For me, Nikon’s 17-55mm F2.8G DX ED AF-S is fast becoming a go to lens.
As you may recall, I currently shoot the crop sensor Nikon D7000 DSLR bodies.
Any lens choice review must be considered via the perspective of other possible lens choices.
Several lenses covering this range 17-55mm range are considered here.
One notable contender in this range is the excellent built like a tank Nikon 17-35mm 2.8D AF-S professional lens. While we touch on the 17-35 2.8D here, more will be written on this lens specifically in coming articles.
The 17-35mm 2.8D is a great lens, and is a bit sturdier in it design construction than the 17-55 2.8 DX. It’s primary and significant deficiency, vis-a-vis the 17-55mm 2.8G, is a relatively narrow zoom range. Using the 17-35 often leaves one reaching for another lens in the normal to mid-telephoto range of 35-55mm when shooting on a D7000 or similar crop sensored cameras.
is zoomed to its 55mm focal length, the field of view is similar to that on an 80-85mm lens on 35mm Film SLRs and FX full frame sensor DSLRs.
- For more on crop factors and magnification on DX vs FX sensors, click here for article
The 85mm range, on the FX or 35mm film cameras, has long been considered the prime area for portrait photography. For head and shoulders shots, the degree of perspective flattening is just about right to be the most flattering.
Wider angle head shots must be taken close to the subject and often end up making noses or other features appear freakishly large.
While wide-angle perspective distortion provides a fabulous artistic feel, it is nice to be able to reach from wide-angle into the portrait range using pro quality glass without a lens changeover.
Lens change overs take time. They take away from the flow of shooting. They require, well, more pieces of glass. Which cost money and take space. Changing lenses also lets more dust and dirt into sensitive digital camera bodies and so on…
In short, it is nice, if one can get the quality one requires, to be able to have fewer lens change overs.
On DX lenses less glass can be used to achieve any particular design goals. So pro glass for a DX lens can be made more versitile and with a wider zoom range than would be possible for similar optical quality glass capable of imaging a complete full size sensor, at a given cost.
This is just part of the physics of smaller sensors requiring less glass than larger sensors.
While both take the same 77mm filters, the 17-55 is a bit larger in overall metallic barrel diameter and is perhaps a few millimeters longer over all.
Why so big? Quality glass is often quite large. This is a quality piece of glass. Probably the nicest lens made to date for DX shooters in fact…
When zooming, the 17-55 telescopes out and in and out again.
That is, the overall length of the 17-55 changes as the lens is zoomed.
The lens’ shortest overall length is at about the 35-40mm Zoom range.
It is perhaps a 1/4 inch longer overall at 55mm zoom and perhaps 3/4 inches longer at 17mm zoom than its shortest overall length.
I am a bit concerned that this in and out telescoping may suck dirt and salt into the camera body, via the lens, in dusty or salty environments, like the sea… or the Phoenix dusty air …
Nikon glass and buttery smooth feel are typically uttered in the same breath. My copy of the 17-55, and those of others owners I have talked with, seem to experience a kind of stiffness of the zoom ring … perhaps due to having to move so much heavy glass in and out? Though not totally smooth, all the while, the lens performs superbly.
The 17-35mm 2.8 AF-S zooms and focuses all internally, there is no telescoping in and out of the lens barrel itself. The 17-35 has Nikon’s typical buttery smooth feel zooming. The rigid exterior design makes the 17-35mm a bit sturdier, as the lens barrel is a non-moving fixed metal cylinder protecting the interior elements and moving parts of the lens. With a solid barrel design, a hit to the lens barrel front thus has a lesser chance of jarring moving elements out of alignment.
Nice feature for the 17-35…
While the 17-55 lens is a relatively fast F2.8, when zoomed to 55mm, its magnification is like an 85mm. This can make hand-held shooting in low light kinda tricky…
If you recall, the rule of thumb for hand-held shooting for camera shake is 1/2 the focal length. Thus, an 85mm lens one might be able to hand hold, if you hold steady, at about 1/40 or 1/50 of a second… Because of the crop factor, the 55mm zoom on a APS-C has similar apparent camera vibration to an 85mm on a 35mm SLR. So, again, we must shoot hand-held around 1/50 sec or faster.
Rule of thumb for APS-C cameras is to shoot faster than 75% of the focal length. So, 100mm lens, we would shoot at 1/75 sec or faster. Etc. And, this is without VR.
With VR, one could shoot an F2.8 lens with less camera vibration than an F1.4 prime without VR, albeit without the improved F1.4 bokeh… The 17-55 2.8G DX does not have VR…
VR can be a most useful and welcome incorporation for this lens in the future.
Today, our choices are what they are.
