Tamron 17-50mm f/2.8 Lens Review

Happy 58th Anniversary to the greatest theme park in the US, Disneyland!


This Tamron 17-50mm f/2.8 review discussed the pros and cons of this mid-range zoom lens, plus has a ton of sample photos that I have taken in real world shooting with the lens. While I have a full page (and then some) devoted to different photography equipment, accessory, book, and software recommendations for Walt Disney World and Disneyland photography, it’s not often that I write an entire post about a specific piece of equipment. However, I’m willing to make an exception for the Tamron 17-50mm f/2.8 lens for a couple of reasons. First, because it’s really that awesome for Disney photography. Second, because a lot of people–even those who don’t care about photography–own DSLRs, and this lens is a great buy for them. (Why? See the first point.)

Okay, so perhaps, “it’s awesome” isn’t a compelling-enough reason to make a purchase. It should be, but I understand that a $500 purchase is not to be taken lightly. To those unfamiliar with photography, $500 might seem like a lot. Those familiar with photography know that the Canon equivalent of this lens costs over $1,000 and the Nikon equivalent costs over $1,500. To be fair, those other lens do differ from this one and do offer a bit more, but the Tamron holds up very well compared to them. Much better than the 3.5 star score it has on Amazon.com.

Don’t let this score scare you away; people reviewing items on Amazon often have no idea what they’re talking about and review products poorly due to user error. Need evidence? the Canon mount version of the Tamron 17-50mm f/2.8 scores a 4.5 on Amazon. There is absolutely no difference in quality between the two. It’s really a phenomenal lens capable of taking great shots when used correctly. All of the photos here were taken with it.

So why is it so great for a wide spectrum of DSLR users, even those who use their cameras entirely on auto mode? Because the lens is essentially a replacement and upgrade for the kit lens that comes with most entry level DSLRs. It allows for more creativity, but also covers a very useful focal range, so it’s not a niche lens like an ultra-wide angle or a fisheye. It covers largely the same focal length (17-50mm v. 18-55mm) as a kit lens, but offers better image quality, better low-light performance, and allows for more shallow depth of field because of the constant f/2.8 aperture.

These things are all pretty substantial, so if this lens is in your budget, it’s a great upgrade to make that will allow you to take better photos. For me, the shallow depth of field is a huge deal. As you can see in the Spaceship Earth photo below and the Disneyland Partners flower shot, you can achieve pretty shallow depth of field at f/2.8 with this lens. That allows for a lot of creativity and that constant f/2.8 aperture also makes this a viable lens to use on Disney dark rides.

Of course, accomplishing more artistic photos or better photos isn’t just a matter of getting a new lens. If you’re using your camera in only auto mode and that’s all you ever intend to use, spending $350 extra dollars on this, instead of the kit lens, is a lot to swallow. It alone won’t make a huge difference in the quality of photos (even though it will perform better in low light–like at night), but if you ever want to move out of auto-mode, this is a great lens to have.

As far as this lens compared to other options, I will concede that it’s probably not as good as the incredibly expensive Nikon and Canon first party lenses I mentioned above (I’ve never used either of those lenses–I’ve only read reviews and seen comparisons). However, if you’re considering spending $1,100-1,600 on a lens, you probably don’t need my recommendation. You’re probably a pro who isn’t really concerned about price because you’re making a living off the gear. If you are price conscious, and you’re considering a variety of 17-50/17-55mm f/2.8 lenses, I think this is the absolute best option.

It’s better than the similar Sigma, and it’s actually better than the Tamron AF 17-50mm F/2.8 Vibration Compensation Lens. This lens costs $650, and although it is rated a half-star better on Amazon.com than the regular version for Nikon (but a half-star worse than the regular version for Canon…again, both are the same…figure that out), the image quality is actually better on the version that does not have Vibration Compensation (VC). Now, Vibration Compensation can be helpful in many shooting situations, but I don’t view it as a necessity on a 17-50mm lens. It’s much more useful for lenses that offer more zoom. I’m not alone in this sentiment; most reviewers of this lens have commented that you’re better off sticking with the non-Vibration Compensation version. I’d buy the non-Vibration Compensation version even if the Vibration Compensation version were the exact same price. Given that the VC version costs $150 more, buying non-VC is a no-brainer!

