Prime lens photographer field testing high quality f2.8 zoom lenses for the very first time

by: Pasi Markkanen

Spectacular clouds and the calm sea in the morning.
Tamron 28-75mm @28mm, f9, iso 100, 6-25s, nd filter. 4 images panorama.

Being on the photography game over 12 years has given me some fixed routines that are hard to break. Routines like focusing solely on the prime lenses. In the last few years I've been carrying 20, 35, 85 and 200mm fixed focal length lenses on my camera bag. Sometimes wondering if the grass looks greener on the flexible focal length side.

All photos in this article taken with Sony a7rIII with Tamron 17-28mm and Tamron 28-75mm f2.8 zoom lenses. For some shots I used tripod, nd filter, extension tube and hdr / panorama techniques. Photos edited in Photoshop to match the quality of my paid work.

Beautiful aftermath of the sunset. Red clouds, reflection on the Porvoo river and the iconic red ochre painted riverside warehouses of Old Town.
Tamron 28-75mm @28mm, f5, 1/60s, iso 800.
Zoomed in view showing some really deep reds on the clouds.
Tamron 28-75mm @65mm, f7.1, 1/13s (handheld), iso 160.
Dog mayor Foxy admiring her city. Vibrant colored buildings of the Old Town Porvoo showing on the background.
Tamron 28-75mm @32mm, f5.6, 1/125s, iso 800.
Photographing and admiring the city of Porvoo as the sun sets.
Tamron 17-28mm @17mm, f11, 30s, iso 100, nd filter.
Late summer evening colors on a reflecting door.
Tamron 28-75mm @75mm, f2.8, 1/125s, iso 320.

I've been shooting with the Sony a7rIII for over 1,5 years now with prime lenses only. For a prime lens shooter, using high quality zoom lenses was really refreshing and inspiring. For years I've been constantly changing mainly between 35mm and 85mm lenses and didn't have anything between. Focal length range of 17-75mm literally opened new dimensions to my photography. Focus Nordic, the importer of Tamron lenses in Finland (and lots of other photography equipment too) kindly loaned me the Tamrons, making this article possible.

The lenses used for all the photos in this article. Tamron 28-75mm f/2.8 Di III RXD and Tamron 17-28mm f/2.8 Di III RXD for full frame Sony E-mount.

Due the error of postal service, the Tamron 28-75mm got delivered to my previous home town. I did what every enthuastic photography geek would do and used 3 hours of my saturday evening sitting on a bus to get the lens right away.

Both Tamron f2.8 zoom lenses have almost identical, minimalistic and solid build. They are fun to shoot with and provide high quality images with great sharpness. Autofocus is impressing and it nailed almost 100% of the slower paced situations and did a good job with more demanding scenes too.

After a late evening of shooting with the new lens it was time to prepare myself for the true test: an over night camping trip by the sea. To add more challenge, I promised to look after my friend's beautiful corgi.

Adorable Foxy waiting for us clumsy humans to follow. She was very happy being on the nature and figuring out which rock to jump next. Sony's animal eye af worked nicely with the Tamron.
Tamron 28-75mm @55mm, f2.8, 1/250s, iso 100
"Ok, human. I pose for one more shot but then we'll continue the walk."
Tamron 28-75mm @52mm, f4, 1/250s, iso 1250.
Deadwood in the early morning light.
Tamron 28-75mm @28mm, f13, 5s, iso 100, nd filter.
Jewelwings mating.
Tamron 28-75mm @46mm, f8, 1/125s, iso 100, extension tube.
Closeup of heather plants.
Tamron 28-75mm @28mm, f2.8, 1/250s, iso 100.

I had really fun time shooting with the 28-75mm normal zoom. It is quick, light and has a nice feel. Sometimes I took panoramas to match the desired focal length. I have never owned a wide angle zoom so taking panoramas to simulate wider field of view has been a standard practise for me.

Few weeks later the Tamron 17-28mm f2.8 arrived. Very similar looking, stylishly minimalistic and just a bit shorter lens felt familiar to use. I learned to appreciate the fact that they both use 67mm filters making it quick and easy to swap lenses for the shot.

The 17-28mm focal length was much more unfamiliar for me. I tend to use the wider 17mm end of the lens as a default, then zooming in just a little bit to match the desired crop. On the other end, 28mm felt bit too wide. I'm used to taking photos with a 35mm prime so I might have pretty biased opinion on that. It also didn't help that I got used to the Tamron 28-75mm zoom range just before.

