Tamron SP AF 17-50mm F/2.8 Di II VC DSLR lens

We look at how a third party kit lens stacks up to a first party one.

The Tamron SP AF 17-50mm f/2.8 Di II VC is a standard zoom lens designed for primary shooting duties. The lens aims to stand out for its f/2.8 designation, which is a fast, open aperture designed for low light shooting.

The SP AF 17-50mm f/2.8 Di II VC is positioned as an alternative to kit lenses by first-party manufacturers like Canon, Nikon and Sony. In the case of Nikon, the Nikkor DX 18-55mm is popular choice, particularly with first-time camera owners.

Instead of combating first party lenses on price, Tamron uses quality as a way to stand out in the market. For that reason, the SP Di II is aiming for a higher-end experience over a budget lens like the Nikkor DX.

Build quality

The SP Di II was tested by comparing it to the Nikkor DX 18-55mm, as Tamron is positioning the lens as an alternative or upgrade to first-party kit lenses.

The Nikkor DX 18-55mm has a basic case design that lacks a dedicated manual focusing ring. Manual focusing is done by physically turning the end section of the lens.

This design results in the lens turning while focusing, which proves problematic if using polarising filters. It is likely for this reason why it does not come with a lens hood.

The Tamron SP Di II has internal focusing with non-rotating filter mounts, so the lens does not turn while automatically focusing. It comes supplied with a lens hood, which is useful in blocking glare and lens flare.

The Nikkor DX weighs only 205g thanks to its simple design. The more intricate design of the Tamron SP Di II means it is heavier at 570g.

Out of the two lenses, SP Di II has the more premium look and feel. The Nikkor DX has a basic design, but it is functional and robust.

The Nikkor DX 18-55mm is on the left, the Tamron SP Di II 17-50mm lens is on the right. The difference in build quality is immediately noticeable.
The Nikkor DX 18-55mm is on the left, the Tamron SP Di II 17-50mm lens is on the right. The difference in build quality is immediately noticeable.

Both lenses come with auto-fucus and vibration reduction capabilities. The Nikkor DX is mostly silent during use, though the motors in the SP Di II are audible.

Photo comparisons

Both lenses were tested with a Nikon D5200, which is positioned as a lower, mid-range DSLR camera. The photos were taken using the default factory settings, and best quality JPEG settings.

The photos were captured at 4496x3000 resolution with a file size of approximately 7MB. The resulting photos were reduced for publishing, with a sample at the original resolution included in the top corner of each image for comparison.

Photos were taken at the furthest and nearest zoom lengths, as well as a one mid-range length. The different lengths of both lenses means there is a slight discrepancy in the furthest and nearest zoom lengths.

The first set of photos was taken during bright daytime lighting conditions. The second batch of photos was captured at night with reduced lighting conditions.

Nikkor DX at 18mm
Nikkor DX at 18mm

SP Di II at 17mm
SP Di II at 17mm

Nikkor DX at 35mm
Nikkor DX at 35mm

SP Di II at 35mm
SP Di II at 35mm

Nikkor DX at 55mm
Nikkor DX at 55mm

SP Di II at 50mm
SP Di II at 50mm

Nikkor DX at 18mm
Nikkor DX at 18mm

SP Di II at 17mm
SP Di II at 17mm

Nikkor DX at 35mm
Nikkor DX at 35mm

SP Di II at 35mm
SP Di II at 35mm

Nikkor DX at 55mm
Nikkor DX at 55mm

SP Di II at 50mm
SP Di II at 50mm

Both lenses performed well during daytime shots, and the Tamron SP Di II slightly edged out the Nikkor DX in quality. This is good performance for the third-party SP Di II, though the budget Nikkor DX also did well.

The difference between the lenses is more apparent during the night shots. Thanks to the f/2.8 aperture, the SP Di II surpassed the Nikkor DX with images that are crisper and contain more detail.

Value for money

Lens selection will depend on your needs and the way the camera is purchased. You have the choice of buying a DSLR body alone or with a bundled kit lens, and the type of body (entry-level, mid-range, and beyond) may dictated what lens is needed.

For example, purchasing an entry-level Nikon D3200 body and a Nikkor DX 18-55mm separately costs $500 and $200, respectively. If purchased as a bundle, the discounted price is $650.

The Tamron SP 17-50mm f/2.8 Di II retails for $700, which is more than three times the cost of the Nikkor DX lens. The high quality and construction of the lens is aimed to justify this higher price tag.

Unsurprisingly, the lower entry point of the Nikkor DX has made it a popular choice for first-time camera buyers, particularly those of lower-end DSLR bodies such as the D3200. The only problem with this approach is there is no real room to grow.

Camera bodies become obsolete every few years as the technology improves, but lenses mostly stay the same. That means a high quality lens can get many years of use simply by upgrading to better camera bodies.

Final thoughts

On both a design and quality level, the Tamron SP 17-50mm f/2.8 Di II is a step ahead of the Nikon Nikkor DX 18-55mm. At the same time, the Nikkor DX is a decent budget lens that produces good shots.

The budget nature of the Nikkor DX 18-55mm means it may not get much use beyond the initial camera it is bought with. Better camera bodies will be overkill with this lens, and you’ll likely want to invest in a different, better lens instead.

The Tamron SP Di II is more flexible in this respect. It is a good choice for entry level DSLR bodies, and it can be carried over to better camera bodies when the time comes for an upgrade.

The cheap price and robust design of the Nikon Nikkor DX 18-55mm, particularly bundled with a camera body, makes is a good choice for beginners. However, those looking for a high quality lens, one that will last for a long time without upgrading, may want to invest in the Tamron SP 17-50mm f/2.8 Di II instead.

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Patrick Budmar

Patrick Budmar

PC World
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