The Tree of Life is the park icon at Disney's Animal Kingdom.

A lot of people recommend the highly regarded 50mm f/1.8 lenses that cost around $150 each as a great way to learn photography. I don’t. Yeah, they’re cheap, but a 50mm non-zoom (prime) lens is a tough way to learn photography, and 50mm is not wide enough for a lot of purposes. I own a 50mm f/1.8 lens that I rarely use (it’s my least used lens by far). I think they’re way over-hyped. But that might just be me.

While the 17-50mm f/2.8 does hit 50mm just like the aforementioned 50mm f/1.8, it is much more useful because it can zoom out. If you want to take photos of your family or wider vistas in the parks, the lower end of the focal range is great for this. In ideal situations, 50mm is actually a better focal length for portraits, but as we all know, situations for taking photos are rarely “ideal” in the parks. You have to work with the situation presented to you, and usually that situation calls for a wider lens. Conversely, we rarely find ourselves wishing the lens had “more zoom.” I do carry a separate 70-200mm lens with me to the parks, but with few exceptions (Fantasmic!, Kilimanjaro Safaris, etc.), I’m usually using this for creative purposes (perspective compression) rather than because I need the zoom. For at least 80% of my photo-taking, 50mm is more than enough zoom.

As for the more technical stuff, I’ll leave that to the real “experts.” I’m a photographer, not a photographist. Meaning that I actually take photos, rather than fixating over the technical side of things and never actually taking photos. I don’t pixel peep, and I don’t worry about things like chromatic aberration and color fringing. I’m results-oriented. All I know is that I’ve been very happy with the results I’ve achieved with this lens, as has Sarah. She loves the lens so much that it rarely leaves her Nikon D3100 DSLR. We both have used it a lot and both have loved the results. If I could only take one lens with me to Walt Disney World or Disneyland, this would be it. That’s a pretty strong endorsement, I think. This lens just has so much utility that it’s hard not to love!

October 2013 UPDATE: This lens is no longer our recommendation for a kit lens upgrade. Read our Sigma 18-35mm f/1.8 Lens Review to learn why. 

If you’re looking for other photography equipment recommendations or photography tips in general check out a few of my top photography blog posts:

Photography Buying Guide: Way More Than You Ever Needed to Know…
Best Books for Improving Your Photography
5 Indispensable Tips for Better Vacation Photos
Neutral Density Filter Buying Guide
Travel Tripod Buying Guide

Your Thoughts…

If you use this lens, what do you think of it? Are you considering adding it to your camera bag? Share your thoughts or questions in the comments!

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40 Responses to “Tamron 17-50mm f/2.8 Lens Review”

  1. Chris Thompson says:

    Couldn’t agree more, Tom. It’s my favorite lens by far. Good for the vast majority of situations. It’s the only lens I’ve ever used at Disney World or Disneyland.

  2. Cody Sims says:

    Definitely agreeing with your review, I’ve considered this lens the best value in photography since I got one about 3 years ago. Even more so since I upgraded to a new camera with crazy MP (24.3 MP) and it still holds up well (not all my lenses do).

    It should be mentioned, though, that the newer stabilized version has significantly worse image quality than the non-stabilized one that you’re talking about.

    • Tom Bricker says:

      Excellent point about the stabilized version! I can’t believe I left that out–I need to go back and edit…

      • craig says:

        Chaps, the no VC on this lens.. what about if you do not use a tripod and just handhold – is it still OK??

  3. Harry Shields says:

    I’ve been on the fence between Tamron and the sigma. I’m going to be using this on a Sony NEX with LA-EA2 adapter. I just don’t know if the Sigma is worth $200 more.

    • Tom Bricker says:

      I’ve never used the Sigma, but from what I’ve heard, the Sigma isn’t worth EXACTLY the same price. My understanding is that the Tamron is a better lens.

