Since we started reviewing lenses on our blog, we’ve featured several wide-angle lenses, Sony’s stunning 20mm f/1.8 wide-angle and Tamron’s 20 and 24mm f/2.8, but no zoom lens yet. The Tamron 17-28mm Di III RXD f/2.8 is probably one of the most interesting ultra-wide-angle zoom lenses, offering a large maximum aperture (as large as the brand’s prime lens) in a relatively light and compact body, but most importantly, at a very reasonable price. Let’s see if the image quality is as interesting when the lens is combined with an A7RIV or an A7III, in other words, in front of sensors offering 61 and 24MP. We wrote a comprehensive article on everything you need to know about Sony mirrorless cameras (full frame and APS-C). You will find in it, all the characteristics and our opinion to help you make the right choice when it comes to buying your camera!
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Again, no test patterns or brick walls unless absolutely necessary, and no figures with graphs and test benches you can find on other reviews. We will mainly discover what we can expect from this zoom lens in the field.
The images displayed in this article are from RAWs processed with DxO Photolab 5 with standard color rendering, except for the ones shown in the gallery. As was the case with the 20 and 24mm f/2.8, I am not sponsored by Tamron. The lens was purchased in a store with my own money at a price you could find in any store by yourself.
If you want to know more, I invite you to visit our page covering all Sony FE lenses for full frame cameras.
In June 2019, Tamron announced the release of this versatile lens, the Tamron 17-28mm f/2.8. Keen to keep the 67mm filter diameter on their full frame sensor zoom lens line for mirrorless mounts, they decided to reduce the focal range to preserve constant aperture at f/2.8. For DSLR cameras, they offered a much larger and heavier stabilized 15-30 f/2.8 lens, and a slightly wider-ranged 17-35mm lens, but with a sliding f/2.8-4 aperture. With an initial 1000€ price tag, it was a great alternative to the more expensive 2.5x Sony 16-35mm f/2.8 GM lens and the nearly 50% more expensive stabilized Sony Zeiss 16-35mm f/4 lens. Its price having dropped to around 850€ since then, it has become even more attractive. Despite still being quite a lot of money, it’s quite a reasonable price for an ultra-wide angle zoom lens offering a constant f/2.8 aperture. To some extent, the relatively large aperture will help in low light situations.
With a limited range compared to 16-35mm lenses, it still offers a nice one when placed in front of a full frame sensor for those looking for very wide angles of view. However, it becomes much less relevant in front of an APS-C sensor. Recently released with the same format and at the same price, Tamron’s 17-70mm f/2.8 is a little more bulky and heavier, but it covers much more focal lengths with the same aperture. This type of zoom lens is much appreciated and, in particular, when it comes to landscape/architecture photography. Here, Tamron offers, thanks to its price positioning and its physical characteristics, a great travel companion. Nevertheless, one can wonder about choosing between this zoom and one of the brand’s 2 prime lenses reviewed in our blog, namely, the 20 and 24mm f/2.8 lenses. The point of having the 2 fixed-focus lenses with the 17-28mm, and vice versa, is a valid one.
Maximum aperture is not a consideration between these 3 lenses as they all have the same f/2.8 aperture, the same 67mm filter diameter, and the same RXD motor. Taking into account physical criteria, it will also be difficult to decide between the prime duo and the zoom lens since the 20 and 24mm lenses, paired together, are about the same weight and size, in the bag, as the zoom lens itself. On the other hand, taken separately, the prime lenses are more interesting and carry a lower price tag than the zoom lens alongside a 1:2 magnification ratio which will come in handy should you want to explore “macro” photography. Hence, the zoom lens keeps its advantage in terms of versatility, while the fixed-focus lenses will be appropriate if you are looking for a unique field of view and a high image quality at a reasonable price. Indeed, the zoom lens lags behind in terms of image quality.
