Nikkor 17-55 2.8

Edit: This blog has moved to Please visit me there.

This is a lens which seems to divide people. Some are extremly happy with it and others are less satisfied. That suggests to me that there is some sample variation, and this test/user report is of course only about my specific sample.

First the physical impression: This is a beautifully made lens. It has a finish and heavy duty build that makes it a perfect pair with the 70-200VR. An excellent match in finish with magnesium shell semi-pro or pro DX-cameras like D200, D300, D2H and D2X. Some users complain about the stiffness of the zoom ring, but it gets a little smoother over time, and the stiffness goes well the tool-like feeling of the lens. The placement of the zoom and manual focus rings makes it possible to zoom and operate the lens even with the lens hood mounted in reverse for transport, just as with the 70-200VR.

The downside of this robustness is weight. At 755 g, mounted on a D300 (825 g), it is a little above my comfort zone for walking about. For instance the combo felt too heavy to carry on the chest while skiing, but the small 18-55 and the D300 was ok.

On a small camera like the D40, the 17-55 is very large and rather unbalanced, at least in my opinion.
D40 w 17-55

The hood is huge, and I personally seldom has it attached, even though it is recommended by many to avoid flare (I do use a protective high quality UV-filter). Sometimes I simply shade the lens with my hand.

However, if you want to make an impression, for instance if you are a hired photographer at a wedding where some of the guests may show up with a camera, a 17-55 with the hood, maybe coupled to a D300 with a handgrip, might help…

The view through the viewfinder is bright, thanks to the large 2.8 aperture and there is visibly shallower DOF (depth of field) than with the slower consumer zooms. Which is nice, since APS-C cameras have more problems getting subject isolation and soft nice bokeh than full frame cameras (the difference is about 1 1/3 stop).
Shallow DOF at wide angle gives a feeling of depth. (Photos below at 17 mm. All images in this report is made with a Nikon D300).
More shallow DOF samples, now at 55mm, F 2.8:

I havent tried the autofocus in any sports or action situations, but it feels fast and robust (doesnt hunt).

One thing that made me curious about this lens was that I read in a test (Swedish magazine Foto’s review of Nikon D200) that it could resolve more than the Nikon prime lens 50 1.4. As a reference I have used the following normal zoom lenses before (all Nikkors): 24-85, 18-70, 18-55 II, 18-200.
Let’s start with the good things. The lens and sharp and contrasty, delivering highly saturated images.

You can use it wide open without hesitation. An example at 2.8:
Link to larger image here. (Use the back button on your browser to return here.)
Another sample wide open with a 100 percent crop:
Klick here for the full sized image.

Some people talk about “3-D”-look. Now we border on the subjective. In my view it probably consists of several elements – high micro contrast, DOF, direction of light, etc. But here is an example. In this image I almost feel as if I could step into the room and pick up the paper:
Link to larger image here.

A few more samples with 100 percent crops:
Full size.
Full size.
Full size.

Looks good to me. So what’s not to like? Now we are getting to the weak spot on my sample. Wide angle corner sharpness at infinity. Here is a comparision with the 18-55. The scene:
The images were shot as NEF-files, converted to jpegs in Capture NX, sharpened in PS3 with USM 100, 0,3, 1. ISO 200, F11, 1/250s, 17 mm on the 17-55, 18 mm on the 18-55.
In the center there is hard to see any difference, but in the corners the 18-55 is sharper.
100 percent crops, 17-55 to the left, 18-55 to the right:
crop small
Full size here.

So what is the conclusion? Some ambivalence. Here we have this wonderful built, fast 2.8 zoom, which gives images with higher contrast and more “pop” than any other normal zoom I have used. Very sharp at close and medium distances. But it is heavy for a normal zoom if you want use it as a walk-around lens and is not ideal for landscape use at the widest settting because of the corner issues at infinity (at least my sample, others may be different).

I got some requests and tips about how to improve corner sharpness at 17 mm and infinity.
First requested samples wide open at 17mm.
The scene:
open wide
(ISO 200, 17 mm, F 2.8, 1/6400s)
Corner sharpness at F 2.8. Focus point on the boathouse to the right:
corner wide open
Full sized image here
Sample center sharpness at 17 mm, F 2.8:
center 2.8
Full size.

