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.
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:
- Spend what is for me an insane amount of money on the Sony 16-35mm f/2.8
- Save some serious money and weight but lose some speed with the Sony 16-35mm f/4
- 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.
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.
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.