Best zoom lens upgrade for Nikon DSLRs: 8 tested

Tamron 17-50mm f/2.8 SP AF XR Di II VC - £345/$560

Despite having the same fast, constant aperture as the Nikon 17-55mm f/2.8 the Tamron is smaller, lighter and cheaper. It also has a four-stop optical stabiliser, which is lacking on the Nikon. On the surface it looks a steal, but the devil is in the detail.

Build quality feels less rugged than with the Nikon lens, and the basic electric motor autofocus is relatively sluggish and noisy. Even the Vibration Correction (VC) is audible.

Lab test results look quite good on the whole, but while sharpness is good at the centre of the frame, it drops away alarmingly towards the corners. This is especially true at f/2.8, at both ends of the zoom range. Even when you're shooting at f/8, any fine detail is largely lost around the edges of images.

It also seems to cause a problem with overexposure, which often happens by about two-thirds of a stop. This results in overly bright images and blown highlights. The effect is most noticeable at the wide-angle end of the zoom range, where you always have to be ready to dial in some negative exposure compensation.

Sharpness test

Best zoom lens upgrade for Nikon DSLRs: 8 tested

Sharpness is very respectable at the centre of the frame, but it's poor towards the corners at some apertures.

Lab test at f/8
Sharpness at wide angle: 2383
Sharpness at mid range: 2404
Sharpness at telephoto: 2343

Fringing test

Best zoom lens upgrade for Nikon DSLRs: 8 tested

At maximum zoom

Fringing isn't too bad at wide angles but, unlike most lenses, this lens doesn't improve much at longer focal lengths.

Lab test at f/8
Fringing at wide angle: 0.33
Fringing at mid range: 0.32
Fringing at telephoto: 0.27

Distortion test

Best zoom lens upgrade for Nikon DSLRs: 8 tested

At minimum zoom

Barrel distortion is quite pronounced at 17mm, but there's practically no distortion at the 50mm end.

Lab test at f/8
Distortion at wide angle: -3.66
Distortion at mid range: -0.18
Distortion at telephoto: 0.09

Image quality verdict

Best zoom lens upgrade for Nikon DSLRs: 8 tested

Taken at 28mm

Edge and corner sharpness are quite poor, especially at the f/2.8 focal length, and you often need to stop down to f/5.6 for good results.

Read the full Tamron 17-50mm f/2.8 SP AF XR Di II VC review