January 31, 2015

Tamron is a name that's been around for a while, since well before the digital era.  Their Adaptall 2 system was one of their best ideas.

The SP 17mm f/3.5  is an ultrawide lens that uses the Adaptall 2 system.

Is this lens still worth getting?

Let's see.

A Quick Note

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In This Article

Model 51B vs. 151B

Some Specs

Form Factor

Adaptall-2 Special Notes

Basic Use

Image Quality

Corner Sharpness

Corner Darkening (Vignetting)

Indoor & Low-Light Use

Tamron 17mm f/3.5 vs. Vivitar 17mm f/3.5


Model 51B vs. 151 B

Both models have the same lens characteristics.  The earlier model (51B) has built-in filters, while the 151B does not.

The built-in filters include a Y2 Yellow (for black & white), an 81B Warming, and an 80B Tungsten.

Some Specs

Aperture (Maximum):  f/3.5
Aperture (Minimum):   f/22, but the usable minimum depends on which mount you're using....
Aperture Blades / Diaphragm:   5 blades (straight)
Aperture Ring:  Yes
Autofocus:  No
Coated Optics:  Yes (BBAR multi-coated)
Country of Manufacture:  Japan
Diameter (Max.)
Distance Scale:  Yes
Filter Size:  no thread;  uses built-in filters only, unless you get the hood (then, 82mm)
Full-Frame Compatible?  Yes
Image Stabilizer:  No
Inner Focusing: 
Lens Elements:  12 elements in 10 groups
Lens Hood:  Not included
Manual Focus:  Yes
Minimum Focus Distance: 
Mount:  Tamron Adaptall-2
Price:   sometimes available for $150 to $200 through this link (purchase yours through there, and it helps support my website. Thanks!!)
Rotating Front Element:   not applicable (no filter threads)
Weight:  290 grams

Form Factor

This lens is for a 35mm film camera.  With the correct adapter, you may be able to get it to fit your DSLR.  On a crop-sensor camera, it would no longer be an ultra-wide lens, just a regular wide-angle.

The whole point of this lens is to use it on a film camera.  If you want ultra-wide for a Canon DSLR, just go directly for the 17-40 f/4 L right now.

Adaptall-2 Special Notes

The Tamron Adaptall-2 system is a very clever invention.  Certainly it is the most versatile lens mount system ever invented.

The system allows the 17mm f/3.5 to work fairly well on pretty much every SLR mount... except the Minolta MD mount.  Ironically, this was the one that I was most hoping would work.  The Adaptall-2 mount for Minolta is a rather weak design, as suggested by this website.   I can vouch for that, because my test copy had the same problem.  

I believe the Minolta-mount adapter can't really be fixed, because it's a basic design problem.  There is a metal ring that moves around the inside of the adapter assembly.  There seems to be friction that keeps the mechanism from springing back when it should.

I also think the metal becomes galled, which means that once this happens, the adapter is pretty much toast.   Believe me, I tried everything:  graphite powder, lighter fluid, working the parts back and forth... bending the metal slightly... no luck.  Repeated cycling of the mechanism actually seemed to make it worse, which is why I think there was metal galling involved.

Oh well, at least this lens will work on other cameras, with the right adapter.

Whatever you do, make sure the lens is set for maximum (widest) aperture before you try to mount or umount it.   That's f/3.5.

Basic Use

The manual focus ring is fairly easy to find and operate without taking your eye off the viewfinder.  It's still no Nikkor 50mm f/1.8 Series E, but the focus ring is not bad.

Because this lens has to work with several different camera mount types, there is one major limitation (at least potentially).  That is, it's not always possible to get the aperture to stop down past f/8.  On some mounts, it seems to go to f/11, but not any narrower than that. 

I tested it on a Nikon body, and I reckon the aperture works fine all the way through f/22.  This was 800 film, pointing into the afternoon sun, and you can see the 10-pointed sunstar:

Late December Afternoon
Tamron SP 17mm f/3.5 @ f/16 or f/22
Superia 800 film
Quick scan using these methods

With other mounts (such as Canon FD), I'm not sure the aperture will close all the way to f/22, but it should at least go to f/8 at worst.  If you're using slow films, this is not an issue at all, because a 17mm has a long depth of field.  At f/8, just about everything is going to be in focus.

The only time it becomes a problem is if you're trying to use a fast (800) film in daylight.   Since you can't use ND filters on this lens (no filter threads), it would be nice to be able to stop down to f/16 or f/22.

