A fun way to start a lens review is to share a record-setting attribute of that lens. In this case, the Tamron 17-50mm F4 Di III VXD Lens is the first full-frame lens to span that focal length range, with the long end being the noticeable differentiator.
Aside from the advantage of having this range of focal length immediately available, 17-50mm sometimes offers sufficient coverage to justify leaving the standard zoom lens at home. The gap between 50mm and 70mm is short, and the 17-50 paired with a 70-something lens, such as the Tamron 70-180mm F2.8 Di III VC VXD G2 Lens, provides a long angle of view range in a 2-lens kit.
This outstanding focal length range in a modest (and fixed) size and weight lens with a superb physical design and high-performing AF system producing good image quality at a relatively low price creates a compelling purchase proposition.
Focal length range (or individual focal length for a prime lens) is a primary consideration for lens selection. A specific angle of view is required to get a desired subject framing with the optimal perspective (or from within a working distance limitation).
As already mentioned, this lens provides exceptional full-frame angle of view coverage, ranging from moderately ultra wide to standard focal lengths. The 17mm end is not as wide as some alternatives, such as the Sigma 16-28mm F2.8 DG DN Contemporary Lens or Sony FE 16-35mm F2.8 GM II Lens, but the 50mm end is significantly longer, advantaging the Tamron lens for general-purpose use. The wide-angle zoom lens category is one of the next-most-needed lenses, and this lens nicely covers that need.
Let's start this review with a 4-mile hike in Shenandoah National Park with the Tamron 17-50, the sole lens in the bag, serving all needs.
Elliott was along, and our first break was deemed necessary only a short distance down the trail. No worries, because he was looking cute while playing with a stick on logs, and the 17-50 optimally covered the environmental through modestly body-cropped portraits availed. Illustrated here is 37mm.
The camera was on the ground for the next portrait, with the lens zoomed to 44mm.
While this focal length range is well suited for portraits, the wide end invites getting too close, creating perspective issues. Notice how large Elliott's right hand is relative to his left hand in this 17mm sample photo?
The focal lengths in this lens are ideal for landscape photography. The trees were in their fall glory, and the 50mm option created this trunk and leaf image.
The 17-50mm range is useful for cityscape and street photography, as well as self-recording. Use this lens to self-record. Use this lens to capture product and detail images.
The video uses for this lens mirror those of stills.
The following images illustrate the 17-50mm focal length range:
Note the difference between the 35mm angle of view often available in ultra-wide-angle zoom lenses and the 50mm angle available in this lens.
On an APS-C camera, this lens creates an angle of view like a 25.5-75mm lens on a full-frame camera. That range falls squarely into the general-purpose range, with greater portrait, product, and details utility, but these angles of view are less ideal for general landscape photography.
How much light does the lens provide to the imaging sensor? The max aperture is listed right after the focal length range in the product name, and this feature is often the second most important when selecting a lens.
The lower the aperture number, the wider the opening, and the more light the lens can deliver to the imaging sensor. Each "stop" in aperture change (full stop examples: f/2.8, f/4.0, f/5.6) increases or decreases the amount of light by a factor of 2x (a substantial amount).
F/4, available over the entire zoom range, is a moderately wide aperture for these focal lengths.
A narrow aperture's advantages are related to (often significantly) reduced lens element size, including smaller overall size, lighter weight, and lower cost.
The additional light provided by a wider aperture permits sharp images of subjects in motion, with the camera handheld in lower light levels, and with lower (less noisy) ISO settings. Often critical is the improved low-light AF performance availed by a wide-aperture lens. Increasing the aperture opening provides a shallower DOF (Depth of Field) that creates a stronger, better subject-isolating background blur (at equivalent focal lengths).
These examples illustrate the maximum blur this lens can create:
The background is a significant percentage of many images, and when the background is not complementary to the subject (or even distracting), blurring it away is highly advantageous. With low magnification, 17mm is not an optimal choice for blurring the background. However, 50mm has that capability.
Remember that the blur will not be so strong at longer distances. For example, the above photos of Elliott were captured at f/4.
Only a 1/60 second shutter speed (twice the framerate) is needed for 30 fps video capture, and wide apertures are not often required to get 1/60 in normally encountered ambient lighting.
The Tamron 17-50mm F4 Di III VXD Lens does not feature image stabilization. Omitting the optical stabilization system reduces the size, weight, complexity, and cost. However, image stabilization is a useful feature.
