Nikon 17-28mm f/2.8 Lens Review

What is It?

The 17-28mm f/2.8 is the second in Nikon’s rebranding of Tamron lenses (the 28-75mm f/2.8 was the first, the 70-180mm f/2.8 will be the last in the sequence). This tactic is giving Nikon a lower-priced trio of f/2.8 zooms, one that matches up really well with the Z5 crowd, for instance, who is more price sensitive than, say, the Z7 II or Z9 buyer. 

Re-branding sounds ominous to many, but it’s common in many industries, and it’s becoming more common in the camera business, as well. Nikon isn’t just removing the Tamron logo and slapping on a Nikon one, either. Nikon’s been careful to make these formerly Tamron lenses not just comply to Nikon’s design style, but in particular, to use Nikon-specified controls (e.g. the focus ring is Nikon’s usual control ring). 

It’s less clear what happens inside the lens. I suspect that there could be some changes in the inner barrel that outer shell hides, but the optical formula is the same as Tamron’s: 13 elements in 11 groups, with 3 aspherical, 2 ED, and 1 Super ED elements. 

Interestingly, Nikon doesn’t identify any lens coatings. My assumption here is that Nikon has been supplying glass to Tamron (thus the ED identification), and that Tamron is coating some elements with their coating, which Nikon wouldn’t want to give marketing cred to. For instance, the front coating isn’t claimed to be Fluorine, but rather “antifouling.” 

This 17-28mm Nikkor is f/2.8 at all zoom positions, with the minimum aperture being f/22 throughout, as well. A 9-blade diaphragm is used for apertures. 

Note that the zoom ratio is a modest 1.6x. Most of the f/2.8 zooms have a 2x to 3x range. Some will feel the focal range a little “tight.” On the other hand, the lens doesn’t extend on zoom or focus, which makes it gimbal friendly (no real change of center of mass when zooming or focusing). 

Tamron has standardized on 67mm filter sizes, and this Nikkor picks that up, as well. Ironically, the Tamron-supplied Nikkors are turning out to be more customer friendly than Nikon’s own lenses. There was a time when Nikon only had two or three standard filter sizes. Now they’ve got at least five in the Z-mount. 

Focus is done via a stepping motor, as usual (probably Tamron’s, not Nikon’s), and the lens focuses modestly close at 8” (.19m) at 17mm, 10” (0.26m) at 28mm. That provides a maximum magnification ratio between 1:5.2 and 1:5.9.

Nikon refers to the 17-28mm f/2.8 as a “compact” lens. That turns out to be 4” long (101mm) and 3” (75mm) in diameter. Weight comes in at just about a pound (460g). 

Included with the lens is an HB-107 lens hood, and Nikon refers to the lens as resistant to dust and drips. It has at least seven seals that I’m aware of, but it’s curious to note that Nikon has provided a footnote with this lens: “the lens is not guaranteed to be dust- and drip-resistant in all situations and under all conditions. 

The 17-28mm f/2.8 is made in China and lists for US$1199.

Nikon’s Web page for the lens

Source of the reviewed lens: purchased

How’s it Handle?

Once again we have little to say. The zoom ring is wide, up front, and doesn’t quite rotate 90° from its widest focal length to its shortest. That rotation is a little noisy on my sample, but still smooth. Only four markings exist on the ring indicator: 17, 20, 24, and 28mm. That’s Nikon usual “we’ll only mark major, common focal lengths” policy at work. 

The focus ring actually appears to be one of Nikon’s customizable rings re-used. As such it is narrower than you’d expect for a focus ring, though smooth in rotation. Like the zoom ring, it’s a bit scratchy sounding on my sample. 

The supplied lens hood is the usual bayonet type, and snaps on quickly and firmly if you learn to distinguish between • and °. (Squint harder, because you have to pay close attention with the actual lens hood, too.) I wish Nikon would use better, more understandable markings, but at least they’re being consistent these days.

How’s it Perform?

Focus: It’s pretty difficult to talk about focus performance in a wide angle lens. For the most part, the focus motor doesn’t have to work very hard on most subjects, so focus seems near instantaneous. In my first rudimentary testing I was actually wondering if I was seeing things, as small focus shifts just didn’t seem to cause anything you can see in the viewfinder. I’m comfortable in saying that this lens focuses quickly if the camera is set in a way that it will focus ;~). (By that I mean you need to avoid underexposure of a subject in low light, as that stresses the camera, not the lens.) 

Focus breathing is minimal. Probably what most would call non-existent on smaller focus moves. 

Sharpness: Let’s start at 17mm. The wide end at f/2.8 is surprisingly excellent out to about the edges of the short axis, and almost to the edges on the long axis. Corners are where you’ll see a very quick drop, and the extreme corners go quite weirdly fuzzy. Sagittal and Meridional scores shift significantly, imparting a fuzz that is directional. Stopping down doesn’t ever really retrieve the extreme corners. The best they get is a bit blurry. On the flip side, out through the DX corners the lens performs remarkably well, enough to just rate the DX corner as excellent at any aperture. So, there’s a wide area of very fine performance, which breaks down in the FX corners.

Things are a little better for 17mm f/2.8 at infinity: the corners can still be problematic, but not quite the wonky problem they are at closer distances. 

