Tamron SP 17-50mm f/2.8 Di II VC

Tamron 17-50mm f/2.8 VC Mounted on my Nikon D300s
Tamron 17-50mm f/2.8 VC Mounted on my Nikon D300s


I’m extremely excited to have received my brand new Tamron 17-50mm f/2.8 VC. VC, or Vibration Control, is Tamron’s version of optical image stabilization, which compensates for camera shake while taking photos, allowing more flexibility in low light photography. I previously owned the non-stabilized version of the Tamron 17-50mm, which I sold my cousin in order to nab this one. So, as a former owner of the last lens, there are some differences other than the new VC feature that I can note between this updated version and the older Tamron 17-50.

First of all, this new VC version seems very slightly larger and heavier, but the difference is hard to really feel in practice. To me, the construction/build quality of the lens looks and feels superior to the older Tamron, though still not as rugged as my Tokina 11-16mm f/2.8. The VC lens also takes 72mm filters instead of the 67mm ring size of the older lens, which means I’m gonna have to go filter shopping now.

My new Tamron seems to make lots of interesting noises during shooting. First of all, while the zoom ring operated quietly on the older 17-50, the zoom ring on the VC version makes a strange sound that I can’t seem to describe any other way than as the sound of zipping up the zipper on a camping tent. Not sure if that description makes any sense, but the sound doesn’t really bother me and may fade in time. Focusing sounds are noisy like the older lens, and while this lens seems to focus very fast on my D300s (I never had a chance to mount the old one on my new camera), the noise that the non-silent wave motor makes during operation seems similar to the old one: noisy, but not objectionably so in my opinion. Then, of course, there is the noise coming from the VC system. You know the sound that a conch makes when you put your ear up to it? Yeah, kinda sounds like that.

About the VC system. I’m used to using optical stabilization on my longer Nikkor 70-300mm lens, where hand holding the lens racked out at 300mm and activating VR reduces the shake in the viewfinder significantly but not completely. When I look through the viewfinder with the Tamron mounted and VC active at these shorter focal lengths, the image in the viewfinder looks dead still….like scary still. It’s pretty awesome.

While out on the town this evening I decided to do a little practical test of the VC’s effectiveness. Here’s a shot I took on a tripod tonight with the new lens:

Nikon D300s + Tamron 17-50mm f/2.8 VC at 18mm f/18, 8 Seconds ISO200
Nikon D300s + Tamron 17-50mm f/2.8 VC at 18mm f/18, 8 Seconds ISO200

During the same shooting session, I took two shots from the same spot, but hand-held. One shot was taken with VC active and one without. Here’s a crop from each (cropped from the center window on the Castro Theater). Both these images were shot in RAW and converted to JPEG in Adobe Lightroom without any adjustments made. Note the camera settings in each shot:

Without VC:

Nikon D300s + Tamron 17-50mm f/ 2.8 VC at 20mm f/8.0, 1/8 Sec ISO 800 (VC OFF)
Nikon D300s + Tamron 17-50mm f/ 2.8 VC at 20mm f/8.0, 1/8 Sec ISO 800 (VC OFF)

With VC:

Nikon D300s + Tamron 17-50mm f/2.8 VC at 20mm f/8, 1/8 Sec ISO 500
Nikon D300s + Tamron 17-50mm f/2.8 VC at 20mm f/8, 1/8 Sec ISO 500

I made a little mistake in this test that actually made it turn out a little better in a way. Notice that the settings are identical in each shot except for the ISO settings. The non-VC shot is set at ISO800 while the VC shot is at ISO500. This is because when I took the camera off the tripod to start shooting hand-held, I instinctively set the camera to auto-ISO, so the camera started changing the ISO from one shot to the other (auto ISO effected not only by what the meter is seeing but also by whether or not VC is active). If I had manually kept the ISO the same in both shots, the blur in the non VC shot would have been more exaggerated.

