17 March 2007

Review Tamron 17-50 f2.8 (vs. Canon 50 f1.8 vs. Canon 70-200 f4)

Some days ago I bought Tamron 17-50. It was not an easy decision. In store, I also hold some other lenses in my hands. I had 50 and 70-200, but I was without wide-angle lens (if I can say wide-angle for 17 mm on crop camera). My budget was cca. 1000 EUR.
I am a person who use walk-around lenses a lot. Most of my pictures are taken in a way, when I have just one lens with me (travel, family, hiking, biking ...). My first choice was Canon 24-105 f4 L. Almost every review marks this lens as very good. However, it has one minus – 24 mm is not wide on crop camera. If I have FF DSLR camera, then this is the lens for me.
Therefore, my choices were just three more:
- Canon 17-40 f4
- Canon 17-55 IS f2.8
- Tamron 17-50 f2.8
I also wait for Tokina 16-50, but as far as I know, it will not be available before summer.
I tested Canon 17-40 for some days and I must say, it is an excellent lens, but I want some mm over 40 (when photographing a portrait, it is not comfortable for people and me, if I am too close).
Canon 17-55 IS is probably very good decision for crop camera. I simply did not have an opportunity to test it, and price was high for non-L lens.
Therefore, I decide for Tamron 17-50 f2.8 after reading many reviews and users opinions. Many reviewers said it is good to very good lens for fair price.
Today I took some photos and make some compare shots with new lens and Canon 50 f1.8 and Canon 70-200 f4.
Comparing lens with DSLR is not easy. Data in sensor is what we have to look. Then every step in workflow can modify results. So, I take Canon Digital Photo Professional and select compare photos and convert then to jpg without any changes.
It is known, that buying lens (especially third party in non-pro price range) can be a lottery. Keep in mind that this test was done with my lens. There are many different reviews on lenses (even on Canon L lenses) and it is possible that another copy do not share results.
When I take Tamron 17-50 f2.8 from box, I got a good feeling. It is not build as Canon L lenses, but far from catchpenny. Tamron also add lens hood in box. Push-On lens cap is very good with grip on the side and in the middle. Rear lens cap are not so nice (in fact – it is clumsy), but we do not use rear lens cap as many times as front...
Filter size is 67 mm and is the same as for example on Canon 70-200 f4.
Some users can have problems with using zoom grip because Tamron rotate the opposite direction. The lens is not big, so photographers with bigger hands will sometimes feel rotating of focus grip when focusing with AF.
AF is fast and little noisy, but far from disturbing. Tamron 17-50 does not change length and the front element does not rotate during focusing.
I tried focus test on 45 degrees and I do not see any problems. There is no front or back focusing on closer object.
The field curvature is noticeable. This can lead to out of focus corners when using large aperture on flat object. In this case, photographer must use smaller aperture. I try the extreme close-up with added Nikon 6T close-up lens at 50 mm and on flat object. Here is the extreme example:
Field curvature
Chromatic aberration (CA) is good solved. It can be seen just on wide angle (approx 17 mm) with large apertures on corners. However, chromatic aberration is not problematic on Tamron 17-50.

Here are examples from 100% crop (more from corner):
Just for comparison, I check the same detail at 100% crop from Canon 50 mm f1.8 and Canon 70-200 f4. Both Canon lens do not have any CA anomaly.
There are pronounced barrel distortions at 17 mm to 20 mm. But, this is expected in this class of wide angle lens. Higher focal lengths are not problematic.
Here is extreme example, with emphasized depth:
Tamron 17-50 has very good reputation of sharpness. Sharpness is very good in center of image with almost all focal length and apertures. Sharpness is noticeable soft on corners when using large apertures. With apertures f4.5 and smaller, sharpness on corners is much better. So, be aware - center is very sharp, but corners can have problems with large apertures.
Here are some samples - all are 100% crops from original image. Be aware that Canon 70-200 uses different focal lengths and those samples are just for info!
Colors are neutral and nice. Many users also use polarization filter with this kind of lens. Watch on possible vigneting at wide focal lenght and wide open! Tamron 17-50 has vigneting when using wide aperture. This is expected, because almost all lenses in this class have even more vigneting.
Flare are reduced to minimun, but I recommend use of lens hood all the time. Lens hood will also protect your front lens when you don't have a front cup on it.

Conclusion: for the money, Tamron 17-50 f2.8 is good lens on crop camera. Photographers should keep in mind that image is much better with apertures f4.5 (and higher) and that image in center is much better than in corners. In many details, Tamron can compare with two Canon lens I own. My cheap 50 mm f1.8 are very good piece of glass and 70-200 f4 L lens are what I expect from L. Tamron is wider and walking around lens, what means we can not look all comparing test with the same eye.
I recommend using Tamron 17-50 at higher apertures and leave f2.8 just for times, when you do not have any other possibilities (dark, action...).
Good value for money.
Good sharpness and build quality (especially in centre of image).
Nice walk around lens.
If you will go to FF camera, you should buy another lens.
Camera cannot read distance from lens. This distance data can help calculate exposure when using E-TTL II flash.
Quality control at Tamron is not as good as in Canon factory.
Added after one year of use
The main disadvantages are:
- zoom ring rotate like Nikon's and not like Canon's (left to right)
- focusing in low light are not so good as one can expect from f2.8 lens
- lens hood can unmount during photo session.
Should I buy this lens again? For this money probably yes. You can't make a wrong decision.
If you have questions, do not hesitate to ask:


Kevin said...

Thanks for the detailed review. I will be getting this lens in a few days and your sample photos and comparisons to your other lenses are great.

Iztok Grilc said...

I don't have this lens anymore. but I'm sure, you won't regard. It is very good lens for money.

Gainell said...

Good post.

Iztok Grilc said...


Dan Ponjican said...

With as cheap as used Canon 70-200 f4 lenses are going for on ebay, I would say that is the way to go.

Iztok Grilc said...

You have right ...

Anonymous said...

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Iztok Grilc said...

I'm not sure if I understand what you are asking ...

dimzPhotography said...

Thanks for review, it was excellent and very informative.
thank you :)

Iztok Grilc said...

But an old review :-)