Who Else Is Struggling to Choose Their Next Wide Angle Zoom Lens?

Who Else Is Struggling to Choose Their Next Wide Angle Zoom Lens?

My ultra-wide zoom spends more time attached to my camera than any other lens, so for me it’s fascinating to see how first Tamron with its 17-28mm f/2.8 and now Canon with its alleged 16-28 f/2 have decided to shake things up. I'm in the market for a new lens and it's coming at quite an interesting time.

In the distant past, I appeared in an advert for Canon, receiving payment in the shape of a camera body and a couple of L-series lenses. Alongside suddenly acquiring my first digital SLR, the most exciting part of this was getting my hands on the first version of the 16-35mm f/2.8. This was not a lens that I could afford and while my battered Sigma 17-35mm f/2.8-4 had done a good job, the sharpness offered by the Canon lens was just incredible.

Eventually, I traded it in for the Mark II which is in my gear bag right now and is still my most-used piece of glass. Following my recent transition to Sony, I adapt it using the Sigma MC-11 and, while heavy (I travel more these days and I'm always trying to lighten my bag), it’s proving a good setup while I slowly swap out my gear.

The monument at Tjentiste, Bosnia and Herzegovina

The mountaintop monument at Tjentiste, Bosnia and Herzegovina. If you'd like to know more about the most beautiful concrete structure ever made, head to blog.andyday.com.

Along Comes Tamron to Make Things Even More Complicated

As you can imagine, I’ve been waiting excitedly for the Tamron 17-28mm to appear and I’m hoping to spend a few days with it shooting in London later this summer. I’m not under any pressure to swap out my Canon 16-35mm/Sigma MC-11 combo, but some weight-saving would be good, and the eye autofocus with that setup is far from great. 

My options are as follows:

  1. Spend what is for me an insane amount of money on the Sony 16-35mm f/2.8
  2. Save some serious money and weight but lose some speed with the Sony 16-35mm f/4
  3. Save even more money and weight but lose some millimeters with the Tamron 17-28mm f/2.8

It’s a conundrum and I’m happy to be able to take my time. Given the price, I’m pondering whether I need f/2.8 at such wide angles and unfortunately for my wallet, I think I would miss it. There are times when it comes in useful — shooting action in low light and the occasional moment when I want to grab a quick portrait when there's no time to swap lenses.

Portrait with the Canon 16-35mm f/2.8 in Copenhagen

Mikkel and his daughter Cleo wandering Copenhagen last month. From Cleo I learned the Danish word "skumfidus" whose literal translation means "foamy thingamabob" and whose actual translation is "marshmallow." Brilliant.

Fortunately for my wallet, however, the Tamron 17-28mm could be interesting, and I know that a load of other photographers and videographers in my niche world are also excited. It’s small, light, fast and affordable, and also makes sense for use on APS-C cameras, whether that’s as an everyday lens or perhaps even for vlogging, offering the full-frame equivalent of 25-42mm.

Where to Compromise

I think I can cope with losing 1mm off the widest angle. Though I’m sometimes in tight spaces that need me to be as wide as possible, 17mm should still be enough. When space isn’t an issue, for most of my action imagery, I tend not to stray much wider than 19mm as subjects placed away from the center of the lens mean that body parts easily get stretched as a result of the lens’s rectilinearity (is that a word? For those unfamiliar, "rectilinear" lenses are those that straighten lines that would otherwise bow in a manner similar to the effect given by a fisheye lens). Hands become alien, heads become contorted, and clown feet are not unusual.

Wide angle focal length

If the legs were extended, the proportions of Jovan's body would be starting to look strange thanks to the ultra-wide focal length. Shooting for Skochypstiks.com.

At the other end, 28mm as opposed to 35mm is more of a concern. Those very occasional portraits at 35mm can be unflattering if the subject is too large in your frame, and at 28mm this becomes even more pronounced.

So this is tough. I want to save bulk. I want to save weight. I want f/2.8. I want 35mm. I don’t have enough money for the Sony GM beast. As my grandmother would say, I want the moon on a stick. First world problems and all that.