To offer optically complex lenses while keeping a certain lightness, Tamron chose to build its lenses out of plastic. If, at first glance, it does not seem as robust and durable as the metal or alloy build found on Sigma / Sony G/GM series lenses, this is a high-quality plastic and Tamron has been trying for a few years to offer an all-weather build for most of its lenses. So, there are several seals on both the bayonet and the inside of the barrel. Amongst its 13 lenses, there are 3 low dispersion lenses (2 LD and 1 XLD) and 3 aspherical ones (2 molded and 1 composite) ensuring good behavior from the lens against flare and chromatic aberrations. The 9-blade diaphragm ensures a well-rounded bokeh. Considering identical maximum aperture, we can even expect it to be better than with the one of the 20 and 24mm prime lenses which only has 7 blades. However, we could also guess that Tamron considered use of its zoom lens at medium apertures (f/5.6-f/8) mostly, and use of its fixed lenses at large apertures (f/2.8-f/4). Image quality test results tend to justify this practice.
The zoom lens’s plastic build allows it to be very light with a 420g weight compared to most f/2.8 zoom lenses of this type which tend to weigh between 600 to 800g (or more). Its weight and dimensions allow it to offer good balance with all Sony full frame cameras, including the A7C, which is quite a nice thing to have while on the ground. Many videographers have also adopted it for vlogging.
As is the case with prime lenses, the lens barrel offers the bare minimum. It’s a zoom lens with just a zoom ring and a focus ring…and that’s all folks! No switch, no customizable button, no optical stabilization and therefore no mode for this function obviously, and no marking other than 17, 20, 24 and 28 mm focal lengths under the zoom ring. Tamron offers here a simple lens made for “point-and-shoot” photography: you choose focal length for framing, manual focus if necessary, and the rest is done by the camera.
The lens hood is also made of plastic, not very reassuring as far as solidity is concerned, but on the bright side, it’s not too heavy. For example, the Sigma I contemporary series’ lens hoods flirt with 100g which represents almost a 1/4 of the weight of this 17-28mm lens! Tamron doesn’t provide a lens pouch either, contrary to what they used to do with the f/2.8 zoom lenses even though they had already given up with the latest 17-35mm, 35-150mm, and 70-210mm DSLR lenses.
All things being equal, focus is fast in AF-S mode. Indeed, while we do not reach the speed of either Sony GM’s nor the brand’s recent 16-35mm f/4 G, with this kind of lens, it will be less of a problem to have a slower AF as it is quite popular for capturing architectural or landscape pictures. However, accuracy is not at its best, at least on mine, and it often shifts focus behind the subject. This is particularly annoying when shooting close subjects. The depth of field being shorter, the slightest shift may be more easily noticeable. However, regarding distant subjects, or if you manually focus with the help of focus peaking and the magnifying glass, that will not be a problem anymore.
In AF-C mode, lens’s slowness will obviously be more noticeable since this mode’s use implies tracking a moving subject. For example, during a reportage, a 28mm focal length can be used for street photography in which case having a good AF tracking can become useful. Although compatible with all Sony AF options such as Eye-AF and Fast-AF options, in such cases, Tamron’s lens will show its weaknesses a bit more. Note that the eye-AF will require you to be fairly close to the subject since it has difficulty detecting it, if it doesn’t occupy a large part of the frame. But once it zeroed on it, you can move back because it will be able to hold it more easily. In short, it’s not worth trying to catch an eye on a relatively distant subject, but once detected, it will hold it.
This Tamron’s AF Tamron uses a poorly adapted motor, found in the first version of the 28-75mm f/2.8. The latter was probably renewed a short time ago to improve the AF since the new version integrates the motor of the 70-180mm much faster (I should know, I bought it myself!). It remains to be seen if Tamron renews this 17-28mm lens as quickly. Although for this type of lenses, there are less needs for that, generally speaking.
Let’s talk about sharpness! The 17-28mm lens delivers good image quality, although it doesn’t reach the performance of a good prime lens nor of other high-end zoom lenses such as the Sony 16-35mm f/2.8 GM or the Sigma Art 14-24mm f/2.8. In many cases, we are not going to focus too much on the bokeh of such a lens but rather on the level of details and, particularly, overall image homogeneity. To obtain such homogeneity, however, it will be better to close the aperture a little, especially at longer focal lengths. These weaknesses will become more and more apparent as the image is enlarged, so it will be less suitable for the A7RIV’s 60MP than for the A7 IV’s 33MP even though, the same behavior can be observed on both sensors. This lens’s optimal range would be between f/4 and f/5.6 at the shortest focal lengths, and between f/5.6 and f/8 at the longest.
