Whether you call them “travel zooms,” “walkabout lenses” or simply your “go-to glass,” zoom lenses that cover the 18mm to 200mm range (or thereabouts) have a place in everyone’s gadget bag. On a typical D-SLR like the Canon EOS Rebel XS, that focal length translates to roughly 28-320mm. And that range handles most situations, including landscapes, portraits, sports and wildlife.
All-in-one zooms are light and compact, and that’s a major advantage when you’re packing a full load of camera gear. By one way of thinking, a single all-in-one zoom can replace three or even four other lenses—at a fraction of the bulk. The Tamron AF18-200mm XR Di II ƒ/3.5-6.3, for example, is touted as the world’s lightest, most compact 11.1x zoom made for D-SLRs. It tips the scales at a scant 14 ounces and measures but 3.3 inches long. Amazingly, the 18-250mm version of this lens is exactly the same length and still weighs less than one pound—and it offers an incredible 13.9x zoom range.
All-in-one zooms have other advantages. Because they can be used at any focal length, from moderate wide-angle to serious telephoto, they encourage the photographer to carefully determine exactly the right composition. That means the cropping occurs in the viewfinder, not on the computer screen. They also allow photographers to add some lens flexibility to their arsenal at a reasonable price. Even if you’re on a tight budget, it’s possible to expand applications way beyond the kit lens that came bundled with your camera. And if you own more than one brand of D-SLR, you can equip each system with a versatile all-in-one zoom without breaking the bank.
But all-in-one zoom lenses aren’t without limitations. Aside from some noteworthy exceptions, they’re not for use with 35mm film cameras. They’re designed specifically to transmit a circle of light that’s just large enough to cover a digital imager, but too small to cover a frame of 35mm film.
Also, it’s important to note that, as with many modern zoom lenses, the aperture changes as you extend the zoom. At 18mm, a typical travel zoom lens has a maximum aperture of ƒ/3.5, but at 200mm it becomes ƒ/6.3. That puts two issues into play. A smaller aperture means longer exposure times. Equally important, even outdoors where shutter speed may not be a factor, a smaller lens opening means a darker viewfinder.
As with all long telephoto zoom lenses, you’ll need a tripod or a steady support to shoot at shutter speeds slower than 1⁄500 sec. when you zoom all the way out to the maximum focal length. Slight camera movement is exaggerated and magnified and can cause images to appear unsharp. You can counteract this phenomenon by using a fast shutter speed—which may require increasing the camera’s ISO setting. A D-SLR with built-in image stabilization, like the Olympus E520 or one of the Sony Alpha models, will minimize camera shake. With other cameras, employ a tripod or other form of support for low-light telephoto shots.
|Canon EF 28-200mm USM
||Canon 28-300mm L IS USM|
Built to meet the rigorous demands of pro photographers, the Canon EF 28-300mm ƒ/3.5-5.6L IS USM zoom proves that all-in-one lenses can be versatile without sacrificing anything. One of the finest examples of Canon’s legendary L lenses, this zoom combines Canon’s world-renowned dual-mode Image Stabilizer (IS) with its fast, quiet Ultrasonic Motor to assure that focus is quick, sure and steady. Other features include beefed-up resistance to dust and moisture, high-efficiency lens coatings and an eight-blade circular aperture for attractive out-of-focus image areas. The mechanical design employs three UD glass elements and two aspheric elements for superb correction of optical aberrations.
Although it lacks IS and is a step or so shorter on the telephoto end (but not far away in terms of versatility), the Canon EF 28-200mm ƒ/3.5-5.6 USM zoom is compact and speedy, and features nonrotating, internal focusing convenience.
|Nikkor AF-S 18-135mm DX||Nikkor AF-S VR18-200mm DX|
Nikon users have a tough choice between the super-svelte Nikkor AF-S 18-135mm ƒ/3.5-5.6 DX or slightly larger Nikkor AF-S VR18-200mm ƒ/3.5-5.6 DX. The 18-135mm features one Nikon ED glass element and two hybrid aspherical lens elements for optimum performance. The equivalent (in film-camera terms) is 28-200mm, and it can focus as close as 1.5 feet throughout the entire zoom range. Plus, it features IF (Internal Focus) and SWM (Silent Wave Motor) for ultra-fast, whisper-quiet performance.
The Nikkor VR18-200mm ƒ/3.5-5.6 pushes the zoom range to 28-300mm and adds the improved VR II (Vibration Reduction) system to enable handheld tele-zoom shooting even in dim light. The VR system helps reduce the apparent unsharpness caused by camera movement and delivers the equivalent of shooting at a shutter speed four stops faster.
|Olympus 18-180mm ED Zuiko|
The Olympus 18-180mm ƒ/3.5-6.3 ED Zuiko qualifies as an all-in-one zoom, but it doesn’t provide moderate wide-angle coverage, despite its numerical designation. Because Olympus (and Panasonic) D-SLR cameras use the Four Thirds System, the lens factor used to calculate equivalent focal length in 35mm terms is 2x. That means this travel zoom, which begins at 18mm, will behave like a 36mm lens, not quite like a real wide-angle. Still, it offers a lot for EVOLT aficionados. Lens design features 15 elements in 13 groups, including two ED and two aspherical elements. It covers the equivalent of 36-360mm (10x) and focuses as close as about 18 inches over the entire range.
|Pentax smc P-DA 18-250mm|
The Pentax smc P-DA 18-250mm ƒ/3.5-6.3 zoom provides 27-375mm (in 35mm format), which equates to nearly 14x. It incorporates one LD (Low Dispersion) glass element and one AD (Anomalous Dispersion) lens in the first lens group to minimize chromatic aberration. Pentax engineers, famous for the development of Super Multi-Coating decades ago, used special lens-coating technology to minimize internal reflections, reduce ghosting and neutralize flare.
|Sigma 18-200mm DC||Sigma 18-200mm
The Sigma 18-200mm ƒ/3.5-6.3 DC employs a pair of aspherical lenses and SLD (Special Low Dispersion) glass to provide the highest level of optical correction for all types of aberrations. It’s available in mounts that match Sigma, Canon, Nikon, Pentax and Sony Alpha D-SLRs.
The new Sigma 18-200mm ƒ/3.5-5.6 DC OS (Optical Stabilization) features Sigma’s proprietary anti-shake technology. This system uses two internal sensors to detect vertical and horizontal camera movement, and adjusts the position of an optical image-stabilizing lens group to compensate for camera vibration. It also automatically detects intentional panning that’s commonly used when shooting moving subjects and doesn’t try to neutralize it.
|Sony AF DT 18-200mm|
Sony builds a countermeasure for camera shake into its D-SLRs instead of the lenses. The compact Sony AF DT 18-200mm ƒ/3.5-6.3 zoom for the Alpha and older Minolta D-SLRs has an equivalent 28-300mm focal length. It features internal focusing (which makes it easy to use circular polarizers or ring lights), three aspherical elements and ED (Extra-Low Dispersion) glass elements to fight flare and reduce chromatic aberration (purple fringe). It also offers a circular aperture for more pleasant out-of-focus highlights.
|Tamron AF18-270mm Di II VC||Tamron
AF18-200mm XR Di II
The new Tamron AF18-270mm Di II VC measures 3.8 inches long and just over three inches in diameter. It becomes an equivalent 28-419mm zoom when attached to a D-SLR like the Canon EOS 40D and it includes Tamron’s vibration compensation technology (VC). At roughly 19 ounces, it’s about one ounce heavier than the Tamron AF18-200mm XR Di II ƒ/3.5-6.3. Both lenses deliver outstanding image quality, and the cost is relatively close at most shops.