One current production choice I have not used personally is the Nikon 24-70mm f2.8G ED AF-S Nikkor Wide Angle Zoom Lens. The 24-70 has issues for me when used on a DX camera body:
- Does not reach wide enough into the 17mm Range
- No VR, plus only F2.8, at 70mm on a DX, this is a handicap versus primes and other available choices
- The front of the lens telescopes in and out when zooming
An FX body heavily mitigates the first two of these objections. In effect, on FX bodies the 24-70mm f2.8G functions kind of like a slightly wider version of how the 17-55mm F2.8 DX functions on DX bodies.
Features I wish to see included on a revised 17-55mm DX are Vibration Reduction and if possible while maintaining zoom range and quality, a non moving front element, as I feel this is a sturdier, more durable construction.
When the front element is movable, hits and bumps to the front of a lens, which can for example happen as a camera and lens is dangling from one’s body while walking, may damage the moving mechanisms of a lens.
This said, the construction itself is sturdy with lots of metal.
One other notable difference between the 17-35 2.8D and the 17-55mm 2.8G DX is that the 17-35 2.8 has a buttery smooth and light zoom ring feel. My copy of the 17-55 2.8 has a bit more umph required and is not so completely smooth twisting the zoom ring as the 17-35.
The 17-55 is pushing a lot of glass in and out. Mechanically, we are doing significantly more work with the 17-55 in terms of moving large glass elements around. So, it can be expected to take a bit more work when twisting the zoom ring to move all this glass. Yes?
As I prefer keeping the lens shade on the camera to help protect the front element, I find the HB-31 pretty handy.
For controls, the rubber ring to the rear of the lens zooms and the larger forward rubber ring focuses.
When autofocusing, the focusing ring does not rotate.
Additionally, there is the Manual/Automatic focus selector switch on the side of the lens body.
Manual focusing or Manual Focus override is accomplished by twisting the forward rubber focusing ring.
That’s pretty much it for controls.
The image below was taken at 40mm F8.0 and the image above at 23mm @ F3.2, both using the 17-55mm 2.8 DX.
There is currently no other one single lens available in the Nikon line which could have captured both of these images using the same exposures and zooms.
This of course considers both the F3.2 lens speed and ability to zoom past 35mm using only one lens.
While I also have the 18-200mm VRII F3.5-5.6 DX, and this lens covers a larger zoom range, the 18-200 is a bit too dark at longer focal lengths than I often prefer.
Plus, the Nikon 70-200mm 2.8 VRII is so much sharper and faster focusing than the 18-200…
So, the 18-200 often stays in the bag, unless I’m on a light travel jaunt… and often then, I prefer to go camera-less…
Soon, the 18-200 may need a new home… Replaced at the short end by the 17-55 2.8 and at the long end by the 70-200 2.8 VR2.
This leaves me marginally looking forward to a 55-200 2.8 VR2 DX.
Shall I hold my breath?
Before the 18-200mm VR2, there was the 18-55mm f3.5-5.6G AF-S DX VR. The 18-55 DX VR is an inexpensive piece of glass that is useful for a range of shooting. It has a narrower zoom range than the 18-200 VR2 and, is slower than the 17-55 2.8… Still, the 18-55mm VR is a nice piece of starter glass for those on a budget.
Ability to focus more quickly and therefore often more accurately is one of the unsung advantages of faster ( larger aperture ) glass. Thus 2.8 glass will generally focus faster than 3.5 or slower glass… I have also read, glass faster than F2.8 does not focus faster… Something to do with the aperture blades not opening past some point during focusing… You may have noticed that fast glass, like F1.4 will have more bokeh in the shot than in the viewfinder… hmmm. DOF preview does not seem to provide true bokeh either for very fast prime glass…. hmmm.
The 17-55 2.8 has an AF-S, as in internal SERVO motor. While all glass discussed here today have these AF-S motors, not all glass has this feature.
AF-S glass also seems to have a tendency for focusing more quickly versus glass relying on the camera body motor to control focusing. This of course depends on which camera body, which batteries, which lens… etc., etc., Generally, I believe it holds true.
Slow or dark focusing may mean a camera may be hunting for focus, or may not focus, or may mean that after the focus is reached, the subject may move, and you may still miss focus the shot.
I prefer the camera focus as quickly as possible after I depress the shutter half way. Any little bit helps. Faster lens. Faster body. Faster lens focusing system. More focus points, etc.
All in all, for DX DSLR shooters, the 17-55mm 2.8 offers an excellent choice for a wide to medium telephoto pro quality zoom.
If you don’t need the quality or speed, you might consider the 18-200 VR2.
If you need to be able to shoot full frame, which the 17-55mm 2.8 will work on full frame cameras, with some vignetting in the wider zoom ranges, you might still consider this as a possible option. Also consider, by the time you go full frame, if you ever do, there might be new glass options as well.
Buying for today, and shooting DX sensor cameras, the 17-55mm 2.8 DX is an excellent choice to consider.