Here is a sharpness test on the A7R IV at 17mm and f/2.8, f/5.6, f/8, and f/11. 100% crop shot at the center of our test image.
And the same test on the extremes of the image (bottom right edge) – Still with the A7R IV at 17mm and f/2.8, f/5.6, f/8 and f/11. 100% crop.
I’m not showing you the same images I took with my A7 IV, because as said earlier, the result is identical, even though differences may be less visible on a less pixelated sensor.
Bokeh is not particularly what we are looking for on a wide-angle lens, but as you get closer to a subject, you can get a nice blur. The 17-28mm Tamron’s bokeh is quite good for a lens of this type, as it is not too hard. However, the bokeh rings are not well defined. A prime lens with large aperture is definitely better if you like blurry backgrounds.
If you want to see some images shot with this lens, I invite you to delight yourself with this mini gallery! Have a look
Distortion is strong at shortest focal lengths and reverses when zooming in.
Here is a distortion at 17mm
And at 28mm…
Vignetting is consequent at full aperture, especially at short focal lengths. While it reduces as you close, it still remains a bit.
Here is an example of vignetting at 17mm and f/2.8 and f/5.6 which is then corrected with software.
Chromatic aberrations are quite light but remain on high contrast scenes. Here is an example of aberration that can be seen on the branches and the leaves contour.
Flare is kep under control, for the most part. I had a hard time finding any. Below are the few I found on a 100% crop (circled in red for highlighting purposed). You can hardly see it on the original image as, admittedly, it is in front of a tree with a lot of green.
This is not the best lens for astrophotography. While coma is reasonably OK, its aperture is limited. However, it will be better to close one stop, which further reduces its interest. I would recommend a fixed-focus lens like Sony’s 20mm f/1.8 for that.
Sunstars are well defined at f/16, but they were already good at f/11. With smaller apertures, the rendering is obviously less pleasing.
Whether you shoot at 17 or 28mm, at f/16, the sunstars are pretty much the same and quite well defined, although there is better
Focus breathing is noticeable at short distances at all focal lengths, but it tends to reduce a lot from a 1m focus distance and beyond. It will only be annoying when you go from a distant subject to a very close one while shooting a video.
With an 850€ budget, you will be hard-pressed to find a better compromise than the one offered by the Tamron 17-28mm. However, should you have a larger budget or prefer a prime lens, you will have several options:
- 18 and 20mm fixed-focus lenses such as the Zeis Batis or Samyang 18mm f/2.8, Sony’s 20mm f/1.8 G or f/2 C from Sigma, and the f/2.8 from Tamron. While I would not recommend buying the 18mm lenses because of Samyang’s being of average quality and Zeiss Batis’s being a bit expensive, the 20mm lenses have good arguments going for them. The Sony lens, reviewed here, is of excellent quality for a price similar to the 17-28mm lens and offering an f/1.8 aperture (more comfortable for low-light shooting) with high-end build and features. The Sigma lens also represents an excellent alternative, with a larger aperture than Tamron’s zoom lens at a price of 700€ and a very high-end build. The Tamron one, reviewed here, offers the same maximum aperture and image quality as the zoom lens, but for a much lower price,
- There are many 24 mm prime lenses to choose from, including Sony’s f/1.4 GM and f/2.8 G Sony, Samyang’s f/1.8 and f/2.8, Sigma’s f/2 and f/3.5 C, and Tamron’s f/2.8. Let’s skip Samyang’s f/2.8 and Sigma f/3.5’s which I think are the least interesting of the lot. Sony’s f/1.4 GM is exceptional but quite expensive while the f/2.8 G is very light and compact with advanced comfort features, but still a bit expensive considering maximum aperture. Samyang’s f/1.8 and Sigma’s f/2 C are both very interesting options with the former being lighter and cheaper and the latter being slightly better with a significantly better build. Tamron’s f/2.8, reviewed here, offers very high image quality and a 1:2 magnification ratio for an almost bargain basement price of €200,