  4. Amanda Susan says:

    I’m very interested in this lens, it may have to be my next purchase.

    I agree about the 50mm. A lot of people I know love it and I’ve tried to love it. I got a few years ago when it was even cheaper than now. It just doesn’t work for what I need. Last week I was at WDW and I rented a 24mm that I enjoyed much more.

    • Tom Bricker says:

      I think the 50mm f/1.8 lenses get so much attention because they’re cheap and allow shallow depth of field. The problem is, 50mm is not wide enough for most situations in the theme parks. Personally, I’d rather spend a little more and get a lens I’ll actually use than save money on a lens that is collecting dust in my page. I’ll likely sell my 50mm f/1.8 soon.

  5. Jenn says:

    This is also my Go-To lens at Disney. When I first bought my first DSLR, the employee convinced me to skip purchasing the kit lens and to go directly to this one. SO glad he did because it usually never comes off my camera. Love the photos it takes and is the perfect Disney lens!

  6. Steve Burns says:

    Personally, I enjoy “technical babble” such as this. Keep it coming.

  7. I was going to say the same thing. Love hearing the details and technical babble and find it rather interesting.

    • Tom Bricker says:

      Thanks for the feedback, guys. I’ll keep that in mind and possibly do more gear reviews. This one was incredibly well-received and given how many people have read it, I’m guessing that I underestimated the demand for this type of thing!

  8. Katie says:

    I’m definitely getting this lens next (and kicking myself for not getting it last winter to replace my broken kit lens–which I ended up replacing with another kit lens. At least now when I upgrade bodies and pass the D40 on to either my brother or my sister, I can pass the kit lens along with it). Thanks for the review!

  9. Keith LeLievre says:

    I have to say, I found this review pretty helpful at the right moment. I had just posed the question to myself: New PC equipment, or a New Lens? With the concept of this lens to replace my 18-55 It has made me think. The issue? I already have the 1.8 50mm Canon lens, and I’ve barely taken it off of the camera since I got it. This may be because I am learning it, or I love the bokeh I can get with it. I just wonder if my money might not be better spent on something longer.

    I don’t know, But I do know that his lens is now on my radar for a possible future purchase.

    • Tom Bricker says:

      To me, the Tamron 17-50mm f/2.8 is the perfect marriage of the kit lens and the 50 1.8. However, if you won’t sell those two when you get this, I wouldn’t get this. It’ll be VERY redundant to what you already have. I’d go wider or longer, instead.

  10. Lori says:

    Thank you, thank you, thank you. My husband and I are heading to Disney this fall and I have wanted faster glass for my camera (like he has.) I kept going back and forth-with or without VC, and you’ve totally helped me solve that issue. Excellent article and just enough technical babble.

  11. Adam Lawrence says:

    I have a similar lens, not exactly the same, and am just as thrilled with it as you are yours. I carry the Tamron 28-75mm F/2.8 on a Sony A65. Absolutely stunning. Very versatile. Just about every photo I take, Disney or not, is taken with this lens.

  12. Rob says:

    Your reviews are terrific and have been incredibly helpful to Disney fan who has recently been bitten by the photography bug!

    I know experience is huge as far as results go, but I’d love to see a write-up or youtube video on how to obtain stunning results. How much of it is experience, lens selection, creatively correct exposure, post-processing? It would certainly be enlightening to see a “walkthrough” (from composition to post-production methods) of any of your beautiful images.

  13. Rachel says:

    I have the entry level Canon DSLR T3. Would this still be good for me as an upgrade? Would this lens work for close ups(food) and fireworks as well?

    • Tom Bricker says:

      The Tamron 17-50mm would serve you well for both food photography and fireworks. Personally, I think it would be a good upgrade. Not in addition to your kit lens, but INSTEAD of your kit lens (so make sure to sell that kit lens if you get it!).

  14. Kurt Miller says:

    The Nikon users give this lens a 3.5 star review. The Canon users give this a 4.5 star review. Insert obligatory Canon/Nikon joke here.

