Tamron just released their brand new 17-28mm f/2.8 Di III RXD lens for Sony E-Mount, and it’s a very intriguing offer from Tamron. The lens retails for $899, which is $450 cheaper than the Sony/Zeiss 16-35mm f/4 OSS that is involved in this comparison, and a whopping $1,300 less than the equal aperture (but wider range) Sony FE 16-35mm f/2.8 GM. I happen to already own the 16-35mm f/4, and have used it to great effect over the past 4 years. I got the Tamron 17-28mm f/2.8 in on Friday and have already done some shooting around with it. Today I did a very informal test to compare the 17-28mm f/2.8 to my Sony/Zeiss 16-35mm f/4. I say informal, as I didn’t have much time to set up, and as such I had some differing lighting conditions between shots due to passing clouds. I didn’t have time to reshoot all series to ensure they were perfectly equally lit. Also, take this test for what it is: a comparison of a single example of each lens.
The Tamron 17-28mm f/2.8 is a new lens that features a fast constant f/2.8 aperture in a surprisingly compact and lightweight body. It is constructed of high-grade plastics and weighs a surprisingly lightweight 420g. The Tamron has a fairly short zoom range, stopping at 28mm rather than the more typical 35mm of most ultra-wide zooms. This shorter range allows the lens to stay very compact while keeping that large f/2.8 aperture. The lens does not extend while zooming, as all zooming is done internal to the outer lens barrel. It features a 67mm filter thread.
The Sony/Zeiss 16-35mm f/4 was the first ultra-wide zoom for the full frame E-mount system, and is constructed with a full metal exterior, a 72mm filter thread and extends while zooming. The 16-35mm f/4 does have a built-in optical stabilizer. While the 16-35mm f/4 is a full stop slower than the Tamron, it’s actually a slightly larger lens. It’s the same length as the Tamron when zoomed to the 35mm position (its shortest physical length), but is a touch wider in diameter. When zoomed to the wide end, the Sony is about a cm or so longer than the Tamron. it weighs in at 518g, around 23% heavier than the Tamron despite the slower aperture.
I set up my camera on a tripod, angled to the scene (near infinity) to allow for comparison at the extreme corners at the plane of focus. I took a quick series of shots with each lens at 17mm, 23mm and 28mm, from wide open through f/8.
The full scene is below:
Below are 100% crops from each image in the series. First up, 17mm:
As you can see above, the Tamron is consistently sharper than the Sony at the wide end of the zoom range. It’s especially pronounced at the widest apertures, where the Tamron at f/2.8 is as sharp as the Sony at f/4 in the center, and even sharper than the Sony in the corners, despite being shot at a stop faster aperture. With both at f/4, the Tamron increases its lead. At f/5.6 and f/8, the Sony catches up quite a bit in the extreme corners, but never quite equals the Tamron, while also losing out in the center.
At 23mm, the Tamron still shows itself to be a bit better, though the differences aren’t as pronounced as at 17mm. At 23mm, the Tamron is a bit sharper than the Sony at similar apertures in the center, and perhaps a hair sharper in the corner at small apertures. The Tamron still shows a substantial lead in the corners at the widest apertures.
At 28mm, the lenses are definitely closer to one another than at any other focal length. While the Tamron still shows a slight corner edge at f/4 the two lenses are nearly identical in the corners at f/5.6 and f/8. Tamron still holds a slight edge in the central part of the frame at all apertures.
I also took some comparison shots at closer focus distances, but I’ll just show the 17mm crops below. I forgot to take 28mm shots on the Sony on this close focus test, and the 23mm test shows nearly identical results as in the shots above. Below are 100% crops from about 6 feet from the wall at 17mm, again, a passing cloud varied the light.
Again, the Tamron shows itself to be superior in resolution over the Sony.
While the changing light prevents me from making any real judgements on color and contrast, it is quite clear that from a resolution standpoint, the new Tamron 17-28mm f/2.8 is a cut above the Sony 16-35mm f/4. Of course, sharpness is only one part of a lens, and I’ll be doing a full review on the Tamron 17-28mm f/2.8 in the coming weeks and will fully evaluate the image quality and operation of the lens. However, in my short time with it so far, it appears to be a winner.
14 thoughts on “Tamron 17-28mm f/2.8 vs Sony/Zeiss 16-35mm f/4”
Very informative for a first look, thanks Jordan!
Thanks for the information.
Good work Jordan.
Looks like I’ll be making the switch to the Tamron
Great comparison. I was at a KEH event over the weekend to trade in some “old” stuff,” tried the
Tamron out -liked it and used the money I got from the trade towards the lens.
Your test confirmed what I thought and hoped.
I could buy the Sony 16-35mm brand new for a bit less than the Tamron… but the weight, sharpness, bigger aperture and minimum focal distance persuaded me to go for the Tamron.
Always nice to read your reviews. But this time it looks like apples comparing with peas . the range is too different. And tac sharp is not everything. Compare the natural of colors. i bet zeiss will be the winner. playing always memory with my friend showing zeiss pictures and non zeiss lens pictures. 9 out of ten they recognize the zeiss lens. and just one more thing: the 2nd hand price for the tamron will be relatively lower than for the zeiss.
thank you for reading.
The range is too different? The wide end is negligible…it’s about one step back for equivalent framing. At the long end, you do lose a little bit, but I think for most people that really won’t matter, since most use an Ultra-Wide zoom for the wider focal lengths. I think the difference of a full stop of light is more important in day-to-day (or night-to-night) shooting.