But as you can see, even with a higher ISO sensitivity, the shot with VC off shows significant blur from camera motion compared to the shot with VC on at a lower sensitivity setting. These shots were taken at a pretty small aperture considering they were both taken at dusk, and the fact that the shot with VC was sharp down to 1/8 of a second combined with a pretty low ISO in this case is really promising. For static, low-light subjects (which make up a lot of the shots I take), the optical stabilization will allow me to take more usable photos when I don’t have a tripod. The VC will also give me more usable apertures in low-light, which is great if I decide I want more depth of field or sharpness in a hand-held low-light shot, rather than having to resort cranking up the ISO, shooting at f/2.8, and hoping the shutter speed is high enough to stop the shake.

Here’s the non-cropped version of the hand-held photo of the Castro Theater with VC active:

Nikon D300s + Tamron 17-50 f/2.8 VC at 20mm f/8, 1/8 Second ISO 500
Nikon D300s + Tamron 17-50 f/2.8 VC at 20mm f/8, 1/8 Second ISO 500

Overall I really look forward to using this Tamron. My favorite lens has still got to be my Tokina 11-16 f/2.8, but this one will probably come to be a very close second, and will probably be on my camera 90% of the time I shoot. Well, I don’t know about 90%…..we’ll just have to see!

Update 11/20/09:

Check out a few shots I took at a recent wedding with the Tamron 17-50 VC here.

Check out more hand held low light shots at a museum with the Tamron here.

Or, just click the 70-50 tag to see all the photos I’ve taken so far with the Tamron 17-50 VC.

28 thoughts on “Tamron SP 17-50mm f/2.8 Di II VC

    1. Good question! It’s hard to say definitively at this point, since I used the older 17-50 on a different body that I no longer have, and I’ve only had one shooting session with the new version. I did shoot the same shot above last night at f/2.8 however, and as far as I can tell, the new lens at least matches the quality of the older 17-50 that I used to shoot with. We’ll see how it holds up as I continue to use it. Thanks for stopping by!

  1. Nice review! It is actually nice looking lens as well physically speaking. Amazing you get those results @ 500iso! VC/VR/IS really is great! Interesting work, keep it up.

      1. what can you tell me about the Nikon – D3200 24.2-M and the Nikon – D5100 16.2-Megapixel ??

  2. Hi Jonathan!

    Great photos you have!
    I just googled tamron 17-50 VC and found ur website.
    Would love to see more of your works from this little new tamron (quite heavy instead).

    Just a Question here,
    As i read some comments from Dpreview, there’s back-focusing problem and also some Haze at the end of range @50mm.

    I’m not sure what does Back-focusing means. – Can’t focus the subject accurately?

    Would love to know how we test if there’s any backfocusing problem of my purchase soon!


    1. Thanks for visiting! You can view some shots with the Tamron on my flickr page.

      Back-focus (and front-focus), does refer to a camera’s inability to focus accurately. Instead of focusing where you specify, for example, the camera focuses slightly behind your intended focus point. In the case of this Tamron, back-focus can be caused by improper calibration and/or inconsistency in manufacturing of the lens. It is not inherent in every lens that comes off the assembly line, however. So the comments you may see referring to this problem are most likely from those who unfortunately received bad copies of the lens.

      As far as how to test for this problem? Well, I suppose you could search for and download a focus test chart, but I just use my eyes =)

      I haven’t seen any evidence of back/front focus nor any haze in my shots taken at 50mm so far, so I guess I just got a good copy. Whew!

      Just make sure you purchase from a reputable vendor! Thanks again

      1. Hey thanks for the quick response!
        Yea, i’ve googled the back-focus issue last night before u replied. Would probably test out few units of tammy in my local store. Hopefully to get the nice copy as u’ve owned!
        Just downloaded the test chart too. thanks heaps!

        I’ve owned D90 & the old Tammy too and selling the lens to a serious buyer soon.
        Do u think it’s worth spend extra bucks to switch from Non VC to VC version?
        I afraid it a mistaken as i love my current Tammy too! ha..
        Sorry for long msg, ‘d luv to hear ur advice on Non VC vs VC.

        Keep up the good works! =)

  3. No problem!

    So is the extra cost for VC worth it? It really depends on you. I sold some old stuff I don’t use to get this lens, so the sting of the extra cost didn’t really effect me, and a family member that I sold my old one to was in the market for a fast zoom. Considering my circumstances, yes, definitely worth it. I love this lens!