I should add that f/3.5 or f/4 produces surprisingly shallow depth of field, even on a 17mm lens.  The background won't be blurred out, but then again it won't be in sharp focus at these apertures.  If you look at the focus scale on the lens, it shows the hyperfocal distance for various f-stops.    Only at f/16 or f/22 would you really have "everything" in focus.   In other words, use narrow apertures for landscape photography. 

Image Quality

This lens is probably the best 17mm for the money, at least in terms of sharpness and corner quality.   For my test shots I used consumer-grade film and one-hour processing, but this lens has the quality for the fine-grained stuff, like Velvia, Provia, Delta 100, or Pan F Plus

Superia 800
Tamron SP 17mm f/3.5

Corner Sharpness

Overall, this lens is almost as sharp in the corners as it is in the middle.  There is a very slight corner softness, but you'll probably notice the mild chromatic aberration (CA) first.  This is not a high-CA lens, but you'll see a bit when photographing high-contrast scenes, such as tree branches against sky.   As you would expect, the CA is in the corners, not the center.

Most scanners, even the expensive ones, have curling or curvature of the negative.  All it takes is a tiny bit to exaggerate corner softness.  I plan to update this article when I re-scan the negs with glass.   Looking at them with a strong magnifier, it appears to me that the corners are somewhat better in the negatives than in the scans, but only because my quick (lazy) scans didn't have them perfectly flat.  (This book talks about that, and how to scan properly.)

Corner Darkening (Vignetting)

I don't notice much corner darkening in real-life use, even at the wide apertures. There are probably situations where you could find some, but I wouldn't worry about it.  This is a great film shooter's lens.

Tamron SP 17mm f/3.5 @ f/3.5 or 4
braced, no tripod, probably 1/2 second
Superia 800 film
Film quick-scanned using these methods.
I'm sure the 1-hour photo processing increased grain;   and I didn't use glass to flatten the negative.

You shouldn't see any trace of vignetting at the narrower apertures.   Most any lens is OK by f/8, and the Tamron SP 17mm appears to be no exception.

Indoor & Low-Light Use

f/3.5 is not exactly "fast", but it's actually good for an ultra-wide.  With reasonably fast film, you can hand-hold and get usable pictures with this lens, all the way down to 1/10th of a second or slower.    I think I've used 1/8 and still gotten sharp pictures.

With some Tri-X pushed to 6400, this is one of two or three lenses that I would pick for nighttime street photography.    I have some Tri-X photos at 6400 taken with this lens;  just have to scan 'em. 


Tamron SP 17mm f/3.5 vs. Vivitar 17mm f/3.5

The Tamron is widely acknowledged to be better than the Vivitar 17mm, though from what I've seen, the Vivitar is not a bad lens by any means.  I believe the latter was actually made by Tokina.  When I get the chance I'll do a comparison.   (Realize with any of these things that you can have variation between different examples of the same lens.)

The Vivitar is actually the better choice if you have a Minolta MD-mount camera.  If you have a Nikon or something else, go for the Tamron 17mm.  

Price / Value

You might find people asking as much as $350 to $400 for this lens.  That is what I would call the "collector" price, which means it had better be mint condition. ("Mint" means "mint", not "very good" or "excellent".)

There's the off chance that someone will have a "new old stock" version of this lens (i.e., never used). The 17mm was made until 1984, as far as I know.

A more typical (realistic) value for this lens is $150 to $175.  That's for one that works perfectly, with no scratches in the glass.  At the moment, I can't think of any reason to pay more than $200 for one, because you really don't have to.

 (Please show your support for my website by using this link to get your 17mm f/3.5. Thanks!)


The Tamron SP 17mm f/3.5, made for the Adaptall-2 system, is worth seeking out and buying.  If you have a Nikon F, Olympus OM, Canon FD, Pentax K, or M42 mount camera, you will probably love this lens. 

If you have a Minolta MD-mount camera, such as the X700, then skip the Adaptall 17mm and get something else (such as the Vivitar 17mm f/3.5).  The Adaptall-2 for Minolta MD doesn't really work properly.

Aside from that, the only really big drawback to the Tamron 17mm is the complete lack of filter threads.  This leaves the front glass wide open for scratches.   Because of that, the SP 17mm f/3.5 is not a knock-around street photography lens.  Nor is it a glove-compartment lens, but it's definitely worth having. 

Please get your 17mm f/3.5 through this link, and it helps me keep this site on-line.  Or, use any of the other links on here to buy your stuff.  Much appreciated!

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