What do I mean by “corners”? MTF measurements are taken from the center of the frame outward. I refer to the corners as being 20mm or further from the center position. The 5:4 aspect ratio tends to mostly fall into the 15mm circle. DX ranges in the 10mm (short axis) to 15mm (long axis) circles. 

Since this lens focuses very close, I did some macro-like testing. 17mm f/2.8 in the center is very sharp. As described above, the corners are a bit of a problem, which tends to rule out using the lens for flat objects. 

Field curvature does come a little bit into play at 17mm, though not enough for me to be concerned about it.

At 28mm, the lens is much more behaved, though there’s still a clear astigmatism present as you move towards the corners. I’d judge the 28mm corners to be good- at f/2.8: just a bit of blur, but not a wonky blur. 

From 20mm onward at f/2.8, the 17-28mm is a lens that I’m mostly comfortable with edge to edge. Yes, the corners will be weaker, but not that much weaker once you stop down a bit. It’s really only at 17mm that I have reservations about those extreme corners. However, note that at 20mm f/2.8, the DX corners soften some. The lens is at its very best at 24mm, where I’d judge it in practical use to be excellent in the center, near excellent in the corners wide open. If you want the best results this lens can obtain: use 24mm at f/5.6 or perhaps smaller if you can avoid diffraction. 28mm isn’t much different. 

There’s a bit of focus shift with this lens, though it’s mostly at the faster end of the apertures so it shouldn't impact the autofocus system’s accuracy up through f/5.6. 

Many of you will want to use this lens for landscape work, so let’s take a look at that. 17mm and f/11 on a Z6 II the above is the full frame, and we’re going to look at the near center to lower left edge of the frame up close:

Not bad. The corners are showing a small amount of skew to detail, but this is quite acceptable for me. 

As noted, there’s clear astigmatism at times with this lens, though surprisingly very little coma. 

Vignetting: Those corners show up clearly in the vignetting. A wide, mostly vignette-free image circle is hit with a very severe change of over two stops as you near the corners. In-lens corrections don’t remove it all. 

Linear Distortion: Modest-but-clear mustache-style barrel distortion at 17mm that is already pin-cushion by 20mm. The in-camera corrections do a good job of removing it, though for many uses the base level (a bit above 1%) is low enough you might not care.

Chromatic Aberration: yes, longitudinal CA is present, though not nearly in the level I’d expect from an f/2.8 wide angle zoom. At f/2.8, foregrounds will shift magenta and backgrounds green. This resolves itself very rapidly as you stop down. Lateral CA was well controlled and mostly ignorable; certainly easily correctable.

Flare: In-frame light sources produce surprisingly little ghosting artifacts, and none of that Christmas Tree color you see with some wide angle lenses. Moreover, veiling glare is well handled. 

Bokeh: Not a strong point of the lens. Clear bright edges with very noticeable onion rings inside. The usual aperture misshape as you stop down with an inexpensive Nikkor. But no real cats eye that I could see. So what these attributes taken together tend to produce is a busy bokeh. Not a particularly objectionable one, but still busy. 

Final Words

17-28mm feels a little focal length constrained, but that’s partly the point of the Tamron f/2.8 trio Nikon is reproducing: by restricting to the 17-180mm range instead of 14-200mm, and by making the lower switchover at 28mm, you end up with three smaller lenses that are little less complex to get right optically, and can be sold at a lower price. 

Most people would prefer a more expansive 16-35mm range, but that would end up bigger and more expensive. Nikon was in the market for a second trio of zooms that was more affordable than their f/2.8 S-Line ones, and the Tamrons are a very good choice for that. These lenses match up very well with the Z5 and even the Z6 II cameras (more modest performance for lower price). As a matter of fact, I’m keeping the 17-28mm f/2.8 around primarily because it covers most of what I need on a Z5. Coupled with the 24-200mm f/4-6.3 VR, you’ve got a fairly small 17-200mm that can photograph well in lower light, too (though not at the telephoto focal lengths).  

This shouldn’t be construed to say you wouldn’t want to use this lens on the Z7 and Z9 models. It appears to be up to the task throughout much of the frame with high resolution captures. In fact, if you are one of those still using the old print aspect ratio of 5:4—which a number of the Nikon cameras support in-camera—you pretty much avoid all the worst aspects of this lens. Making an 8x10” print shows virtually no issues. 

Would I use this lens on a DX body (27-42mm effective)? That’s a big maybe at the moment. The DX bodies don’t have sensor-VR, and the lens doesn’t have VR, so you need to be careful about handling. 27mm (effective) isn’t wide enough for me much of the time, and 42mm (effective) doesn’t get me far enough to call this a mid-range zoom on DX. What it would do quite well, though, is perform well for indoor events in lower light. You just need to watch your handling carefully. 

I was surprised to really like the 17-28mm f/2.8. After all, I’ve got the 14-24mm f/2.8 S already, and that's a gem of a lens. Credit Tamron, and now Nikon, with bringing a basic fast wide angle lens into the modern age. 

The 17-28mm f/2.8 is a very new lens in the Z-mount lineup as I write this. At the US$1200 list price, some will feel that it’s a little overpriced, particularly since Tamron’s FE-mount version sells for US$900. However, I expect that Nikon will use this lens much like they’ve used the 28-75mm f/2.8: we’ll see it on instant discount often to attract new users on price. Thus, I’m going to say:

Recommended (2022 to present, at any discounted price)

This is a lens you may want, but you should probably wait for it to go on sale to pick it up if you can.

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