Sony addresses that omission with Steady Shot IBIS (In-Body Image Stabilization) in their Alpha cameras. In addition to reducing camera shake, the stabilized imaging sensor provides a still viewfinder image, enabling careful composition. Furthermore, sensor-based AF takes advantage of the stabilized view for improved accuracy.
With no IS switch on the lens, the camera menu must be used to enable or disable IBIS or check the current settings. This extra step is a slight impediment to working quickly, going from tripod mounted to handholding, for example.
A record-setting focal length in a highly affordable lens does not forecast standout optical performance. Let's put the Tamron 17-50mm F4 Di III VXD Lens to the tests.
Sharpness, a combination of resolution and contrast, is always a favorite lens optical performance attribute, and this lens produces good sharpness in the center of the frame. The wide-end results are slightly sharper than the long-end results (and geometric distortion plays into the test chart appearance). Little sharpness change is seen at narrower apertures.
Often, subjects are not placed in the center of a composition. In the periphery of the image circle, where light rays are refracted to a stronger angle than in the center, lenses typically show decreased sharpness.
At 17mm f/4, this lens produces good corner sharpness, with little sharpness improvement showing at narrower apertures. Longer marked focal length corners are not nearly as sharp, though the left side of of the mid-range focal lengths is slightly sharper than the right, the side showing in the image quality tool. Stopping down produces a modest sharpness improvement.
Comparing an afford zoom lens to a high-end prime lens is not completely fair, but the prime lens establishes the standard.
The resolution chart is brutal/merciless on image quality, so let's take the testing outdoors, next looking at a series of center-of-the-frame 100% resolution crop examples. These images were captured in RAW format using a Sony Alpha 1 and processed in Capture One using the Natural Clarity method. The sharpening amount was set to only "30" on a 0-1000 scale. Note that images from most cameras require some level of sharpening, but too-high sharpness settings are destructive to image details and hide the deficiencies of a lens.
Only the f/4 results are shared because the f/5.6 results were nearly identical.
Next, we'll look at a series of comparisons showing 100% resolution extreme top left corner crops (the tree trunk crops are from the bottom left) captured and processed identically to the above center-of-the-frame images. The lens was manually focused in the corner of the frame to capture these images.
Samples taken from the outer extreme of the image circle, full-frame corners, can be counted on to show a lens's weakest performance. The 17mm images show good sharpness, and the longer focal length images show some softness. Stopping down primarily removes peripheral shading.
This lens does not exhibit focus shift, the plane of sharp focus moving forward or backward as the aperture is narrowed (residual spherical aberration or RSA). Many modern lenses automatically correct for focus shift, though focus breathing (more later) can create slight angle of view changes.
As just mentioned and as usual, some peripheral shading is present at the widest aperture settings when used on a camera that utilizes its entire image circle. At 17mm f/4, the shading is strong — about 4 stops in the corners (without distortion correction). Just over 2 stops of shading remain at 24mm f/4, and only just over 1 stop of shading remains at the longer focal lengths.
Want less corner shading? Stopping down is the near universal solution. At f/5.6, shading ranges from about 3 stops at 17mm down to well under a stop at 50mm. At f/8, 17mm shading drops to about 2.5 stops, but no additional shading reduction is seen at the longer focal lengths.
APS-C format cameras using lenses projecting a full-frame-sized image circle avoid most vignetting problems. In this case, the under one-stop of corner shading showing at 17mm f/4 will seldom be visible.
One-stop of shading is often used as the visibility number, though subject details provide a widely varying amount of vignetting discernibility. Vignetting is correctable during post-processing, with increased noise in the brightened areas the penalty, or it can be embraced, using the effect to draw the viewer's eye to the center of the frame. Study the pattern shown in our vignetting test tool to determine how your images will be affected.
Lateral (or transverse) CA (Chromatic Aberration) refers to the unequal magnification of all colors in the spectrum. Lateral CA shows as color fringing along lines of strong contrast running tangential (meridional, right angles to radii), with the mid and especially the periphery of the image circle showing the most significant amount as this is where the most significant difference in the magnification of wavelengths typically exists.
With the right lens profile and software, lateral CA is often easily correctable (often in the camera) by radially shifting the colors to coincide. However, it is always better to avoid this aberration in the first place.
Color misalignment can be seen in the site's image quality tool, but let's also look at a set of worst-case examples. The images below are 100% crops from the extreme top left corner of Sony a1 frames showing diagonal black and white lines.
Only black and white colors should be present in these images, with the additional colors indicating the presence of lateral CA. The strong color separation at the wide end slowly decreases to minor at 50mm.
