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Wednesday, June 04, 2008

REVIEW: Tamron AF17-50mm F/2.8 Lens

posted by snekse
Tamron 17-50mm f/2.8 lens
So you just got your super cool Canon Rebel dSLR camera, but as every dSLR user learns quickly, the camera body is only half of the equation. If you want great pictures, you have to invest in great lenses. Unfortunately, the camera tends to be the cheap half. Those funny pieces of curved glass can get really expensive, really quick. Fortunately a good lens can last a lifetime, so over the long run, it's really worth spending more to get a durable high quality lens early on.

Welcome to the world of dSLR

Almost every first time SLR camera buyer has a decision to make: Do you buy the package that includes the camera body with a lens, or do you buy just the body and buy your own lens? If you're thinking long term, the answer is usually pretty easy. Though the kit lenses have been getting better, in general they are inferior to a lot of the other products available. Now your decisions get a whole lot harder - what lens do you buy?

Since I didn't want to do a lot of lens switching, I knew I wanted a zoom lens. I also wanted something in the 35mm equivalent range; so a basic standard zoom lens. My next criteria actually narrowed my selection down quite a bit.

As I stated in my Canon Rebel Xsi review, I like to take photos using only the available light. The easiest way to get sharp pictures in low light is to open up the iris on the lens really wide to let in as much light as possible - just like your eyes. So the lens had to have a maximum aperture of at least f/2.8. And since I didn't want to worry about what aperture was available to me at different zoom magnifications, it needed to maintain that maximum aperture through the entire focal range. That left me with just a handful of lenses to choose from.

The Tamron SP AF17-50mm F/2.8 Di II LD Aspherical (IF) Lens with hood for Canon DSLR Cameras

Yeah, that's a mouthful. And don't ask me what all of those cryptic letters mean, because I have no idea. All I know is this lens is sa-wheet. With an 'H'. Like Ca-hool h-Whip.

Sure I could have bought the drool inducing Canon EF-S 17-55 f/2.8 IS USM. But where's the fun in just buying your way to great photos with a 5-star rated lens? Okay, really I'm just a cheap bastard and wanted the same results for half the cost. So does the Tamron deliver the same results? I don't know, since I don't have the Canon lens, but if someone want to send one to me, I'll let you know :-)

Actually, that's one of the greatest things about this lens. It's a great value. It's almost the perfect "walk-around" lens. It has a very usable zoom range, it's lightening fast, it's fairly light weight - yet has a solid construction, all for about half the price of the comparable Canon lens. It also includes a 6-year warranty and lens hood to reduce lens flare.

Some other minor things that I appreciate are not so obvious. The 7 diaphragm blades is relatively high, so your images will come out nicer with less distortion. The labeling is large and bright, so it's easy to read info like your focal length. The hood is designed so you can flip it when not in use, so you always have built in storage. And related to that, when the hood is on and in use, the lens cap is designed to easily be used by pinching a two tabs in the center of the cap. A lot of lenses require you to take the hood off before you can put the cap on. It's those small touches that I really enjoy.

And even though I'm just starting out, so far I really enjoy the images that this lens has been able to provide me. The large aperture allows me to use faster shutter speeds, so I have far fewer blurry pictures. This is useful for taking pictures in dark restaurants. It also allows me to be more creative and artistic with my shots. When shooting with the lens wide open, you force a shallow depth of field, so the subject you focus on will be nice and sharp, while the background and/or foreground will be blurred. This draws the viewer's eye where you want it and gives your photos a more professional look. This can be especially valuable in food photography since you can add a level of interest by focusing in unexpected places when your subject matter may not always be that interesting.

So what sucks...

Well... ...nothing really...

Honest...I haven't found anything yet that really bugs me about this lens. Some people complain that the zoom ring turns in the opposite direction as the Canon lenses, but since I don't have a Canon lens, that doesn't bug me. And I do know that one of those descriptors in the full lens name means this lens will only work on cameras with "smaller imagers", meaning entry and "prosumer" level dSLRs such as the Canon Rebel and the Canon 40D. So if you move to a multi-thousand dollar professional camera, you won't be able to use this lens. Again, who cares.

It's true that the Tamron doesn't have the fancy USM or IS features like the Canon lens. Both are things I'd love to have; they would be especially nice for restaurant shoots. The USM would almost guarantee that I don't bother other tables, but honestly I've never felt the Tamron was all that loud. The IS would be for those times when I want more items in my shot to be in focus. To get more items in focus, I'd have to bump the aperture to something like f/4.0, but to keep the image sharp, I need to maintain my shutter speed or stabilize the camera. The only way to maintain my shutter speed (without degrading the photo quality) is to ask the restaurant to turn up there lights. That's probably not an option, so we look to stabilize. The only way to do that is with IS (or a tripod). That said, those features aren't usually cheap and I'd rather have the cheaper price tag.

Tamron 17-50mm F/2.8 Di-II Aspherical Lens

Rating: 95

RELATED LINKS:
Official Tamron product page
Popular Photography Review
Bob Atkins Review
The Digital Picture Review
Sample Shots: Tamron 17-50mm F/2.8 Lens
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