gave them a specific Nikon look. With the Tamron lens attached, the look is gone. If you’re a big fan of that look, then you’ll need to go for Nikon glass. But otherwise, the Tamron’s look is also quite nice.

Even though the Tamron lens doesn’t have a specific look to it that makes one say, “Yup, that’s a Tamron lens,” most people looking for a lens at this budget point will be pleased; albeit have to work more in post-production.

Vibration Compensation

I did lots of internet research to try to find how many stops of image stabilization this lens offers. I couldn’t find it anywhere. As it stand though, I’ve stop at 1/15th of a second before at the widest focal length and still got images that suffered from camera shake. However, the VC does help a very slight bit.

For even more details, I used the camera at SantaCon recently.

Conclusion

Though I’m very pleased overall with the Tamron 17-50mm f2.8 and in many ways did fall in love with it; I probably could only use it for casual use. The reason why is because of the fact that it misfocuses at times on my camera and the Vibration Compensation isn’t always so amazing. Otherwise though, this lens is sharp as a tack and Tamron did a terrific job with the optical design.

Another issue that could be dealt with is the noisy AF motors on top of the noisy VC motors (that still aren’t extremely effective.) Additionally, the lens could benefit from AF override to manually touch up the focusing.

In the end though, I otherwise can’t find a single fault with the lens. For the person looking for an upgrade, this is the one to go for if you want a zoom lens. Otherwise, consider many of the excellent prime lenses out there at a more affordable price.

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