A relatively common lens aberration is axial (longitudinal, bokeh) CA, which causes non-coinciding focal planes of the various wavelengths of light. More simply, different colors of light are focused to different depths. Spherical aberration, along with spherochromatism, or a change in the amount of spherical aberration with respect to color (looks quite similar to axial chromatic aberration but is hazier) are other common lens aberrations to observe. Axial CA remains somewhat persistent when stopping down, with the color misalignment effect increasing with defocusing. The spherical aberration color halo shows little size change as the lens is defocused, and stopping down one to two stops generally removes this aberration.
In the real world, lens defects do not exist in isolation, with spherical aberration and spherochromatism generally found, at least to some degree, along with axial CA. These combine to create a less sharp, hazy-appearing image quality at the widest apertures.
The examples below look at the defocused specular highlights' fringing colors in the foreground vs. the background. The lens has introduced any fringing color differences from the neutrally colored subjects.
Except at 50mm, there is a significant amount of color separation showing here.
Bright light reflecting off lens elements' surfaces may cause flare and ghosting, resulting in reduced contrast and sometimes interesting, usually destructive visual artifacts. The shape, intensity, and position of the flare and ghosting effects in an image are variable, dependent on the position and nature of the light source (or sources), selected aperture, shape of the aperture blades, and quantity and quality of the lens elements and their coatings. Additionally, flare and ghosting can impact AF performance.
The Tamron 17-50 features second-generation BBAR-G2 Coating, "a groundbreaking advancement that provides vastly improved performance compared to the original BBAR (Broad-Band Anti-Reflection) Coating." [Tamron] This lens produced, at most, minor flare effects even at narrow apertures in our standard sun in the corner of the frame flare test.
Flare effects can be embraced or avoided, or removal can be attempted. Unfortunately, removal is sometimes challenging, and in some cases, flare effects can destroy image quality. Thus, high flare resistance is a welcomed trait of this lens.
Two lens aberrations are particularly evident in images of stars, mainly because bright points of light against a dark background make them easier to see. Coma occurs when light rays from a point of light spread out from that point instead of being refocused as a point on the sensor. Coma is absent in the center of the frame, gets worse toward the edges/corners, and generally appears as a comet-like or triangular tail of light that can be oriented either away from the center of the frame (external coma) or toward the center of the frame (internal coma). The coma clears as the aperture is narrowed. Astigmatism is seen as points of light spreading into a line, either sagittal (radiating from the center of the image) or meridional (tangential, perpendicular to sagittal). This aberration can produce stars appearing to have wings. Remember that Lateral CA is another aberration apparent in the corners.
The images below are 100% crops taken from the top-left corner of Alpha 1 images captured at the widest available aperture.
The 17mm and 28mm results are decent, but the 50mm stars are strongly stretched.
This lens has strong barrel distortion at the wide end, transitioning into negligible distortion (at just wider than 35mm) and slight pincushion distortion at the long end.
With increasing frequency, manufacturers are relying on software over physical lens design to manage geometric distortion. Reasons include lower cost, smaller size, lighter weight, reduced complexity, and improved correction of aberrations not software correctable. Most modern lenses have correction profiles available (including in-camera via lens communication), and the distortion can be corrected using these. Still, geometric distortion correction requires stretching which is detrimental to image quality. This lens's 17mm images will warrant correction minimally when straight lines are present in the image periphery.
Due to the infinite number of variables present among available scenes, assessing the blur quality, bokeh, is considerably more challenging. Here are some f/11 (for diaphragm blade interaction) examples.
All samples are 100% crops except the second 50mm image, which is a full image reduced in size. I see normal performance here.
Except for a small number of specialty lenses, the wide aperture bokeh in the frame's corner does not produce round defocused highlights, with these effects taking on a cat's eye shape due to a form of mechanical vignetting. If you look through a tube at an angle, similar to the light reaching the frame's corner, the shape is not round. That is the shape we're looking at here. The first sample is a top-left quadrant, while the other samples are full images reduced in size.
The 17mm results show strong shape truncation in the corners, the 35mm results are excellent, and the other results are good. As the aperture narrows, the entrance pupil size is reduced, and the mechanical vignetting diminishes, making the corner shapes rounder.
A 9-blade count diaphragm will create 18-point sunstars (diffraction spikes) from point light sources captured with a narrow aperture. Generally, the more a lens diaphragm is stopped down, the larger and better shaped the sunstars tend to be. This moderately wide aperture lens creates good stars, though the points are slightly multi-spiked.