There has been many discussions about curvature of field with the 17-55 (common with fast lenses), and one advice is focusing beyond infinity to compensate for the effect. I have tried this, but could not notice any improvement with my specific sample. I decided to try again, and see if I could notice any front- or back focusing effects. I switched to manual focusing, and trying the settings 2 meters, halfway between 2 meters and infinity, infinity, and beyond infinity to the stop. All these are whitin a very short range on the distance scale on the lens, maybe 1,5 centimeters, and are all well within the theoretical DOF at 17mm, F11. According to this DOF-calculator the DOF at 2 meters for example, should be from 1.2 meters to inifinity.
The scene:
scene focus
Corner crops at the different focus settings:
focus 400px
Full size.
The inifinty setting gives the best result here, while beyond infinity is clearly out of focus. So, for my sample, the beyond infinity strategy didnt work.

Finally, for balance, some fresh images that hopefully shows something of the clarity and “pop” this lens is capable of.
Larger image.
Larger image.
Larger image.
Larger image.
Larger image.


9 Responses to “Nikkor 17-55 2.8”

  1. Nice mini review.

    I have also noticed sharpness issues at infinity. I am planning on buying the new Tokina 11-16 F2.8 following Ken Rockwell’s review.

  2. Love your “3D” kitchen shot! Fantastic clarity, and detail.

    I have heard of people having great success with it for landscapes, and I would like to use it for landscapes as well as more general use.

    Good reading too!


  3. Nice little write-up PerL. I think more people are put off by the price and not by the IQ of this lens. I own and love it. It hardly leaves my D300 body 😉

  4. Glenn: thanks for the comments – I also know that many have no problems with landscapes at wide settings, so I guess there is some sample variation.

    DezM: Thanks, I have seen many great NY shots from you with the 17-55. Besides my own lens corner issues at infinity, I like it a lot too.

  5. Thanks for your concise review, PerL

    To optimize the sharpness of my sample when shooting distant landscapes at 17 to 20mm, f/8 to f/11, I manually focus beyond the infinity mark to the stop. This works wonders for the sides of the image.

    My sample is plagued by focus issues, presumably due to spherical aberration, so I’ve lost a bit of confidence in this lens. AF seems right-on with relatively close subjects and at wider apertures. When focused properly, it is impressively sharp, except perhaps near the long end, where nothing I do seems to render decent sides.

    I hope you all have better samples than mine.

  6. John Shooter Says:

    I love mine. Can’t belive anyone would purchase anything based on anything that Ken Rockwell says. He is not really taken seriously by many.

  7. MartinCRC Says:

    When I first tried out my 17-55mm on my D300 I nearly took it straight back to the shop. At wide angle and long distances it was truly shockingly bad. However, with +20 dialed in on the AF fine tune is is gobsmackingly good! At close distances however it is best to have AF fine tune turned off so I am now in the irritating position of having to constantly switch it on and off depending on the subject. I am prepared to live with this for now because when correctly focussed, wide or tele, fully open or stopped down, this is comfortably the best zoom lens I have ever owned, easily a match for a really good fixed focal length lens.

  8. otto uberswengen Says:

    Tried it. Nice…but opted for the 18-200VR instead…which(while far from perfect)… to me has better overall benefits…I think the 17-55 is more “specialized” for example, it would suit a wedding
    No doubts about it’s IQ or solidity though…
    I had at one stage thought that the 17-55 is a “must-have” to go with my D200, but having tried it and handled it,
    it seems less awesome than I had thought…certainly,
    I will not take it on a travel shoot. For indoors, low light etc., as you would encounter in Cathedrals and museums, a nice 35mm F2 or 1.8
    or 50mm 1.4 or something similar
    would be ideal…no misgivings along the edges there!
    I think the bottom line is whether you LIKE the lens. If you do, then you’ll probably find a way to use it at it’s optimum
    parameters and forget the rest.

  9. Nice mini review PerL. Although I have the 17-35 I would like to get 17-55 as well since it is sharper wide open and I think it is more suitable for indoor shooting. I can use the 17-35 for outdoors or landscape on the Full frame camera this way. Your kitchen photo proves how nice photos can be created with this lens. Yes, I can feel the 3D effect. Thanks for writing this. Ahmet

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