All-in-One Zoom Lens Roundup

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With few exceptions, a camera with a ten-to-twelve power, wide angle to telephoto zoom lens should be more than enough optical coverage to satisfy anyone’s needs. As for the specifics, we’re talking about a zoom lens with an angle-of-view range of about 74° to 8°, give or take a degree or two on both sides of the focal range. If you’re shooting with a full-frame (24 x 36mm) format camera, 74° to 8° translates into a lens with a zoom range of about 27 or 28mm to 300mm. If you’re shooting with an APS-C format compact DSLR, you’re looking at an 18 to 200mm zoom lens, and in the Four Thirds or Micro Four Thirds format, a 14 to 150mm zoom lens.

Now, some of you might be thinking that there are point-and-shoot cameras with zoom lenses far more powerful than 10x, 12x and even 20x that you can fit in your pocket, so why bother with a larger, heavier, and more limited focal range? The answer can be summed up in three words: image quality, and performance.

Size Does Count

It’s important to keep in mind that point-and-shoot digital cameras contain imaging sensors that are about eight times smaller than Four-Thirds-format imaging sensors, which themselves are 50% smaller than APS-C format imaging sensors, which in turn are 50% smaller than full-frame imaging sensors. Although most point-and-shoot cameras are capable of capturing impressively good photographs, the same scene captured with a Four Thirds, APS-C or full-frame format camera will be markedly better.

So, while your digital camera’s 4.9 to 52.5mm zoom lens covers the same fields of view as a 28 to 300mm lens on a full-frame DSLR, the shadow and highlight detail, noise levels, grain and tonal gradations of the images captured with larger imaging sensors will be undeniably better than the pictures captured by your pocket camera—most notably when shooting at higher ISO levels or under lower lighting conditions. Bottom line: the larger the imaging format, the better the image quality.

Performance Levels of DSLRs versus Pocket Cameras

Compared to pocket cameras, DSLRs focus quicker, have far quicker shutter-response times and can maintain faster and lengthier continuous-capture rates. True, there are about a half dozen point-and-shoot cameras that can capture 10 or more stills in under a second, but you can take a coffee break in the time it takes for these pocket wonders to digest the data and step up to the plate for more. Not so for DSLRs.

The Pros and Cons of All-in-One Zoom Lenses

Like all things in life, all-in-one zooms have their pluses and minuses. On the plus side, all-in-one zooms offer the most optical bang for their weight and size factors. All-in-ones are small and light enough to attach to your camera and head out for the day without having that nagging voice in the back of your head saying, “You know you’re going to be kvetching about the weight of this lens in less than an hour—never mind this afternoon and tomorrow… it’s too darn heavy!”

The optical range of a 28 to 300mm (or equivalent) zoom affords you the ability to quickly shift from a wide-angle landscape view to a tight headshot of a quarterback intercepting the ball with a simple twist of your wrist. All-in-ones also allow you to strip down your day pack to a minimal number of items, which in itself is rather liberating. All you need is one camera, one lens, one lens cap, maybe a filter, a shade, a spare battery and a memory card or two. Thirsty? There’s still plenty of room for a bottle of something to wet your whistle. Depending on your bag, there’s probably even room for a sandwich or energy bar.

Are there downsides to all-in-one zooms? For starters, none of them are speed demons. With the exception of a pair of Four Thirds format zooms from Olympus sporting maximum apertures of f/2.0, almost all of the lenses in this roundup have maximum variable apertures of f/3.5 at the wide end and a somewhat slower f/4.5 to f/6.3, depending on the lens and focal range. Now, if you’re shooting under bright, sunny skies this isn’t the end other world, but at dawn, dusk and on cloudy days, such a lens can become sluggish, so be prepared to pump the ISO sensitivity levels of your camera, turn on your camera’s IS system, or use a tripod once the sun drops or the clouds start rolling in. Ditto that if you plan on using a Polarizing filter.

