Saturday, December 4, 2010

Tamron SP AF17-35mm f/2.8-4 Di Review

I had big plans to review this lens. I was going to do a full comparison on my D80 and on a full frame D700. Quite frankly I wanted to see the results myself, since I had been saving this lens, along with a few others, for an eventual switch to full frame. Alas, plans change. I found a Tamron 17-50 f/2.8 for a sweet deal, which was just about the time that financial sense was telling me that a D7000 was more appropriate for my future. Sigh... goodbye Tamron 17-35. At least it found a nice home.

This is a  reasonably sized lens. The barrel is fat and the front is wide, taking 77mm filters. However, the weight is quite light for its size, which is not a reflection of it's build quality, which is in keeping with what you would get with a D90 or D7000. The lens isn't bulky, and you can easily walk around with it. The zoom ring has a nice light feel to it, and does not require a zoom lock like some of the other Tamron lenses. The petal hood, to be quite honest, is not terribly useful, as it only shades the lens at its widest focal length... on full frame cameras. Still, this is an issue with all wide zooms, and it is nice to have the added protection of a petal hood on your lens, especially since the front glass element is quite curved... if you're not careful you might find yourself bumping into things with it. 

Vault Room, Century House Restaurant,Vancouver B.C., Canada

As I've mentioned previously before, this is a terrific lens on DX cameras. The lens has a reputation for being razor sharp in the center, but with mushy corners. The corners don't matter on D70/D80/D90/D7000 cameras, so what you get is incredible across the frame sharpness with very low vignetting. Within this focal range, I would put the optical quality above any of the DX zooms, as they all tend to be weak at the wide end. If you had to choose between this and the Tamron 17-50, the latter lens is a more appropriate buy because of the the constant f/2.8 and the extra range. However, as well received as the 17-50 is, it's still not as good as the 17-35 at the wide end, so this makes this lens one of the very best if you want outright optical quality for a DX camera. It's a screw-drive autofocus lens, though, so you will have to manually focus it on a D5000 or lesser camera.

The focal range for the 17-35 is somewhat limited on DX, as it's equal to 27-53 on full frame. However, the only thing that you actually miss is the portrait length at 50mm; otherwise, this is the focal range that most social pictures get take at anyway. The variable aperture is a bit more annoying, as it's f/4 at 35mm... if you're used to shooting with constant f/2.8's, this can get frustrating when you need more light or shallower depth of field.

Steveston Harbour, Richmond B.C., Canada

On FX, this lens has a bit of a maligned reputation. It was often unfairly compared to lenses like the Nikon 14-24, or the Nikon 17-35... these are really different classes of lenses, and cost many times more than the Tamron. The key issue are the corners, as the center stays sharp on DX. With all lenses, but ultra-wides especially, the plane of focus is not flat, but curved. If you focus at a certain point in front of you, the plane of sharpest focus radiates out from that point like a bowl... as you move across the edge of the frame, the sharpest points of focus come closer to you. The upshot of this is that yes, it does make the lens weak for landscapes (if you stop down to f/8 you'll get reasonable sharpness), but in most other cases, it's not as critical.

Test charts don't mean as much in real-world shooting since most subjects aren't perfectly flat... unless you are shooting at brick walls all day long. In most cases, if you use the outside AF points (like you should), you won't run into any problems; its when you use the center point and focus-recompose that will cause problems on this lens.  Likewise, distortion is quite strong at the wide end on full frame, but is only a minor problem on DX. However, it is a simple pattern, and is easy to correct, unlike lenses which produce the dreaded "mustache" pattern of distortion.

This lens recently went out of production, but copies can still be found on eBay for around $300. If you find one locally, $280 to $300 would be a fair price, but the range can vary as this is a less commonly traded lens. It's a great investment if you think that you'll go full frame... if you already have a D700, then $300 for a reasonably usable ultrawide can't be beat.

Mute Swans, Richmond, B.C., Canada

1 comment:

  1. Well, I've this lens on a D80, sharpness is good, distorsion is quite pronunced, and flare it's definitely ugly.
    I think this lens could be much better too be used on fullframe, becoming ultra-wide; distorsion is logical in ultra wide, but not on a moderate wide-angle.
    I bought this lens thinking to change to FX in the future. Now with D7000, I'm not so sure. I think I prefer DX format but my lenses are quite appropiate to FX. My NIKKOR 28-105 -f3.5-f4.5 has not any distorsion, at 28mm lines in the corner are complety straight, the same in all focals (35, 50, 70, 105 with this lens).
    So with FX, I automatically get an ultra-wide, and a good all-terrain zoom. But FX cameras all really expensive. Combination of focal ranges of my lenses, using on my D80 aren't, in my opinion a good combination.
    So if I want DX, lenses works bad and I must get a expensive DX ultra-wide. If I want FX, lenses are ok but price is again expensive.
    Such is life.... :(

    Thanks for your article!