I do agree there is far more to a lens then sharpness. However, while some Zeiss lenses have a little extra something in their rendering (the Loxia 21mm comes to mind), the 16-35mm is not one of those lenses. It’s very good, but the Tamron has similar (or better) color and contrast to my eye. I will say that clear wins for the Tamron include flare control, which is significantly better than the Sony/Zeiss. Don’t discount other makers because they lack a Zeiss badge. Brand loyalty only goes so far. I’ve used hundreds of lenses from a wide variety of makers…there is no brand loyalty for me. I’ll use what works better for me. I personally have sold my copy of the Zeiss 16-35mm f/4 and have replaced it with the Tamron.
one full stop of light, especially on todays cameras and especially on sony A7/A9 series does not matter. camera technology has come too far. High ISO performance and IBIS is much much better now. You ain’t gonna shoot portraits with these lenses so bokeh does not matter either.
And how long have you used Tamron? How’s the reliability? No one can answer as it is very new lens. It is not just about brand loyalty, it is also about reliability and build quality . Irony these days is every person online is an expert and everyone is writing reviews.
One full stop of light is one full stop of light, regardless of camera. And yes, high ISO performance and IBIS are pretty good nowadays. …but I’d still rather have a shot at ISO 3200 than ISO 6400 if light limited. For me, an ultra-wide isn’t super important to have a fast aperture as I’m generally shooting at f/8 to f/16 in this range, but it can come in handy, and 28mm at f/2.8 is certainly usable for environmental portraiture with a bit of background blur if you want.
Your entire argument basically says that fast lenses aren’t needed. And that’s fine, if you don’t need the speed, you’d certainly be happy with a slower lens. However, in this case, you’re gaining a lens that is both faster and optically superior for notably less money. I’ve been using the 17-28mm for about 3 months now, and not once have I regretted selling the 16-35mm, which is a lens I very much enjoyed and used for four years. The Tamron is the better optic.
As far as reliability is concerned, Tamron has been making lenses for over 50 years…significantly longer than Sony has. They know what they’re doing. Is your argument that no one should ever use a new lens, until there is a multi-year track record for that specific lens? Tamron lenses also come with a 6 year warranty, compared to the 1 year warranty of Sony lenses, so if there is an issue, it’ll be fixed without cost.
You’re right that anyone can write reviews. And of course not everyone online is an expert. But I’ve been shooting for over 15 years and writing reviews for seven years. If you find my reviews and tests helpful, that’s great. If not, I hope you find someone that fits the bill for you. If you are actually interested in reading my review of this lens, rather than a simple quick test, it’s here: https://admiringlight.com/blog/review-tamron-17-28mm-f-2-8-di-iii-rxd/ There are a number of examples where background blur is utilized as well, showing that the fast aperture can come in handy if you need it.
If not, have a nice day.
Question: Can we not bring out the details and colors in post processing?
You probably already know the answer – yes of course you can. I use Capture one and created a preset just for color rendering of the Tamron to match my GM lenses. 1 click and a whole shoot has the GM colors. BTW the GM colors are not quite the same as the Sony/Zeiss. I owned the Sony 16-35 f4 and have now sold it. Also the Sony/Zeiss colors are not quite the same as those from my Zeiss Loxias. If Zeiss ever created a wider than 21mm Loxia I would buy it in a heart beat.
Every used Tamron I have come across, suffers from lens creep after a year or so, Sony will last longer. But the Tamron sharpness matches the G master, I’m sad to say, cause I paid a premium for Sony.
This is very informative and simple article for beginner just like me to make a right lens decision. If there is more examples at low light condition that can distinguish the performance between two lens with full a stop difference, it would be even better. Great comparison!
I’m usually too lazy to write reviews, but here I would like to say the following.
First – many thanks to Jordan for this report and beautiful photos, the value of which should not be disregarded as all EXIF data is present.
About 4 years ago I bought my first Sony A7 and a 24-75mm f4 lens. After experimenting a lot with old, analog lenses, I currently have 14 lenses, only one of them – Minolta 135mm f2.8 with adapter, others are special for Sony EMount. My cameras – Sony A7M2, Sony 6400 with Sony 6600. I have ultra-wide lenses: Sony 12-24mm f4, Zeiss 16-35mm f4, Samyang 18mm f2.8
For APS-C – Samyang 12mm (18mm) f2.
Since I like to take photos in churches and beautiful palaces, I need lenses that are as bright as possible, or at least those that are sharp at least in the middle with the aperture open. I already have Tamron 28-75mm f2.8 which is often used on the APS-C as 42-112.5mm. The sharpness is almost as high as the Sony Macro 90mm f2.8 which I like to use as 135mm on the Sony 6600, so I’m further away from an insect and have better magnification and depth of field.
For a long time I had doubts about the Tamron 17-28mm f2.8, which should replace the two Zeiss 16-35mm f4 and Samyang 18mm f2.8. After reading your review, this lens was bought and compared with the others. Tamron was best at focal lengths 17-24mm at 28mm it was the same with Samyang 18mm f2.8, but the Tamron was better at 28mm with F3.5. The Zeiss was in third place, even with F5.6 it was no better than Tamron with F2.8. The Samyang 12mm F2 was on par with Tamron at 18mm.
Jordan also gave me the idea – if the focal length 28mm is not sufficient – to activate APS-C mode on the A7, so the image section is approx. 25.5-42mm, in practice you have a lens with a focal length 17-42mm f2 ,8th! What does APS-C mode mean with a Sony A7M2 – you can see bei Monitor 27“ only 50% of the max. Image displayed instead of 6000×4000 are now 3936×2624. If you only look at the photos on the monitor, it will be enough! Will use this option with other lenses if necessary. The next point is the constant complaint from people that these Tamron lenses do not have a switch for MF-AF switching.
As if there was a problem e.g. the AF / MF-Ctrl key. to be programmed accordingly in the camera. Should you buy a larger and more expensive lens because of such a switch?! Thank you again Jordan! Vienna – Austria
(google from German Language)