Review Tamron 17-50mm f/2.8

Joined
Mar 20, 2017
Messages
1,129
Location
Central Ohio
Real Name
Andrew
image © Tamron USA

Background

Reaching back into the archives, I've never really reviewed for you all my very first "Pro" workhorse zoom. I say "Pro" because back then, if anything was f/2.8 constant aperture, we all called it that.

The Tamron 17-50mm f/2.8 was my first lens I purchased specifically for my photography business. I wanted something versatile and with a fast aperture. Money being scarce, you sometimes take chances on things....and that is what I did with the Tamron 17-50/2.8.

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Shooting wide open at f/2.8 on an APS-C sensor

Handling/Size/Weight

Tamron always surprised me in how they could make relatively equivalent lenses for less money as well as smaller size and lighter weight. The 17-50mm was no exception as compared to what Nikon had at the time, the 17-50 just made a lot of sense. This lens was put to work on the Nikon D50 at first, then later on the D300.

It balanced well, and relatively was a light lens that wouldn't burden you if you needed to use it all day.

The focus ring and zoom ring were covered in a rubbery coating that helped when shooting in the cold. No frozen fingers.

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Long exposures during the 4th of July

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Product photography, sure the Tamron could do that too!

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A pseudo-macro, showing the close focusing ability of the Tamron 17-50mm f/2.8

Image Quality
Right off the bat, the f/2.8 aperture was a blessing and a curse. You wanted to shoot there all the time because that is why you bought the lens in the first place! However, f/2.8 is where this lens is at its worst. Don't get me wrong, it is usable, but it was not the sharpest there and you had to make sure that you nailed focus because of the shallow depth of field. Even on an APS-C sensor, f/2.8 can be tricky if you are shooting portraits.

All you really need to do, though is stop down to even f/3.2 and the lens sharpened right up, and in spades!!

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A street scene at a drive through safari near Port Clinton, OH

In the early DSLRs, you did not want to push the ISO very far. The D50 was about ISO 800 limit for me and the D300 was ISO 1600...maybe 2500. so having something better than the kit lens apertures was refreshing. My first lens for the D50 was a Tamron 28-200/3.8-5.6. This was a 135 sensor size lens, so right away your field of view is going to be 42mm.


The Tamron, starting at 17mm, gives you roughly 25.5mm. A big step up in the width department, for sure.

I'd love to get my hands on one of these and see how the IQ stacks up with the 20mp sensor on the D500 I have. The 6mp and 12mp sensors worked quite well with it.

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stopping down to just f/3.2 and the sharpness ramped up nicely.

Focusing
The focus was always very accurate, but the speed was lacking. Quite slow, which made tracking moving subjects a challenge and it was very noisy. This lens did not sport a silent motor. It was driven by the old screw and gear system.

It did not have a full time override of the AF either, so going from AF to MF was a 2 step affair, switching the lens to MF as well as the camera to MF.

An unsung point of the 17-50 was how close it was able to focus. Before I purchased a dedicated macro lens, the Tamron served as a pseudo-macro. It was able to get close enough and with some cropping made for some great close ups.

Below are some examples of this lens used for reportage and portraiture.

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Bottom Line
This is one of the lenses that helped me go from mediocre snap shooter to producing professional results. Yes, I know that gear is not what makes you a pro, but having gear that allows you to make the images you envision easier...well, that is what we are looking for here.

I still have fond memories of that Tammy lens. I can still hear the grunting and grinding as it racked focus, feel the rubberized zoom barrel. As I went back and looked at the images I made with that lens, it reminded me of a much simpler and less expensive time. I was just a noob back then trying to find out where I fit in.

With the Tamron 17-50mm f/2.8, I could fit in anywhere. It was very versatile and the workhorse I needed at the time.

Some additional images for your viewing pleasure!

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Joined
Jul 8, 2019
Messages
249
Location
SF Bay Area, California, USA
On the mechanical (screwdriver) AF and AF-D lenses, I found that the AF motor in the camera was the critical speed component.
I put an AF lens on an old F4 and WOW, the AF snapped like it never did on my D70.
I wonder how fast the new version with the built in motor focuses?
 
Joined
Apr 11, 2007
Messages
10,648
Location
Holyoke, MA USA
ac12 .... it focuses fast-ish but not super fast. Fast enough for general use with no problems. Fast enough for taking photos of a batter swinging at a pitch. But not the lens for tracking football or lacrosse or soccer.

But I still use mine with both the D300 and the D7000 and love it, as I have from the day I bought it (for the same camera and same reason) as outlined above. Hard to go wrong.
 
Joined
Jul 8, 2019
Messages
249
Location
SF Bay Area, California, USA
ac12 .... it focuses fast-ish but not super fast. Fast enough for general use with no problems. Fast enough for taking photos of a batter swinging at a pitch. But not the lens for tracking football or lacrosse or soccer.

But I still use mine with both the D300 and the D7000 and love it, as I have from the day I bought it (for the same camera and same reason) as outlined above. Hard to go wrong.
DRAT
So by extension, probably too slow for basketball and volleyball.
Burst shot; first shot OOF, 2nd or 3rd shot in focus.

I wonder how the AF speed compares with the Sigma 17-50/2.8?
 
Joined
Oct 15, 2008
Messages
2,184
Location
GA
Absolutely loved this lens and it was my first “pro” style lens too. The first version was AF (screw driven) but they later came out with an AF-S version (electronic AF) that improved focus speed. I believe they came out with an OS version as well but I had already moved FX at that point to pay much attention.
 
Joined
Apr 11, 2007
Messages
10,648
Location
Holyoke, MA USA
DRAT
So by extension, probably too slow for basketball and volleyball.
Burst shot; first shot OOF, 2nd or 3rd shot in focus.

I wonder how the AF speed compares with the Sigma 17-50/2.8?
I managed to get some good basketball shots, but not at the college or pro level ..... used primes for those. But your take is pretty accurate.
 

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