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My used lens was a lemon; here’s how I made lemonade

I recently retired (sold) my much-loved Nikon AF-S Zoom Nikkor 17-35mm f/2.8 IF-ED lens and replaced it with the Tamron 15-30mm f/2.8 Di VC USD. The specs for the Tamron were great and it has image stabilization (IS). My old lens was a bit long in the tooth and I often find myself shooting off tripod on boats. The Tamron is heavy and has a huge, curved front element, necessitating a new filter system.

Even so, I thought it would be a great match for my Nikon D850. B&H sells the Tamron for $1299 but they had a used one for $989.95 with a condition of 9+ (Shows little or no signs of wear). I added it to my cart.

The lens arrived in a perfect, undamaged box and appeared new. Its inaugural trip was to Svalbard, Norway. I shot from the boat deck and when on land, on a sturdy tripod. The scenery was awesome but the lens was not. I wanted to love this lens as I owned it, it was highly rated and I just jettisoned a perfectly fine lens that performed well.

When shooting with a high megapixel camera and a highly rated lens, pixel peeping is almost an obligation. I obliged and was very disappointed. The edge unsharpness was unacceptable. At first, I blamed my technique. I was using the electronic shutter and didn’t always have the IS turned off when on a tripod. Neither of these factors adequately explained fuzzy corners but having IS on when on a tripod can upset the bokeh.

A closer look of the cover image with three magnified selections from the left, right and middle showed unacceptable edge sharpness. The lens was a lemon and I assumed the previous owner had unloaded.

I reached out to B&H but it was past their 30-day return policy. I contacted Tamron and received the following response:

Thank you for contacting Tamron. I’m very sorry to hear that you’re having problems with your lens. We should be able to resolve this issue. If you would like to send it in for service, please fill out the linked service form (http://register.tamron.com/repair.aspx), and include a copy of your proof of purchase OR your warranty confirmation number. Without a proof of purchase, or for lenses that are out of warranty, or have been dropped or tampered with, there will be a charge for repair. 

“If you cannot find your receipt, I recommend calling your camera dealer; they are usually happy to reprint your receipt for you. If your lens is still under the 6 year warranty but your lens has suffered from physical damage, the warranty will be reinstated after any paid repairs are completed.

“Please note: Lenses must have a valid U.S. serial number in order for us to provide service. (Lenses purchased overseas must include international warranty card). If purchased used or from an unauthorized dealer, please contact us to verify the serial number.

Our current turn-around time is approximately 3 business days + shipping, depending on the volume of lenses that we receive at the same time as yours. If you have any other questions, please don’t hesitate to contact us.”

I packed up the lens and hoped it was not gray market. It came back in under a week and my customer service provider, Jessi Carrieri, told me that, “The flatness of the image was way off, but they adjusted the image/resolution with our machines. It should be good now.” The repair was no charge and I have five more years on the warranty.

My simplistic view was that a lens is a series of elements separated by fixed spacers. It either came together well or you had a lemon on your hands. This is far from the truth. High-end lenses are sophisticated optical devices with mostly hidden adjustment screws not meant to be messed with by their owners.

Since its return, the lens has met my expectations. It is fast and crisp, still heavy, but with the edge to edge sharpness that I had read about and expected. Color and bokeh are great.

Image taken with the Tamron 15-30mm lens after adjustment shows excellent edge-to-edge sharpness.

This was a learning experience for me and here are my take-home lessons:

  1. A new lens was well priced. I should have gone with that. Why did this less than one-year-old, well-regarded lens make it to the secondary market? I think the original owner didn’t like the quality of this out of adjustment lens.
  2. I never inquired if it was a gray market lens. If it had been, it would probably not have been under warranty. When buying used next time I will try to get at that. If I can’t, I may pass.
  3. Next time, I will test the lens formally on a tripod and pixel peep soon after it arrives. If defective or a poor performer, it goes back before the 30-day return window expires. With equipment reviews and testing readily available on the internet, it is easy to gauge expectations.
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