Tiny Tamron Tackles the Titans

Tamron is carving itself a bit of a reputation for tweaking the broadly-accepted, traditional focal lengths and offering glass that is lighter and more affordable, albeit with some compromise. The 28-75mm f/2.8 has proven to be incredibly popular with many buying it effectively as a kit lens. On my Sony camera Facebook groups, it’s a standing joke that whenever a newcomer asks which lens they should buy — whether it's for astrophotography or wildlife — the answer is always the Tammy. 

Tamron's approach strikes me as a rather smart tactic. Up against Sony’s somewhat expensive glass, as a third-party manufacturer you need to offer something different. The best way to compete is on price, and in the past, my impression is that the likes of Sigma and Tamron have compromised on image quality in order to keep costs down. I had the misfortune of buying a second-hand Sigma 24-70mm f/2.8 as a stop-gap a few years back and I quickly learned that using it wide open was a bit pointless, not to mention upsetting.

Today, however, the situation is quite different. Having evolved significantly over the last ten years, Sigma has taken one path, and Tamron has taken another. Tamron has a formula that has proven effective so far: trim some millimeters, ditch a load of weight, maintain image quality, and smash the existing options on price.

Customers Are Canny Compromisers

Consumers are savvy. We know we have to compromise if we don’t plan to drop the cash, but that compromise comes now through focal range, and not so much through sharpness and color reproduction. Customers know they get what they pay for, and more of us are now happy to forego some millimeters rather than buying lenses that we know are going to be useless wide open despite trying to gaslight ourselves into thinking otherwise.

So thank you, Tamron, for further compounding my conundrum. It's a very nice problem to have. Let me know your thoughts on the tactics of various lens manufacturers and perhaps and which lens I should go for by leaving a comment below.

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28 Comments

Rob Mitchell's picture

Nikon 14-24. 2.8 for me. Had it since launch day. My favourite lens in the bag. I’ve not bothered looking at ‘off brand’ stuff as I get NPS service on OEM kit.

I’ve used the Z mount 14-30 F4. Nice and compact but didn’t offer much else over the F mount.

Might* get the Z version of the 2.8 when it’s out.

*Probably

michaeljin's picture

"I’ve used the Z mount 14-30 F4. Nice and compact but didn’t offer much else over the F mount."

The circular filter thread is nice.

Rob Mitchell's picture

I’ve never missed using a filter on the 14-24 but yes, good point.

Steve Ridges's picture

I've been holding on to the 17-35 F2.8 while I wait for the Z mount 14-24. I almost bought the 14-30 F4 but spent my money on the 24-70 F2.8 Z lens instead.

Rob Mitchell's picture

Wow, the 17-35, that takes it back a while :) I had one a long time ago, sold it to a buddy and it's still going strong. on the 3rd set of barrel rubbers I think.

I went Sony 16-35 f4. Mostly because I prefer to have the 35mm for portraits and the difference between 2.8 and 4 isn’t that big IMO. going from iso 400 to 800, or 4000 to 8000, for example, doesn’t introduce THAT much more noise. The only thing I wish i had is a little more bokeh for the portraits. But either the Tammy or Sony are excellent lenses. Can’t go wrong!

michaeljin's picture

I bought the Nikon 14-30mm f/4 S recently because I felt the need to drop the weight of my kit as I recover from lumbar fusion, but to date my favorite wide angle has actually been the Sony 12-24mm f/4. Now that they are selling that Techart Sony E-Nikon Z adapter with AF, I might just be in the market to buy it again when I'm back to full strength.

I’m Struggling to Use My First Wide Angle Zoom Lens. 12-24/4. It is sooooooo wide and it allows to capture so much that it is very hard to tell, who/what your subject is.

Andy Day's picture

I've had a few people mention this to me before - there's so much going on that framing becomes tricky. I think my suggestion would be to shoot as minimal as possible. The wide angle lends itself well to clean, sweeping geometric shapes with as little clutter as possible.

So, I’m doing right then :) 1 photo of the audience on an event with vertical verticals and leveled horizon. I just feel a bit sorry about ROI of the lens :)

Mike Kelley's picture

Grow a pair and get a tilt shift!

