When I moved to Sony, part of the appeal was the smaller body. However, the idea of being able to replace my big, heavy wide-angle zoom with something light and fast seemed impossible. Last month, Tamron released its 17-28mm f/2.8, and I just spent three days using it to photograph a parkour event in central London. Ahead of a thorough review, here are my first impressions.
Following the success of its 28-75mm f/2.8 lens, Tamron’s wide-angle effort has been widely anticipated by Sony users. The big, heavy, expensive glass made by Sony and Sigma is certainly incredible, but more affordable options that actually offered good quality seemed unlikely. The 28-75mm lens changed this, and the 17-28mm is keeping with the high bar that Tamron set last year.
This is a comparatively small, light lens that instead of compromising on sharpness or maximum aperture, compromises on width and reach: 1mm at its widest and 7 m at its longest. The big question for everyone considering this lens — myself very much included — is whether this compromise is acceptable with what I shoot. My work involves shooting almost exclusively with my beloved 16-35mm f/2.8 L (currently adapted with the Sigma MC-11), and the thought of changing this is a little terrifying.
Tamron has loaned me a lens for a month, and I just spent three days photographing the Rendezvous training event hosted in Central London by Parkour Generations (Facebook, Instagram). The lens performed well at an event that has some diverse conditions. It endured wind, heavy rain, gloomy clouds, bright sunlight, gritty housing estates, dark woodlands, and dull interiors. I’ve been excited at the prospect of this lens since rumors first emerged, and it’s great to know that it delivers the quality I want and that the reduced focal range didn’t feel uncomfortable or restrictive.
Autofocus was snappy and responsive, which is crucial for a sport where movement is unpredictable. I'm frequently pointing the camera upwards to create drama, which means a lot of strongly backlit subjects. Eye autofocus worked well, and sharpness at f/2.8 is very good, in addition to creating a pleasing texture to out-of-focus areas. Quality of bokeh isn't high on my list of requirements from a wide-angle zoom, but for me, the Tamron delivers surprisingly well.
The size of the lens makes it a joy to use, and being able to shoot holding the camera with just one hand (I use a Meike grip) was a novelty. The lens didn't seem to struggle to focus under the dark canopy of the rain-soaked woods, even with the intermittent rain (and no, I didn't test out the weather-sealing too closely). In addition, my initial impressions are that this is a sharp lens, and it certainly compares well to my Canon 16-35mm.
Being a fan of lightweight travel, I know that the Tamron would come with me more often on those random trips where I'm not sure which glass to take along. If Tamron could then make one of its forthcoming Sony primes an affordable, lightweight 35mm f/1.8, I'd be incredibly happy, giving me a truly agile setup that moving to mirrorless always promised but never quite wanted to deliver.
I have a few more weeks in which to put this lens through its paces, and early signs are good, especially given the price point. My task over the next few days is to hope for some clear skies, try to dig a tripod out of my building site of a house, and make my first ever attempt at astrophotography. Wish me luck.
Check back soon for the full review, and feel free to leave any questions, requests, or suggestions in the comments below.