Nikon vs Tamron f/2.8 17-50mm Lens Comparison

A few months ago I bit the bullet and invested in a Tamron zoom lens. I am fortunate enough to be able to borrow professional Nikon lenses from the photographer I work for, but during wedding season he often needs them full time. I love prime lenses but zooms are important as well and my kit lens doesn't cut it. After reading dozens of (primarily positive) reviews, I decided to give the much more affordable Tamron version the benefit of the doubt and ordered it from B&H. 

 After receiving the lens and using it alongside the borrowed pro Nikon version for a month or so, I thought I would write a detailed side by side comparison of both lenses. To get straight to the point now though, here's what I think in one sentence: For my purposes, Tamron's f/2.8 17-50mm lens cost a third of the price of Nikon's f/2.8 17-55mm, and delivers more than three-quarters of the image quality and results.

nikon tamron lens re

The Specs

Like all professional lenses, of course, the Nikon lens is larger, heavier and more durable, because of it's metal exterior. The plastic Tamron lens cannot compete in brute strength, but since that is not a huge factor for me, it is somewhat of a non-issue in my personal opinion. I don't tend to drop my lenses and refuse to do so for "testing" purposes, so we'll all just have to go on other factors here, mmkay?

Aside from the actual plastic materials and construction, the Tamron lens still feels decently sturdy. The mounting ring slides into place easily, locks tightly to the camera body, and releases smoothly. The Nikon lens is nearly an inch wider and one inch longer than its Tamron counterpart. It also weighs close to two pounds, which makes the barely one-pound Tamron feel light. The smaller size is perfect for me because it is lighter and less bulky to carry around in one's bag. This makes it nice for casual street shooting and travel photography/video. And as you'll see later, image quality is not affected.

Focusing & Zoom

There are definitely some differences between the two brands here. One of the biggest is that the fine focus on the Tamron version CANNOT be manually adjusted while set to autofocus mode. Nikon's zoom lens allows you to fine focus manually in both auto and manual mode. But, according to the manual, moving the Tamron fine focus ring by hand while the switch is in autofocus mode can and most likely will damage the internal mechanism. I am accustomed to using prime lenses, so having to manually switch between autofocus and manual focus is not a new thing for me. However for shooters who have become long accustomed to that flexibility, I imagine it would be a bit difficult to switch.

You might also notice that between the two lenses, the zoom and fine focus rings are reversed. Again, this might present more of a challenge for people who never ever use prime lenses. The Nikon lens has plenty of room to be supported near the front lens, without hindering the autofocus mechanism, which is located near the rear of the lens. This is great because the lens is somewhat heavy.

On the other hand, the Tamron lens must be held like a prime lens, back near the rear of the lens. I have pretty small hands and fingers, and there is not enough room anywhere else to place my fingers that wouldn't drag on the fine focus ring as it turns during auto focus.The autofocus ring is closest to the front and must be allowed turn freely. As mentioned before, interfering with the fine focus in any way while in autofocus mode is very dangerous for the Tamron lens.

The other main differences are that the Tamron lens autofocus is quite a lot louder and not quite as fast as the Nikon lens. It's a bit annoying to be honest, but again personally, it is not bad at all. I think the only situations I can reasonably be barred from without a silent internal focus would probably be small indoor silent church weddings, which hasn't come up for me yet! For portraits, nature, travel, food, product, night, and street photography, the Tamron lens is a great deal for the price. It is quicker than one might expect, but probably wouldn't be optimal for anyone looking to primarily shoot sports or other high action series.

Image Quality

I've noticed both lenses have very similar yet mild vignetting and chromatic aberration issues out in full sunlight, which are easily corrected later. Set at the same shutter speed, aperture and ISO, both lenses also showed a similar level of low-light noise. The Tamron lens appears slightly less sharp at the center when enlarged and compared to its Nikon equivalent. The Tamron lens produced slightly brighter and warmer images. Overall, the color quality and image resolution are remarkably similar.

Interestingly, while comparing side by side photographs taken with each lens, I noticed that the Nikon lens shows some slight barrel distortion, while the Tamron lens presented none. The Nikon lens distortion is pretty much unnoticeable in a solo shot, but when compared side by side with it's flat Tamron equivalent, seems to have the ever so lightest outward bulge at the center.

Image Comparisons

Tamron (left) vs Nikon (right)
(click to enlarge)


50mm   -  f/2.8  -  1/100th  -  iso 160


35mm  -  f/2.8  -  1/200th  -  iso 160


24mm  -  f/3.2  -  1/100th  -  iso 640


17mm  -  f/8  -  1/320  -  iso 160

Closing Remarks

I would rate this purchase a success and the Tamron lens a good lower-cost alternative to pro gear. As a newish photographer pursuing a career on a tight budget, I am happy with my purchase of a Tamron 17-50mm f/2.8 zoom lens ($499). I am even pleasantly surprised by the similarities between it and it's professional Nikon counterpart. Almost identical image quality, color, clarity, smoothness and fit. It's image quality which matters most to me, so the superficial differences really pale in comparison.

Yes, the Nikon 17-55mm f/2.8 VC ($1,539) lens boasts a durable body, enhanced image stabilization, state-of-the-art internal glass elements, and an extra 5mm of focal length. It helps make amazing photos. Sure, the Tamron lens is plasticky and the autofocus is in no way silent or undetectable or lightning fast. Of course, I want all Nikon lenses, in a perfect world. But for the price, Tamron's f/2.8 lens helps take amazing photos, too. It is a surprisingly comparable purchase that can help advance your photography.

Video Comparison

I found similar quality results, but I should note that I am much less experienced with the video aspects of the dslr camera. Also, my hands are pretty shaky, so having or not having added image stabilization is a mostly moot point for me. If it has to be still, it has to be on a tripod. Check out the video below for more, or skip to the end to see the video comparison.


More recent photos I've taken with the Tamron 17-50mm lens:

DSC_3451 DSC_3311DSC_3149-2meghan smolka photography lightning strike santa cruz