Roll cloud and rainbow.
Tamron 17-28mm @17mm, f8, 1/125s, iso 250. 3 images hdr.
Sunset colors over the Porvoo river.
Tamron 17-28mm @24mm, f13, 13s, iso 100, nd filter, tripod and zooming while exposing.
People enjoying the mix between nature and the city on a street festival Kallio Block Party.
Tamron 17-28mm @17mm, f8, 1/1000s, iso 800.
People gathering to celebrate the Kallio Block Party street festival in Helsinki.
Tamron 17-28mm @17mm, f9, 1/125s, iso 50.

The Tamron 17-28mm turned out to be as stellar performer as its normal zoom cousin. Together they cover impressive 17-75mm range with aperture of f2.8. Even at f2.8, sharpness is good enough for everyday commercial use. There is some vinjenting wide open but nothing disturbing. As I'm familiar with very large aperture primes I tend to go the other way with the Tamrons. Using small aperture and trying to get as much of the image in focus as possible. That being said, the bokeh at f2.8 was pretty good. When subject is near, f2.8 is large enough to bring separation between the subject and the background. Still 28-75mm f2.8 isn't optimal for taking portraits filled with blurred backgrounds. I found that my Batis 85mm f1.8 was a great complement with the two Tamrons. When using the zooms I sometimes missed the nearly perfect color rendition of my Batis but honestly it isn't fair to compare almost twice as expensive prime lens for affordable zooms.

The Helsinki cathedral.
Tamron 28-75mm @46mm, f4.5, 1/60s, iso 125.
Helsinki Music Centre and people enjoying summer day.
Tamron 28-75mm @36mm, f9, 1/250s, iso 160.
Making street food on the Kallio block party street festival.
Tamron 28-75mm @30mm, f2.8, 1/250s, iso 250.
Fireweed and setting sun.
Tamron 28-75mm @75mm, f2.8, 1/250s, iso 250.

I can imagine using both Tamrons on my everyday shoots. Tamron wide angle zoom (17-28mm) is an excellent choice for festivals and landscapes. Popular 67mm filter thread makes it easy and cheap to use nd filters with and I found myself eagerly waiting for the sunsets with a tripod on my back bag. Tamron normal zoom (28-75mm) is a great walk-around lens and with its ability to focus pretty close I used it for some fun macro shoots with an extension tube.

Size and price efficient Tamron f2.8 zooms are kind of a game changer. It really makes harder to justify buying the Sony 16-35mm F4 for much higher price or the bit outdated Sony 24-70 f4 in similar price point. More competion is good for the consumer and I truly like to encourage manufactors to experiment with non-traditional focal lengths. I'm pleased to see there are more and more excellent lens options for the Sony full frame mirrorless cameras - the Tamron 17-28 and 28-75mm zoom lenses being one of the best options for their performance in this price point.

Thank you for reading! This was my first lens review so if you find this article useful or interesting, please let me know.

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Fireweed and the city lights.
Tamron 28-75mm @55mm, f2.8, 1/250s, iso 2500.
Green leaves on red fence.
Tamron 28-75mm @28mm, f2.8, 1/80s, iso 3200.
The Porvoo river.
Tamron 28-75mm @28mm, f8, 25s, iso 100, nd filter. 4 images panorama.
After the sunset.
Tamron 17-28mm @17mm, f13, 1/60s, iso 100. 3 images hdr.
Waiting for the Pellinki ferry.
Tamron 28-75mm @28mm, f8, 1/500s, iso 100.
Closeup of the Pellinki ferry command center.
Tamron 28-75mm @28mm, f6,3, 1/800s, iso 100.
Curly clouds and sunset.
Tamron 17-28mm @17mm, f3.2, 1/2000s, iso 100. 3 images hdr.
Warm cloudy day at Porvoo.
Tamron 28-75mm @28mm, f10, 1/200s, iso 100. 3 images hdr.
The old Porvoo bridge.
Tamron 17-28mm @20mm, f2.8, 1/30s, iso 1250. 3 images hdr.
Rainy clouds.
Tamron 17-28 @18mm f10, 8s, iso 100.
Flower in the last light.
Tamron 28-75mm @28mm, f5.6, 1/125s, iso 640.