Another issue you may encounter, especially if you’re using one of the less expensive all-in-ones is variation in sharpness levels at different points along the zoom range and possibly barrel distortions at the wide-angle side of the focal range. Depending on your subject matter, these issues may or may not be obvious in your pictures (if they’re there at all). While higher prices don’t always guarantee higher quality, keep in mind there are all-in-one zooms that sell for $279.99 and all-in-one zooms that sell for close to ten times that amount. When it comes to photo gear, more often than not you get what you pay for.

All-in-One Zooms for Full Frame and APS-C Format DSLRs

With few exceptions, all-in-one zooms designed for use with full-frame DSLRs invariably work with compact DSLRs equipped with APS-C format imaging sensors, albeit with a 1.5x or 1.6x crop factor, if you shoot with Canon’s APS-C format DSLRs. What this means is, if you’re into telephotos, you’re in tele heaven. If, on the other hand, you’re a wide-angle enthusiast, you’re skunked because your 28 to 300mm lens is now the equivalent of a 42 to 450mm lens, or for Canon users, a 44.8 to 480mm equivalent lens.

That said, in terms of all-in-one optics designed for use with both full-frame and APS-C format DSLRs, we have a choice of four zooms. From Nikon we have the Nikon AF-S Nikkor 28-300mm f/3.5-5.6G ED VR, which is designed for use with Nikon’s FX and DX-format DSLRs. Featuring Nikon’s latest VR II image stabilization, Nikon’s 28 to 300mm f/3.5-5.6G ED VR measures less than five inches in length, contains ED lens elements and focuses down to 18" at all focal lengths.

From Canon we have the Canon EF 28-300mm f/3.5-5.6L IS USM, one of Canon’s top-shelf L-series lenses. Along with dual-mode image stabilization, rock-solid construction and the best optical glass Canon has to offer, the EF 28 to 300mm f/3.5-5.6L IS USM can be looked upon as the gold standard for wide-range zooms.

From Tamron we have a pair of 28 to 300mm optics; the Tamron 28-300mm f/3.5-6.3 XR Di VC LD II ASPH  (with image stabilization) and the Tamron 28-300mm f/3.5-6.3 XR Di LD ASPH (without image stabilization). Both lenses work with full frame and APC-C format DSLRs such as the Minolta Maxxum, Canon EOS and Sony Alpha series.

  Format Image Stabilized  Minimum Focus Filter Size Weight
Nikon AF-S Nikkor 28-300/3.5-5.6 ED VR Full-frame  APS-C Yes 1.6' (0.5 m) 77mm 28.2 oz (800 g)
Canon EF 28-300/3.5-5.6L IS USM Full-frame APS-C Yes 2.3' (0.7 m) 77mm 58.9 oz  (1670 g)
Tamron 28-300/3.5-6.3 XR Di VC LD II ASPH IF Full-frame APS-C Yes 1.6' (0.49 m) 67mm 19.7 oz (550 g)
Tamron 28-300/3.5-6.3 XR Di LD ASPH IF Full-frame APS-C No 1.6' (0.49 m) 62mm 14.8 oz (420 g)

All-in-One Zooms for APS-C Format DSLRs

For APS-C format DSLRs, we have a choice of seven 18 to 200mm zooms, an 18 to 250mm zoom, and an 18 to 270mm zoom. The 18 to 200mm zooms have the equivalent focal range of a 42 to 300mm lens or a 44.8 to 320mm equivalent lens, depending on whether you’re shooting with a DSLR from Nikon, Sony, Pentax (all 1.5x) or Canon(1.6x). Dedicated 18 to 200mm zooms are available from Canon, Nikon and Sony, and Tamron and Sigma each offer a pair of 18 to 200mm zooms for use with Canon, Sony, Nikon and Pentax lens mounts.

