Maybe you’re looking to reduce the size and weight of the gear you’ll be carrying on a long day hike. Or, you might be after a big range of focal lengths that would typically require several lenses to cover, but you aren’t ready to make the investment. Maybe you dislike switching lenses. All-in-one zooms provide extreme focal-length ranges in a single lens that’s relatively lightweight and compact, and more affordable than a collection of multiple primes and zooms. For the purposes of this article, we’re defining all-in-one zooms as those that provide at least a 10x range, covering wide-angle to moderate or longer telephoto focal lengths.
The primary advantage of a single lens that can handle most common subjects, from expansive landscapes to telephoto details, in addition to reducing the size, weight and price of your system as a whole, is that you can explore a variety of compositions and perspectives without needing to change lenses. This is a benefit for two reasons. First, you can react more quickly to your subject. Second, anytime you switch lenses, you’re exposing your rear lens element and your camera sensor, potentially introducing dust and moisture. Careful handling of your gear when swapping lenses will help mitigate this, but it’s a concern you won’t have with an all-in-one zoom.
These lenses aren’t without limitation, however. All of them, to date, have a variable maximum aperture. Most start at ƒ/3.5 or ƒ/4 at the wide end of the range and stop down to ƒ/5.6 or even ƒ/6.3 at telephoto lengths. When working in low-light conditions, this translates to a darker viewfinder, and may mean using a higher ISO setting than you’d prefer, or a longer shutter speed that requires a tripod, which is a compromise when you’re trying to travel light. Thankfully, most of these lenses include some form of image stabilization for camera systems that don’t incorporate this feature in the camera body.
Another trade-off to keep in mind is that while these lenses are typically a great value, they’re unable to offer the same level of optical performance than a more limited-range zoom or a prime lens can, all things being equal. Correcting a lens for multiple focal lengths is an engineering challenge, and the greater the range of the lens, the more difficult this becomes. Lenses designed with multiple optical elements to correct for chromatic aberration and distortion are necessarily larger, heavier and more costly to produce. While the convenience of all-in-one zooms isn’t without compromise, advances in lens technology continue to improve their performance, and the most common aberrations and distortions are relatively easy to address with software.
Canon offers two extreme zoom lenses, one for their APS-C-sensor cameras and one for full-frame systems. The EF-S 18-200mm ƒ/3.5-5.6 IS for APS-C offers an equivalent range of 29-320mm and image stabilization for up to four stops of correction. For full-frame cameras, the EF 28-300mm ƒ/3.5-5.6L IS USM is a premium-quality lens, but that quality comes with added size and weight—at 7.2 inches long and 59.2 ounces, it’s the largest and, by far, the heaviest of the all-in-one zooms.
Nikon offers a total of six zooms with 10x or greater range, some of which are iterative. For their CX-format 1 Nikon cameras, the 1 NIKKOR VR 10-100mm ƒ/4.5-5.6 PD-ZOOM has the benefit of a three-speed-powered zoom, a key feature for video work, and an equivalent range of 27-270mm. There are two 18-300mm models for DX-format cameras with mostly similar specs; the AF-S DX NIKKOR 18-300mm ƒ/3.5-5.6G ED VR (model 2196) is the higher quality of the two, with more lens elements, but it’s also larger, heavier and more expensive. FX Nikon users have the AF-S NIKKOR 28-300mm ƒ/3.5-5.6G ED VR, which incorporates Nikon’s VR II stabilization for up to 3.5 stops of shake reduction when shooting handheld.
From Olympus for Micro Four Thirds system cameras, the M.Zuiko ED 14-150mm ƒ/4.0-5.6 II is among the lightest and most compact all-in-one zooms, providing an equivalent focal range of 28-300mm, and also includes weather sealing.
Panasonic’s offering for Micro Four Thirds is the LUMIX G Vario 14-140mm ƒ/3.5-5.6 POWER O.I.S. Though its range is slightly less than the Olympus model, with an equivalence of 28-280mm, it’s the smallest and lightest all-in-one zoom currently available, weighing in at just 9.4 ounces.
There’s no all-in-one zoom yet for the new full-frame K-1, but for APS-C Pentax cameras, the smc DA 18-270mm ƒ/3.5-6.3 ED SDM delivers a 15x zoom-range equivalent to 27.5-414mm.
Sigma also offers three big-range zooms for use with Pentax APS-C cameras, as well as Canon, Nikon, Sigma and Sony models. The 18-300mm F3.5-6.3 DC MACRO OS HSM | C has the biggest range of the three, equivalent to 27-450mm. Also noteworthy is the 18-250mm F3.5-6.3 DC OS MACRO HSM, which has the distinction of the closest-focusing capability of any current all-in-one zoom—just 13.8 inches across the whole range.
Sony’s all-in-one lens lineup includes three models for E-mount APS-C cameras and one for full-frame models. The top model of the three 18-200mm zooms for APS-C is the E PZ 18-200mm F3.5-6.3 OSS, featuring a powered zoom mechanism with three speed settings, and provides an equivalent focal-length range of 27-300mm. For Sony’s popular full-frame E-mount cameras, the FE 24-240mm F3.5-6.3 OSS includes Optical SteadyShot image stabilization for handheld shooting.
Tamron offers the most lenses in this class—seven in total—including the 14-150mm F/3.5-5.8 Di III for Micro Four Thirds system cameras, the 28-300mm F/3.5-6.3 Di VC PZD for full-frame models from Canon, Nikon and Sony, and five models for APS-C-sensor cameras, including the 16-300mm F/3.5-6.3 Di II VC PZD Macro, which boasts the biggest range of any all-in-one zoom at 18.8x, with a minimum focusing distance of just 15.3 inches throughout the zoom range. Tamron is also the only lens maker with an all-in-one zoom for Canon’s EOS M mirrorless cameras, the 18-200mm F/3.5-6.3 Di III VC.