Even in the crowded photography market, there are still underserved areas that deserve attention. Tamron seems to understand this better than most with its latest f/2.8 zoom for full-frame E-mount cameras, the 17-28mm f/2.8 Di III RXD Lens, which offers excellent quality at an excellent price and in a small, lightweight package—it's also a perfect match for the much-loved 28-75mm f/2.8 Di III RXD from last year. Taking this lens to Colorado as part of Adventure Week 2019 was a perfect opportunity to test it and see if it can hold up to some serious travel and environments.
Portable and Affordable
As a Sony shooter, I am highly familiar with Sony's G Master lenses. These are technically impressive, expensive, and sometime massive works of art that perform as well as you would hope. Unfortunately, not everyone is able to make the sacrifice of either spending money or carrying around a heavy weight all day. I don't even want to carry heavy, bulky lenses all the time. This is where Tamron finds its niche. The 17-28mm is noticeable smaller and lighter than its competitors and this makes a huge difference when you are deciding what to pack for a weeklong trip that includes dozens of hours of driving and a couple of flights.
Immediately after picking up the lens, I could feel and see the difference in size and weight, compared to my usual options. It sits very nicely on the a7 series bodies, too. The other appealing aspect of this lens is the price, which sits well below many other choices. Normally, we don't discuss price in reviews, but I feel like this is a major calling card for potential customers. Part of getting to this price means there are some compromises to be aware of, though I would clarify that none of these "issues" are going to be a problem for most shooters.
To get size and weight down, Tamron did opt for a more conservative zoom range compared to the plethora of 16-35s on the market. During my time with the lens I was never in a situation where I felt I needed anything extra on either end—and I'm a huge fan of the 35mm focal length. Also, the overall feel isn't quite as robust as my other lenses. I think it'll still be fine in most situations, and I even brought it to the Great Sand Dunes and had no issues. Overall, these changes were obviously necessary to hit the targeted goals, and I think they did an excellent job. Keep in mind, this follows the same basic idea of the 28-75mm and that lens has been incredibly popular and successful.
Optically, it is hard to find many faults. I will point out the very minor things I noticed because it's my job, but it is nothing to be overly concerned about. I am going to start with the good stuff first.
It's sharp. Unbelievably, most modern lenses from the past half-decade have been outstanding when it comes to resolution. Engineers and, I'm assuming, the machinery to construct lenses, have gotten very good at their jobs. Even when shooting wide open at f/2.8, this lens could pick up the details in trees off in the distance and the hairs on a goat that somehow managed to get uncomfortably close.
Taking a closer look at some files, you can find flare. This is well-controlled, but the small size of the flare meant that I didn't notice it upon first look at the files while I was out shooting. The size of the flare, at least, means it's relatively easy to correct. Vignetting also makes an appearance, although it isn't too much more than I would expect for an ultra-wide zoom lens. Wide-angle lenses, especially zooms, will have vignetting; it's basically a fact of life.
Distortion starts showing up at the edges and at wider focal lengths. There is a small amount of barrel distortion if you are attempting to shoot straight lines—think buildings. It's correctable, so something to prepare for during the editing stage. Overall, for the cost, I was very surprised by the optics of the 17-28mm. It's an excellent lens I would recommend to all types of users from newcomers to pros looking to lighten their load.
Peak Performance and Functionality
Tamron has fitted the 17-28mm with some of its latest tech, including the RXD (Rapid eXtra- silent stepping Drive) autofocus motor. This system is fast and practically silent, making it very handy. Testing this with the a7 III and its 10 fps continuous shooting while out on the dunes it perfectly tracked subjects moving past me. On top of that, it worked with all of Sony's focusing functions such as Eye AF.
I haven't talked about the fact that this is an f/2.8 lens. This alone puts it into a higher class of lens. Wide open, the lens maintains outstanding performance, though I preferred a couple stops down to maximize sharpness of many landscapes. It can even be used to create a relatively shallow depth of field, though I would recommend getting in close to the subject for maximum effectiveness.
One benefit fairly common to wide-angle lenses is a close minimum focus distance. At just 7.5" here I had no problem getting in close with my subjects. The perspective can be quite fun. The lens is weather sealed and has a Fluorine coating on the front element to keep it protected and easy to clean when out shooting. Using it on the dunes, trekking through small creeks, and just general adventuring around Colorado the 17-28mm held up just fine. I was never concerned about its durability.
This lens is quite good. Considering its price point and feature set it is an easy recommendation to make. Images are sharp, the lens the lightweight and easy on the shoulder, and operation is fast and smooth. In terms of bang for buck, it is practically unmatched. If you have been wanting a wide-angle lens for your full-frame E-mount camera the Tamron 17-28mm f/2.8 may just check all the right boxes.
Are you excited about Tamron's latest mirrorless lenses? Does it sound appealing enough to add to your kit? Be sure to let us know your thoughts in the Comments section.
Click on the link to read more about our exploits during Summer Adventure Week here at B&H Explora!