  15. Robert says:

    Great article! I follow you on twitter and was going to ask what your walk around Disney lens is. This article provided a more in depth answer than twitter would have allowed. I agree with width vs focus. I used a 17-85 on our March trip and when I looked at the meta data when we got back, I rarely went above 50mm. I want a better lens to capture some dark rides and the MSEP. Thanks also for the comments on image stabilization. I probably would have wasted my money on it! Keep up the good work!

  16. Arjay says:

    All I can say is WOW. Thank you very much for the recommendation. I just rented this lens for the week and you’re absolutely right. I put it on my D7000 and I love every picture I’ve taken. People, landscape, action shots, indoor shots, crazy quality. Now I know what to save up for.

  17. Chris says:

    I’m glad you are doing lens reviews. I’ll be purchasing my first DSLR camera in June/July and I’m having trouble deciding what lenses to go for. Even when reading and comparing notes on various websites, it still can be misleading and confusing!

  18. Stacy says:

    I literally JUST received this lens…. and owe it all to this very recommendation on my decision to purchase it. I got a great deal … now am very excited to get out there & use it for the first time.

    THANKS TOM (and Sarah) for all the very informative (technical) posts… I’m glad they are well receieved by your readers and look forward to more in the future!!!!

    Thanks,
    Stacy

  19. Samantha says:

    Hey Tom,
    I shoot canon but I was wondering how you feel about sigma/tamron compared to name brand nikon? I want a wide angle (10-20 or so) and something around the 17mm range. Canons cost much more than sigma/tamron obviously and I was just wondering if they’re fully worth it? Thanks!

  20. Robert says:

    Tom,

    I have this same lens for almost 2 years now and I am loving it. I am a Canon user, while most of my friends opt for more expensive Canon L lens, I choose Tamron for its compact size, speed and price. I am not rich, after spend $1200 on a Canon 60D body I can’t justify with another $1000 for 17-40 L lens. Before I got this lens, I was using the Tamorn 28-300 zoom, it now stay in my camera bag most of the time, the 17-50 has become I primary lens, I am glad to see someone else agreed with me how great this lens was.

    P.S. Your “How to Photograph Fireworks” is a great read, I don’t know why I never though of using ND for firework before until I came across your firework photos. I am annual psss holder, with Disneyland just 15 minutes drive from the house, I plan to spend a lots of time in Disneyland.

    Thanks
    Robert

  21. erik fries says:

    Im considering upgrading to a d7000 from my d40. i found a package deal that would include the 18-200mm vrII for under 1500, but I was wondering what your thoughts on just going with this lens and just buy the d7000 body and save about 300 bucks for a prime lens or more spending money at disney.

    • Tom Bricker says:

      The 18-200 is a good lens, but I would definitely recommend a zoom like the Tamron 17-50 over it *if* you don’t need the extra reach.

  22. Dustin says:

    I am about to buy my first setup. I am planning on buying the Nikon D5200 with 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6 AF-S DX VR NIKKOR Zoom Lens. I am having trouble deciding on what other lens to get. Should I get the Nikon 55-200mm f/4-5.6G ED IF AF-S DX VR as my second lens or the Tamron 17-50mm f/2.8 Lens. If anyone has a better lens set for this camera please let me know.

  23. George Potter says:

    I came back to this review to thank you. Your review helped tipped me over the edge on picking one up to replace the kit lens for a “walk-around.” Today I finally had some decent weather to give it a good trying out and I’m impressed. Sure, it’s a *tiny* bit soft if you look at an image 1:1 but considering the price, this lens is astonishingly good.

    • Tom Bricker says:

      Compared to Nikon or Canon lenses that cost 3-4 times the price, it might be a bit soft. Compared to other lenses in its class, it’s absolutely top notch!

  24. amanda says:

    Thanks for this post! We’re making our first trip to Disney soon, and I’ve convinced myself that I need a zoom. All I currently have are primes (including a 50mm/1.4G that I LOVE), but I realize that I’ll need something wider.

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