The example above was captured at f/16.
"The optical construction of the 17-50mm F4 consists of 15 elements in 13 groups. With the precise arrangement of special lens elements, including three LD (Low Dispersion), one GM (Glass Molded Aspherical) and two hybrid aspherical lens elements, chromatic and other aberrations are effectively suppressed." [Tamron]
While most of this lens's test results are mediocre, it still creates good image quality, and images are especially nice when using the shallow full-frame f/4 depth of field.
"The lens’s AF drive uses the VXD (Voice-coil eXtreme-torque Drive) linear motor focus mechanism. The AF drive features high-speed operations and achieves positional accuracy in miniscule 0.005mm increments." [Tamron]
This lens smoothly, quietly, and internally focuses with good speed. Focusing speed slows in low light, as usual, but this lens still locks focus on good contrast in low light conditions.
Non-cinema lenses usually require refocusing after a focal length change, and as illustrated in the 100% crops below, the reviewed lens is normal. When focused at 50mm, zooming to wider focal lengths results in focus blur.
Re-focus if you adjust the focal length.
The rubber-ribbed manual focus ring is ideally positioned on a raised area of the lens barrel near the front of the lens. This ring turns smoothly and has optimal resistance.
By default, the focus ring features a linear adjustment rate, with a 90° rotation affecting a full extent change and a 110° rotation doing the same at 50mm. Via the Tamron Lens Utility app, you can have it your way. The Focus Ring Function Setting options are:
It is normal for the scene to change size in the frame (sometimes significantly) as the focus is pulled from one extent to the other. This effect is focus breathing, a change in focal length resulting from a change in focus distance. Focus breathing impacts photographers intending to use focus stacking techniques, videographers pulling focus (without movement to camouflage the effect), and anyone critically framing while adjusting focus.
This lens produces a moderate change in subject size through a full-extent (worst-case) focus distance adjustment at 17mm and a modest one at 50mm.
This lens does not have an AF/MF switch, requiring this frequently used camera setting to be changed via the menu system (or via a camera switch on some models).
This lens has a minimum focus distance of 7.5" (190mm), and at 50mm, it generates a significant 0.38x maximum magnification spec.
|Min Focus Distance "(mm)
|Canon RF 14-35mm F4 L IS USM Lens
|Sigma 16-28mm F2.8 DG DN Contemporary Lens
|Sony FE PZ 16-35mm F4 G Lens
|Sony FE 20-70mm F4 G Lens
|Tamron 17-50mm F4 Di III VXD Lens
At 17mm, a subject measuring approximately 6.4 x 4.3" (162.6 x 108.4mm) fills a full-frame imaging sensor at this lens's minimum MF distance. At 50mm, a 4.8 x 3.2" (121.9 x 81.3mm) subject does the same.
The USPS love stamps shared above have an image area that measures 1.05 x 0.77" (26.67 x 19.558mm), and the overall individual stamp size is 1.19 x 0.91" (30.226 x 23.114mm).
While this lens produces sharp center-of-the-frame details at minimum focus distance with a wide-open aperture, expect the image periphery to be soft due to field curvature, especially at 17mm. The 17mm corners are blurry even at f/16, but the 50mm corners become reasonably sharp at this aperture.
The minimum focus distance is measured from the imaging sensor plane with the balance of the camera, lens, and lens hood length taking their space out of the number to create the working distance. At 50mm, the minimum focus distance working distance is adequate, but at 17mm, the plane of sharp focus is only about 1.8" (45.7mm) in front of the lens hood. Removing the hood adds some space, but the lens is still likely to affect the subject lighting.
Need a shorter minimum focus distance and higher magnification? Mount an extension tube behind this lens to significantly decrease and increase those respective numbers. Extension tubes are hollow lens barrels that shift a lens farther from the camera, allowing shorter focusing distances at the expense of long-distance focusing. Electronic connections in extension tubes permit the lens and camera to communicate and function normally. As of review time, Tamron does not publish extension tube specs or manufacture these items, but third-party Sony-compatible extension tubes are available.
This lens is not compatible with Tamron extenders.
"Enhanced overall lens design for user-friendly operation. Every individual part of the lens has been reexamined, right down to the fine details, resulting in an enhanced design that updates both operability and ergonomic considerations. The surface of the lens exterior is shiny and glossy black. Improved abrasion resistance makes the lens harder to scratch and resists fingerprints. Additionally, the grip performance has been improved. The smooth curved, glossy surface of the brand ring creates a dignified appearance with a design that signifies functional beauty and high quality." [Tamron]
This is a nice lens.
