Tamron 17-50 2.8 VC versus Canon 17-55 2.8 IS

Two weeks ago I rented the Canon 17-55 2.8 IS, and am now renting the Tamron 17-50 2.8 VC. I haven’t actually taken the Tamron out into the field yet, but first impressions testing it around the house are very favorable. Yes, 2.8 is softer compared to 4.0, but definitely nothing a little sharpening can easily fix without degrading the image quality. I also wouldn’t say it’s prohibitively soft in its own right; in fact it’s only apparent when you compare it to 4.0 and higher. Compared to similar test shots taken when I had the Canon, I can’t honestly say there’s too much of a difference; maybe the Canon is sharper…but $500 sharper??? Hmmm.

So that’s the big question. I’m finding the Tamron online for $620 while the cheapest Canon is $1100. Don’t get me wrong; the Canon was awesome, and the Tamron is a lot louder when focusing, especially with the VC turned on, which can be disconcerting, especially when it sounds like it’s “unwinding” after you take a shot. It seems slower than the Canon, but so far I haven’t been in a situation where the low light will challenge it, so I won’t find that out for a bit.

If the Tamron lives up to this initial impression, there’s no way I can justify spending the extra $500 on the Canon; the Canon may legitimately be the best EF-S lens out there but the Tamron doesn’t have to outdo it, just be pretty good. BUT, the proof will be when I take it out in the field.

UPDATE: Bokeh seems pretty good, too. Certainly isn’t bad.

This is an update to my update…I have to say I’m VERY impressed with the Tamron 17-50 2.8 VC. Maybe it’s the way I shoot or the subject matter that doesn’t “expose” any deficiencies, but I think it’s a winner. At $620 versus the $1100 for the Canon 17-55 IS I just don’t see any way you can justify the Canon, as great as that lens is. Unless you subscribe to the notion it’s always got to be about Canon lenses above all else (which I admit I’ve been susceptible to from time to time).

Here’s a link to a gallery I shot last night:

Now, it’s tricky because I had the 5DM2 with the 50mm 1.4 slung over my shoulder and was switching back and forth, but the file names that start with a 5 (ie, IMG_5433 and up) were taken with the 7D and the Tamron…while the ones that start with a 3 (IMG_3627 and up) were with the 5DM2. If you click the “Info” button that appears over each pic when you hover the mouse over it, you will see the camera settings. You’ll see many photos taken at 1/8th (and you can view larger sizes to see the detail and sharpness).

UPDATE 2: (July 13th, 2010)
Well, after owning the Tamron 17-50 VC for just under two months I have to say I’m considering getting rid of it and ponying up the extra dough for the Canon 17-55 IS. My initial enthusiasm for the lens was perhaps wishful thinking for the sake of saving money.

My major issues with the lens are it’s not-so-great bokeh (which is HUGE for me), it’s jittery loud almost broke sounding focus motor when VC is turned on, it distorts badly at the wide end, and finally its 17mm really doesn’t feel like 17mm…more like 19mm or 20mm. The Canon shoots 17mm MUCH wider. I’ve gotten to the point where I avoid using it. Not really worth it to save $400 off the Canon only to never want to use something I already spent $700+ for (I bought it from a local camera dealer for retail, not online; I like to support local dealers when I can plus it’s nice not waiting for it in the mail).

If I had some direct comparisons between pics taken with both lenses (ie the same subject) I’d post examples about what I mean regarding the pseudo-17mm wide on the Tamron. Suffice it to say it’s not an ideal lens for me.

UPDATE 3: (July 14th, 2010)
So I went and exchanged the Tamron 17-50 2.8 VC for the Canon 17-55 2.8 IS just now. The camera store I bought it from let me return the Tamron minus a 15% restocking fee so I ended up paying a lot more for the Canon than if I had bought it in the first place. I choose to look at it as a two month rental fee 🙂

For reasons stated in my previous post I just never really liked the Tamron. Never liked shooting with it, never liked the photos in general. Like I also said above, it doesn’t really feel like 17mm on the wide end, certainly not compared to the Canon (or even the non-VC Tamron 17-50). When I reviewed the pics I took from when I rented the Canon I realized I loved all the pics I took with it as well as loved shooting with it. Odd that the difference between the two lenses was so profound. If I had to make a recommendation now I would say stick with the non-VC Tamron and save the money, or bite the bullet and spend more on the Canon.

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