Lens review: Tamron 17-50 f/2.8

Today’s lens review is on the Tamron 17-50 f/2.8 for Sony mount.

compared to:
* Minolta 18-70 Kit Lens
* Minolta 28-85 Original
* Sigma 28-105 f/2.8

positive:
* Great build quality. Zoom turns proper way on Minolta.
* Stellar image quality.
* Smooth AF.

negative:
* APS-C Only.
* Some barrel distortion.
* Short focus ring throw.
* Could always be longer, I suppose…

The Kit Lens killer we’ve been waiting for has finally arrived. Tamron’s 17-50 has been available for other mounts for a while, and finally comes to Sony/Maxxum with a bang.

* BUILD QUALITY AND FEEL

Tamron completely nailed it. This is a third party lens that doesn’t FEEL third party. A hearty helping of rubber on the zoom and focus rings really help mitigate any plasticky feelings. The nice, big zoom ring that turns in the proper direction gives the feeling of a Beercan with its sturdy and smooth motion. The focusing ring is large enough for the times you want to MF, though the action is very coarse due to the short throw. The gearing noise sounds very similar to my Minolta 28-85 than the kit lens – quiet and smooth.

The zoom moves smoothly with no hitches in any direction the lens is aimed at. There is a lock switch to prevent the zoom from moving while in the bag, but this seems less necessary on this lens than on Tamron’s megazooms. The included flower lens hood has an easy and smooth bayonet action that doesn’t interfere with Tamron’s high quality center pinch lens caps. The lens is substantial in its desnity. Compactness combined with the just under a pound weight gives the lens a great balance with the 5D. The lens also works and feels great on the a700.

67mm filter width is kind of an oddball, but is becoming more common these days. Internal focusing means you can use a circular polarizer with little trouble, and the flowered lens hood makes it easy to turn a filter. I also think it’s kind of silly that Tamron puts all of their “feature monikers” on the gold ring.

* ON-CAMERA HANDLING

The lens feels right at home on the 5D. It looks sharp and means business. It has about the same balance as the Minolta 28-85. Won’t tire you out when you have it on your neck all day.

The autofocus action is quick and precise. Not as quiet as a USM lens, but it’s not noisy like most of the entry-level Sigma options and the kit lens. The f/2.8 helps to avoid hunting in lower-light conditions. The a700 helps out in particular; the quieter and faster motor make this sound much better. The f/2.8 sensor makes the AF lightning quick with this lens.

* IMAGE QUALITY

Excellent. It won’t beat your G lens, but it will nip at the heels. I would say the IQ is probably equal to the Minolta 28-75 (another Tamron design) but with the focal lengths targeted towards APS-C. On the 5D, the focal lengths are 26mm-75mm equivalent to 35mm, and is a perfect “walkaround” or indoors lens. At 17mm, it completely destroys the kit lens on the distortion, CA, and vignetting fronts. On the long end, it beats the kit lens on the fact you gain two whole stops.

Flaring occurs when you point the lens straight at the sun (as it tends to do with any lens) but I had a difficult time in producing the amorphous contrast destroying flare I tended to get in non-optimal situations with the 28-85. The nice lens hood protects the lens a lot, and I’m sure the digital coatings help too.

* THE DOWNSIDE

The lens is APS-C only. Truthfully, this focal length range isn’t very useful on film, so you probably wouldn’t want to use it on a full-frame camera anyway. If Minolta mount eventually goes full frame and you upgrade, you’ll probably want to sell this lens, but due to its quality, it’ll probably retain a healthy used price. The Minolta 28-75 f/2.8 would be a suitable replacement for a film camera. The APS-C only factor does help in the fact that without targeting that format, the lens would be much larger, heavier, and might not cover the same focal length ranges or apertures.

* UPDATE – I have had a chance to use this lens on my a700 and like every lens attached to that camera the performance has only improved. The autofocus action is quicker, quieter, and the lens keeps up with the 12 megapixel sensor with no problems. Now if only Sony made a rebadge of this lens…

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