    If you can look at your current kit and say: “there’s nothing I could buy to add to this kit using the extra money that would be of more use to me and my photography than a new 17-50 with VC,” then maybe the new Tamron would be worth it to you as well.

    Consider your shooting style too. If you take a lot of hand-held photos, the VC will allow you to shoot sharper shots at lower shutter speeds than is possible without VC, especially for static subjects and as sunlight fades into the evening. I shoot on a tripod a lot, but wanted the VC for, among other things, travel photography.

    If you decide to keep your non-stabilized Tamron, you’ll still have an awesome lens though! Hope this helps!

    1. Hey Jo,
      thanks for ur advices!
      Yes! I’ve just sold my old tammy together with Hoya CPL to a buyer yesterday!
      and bought a this New baby tammy VC!
      First test impression was, it’s very sharp wide open when shooting Portrait,
      Have to test more to see if its performance on par with Non-VC or nikkor..(hmmm)

      But it already gave me a great impression on its Built quality, bigger size but light weight…it definitely looks better on our dslr!! especially ur D300s (mine is D90)..

      Hope to shoot more to test it out!!

      Oh, ive test Sigma 18-55mm f2.8 yesterday and love its built quality, nice material they r using, alots better than tamron, but Tamron has its reputation.. =)


      1. Congrats on your new glass! I’m sure you’ll love it. I know what you mean on the build materials compared to some other lenses. The Tamron feels kinda cheap in my hands if I compare it to my favorite lens (Tokina 11-16). But hey, it’s about the image, right?


  4. Yea u r right. I’ve tried the lens on pre-wed and weddin dinner of my bro last weekend. I’m amazed with the results from this lens. It’s Sharp at wide open!! slightly better than my old VC i guess. As i was VIP of my bro wedding, so i can’t walk around to shoot, and didn’t bring my flash, but it’s stil produce blurless images at this lowlight situation. Love it on my D90 (thou slightly big), but well matches with your D300s!

    Anyways, keep up ur goodworks! =)
    Do visit my photoalbum from Facebook when free.


    1. Glad it worked out! I’m shooting a friend’s wedding at the end of this month with the Tamron as my main lens. We’ll see how it does 😉

      1. oh Great! It gonna be fun! n tired as well..hehe
        Well this tamron surely wil make wonder durin ur fren’s wedding.
        But it definitely need a flash unit, as tamron itself stil hard to produce all blurless pics without a flash..
        and a 85mm f1.8 gonna be real useful during wedding too.
        Thats my favourite lens~

  5. Hi,

    I am thinking of getting this lens too.. How’s the bokeh on this lens compared to the old ones or Nikon’s 17-55. Thanks!

    1. That’s a good question. I really liked the bokeh on the old one, and so far I’m also very pleased with the out of focus areas on the VC model. I haven’t done or seen any side by side comparisons between the Tamron and Nikkor in this respect, but your best bet is to mount lens on your cam at a local shop and try it out. I don’t think you’ll be disappointed!

      1. do you have some sample pics that you can share with us to show the bokeh effects? 🙂 thank you….

  6. Jonathan:

    Post pics from the wedding. I want to see what the Tamron VC does for you indoors with low light.


    1. Barrel distortion is noticeable but not objectionable in most shooting conditions outside of shooting a brick wall at 17mm with this lens. 17mm is not the Tamron’s strongest point, but I’m not afraid to use it. 😉

      1. the field curvature is different from barrel distortion. It’s resulted the subject on the same plane bring out of focus at the left and right side, compared to the center.

  7. Yep, you’re right! In that case, I haven’t noticed this issue. But then again, I’ve evaluated this lens, so far, from a practical standpoint, and not so much by trying to reverse engineer the thing. So don’t take my word for it! Thanks!

  8. Hi everyone! Just finished shooting a wedding with the Tamron, and I posted a few pictures on my latest blog entry.

  9. Thanks for this review… I also own the tamron 17-50mm f/2.8 VC. And yes, the motor is quite noisy but the clear picture I took using this lens outweighs the “noise”. 🙂

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