At the risk of enraging loyal Fuji fanboys and fangirls everywhere, I have decided that the best thing to happen to Fuji shooters in a long while is the release of a third-party lens.
That lens, the Tamron 17-70mm f/2.8 Di III-A VC RXD, has the potential to be a polarizing (as in, divisive, not like a polarizing filter) piece of glass in the Fuji community. The non-native design aesthetics, lack of aperture ring, and the simple fact it's a third-party lens will be enough to make a lot of the most obsessive Fuji X lovers turn up their nose. But for those that can look past those “shortcomings,” the lens is actually a game-changer for us who love Fuji and don’t discriminate against third-party gear.
What Tamron has given us with this lens is a fast, constant f/2.8 general zoom lens with a wider-than-usual 4.1x zoom range; confident, snappy autofocus; optical image stabilization; very good image quality through nearly all of its range and well out to the corners; and the very budget-conscious price of $799. By contrast, Fujifilm’s own heavy but excellent 16-55mm f/2.8 R LM WR clocks in at $1,199 while lacking image stabilization and 14mm of the Tamron’s zoom range.
From a design and build quality perspective, the Tamron 17-70mm is nearly the same as its sister lens for the system, the Tamron 18-300mm F3.5-6.3 Di III-A VC VXD, a superzoom with no true equivalent from Fuji that I have enjoyed using a great deal for well-lit daytime event coverage and reporting. The new 17-70mm feels a little more solid, but its real advantages lie in its performance and features.
For literally any kind of shooting that can be done within its 4.1x zoom range, this lens excels, making it an awesome all-purpose, one-lens solution, but don't let that statement fool you. Although my sample images are sunset landscape photos, this unit is without a doubt very well-suited to demanding situations with fast-paced action, or poorly lit environments, making things like weddings or indoor gym sports no problem thanks to its quick, accurate autofocus, relatively high-speed aperture of f/2.8 and extremely utilitarian zoom range.
The 17-70mm equivalent in 35mm terms, for those who are curious, is 25-105mm, but most full frame lenses in this segment are limited to 24-70mm or 28-75mm for those with a f/2.8 aperture. Also, typically, only the very highest-end and most expensive (think $1,300+) f/2.8 full frame general zoom lenses have image stabilization built in.
Before receiving the lens, I was a little skeptical, thinking Tamron’s flex of squeezing such a wide zoom range together with f/2.8 might create image quality sacrifices. The lens surprised me with great optical characteristics such as very good wide-open performance in many important areas like contrast, chromatic aberration, and flare control.
It's not flawless, however. From 65-70mm, contrast and sharpness suffers slightly, but stopping down to f/4 or f/5.6 remedies that very well for the pixel-peepers among you. I would still feel fine to shoot wide open at f/2.8 if it meant I could keep my ISO at a lower level. You can make it flare if you put effort into it. The bokeh might even be perceived by some as slightly busy. Even with those relatively minor issues, Tamron should be very proud of what they have achieved with this lens.
While not as pretty, at its heart, this lens is a professional workhorse at a great price. It just does so many things well, and with its excellent versatility and f/2.8 aperture, this is, in my opinion, absolutely the best do-it-all desert island lens if you could pick only one. For weddings, portraits, photojournalism, landscape, street photography, and action sports up close, this lens is a total winner that unlocks beast mode for our Fujifilm APS-C bodies. No lens thus far released for X Mount has checked all these boxes with such an extensive list of features and professional-level image quality.
The killer performance, plentiful feature set, and wonderful value make this lens an especially potent upgrade to older Fuji bodies. Older generation Fuji bodies benefit immensely from the addition of this lens because you will typically receive bolstered autofocus performance and add image stabilization for slower handheld shots. If you are coming from a kit lens, even the well-reviewed Fuji XF 18-55 f/2.8-4, prepare to be blown away. For example, the X-T2, an aging or even completely outdated camera in the eyes of many picky gearheads, becomes an extremely capable and confident performer when paired with this lens. After my experiences using this lens over the past several weeks, I would feel completely comfortable shooting a wedding or commercial photo shoot with the aforementioned combo and nothing else. Normally, I shoot weddings with a pair of bodies with f/1.4 prime lenses, but for anyone whose style is not defined entirely by razor-thin depth of field, transitioning to a single body complimented with the Tamron 17-70mm would offer some immensely satisfying shedding of weight and hassle while allowing a more fluid and confident shoot workflow.
The lens also performs well for video work, helped by its image stabilization and flexibility. Minor focus breathing can be seen if you really look, but it is minimal and forgivable for a capable professional or video enthusiast.
This lens offers the ability to just slap it on your camera, put the strap around your neck, and leave the house with no other lenses or gear except a spare battery or two, comfortable knowing that 17-70mm range is going to give you a lot of room to work with and the f/2.8 and image stabilization will help you deal with low light and offer increased freedom from your tripod. I can walk out my door with only that and nothing else and not have that anxiety that I won’t have what I need to get my shot when the opportunity arrives. If I am really nervous about having a long tele option, I will bring its 18-300mm sister along with me, and between the two, if you can’t get your shot, the gear isn’t the issue.
I have not even listed all of the benefits of the lens yet, since it also offers a weight advantage over its direct competitor, the Fuji 16-55mm f/2.8. It also has good pseudo-macro capabilities at its wide end, focusing down to 7.5 inches from the sensor, for 1:4.8 life-size reproduction.As soon as I had a chance to play with the Tamron 17-70mm f/2.8, I knew immediately we would be the best of friends. Now, when I am out on a print photojournalism assignment, I know this lens will be permanently attached to one of my bodies, sitting on the passenger seat of my vehicle, ready to lock down any photo opportunity that arises. I recommend this lens to literally anyone with a Fuji X-Mount camera body. As much as I love Fuji’s awesome 16-55mm f/2.8, between the two, I would choose Tamron every time and spend the money saved on other gear. These kinds of releases are important to us as consumers, because they serve to drive competition in the market, and when Fuji releases an answer to the Tamron 17-70mm f/2.8 in the form of an upgrade XF 16-55mm f/2.8 or something similar, it will likely be another excellent addition to our options as Fuji X folks.