Andy Day's picture

Mike, I don't think you realise how deep my hatred is for tripods. 😂
But yeah, parkour with a TS. I'm sure that idea is worthy of Lee flying us both to Puerto Rico to make a video about it... 🤪

Andy Day's picture

Marc Morris, just checking you spotted this article. 😊

Kevin Harding's picture

I recently bought the E-mount Laowa 10-18 (yes, that's a full frame lens) for my A9 & A7rii and had so much fun with it (especially at 10mm) I ended up using it far far more than any other lens I took with me to the temples of Chiang Mai (Thailand) and Siem Reap (Angkor Wat etc.) in Cambodia. Such fun and quite sharp with less flaring than I imagined I'd get. Second most used lens was an adapted Canon 135/2.

My favourite previous wide was the seriously impressive Tamron 15-30 SP which beat out the Nikon 14-24 on my Nikon kit.

David Joseph's picture

I read an article on Fstopper by Alex Cooke on the canon 11-24mm so I went to fotocare in NYC to test it for a day before purchasing it. It was 10% off and I had sold my early canon 14mm L lens for $900 on ebay so it cost me around $1500. I shoot interiors and this way i can reach slightly wider than my previous 14mm lens and the images out of it and the Canon 5DmarkIII and 5DMarkIV need very little post processing. The only think to be aware of is controlling the distortion in the foreground or shooting circular objects not head on as they will rapidly become eclipses as with any other wide lens. The lens is seductive in terms of overall potential for capture angle but I use it for really specific things to not have my own work look too wide.

Canon 16-35 F4 for me. It’s light and sharp. A great landscape lens. I have the 11-24 F4. It’s heavy and maybe impractical but can get very interesting shots on particular subjects. Not worth it I’d say.

Amp Sawkmie's picture

There's also the recently rumoured Sigma 12-24mm f/2.8....

If they keep the design of the Dslr lens and just put an addapter it will be a very big and heavy lens.

Amp Sawkmie's picture

You're right. But I think they might come up with new designs specifically for mirrorless bodies this time. Otherwise these lenses would have been released together with those Art lenses with adapter already attached. But we'll know soon enough I guess. Exciting time for Sony shooters.

How do you think the color rendition/rendering of the canon with mc-11 fares versus the sony 16-35s? I've always liked canon better but am not sure if the glass or the body makes the difference.

Andy Day's picture

I'd need to spend a day with the Sony 16-35 to be able to answer that and sadly an opportunity to do that has not yet come along!

Andrew Morse's picture

I've been on the hunt for a while now. For me, I'd like want a wide (at least 16mm on the wide end, 14mm would be better) zoom lens with at least f/2.8 AND a filter thread of 82mm or under. I currently use the 16-35 f/4L and while it is great, I often find that I'll also carry a Rokinon 14mm f/2.8 for the bit of astrophotography I do. I'd really like to shrink the kit by a lens and reduce the weight and pack size for those long over-night backpacking trips, and I'm pretty sure my only option that ticks all of those boxes for Canon is the 16-35 f/2.8L iii. I am definitely curious about performance on the announced RF 15-35 f/2.8L, and part of me dreams about that rumoured RF16-28 f/2, though I'm going to bet that it would be heavier and larger than the f/4 Canon and Rokinon combo I'm using now.

Daniel Sandvik's picture

Took me 5 minutes really. Went with the Tamron 15-30mm F2.8 and absolutely love it!

I think this will be a great addition to my sigma 35 f1.4, sony 85 1.8 and sony 70-200 f4 (replacing my "wide" option samyang 24 f2.8 😄). Probably I will be replacing the telephoto with a Tamron 2.8 when it vomes out as well😉. For me it is a no brainer given the money difference.

Tracy Davis's picture

I just purchased the new Sigma 14-24 2.8 for e mount. I considered the Tamron 17-28 but just couldn't justify that focal range since I already own the 24-70 GM. I wanted a truly wide-angle lens for outdoor, architecture and real estate. Getting 7 mm more wasn't worth the $900, but getting 10mm more is worth the $1400 IMO.

Andy Day's picture

Sounds like a good decision.

How are you liking the 14-24? It looks pretty big, and the rear gel filter isn't super appealing to me. I currently have the Tamron 17-28, and I like it a lot, but it's within its return period for a few more days, and I love the idea of a wider option without having to buy another lens. Are the edges and corners reasonably sharp, and how does it handle flaring and CA?