- f/2.8 and f/4 zoom lenses, namely Sony’s 12-24, and 16-35mm f/2.8 GM and f/4 G, Sigma’s 14-24mm f/2.8 Art and 16-28mm f/2.8 Contemporary and Sony Zeiss’s old 16-35mm f/4 OSS are an alternative. Let’s forget about the 12-24mm lenses which are a bit more of a specialized ultra-wide-angle choice, and Sony Zeiss’s somewhat outdated 16-35mm f/4. Sony’s 16-35mm f/2.8 GM lens is better than Tamron’s with high-end build and features, but at an elitist price. Sigma’s 14-24mm, more affordable than Sony’s GM and of a higher quality but offering, like the 12-24mm lens, a slightly more specialized UWA range and a heavier weight. Sony’s recently released 16-35mm f/4 G and Sigma’s 16-28mm f/2.8 Contemporary lenses are the main alternatives to Tamron’s 17-28mm, in my opinion. Sony’s 16-35mm f/4 G is even lighter and more compact, covers a wider range, and is of a more premium build with advanced features (especially for video shooting) and with superior AF but it comes at a relatively high price (1500€). Sigma’s 16-28mm f/2.8 is probably the better alternative as it offers superior optical quality with better AF at about the same price. In addition, it offers high-end build and features, a 16mm focal length as well as an AF/MF switch on the barrel to quickly switch from AF to MF which Tamron’s lacks,
- As far as video is concerned, Sony’s 20 and 24mm prime lenses and 16-35mm f/4 lens are the most suitable since they have clickable aperture rings, are compatible with A7 IV’s breathing focus compensation functions, and have a faster AF,
- For Sony E mount’s APS-C sensors such as the A6000 and A6600, this 17-28mm lens is compatible even though there is little point in it since other more suitable options are available to the format while covering a wider range. It would be more relevant to have a look at Sony’s 16-55mm f/2.8 G, Tamron’s 17-70mm f/2.8, and Sigma’s 18-50mm f/2.8 with the latter being cheaper,
- Recently, Tamron’s 28-75mm f/2.8 was renewed, integrating a new faster VXD AF engine and the possibility to modify the lens’s functions. We hope that a new version of this Tamron 17-28mm, integrating the same new features, will be released soon, especially after Sigma’s announcement of its new 16-28mm f/2.8 similarly priced, at around 1000€. It could then become even more interesting, especially concerning video shooting.
In a nutshell and in my opinion, Tamron’s 17-28mm lens represents very good value for money, particularly when considering maximum aperture, weight, and dimensions. It may not be the best choice should you be looking for fast AF and advanced features like stabilization, but in most cases such as landscape or architecture photography, these will not become major drawbacks. Moreover, in such cases where we would often use medium apertures like f/5.6 or f/8, image quality will be very good. During difficult conditions the f/2.8 aperture may even help despite a visible quality drop.
On the other hand, should you be looking for the best image quality, or regular video use, you can justify splashing on Sony’s 16-35mm lens and Sigma’s 14-24mm lens. To be honest, even with just an occasional video use, I decided to replace my 17-28mm lens with the new Sony 16-35mm f/4 G, which, while being more expensive and more video orientated, still offers some very nice perks, especially when travelling, as it is lighter, more compact, has a a wider focal length range with, cherry on top of the cake, a reactive AF for street photography.
Should you feel that the focal range of the 17-28mm lens is very narrow and that, therefore, a fixed-focus lens would work just as well -as I ultimately concluded when getting my 20mm f/2.8 Tamron-, Sigma’s 20 and 24mm f/2 C lenses are excellent choices for a price close to the one of the 17-28mm lens. They offer a larger maximum aperture, better construction, advanced features like the aperture ring (unfortunately not clickable), and an overall superior image quality.
We’re just about reaching the end of this Tamron 17-28mm f/2.8 Di III RXD review. I hope that it will encourage you to buy it! This type of lenses (and its focal length) remains ideal in terms of versatility and ability when it comes to wide shots!
In the meantime, as we usually conclude, if you liked the review and want to support both our work and our blog, you can buy this lens through the two links provided below. This allows us to keep on producing free, quality articles and to avoid advertising on our blog.
See you soon for another review,