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Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Zooms: Pros & Cons Of All-In-One

Having a single lens to cover everything from ultrawide to strong telephoto is incredibly appealing, but how well do these extreme zooms perform in a variety of situations? We’ll show you where the trade-offs are.

Labels: LensesGear
This Article Features Photo Zoom

All-in-one zoom lenses—those that go from wide-angle to telephoto—offer some solid benefits for a nature photographer who's on a road trip. They're lightweight, versatile, easy to pack and carry without needing to have a large camera bag, and thanks to advanced design and manufacturing technology, they offer solid image quality. If your budget or travel requirements limit you to just one lens, a superzoom provides a lot of bang for the buck. To help you decide if one of these multitalented zooms is right for you, let's take a look at the pros and cons.

PRO: Focal-Length Flexibility
Having a wide range of focal lengths in a single lens obviously is very convenient. A single superzoom may well cover all your needs when you're traveling or hiking in the wilds. You won't miss shots because you didn't have the right lens on the camera when the photo op occurred—zooming to the right focal length is much quicker than changing lenses in the heat of the moment, and it's often easier than changing your position. Also, these all-in-one zooms give you the ability to shoot a wide-angle landscape and then zoom in on wildlife in an instant. The focal-length flexibility is the strongest single advantage of an all-in-one zoom."

CON: Not As Sharp
The main downside to all-in-one zooms is that they aren't quite as sharp at any given focal length as a shorter-range pro zoom or a prime lens of that focal length. Each focal length creates its own aberrations and distortions, and requires its own solutions. It's tough enough to minimize these problems for a single focal length; to do it throughout a wide range of focal lengths, especially when trying to keep bulk and cost down, is quite a challenge. That the lens makers do it so well is a remarkable achievement, but you should understand that there are limitations, and you're more apt to see those limitations with today's high-pixel-count DSLRs or mirrorless interchangeable-lens cameras. That said, the superzooms usually perform better than the typical 18-55mm kit zooms sold with many DSLRs, making them great alternatives or step-up lenses.

PRO: Compact Package
Next to focal-length flexibility, the main advantage of the all-in-one zooms is their compactness. Most measure around 3x4 inches (diameter x length) and weigh 15 to 20 ounces. That's remarkable considering that they provide every focal length from true wide-angle well into telephoto territory. That certainly beats carting several lenses around when you want to travel light. For a photographer on a road trip, it also means you don't have a large camera bag in your car tempting would-be thieves. With just a camera body and a single lens, you can easily conceal your gear or carry it with you everywhere you go.

CON: Slower Than Pro Zooms
Being slower, the superzooms don't let you limit depth of field so much, and they produce a dimmer viewfinder image. Typical superzooms are variable aperture, and their range is usually from ƒ/3.5 to ƒ/5.6 or ƒ/6.3. For example, an 18-250mm ƒ/3.5-6.3 zoom has a maximum aperture of ƒ/3.5 at 18mm, slowing to ƒ/6.3 at 250mm. The minimum aperture also changes as you zoom; for our example lens, that's ƒ/22 at 18mm to ƒ/40 at 250mm.


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