A standard zoom is usually the first port of call as a first all-rounder lens. Generally speaking, this lens can cover wide-angle shots up to the standard 50mm focal length and also works great in low light. This is why a zoom lens that bounces around these focal lengths is a good solution for vloggers and for those who don’t want to break the bank with too high a price point.
While the exact focal reach of 17-50mm lenses may be thinner on the ground than other zooms, there are also plenty of options if you want to go that bit wider or more telephoto. For instance, the Nikon AF-S DX Zoom-NIKKOR 17-55mm f/2.8G IF-ED, Canon EF-S 17-55mm f/2.8 IS USM, Sony DT 16-50mm f/2.8 SSM, Pentax smc DA* 16-50mm f/2.8 ED AL (IF) SDM, and Olympus M.Zuiko Digital ED 12-40mm f/2.8 PRO lenses.
However, today we will be focusing on the best 17-50mm lenses which should give you a good starting point for further investigation. But, as this exact focal range is thin on the ground, we have crowbarred in a few other options which are just a few millimeters outside this range.
1. Sigma 17-50mm f/2.8 EX DC OS HSM (Overall Winner)
The Sigma 17-50mm f/2.8 EX DC OS HSM is a cost-effective zoom lens available for the Canon, Nikon, Sony, and Pentax camera mounts. Equally as effective on full-frame and crop sensor camera bodies (27.2-80mm equivalent focal length), this zoom lens is a cost-effective way to cover the standard focal lengths.
The optics consist of two low dispersion and three aspherical elements, with a Super Multi-Layer coating to reduce lens anomalies. Autofocusing is covered by the Hyper Sonic Motor (HSM), which is reasonably quick and quiet in operation. There is also a seven-blade rounded diaphragm to achieve reasonable bokeh effects, while the outside of the lens has features such as a focal lock switch, ‘AF/MF’ switch, and an on/off for the optical stabilizer system.
The optical stabilization is basic, but does a good job of achieving very low shutter speeds, while also producing more keeper images. The weight of this lens is only 565g, which means it shouldn’t be a burden on an all-day shoot and a quick autofocus means it’s a good solution for travel and street photography.
Considering the lens’ price point, images produced are rich in color and while there is edge softness at f/2.8, once the lens is stopped down to f/5.6, the whole frame is equally sharp. As a good introduction to this focal range, the Sigma 17-50mm f/2.8 EX DC OS HSM produces very sharp images, with the bonus of image stabilization and simple workings.
Stretching just a bit further at the telephoto end, the Nikon AF-S DX Zoom-NIKKOR 17-55mm f/2.8G IF-ED is a high-quality zoom lens, providing 5mm more zoom ability than a regular 17-50mm. Equally capable on the F and DX mounts, this lens is expensive compared to the rest, but backs the price up with superior image quality.
Consisting of three aspherical and three extra-low dispersion elements, with a Super Integrated coating, rounded off with a nine-blade diaphragm and a Silent Wave Motor to handle autofocusing duties. This lens provides exceptional image quality, even at f/2.8 and can also produce very good bokeh when the subject is close up.
This lens is also very good in low-light conditions, thanks to the f/2.8 aperture and the ability to get low shutter speeds. The Nikon AF-S DX Zoom-NIKKOR 17-55mm f/2.8G IF-ED is expensive, but you get extremely good optics.
If we have included a Nikon lens which is just out of the scope of the 17-50mm range, then we had better include a Canon offering for variety. Following the general lead of cost-effective lenses, this APS-C-format optimized lens offers an equivalent focal length of 27.2-88mm, which arguably covers the same range as a high-end 24-70mm lens.
Featuring a constant f/2.8 aperture, internally the lens comes with two Ultra-Low Dispersion and three aspherical elements, plus a Super Spectra coating. Optical image stabilization has been included with up to three stops of compensation. Plus, it has a ring-type Ultrasonic Motor (USM) and seven-blade rounded diaphragm.
Image quality is respectable throughout the range, with good bokeh effects when the aperture is wide open, producing highly detailed images. In total, the Canon EF-S 17-55mm f/2.8 IS USM is a good step up from a basic kit lens, providing lots of image detail, depths of color, and good overall contrast.
4. Tamron SP AF 17-50mm f/2.8 XR Di II LD Aspherical [IF] (Budget Winner)
When it comes cost-effective glass, Tamron is usually on the list, in this case with the Tamron SP AF 17-50mm f/2.8 XR Di II LD Aspherical [IF]. Optimized for APS-C sensors, this lens is lightweight and compact, with a bright and constant f/2.8 aperture.
Internally, the lens uses XR (Extra Refractive Index) glass, along with one LD (Low Dispersion) element to reduce chromatic aberrations, while Internal Surface coatings and multiple layer coatings help reduce artifacts such as ghosting and flaring. The lens barrel itself has a useful zoom lock mechanism, which is helpful for sticking to one focal length or preventing the barrel extending when it is packed away.
Image quality is better than expected, with central sharpness being accurate throughout the aperture range and only edge softness showing at f/2.8-f/4. As a cost-effective solution, the Tamron SP AF 17-50mm f/2.8 XR Di II LD Aspherical [IF] is a worthy purchase.
Summary of the Best 17-50mm Lenses
Although there aren’t exactly loads of 17-50mm lenses on the market, this focal range is a good starting point and step up from the usual included kit lens. When it’s time to move on to higher quality and more expensive lenses, there are plenty of options which go slightly outside this focal range, either wider or more telephoto, depending on your needs.
It’s also worth bearing in mind that zoom lenses which bounce around the 17-50mm range generally produce the best results at either the widest or more telephoto ends. This means you have to prioritize if wide-angle or standard views are your most common focal lengths.
If you want to really jump into the deep end, then the ubiquitous 24-70mm lens is a great all-round zoom, which may not go as wide as the 17-50mm, but you do get far more at the telephoto end, plus exceptional image quality.