At the risk of infuriating loyal Fuji fanboys and fangirls everywhere, I’ve decided that the best thing to happen to Fuji shooters in a long time is the release of a third-party lens.
This lens, the Tamron 17-70mm f/2.8 Di III-A VC RXD, has the potential to be a piece of polarizing glass (as in, divider, not as a polarizing filter) in the Fuji community. The non-native design aesthetic, the lack of an aperture ring, and the sheer fact that this is a third-party lens will be enough to turn up the noses of many of the most obsessive Fuji X enthusiasts. But for those who can look past these “gaps”, the lens is actually a game-changer for us who love Fuji and don’t discriminate against third-party gear.
What Tamron has given us with this lens is a fast and constant f/2.8 general zoom lens with a 4.1x wider zoom range than usual; safe and fast autofocus; optical image stabilization; very good image quality over most of its range and into the corners; and the very economical price of $799. In contrast, Fujifilm’s clean but excellent 16-55mm f/2.8 R LM WR costs $1,199 while lacking image stabilization and 14mm of the Tamron’s zoom range.
In terms of design and build quality, the Tamron 17-70mm is almost the same as its system sibling lens, the Tamron 18-300mm F3.5-6.3 Di III-A VC VXD, a superzoom with no real counterpart from Fuji that I really enjoyed using for coverage and reporting of well-lit daytime events. The new 17-70mm looks a bit sturdier, but its real benefits are in its performance and features.
For literally any type of shot that can be achieved within its 4.1x zoom range, this lens excels, making it an impressive all-rounder single-lens solution, but don’t let that statement fool you. Although my sample images are shots of sunset landscapes, this camera is undoubtedly very well suited to demanding situations with fast action or poorly lit environments, making things like weddings or sports from gym to indoors with ease thanks to its fast and accurate autofocus, relatively fast f/2.8 aperture and extremely utilitarian zoom range.
The 17-70mm equivalent in 35mm terms, for those who are curious, is 25-105mm, but most full-frame lenses in this segment are limited to 24-70mm or 28-75mm for those with an af/2.8 aperture. Also, as a general rule, only the most high-end and expensive (think $1300+) full-frame f/2.8 general zoom lenses have built-in image stabilization.
Before receiving the lens, I was a little skeptical, thinking that Tamron’s flex of squeezing such a wide zoom range with f/2.8 might create sacrifices in image quality. The lens surprised me with excellent optical characteristics such as very good wide-aperture performance in many important areas like contrast, chromatic aberration and flare control.
It is not, however, faultless. From 65-70mm, contrast and sharpness suffer slightly, but stopping at f/4 or f/5.6 remedies the pixel-peepers among you just fine. I’d still feel good shooting wide aperture at f/2.8 if it meant I could keep my ISO lower. You can make it flare up if you put in the effort. The bokeh could even be perceived by some as slightly loaded. Even with these relatively minor issues, Tamron should be very proud of what they’ve achieved with this lens.
While not as pretty, this lens is a professional workhorse at a great price. It does so many things well, and with its excellent versatility and f/2.8 aperture, it is, in my opinion, absolutely the best all-purpose desert island lens if you could only choose one. For weddings, portraits, photojournalism, landscape, street photography and close-up action sports, this lens is a total winner unlocking beast mode for our Fujifilm APS-C bodies. No lens released so far for X Mount has ticked all of these boxes with such a comprehensive list of features and pro-level image quality.
Exceptional performance, rich functionality and exceptional value make this lens a particularly powerful upgrade over older Fuji bodies. Older generation Fuji bodies benefit hugely from the addition of this lens, as you’ll usually get boosted autofocus performance and add image stabilization for slower handheld shots. If you’re coming from a kit lens, even the well-reviewed Fuji XF 18-55 f/2.8-4, prepare to be blown away. For example, the X-T2, an aging or even completely obsolete camera in the eyes of many picky gearheads, becomes an extremely capable and confident performer when paired with this lens. After my experiences using this lens over the past few weeks, I would feel completely comfortable shooting a wedding or commercial photo shoot with the aforementioned combo and nothing else. Normally I shoot weddings with a pair of housings fitted with f/1.4 prime lenses, but for anyone whose style isn’t entirely defined by extremely fine depth of field, the transition to a single housing complemented by the Tamron 17-70mm would offer plenty of satisfying weight loss and hassle while allowing for a smoother and more confident shooting workflow.
The lens also works well for video work, aided by its image stabilization and flexibility. Minor focus breathing can be seen if you really watch, but it’s minimal and forgivable for a competent professional or video enthusiast.
This lens offers the ability to just stick it on your camera, put the strap around your neck, and leave the house with no other lens or gear except a spare battery or two. comfortable knowing that the 17-70mm range is going to give you plenty of room to work and the f/2.8 and image stabilization will help you cope with low light and provide greater freedom of your tripod. I can walk out the door with just that and nothing else and not have that anxiety of not having what I need to get vaccinated when the opportunity arises. If I’m really nervous about having a long tele option, I’ll take its 18-300mm sibling with me, and in between, if you can’t shoot, hardware isn’t the issue.
I haven’t even listed all the advantages of the lens yet, as it also offers a weight advantage over its direct competitor, the Fuji 16-55mm f/2.8. It also has good pseudo-macro capabilities at its wide end, focusing up to 7.5 inches from the sensor, for life-size 1:4.8 reproduction.
As soon as I had the opportunity to play with the Tamron 17-70mm f/2.8, I immediately knew that we would be the best of friends. Now, when I’m on a print photojournalism mission, I know that lens will be permanently attached to one of my bodies, sitting in the passenger seat of my vehicle, ready to lock in any photo opportunity that presents itself. I recommend this lens to anyone who owns a Fuji X-Mount camera body. As much as I love Fuji’s impressive 16-55mm f/2.8, between the two, I’d choose Tamron every time and spend the money saved on other gear. These kinds of releases are important to us as consumers, as they serve to drive competition in the marketplace, and when Fuji releases a response to the Tamron 17-70mm f/2.8 in the form of an XF 16 upgrade -55mm f/2.8 or something similar will likely be another great addition to our options as Fuji X folks.