Nikkor 17-55mm f/2.8G IF-ED DX

  • DX coverage 
  • Autofocus (in-lens focus motor), internal focus
  • 14 elements in 10 groups, 3 aspherical, 3 ED elements
  • 9-blade aperture diaphragm
  • smallest aperture is f/22 
  • 77mm filter ring
  • 1'3" (0.36m) minimum focus; 1:5 maximum reproduction ratio
  • 4.4 x 3.4" (110.5 x 85.5mm) long, diameter
  • 26.6 ounces (755g) weight
  • included HB-31 bayonet lens hood, CL-1120 case, caps
  • US$1540
  • Model Number 2147

Nikon's Web page for the lens

Thom’s Quick Review

Basics: The 17-55mm DX lens is a lot larger than you'd expect, only slightly smaller than the 17-35mm f/2.8 FX lens. That's despite producing a smaller image circle. The minute you pick up this lens, you're going to be curious why it is as large as it is. (Hint: it's all about performance.) 

The 17-55mm focal range gives you angle of views from 28 to 79 degrees on a DX DSLR; it's effectively the same as using an 27-85mm lens on a 35mm film or FX digital body. For some users, that's the stay-on-camera range they have been looking for. Personally, I find myself at the two extreme focal lengths of this lens all the time. Still, there's no denying that this is a popular and much-asked-for focal length range. 

This is a two ring design; unlike most recent Nikkors, the zoom ring has once again returned to be nearer the camera than the focus ring. The focus ring itself isn't way out towards the front of the lens, but actually lives at about the halfway mark (i.e., the two rings are in the back half of the lens length). The lens does have a distance scale, but with no depth of field or infrared markings. On the left side of the lens (from the back of the camera) is one button:

  • Manual Focus button: In the M/A position the lens works as usual (autofocus with manual override). In the M position, the lens focuses only manually.

The HB-31 hood supplied with the lens is the bayonet type butterfly style. It can be reversed onto the lens for carrying, but it adds significant diameter to lens when you do so. It's also a bit "deeper" than most of the previous butterfly hoods; it covers the front element well. 

You get AF-S focusing with this lens, and that'll take you down to 1 foot and a couple of inches (.36m). The supplied lens cap is the pinch-front type.

Handling: You'll either love it or hate it. 

The zoom ring is quite close to the camera, relatively thin, and stiff. I've run into quite a few photographers who complain about this, though I'm not bothered by any of those things. The "close in" position works well if you're one of those that support the lens with your hand underneath, less well if you're a "side-grabber" with big hands (or use gloves). The bigger issue for me is that it's almost a full quarter turn from one end to the other, which if you're using a finger roll technique works out to three "rolls." But I quickly adjusted to it and stopped noticing after a few minutes of use. If this is the main lens you use, I'd be surprised if you don't adjust, too. 

While there isn't a great deal of difference in "feel" of the two rings, the focus ring is a bit wider than the zoom ring, and easy to find if you slide your hand forward (the area past the focus ring widens slightly, so acts as a natural "stop"). The focus ring goes a bit past a quarter turn for focus; unlike the zoom, here I'd actually like just a bit more turn, as once you get out to 5 feet there's not much turn left to get to infinity (and with a mid-range zoom, you're likely to be in this focus range the most often, so you want more than a partial finger roll's worth of fine tuning). 

Focal length changes slightly when you're shooting at very close distances (2 feet [.6m] or less). As with most modern lenses, you should be focusing after framing, so I don't see this as a big deal. 

While the 17-55mm is a relatively large, heavy lens, it balances very decently on the front of the D7100 and larger DX bodies. On the D3xxx and D5xxx bodies, the result is a bit front heavy. 

One side note: this lens is its shortest at 35mm. At wider and longer focal lengths, the inner barrel extends out past the outer barrel. Unlike the 24-120mm and 24-85mm, there is no "wobble" in this extension.

Sharpness: for some reason the 17-55mm has a poor reputation. With a couple of exceptions, I’d like to lay that to rest. Even on the latest 24mp DX bodies the center is almost never problematic: you get very high acuity that can only be considered excellent from 17-35mm, and still very good at 55mm. The problem is that extreme corners don’t do so well at f/2.8, especially as you zoom in. Best aperture is probably f/5.6 at everything other than 17mm, where f/4 is slightly better. With the exception of 55mm, even the corners are very good at these apertures. 

So the real issue here is whether you really need sharp corners wide open, especially at the non wide-angle focal lengths. Personally, this performance doesn’t bother me, but it would be problematic for some seeking edge-to-edge sharpness at f/2.8. 

Distortion: barrel distortion needs to be corrected at 17mm. Beyond that, it depends upon how finicky you are. There’s little distortion at 24mm, a noticeable but not strong pincushion at 35mm, and a little less pincushion at 55mm.

Vignetting: at 17mm, there’s easily a stop of vignetting at f/2.8, but by f/5.6 we’re well under a half stop. Curiously, the other focal lengths only produce about two-thirds of a stop at f/2.8 and almost immediately reduce to not problematic levels by f/4. 

Chromatic Aberration: There’s fairly uniform CA throughout the focal and aperture range, which is a bit unusual. CA is a bit higher at f/2.8, and almost two pixels worth on 24mp cameras. But the CA this lens produces seems easy enough to remove, as it is not complex.  More important, however, is that this lens has relatively strong longitudinal chromatic aberration at the telephoto end, with unfocused items in front moving towards magenta and unfocused items in back moving towards green. The front shift doesn’t really go away by stopping down, though it reduces, while the back shift does get under control by f/8. At wide angle focal lengths, this problem isn’t really visible enough to worry about.

Overall: a really well-made lens that should survive handling abuse, with some optical shortcomings in a few areas that might cause some to balk. I tend to use this lens at the wider end, where it’s quite good. It’s that 55mm side that’s a little more suspect for a high-priced lens. Not terrible, but the lens shows its age at this point, and third party lenses from Sigma and Tamron now do the same focal length range with better optical results, which makes the Nikkor 17-55mm tough to recommend at its price. 

Support this site by purchasing from this advertiser:

text and images © 2018 Thom Hogan
portions Copyright 1999-2017 Thom Hogan-- All Rights Reserved
Follow us on Twitter: @bythom, hashtags #bythom, #dslrbodies