Did you notice? This lens does not change external size when zooming, keeping the lens balance little changed, which is optimal for handheld gimbal stabilizer use.
The sharply ribbed rubber zoom ring, slightly raised from the lens barrel, is easy to find, and it operates smoothly. The zoom ring's location and 60° rotation are ideal.
The exterior construction features engineering plastic.
This lens has only one button, the programmable focus stop button. Positive is that the lack of switches should mean increased reliability, including a decreased opportunity for dirt and moisture penetration, along with reduced cost.
A USB Type-C port is located near the mount.
Why does this lens have a USB port? The 17-50 VXD lens can be plugged into a computer (USB Type-C cable not included) and managed via Tamron Lens Utility.
Using this software, the lens firmware can be updated, the focus ring direction can be reversed, the focusing ring adjustment rate can be set to linear or variable, and the lens AF stop button can be customized.
The settings available for the Focus Set Button are:
Lens Utility facilitates firmware updates and features a reset to factory option.
"For greater protection when shooting outdoors, leak-resistant seals throughout the lens barrel help protect your equipment. Also, the Connector Port is the water-proofed USB Type-C variety." [Tamron]
"The front surface of the lens element is coated with a protective fluorine compound that is water- and oil-repellant. The lens surface is easier to wipe clean and is less vulnerable to the damaging effects of dirt, dust, moisture, and fingerprints." [Tamron]
This Tamron lens is compatible with advanced mirrorless camera features, including Hybrid AF, Eye AF, Direct Manual Focus (DMF), and in-camera lens correction (shading, chromatic aberration, distortion).
The 17-50 VXD lens is relatively compact and lightweight, making it a great lens to leave on the camera for even long carries. No direct comparison lenses are available for world's first title holders, and as you likely noticed in the last comparison table, the comparable selection appears a bit random.
|Dimensions w/o Hood "(mm)
|Canon RF 14-35mm F4 L IS USM Lens
|3.3 x 3.9
|(84.1 x 99.8)
|Sigma 16-28mm F2.8 DG DN Contemporary Lens
|3.0 x 4.0
|(77.2 x 100.6)
|Sony FE PZ 16-35mm F4 G Lens
|3.2 x 3.5
|(80.5 x 88.1)
|Sony FE 20-70mm F4 G Lens
|3.1 x 3.9
|(78.7 x 99.0)
|Tamron 17-50mm F4 Di III VXD Lens
|2.9 x 4.5
|(74.8 x 114.4)
For many more comparisons, review the complete Tamron 17-50mm F4 Di III VXD Lens Specifications using the site's lens specifications tool.
Here is a visual comparison:
Positioned above from left to right are the following lenses:
The same lenses are shown below with their hoods in place.
Use the site's product image comparison tool to visually compare the Tamron 17-50mm F4 Di III VXD Lens to other lenses.
Like so many other recently released lenses, including many Tamron models, the Tamron 17-50 VXD uses 67mm threaded filters. Filters of this moderately small size are affordable, and due to their popularity, they are easy to find and efficient for sharing.
The Tamron lens hood is included in the box. Tamron adds an "H" prefix to the lens model number first using a particular hood. In this case, the HA062 was first featured on the Tamron 20-40mm f/2.8 Di III VXD Lens model A062.
This impact-absorbing semi-rigid plastic hood provides good protection to the front element from bright light and scratches. The mold-ribbed interior aids reflection avoidance. A push-button release to make the bayonet mount smoother was omitted.
A lens case is not included in the box.
Tamron's name is synonymous with good value, and this useful lens, featuring a reasonable price, solidifies that reputation.
What does "Di III" mean? Tamron's Di III lenses are designed for use on mirrorless interchangeable lens cameras. The Tamron 17-50mm F4 Di III VXD Lens is compatible with all Sony E-mount cameras, including full-frame and APS-C sensor format models.
"This product is developed, manufactured and sold based on the specifications of E-mount which was disclosed by Sony Corporation under the license agreement with Sony Corporation." [Tamron]
Tamron USA provides a 6-year limited warranty.
The reviewed Tamron 17-50mm F4 Di III VXD Lens was online retail sourced.
The Tamron 17-50mm F4 Di III VXD Lens features an outstanding focal length range in a modest (and fixed) size and weight body with a superb physical design and high-performing AF system. This lens produces good image quality at a relatively low price for a compelling purchase proposition.
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