In Defense of 3rd Party Lenses

I’ve been burned by lenses, too. My most disappointing purchase was the Nikon 18-200. I bought it when I got my first Nikon DLSR, and I was… disappointed. I wondered why everything looked so flat and boring. I figured the D200 would have been better than that. It wasn’t until I bought my first nickel, the Nikon 50mm f/1.2, that I discovered how awesome my D200 was, and how different the world of consumer and pro glass really is. I saved my pennies and went to replacing that huge 18-200mm range. I shelled out for the wonderful Nikon 70-200, and then looked at my options on the low end. The 14-24 was shiny new and way out of my price range at that moment. The 17-35 was still a pretty hefty chunk of change, and all the usual suspects on the internet said that the Tamron 17-50 was the far better choice in that range. So I bit, and purchased my first non-Nikon lens for my D200.

And the results were fantastic. I carried that lens all over the north of India, and around large chunks of Honshu, and it was great to me. It shares it’s loose, non-tactile manual focus with it’s AF-generation brethren, so you can’t hold that against it. The front element does slide forward with the zoom, so you can’t take it diving, and there is that access path for dust and water to get into the lens. But the images hold their own, and now that I’ve moved up to FX, and do own the Nikon 17-35, I can tell you honestly that on a DX camera, I’d absolutely rather have the Tamron 17-50. It’s not even a question.

I’ve moved up to the full-frame world now, and picked up a 17-35, but I’d held off on buying a 24-70, preferring to cover that area with my big-aperture nickels. And then I had a job come up. It was photojournalism, documenting an event for a public office. I had to beg, borrow, or steal a 24-70, and I thought hard about it. A good friend offered his Nikon, but I decided on the Tamron. The whole Comfort Women scandal was going on at that time, and perhaps I was feeling less charitable toward my normal dealer.

I picked the Tamron 24-70 because it holds it’s own against the Nikon, according to the people on the internet, who point them at targets and comparison charts and all of that. They both require pixel-peeping to differentiate the two of them. I picked it because I had been super happy with the 17-50 that I’ve owned for years. The Tamron has the moving front element, like it’s older little brother, and people complain about the AF, but I’ve yet to have a problem. I also picked the Tamron because brand new from a major camera chain store it was still 40,000 yen cheaper than a used Nikon. I could buy at least 5 Yongnuo YN-560II strobes for that. Or 4 of them, and a set of radio triggers, so I could use them all. I could get a used 50mm 1.4G. I could get a used rangefinder camera. Well… not a Leica.

The Tamron 24-70 isn’t a walk-around lens. It’s heavy, like it’s Nikon or Canon compatriots. I’d prefer to be out with just a prime, and use my feet to zoom. But for an event, a wedding, something where you’re going to need a zoom in that range, I’d hold it up to the Nikon any day. I’ve been used to shooting with an unstabilized 50 at night, so the image stabilization was actually a rather nice thing to have in the (relative) dark of Shinjuku.

I’m not endorsing Tamron, but I really think that looking down on a lens because of the manufacturer could be a huge mistake. If you’re looking to buy a lens that has a third-party competetor, or the next time I need to get a lens, I think looking at the third-party lenses before shelling out the premium prices for the first-party lenses would be a valuable exercise. I’ve collected a few of the photos I’ve shot with the Tamron lenses into a set on Flickr for your perusal.

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