In addition to the above, Sigma has an image stabilized 18-250mm f/3.5-6.3 DC OS HSM in mounts for Sony, Nikon, Canon, Pentax and Sigma compact DSLRs. Tamron offers the Tamron 18-270mm f/3.5-6.3 Di II PZDin mounts for Nikon, Sony and Canon. Depending on whether your camera has a 1.5x or 1.6x crop factor, the equivalent focal range for the Sigma 18 to 250mm zoom lens is 27 to 375mm (or 28.8- 400mm) zoom lens while Tamron’s 18 to 270mm zoom is the equivalent of a 27 to 405mm (or 28.8 to 432mm) zoom lens.

  Format Image Stabilized Minimum Focus Filter Size Weight
Nikon AF-S DX Nikkor 18-200/3.5-5.6G ED VR II APS-C Yes 1.6' (0.5 m) 72mm 19.8 oz (560 g)
Canon EF-S 18-200/3.5-5.6 IS APS-C Yes  1.48' (0.45 m) 72mm  20.98 oz (595 g)
Sony SAL 18-200/3.5-6.3 DT ASPH APS-C In camera  1.5' (0.45 m) 62mm  14.3 oz   (405 g)
Tamron 18-200/3.5-6.3 XR Di-II Macro LD ASPH IF APS-C No  1.5' (0.45 m) 62mm 14.9 oz (423 g)
Tamron 18-270/3.5-6.3 Di-II VC LD ASPH IF Macro APS-C Yes  1.6' (0.5 m) 72mm 19.7 oz (550 g)
Tamron 18-270mm/f3.5-6.3 Di II PZD APS-C No 19.3" (49 cm) 62mm 15.87oz (450 g)
Sigma 18-200/3.5-6.3 DC OS HSM APS-C Yes  1.5' (0.45 m) 72mm 21.6 oz (612.35 g)
Sigma 18-200/3.5-6.3 DC ASPH IF APS-C No  1.5' (0.45 m) 62mm 14.3 oz (405 g)
Sigma 18-250/3.5-6.3 DC OS HSM APS-C Yes  1.5' (0.45 m) 72mm 22.2 oz (630 g)

All-in-One Zooms for Four Thirds / Micro Four Thirds Format Cameras

Panasonic and Olympus both offer Four Thirds format all-in-one zooms—two from Panasonic and one from Olympus. Olympus also offers an all-in-one for Micro Four Thirds format cameras. From Panasonic there’s a choice of a 14-140mm (28-280mm equivalent) zoom with a variable maximum aperture of f/4-5.8, and a slightly faster and slightly longer Leica-designed D Vario-Elmarit 14-150mm (28 to 300mm equivalent) zoom with a maximum variable aperture of f/3.5-5.6. Both zooms feature Panasonic’s MEGA O.I.S image stabilization systems.

For Four Thirds format cameras Olympus offers an 18-180mm f/3.5-6.3 (36 to 360mm equivalent) ED zoom and a 14-150mm f/4-5.6 (28 to 300mm equivalent) ED zoom for Micro Four Thirds format cameras.

  Format Image Stabilized  Min.Focus Filter Size Weight
Panasonic Lumix G Vario HD 14-140/4-5.8 ASPH MEGA O.I.S.  FourThirds  Yes  1.64' (0.50m) 62mm  16.23 oz (460g)
Panasonic Leica D Vario-Elmarit 14-150/3.5-5.6 ASPH MEGA O.I.S.  FourThirds  Yes  1.6' (0.5m) 72mm 18.34 oz (520g)
Olympus Zuiko Digital 18-180/3.5-6.3  ED  FourThirds  No 1.48' (0.45m) 62mm 15.5 oz (440g)
Olympus M.Zuiko Digital 14-150/4-5.6 ED  Micro FourThirds  No  1.6' (0.5m) 58mm 9.87 oz (280g)

All-in-One Zooms for Sony NEX Series cameras

Currently, there’s only one all-in-one zoom for Sony NEX series cameras, and in this case one’s all you need. The lens in question has a focal-range equivalent of about 27 to 300mm and a maximum variable aperture of f/3.5-6.3. Designed for use with Sony mirrorless NEX series cameras, the Sony E-mount 18-200mm f/3.5-6.3 is only about 4" long and sports—like all of Sony’s NEX optics—a better looking than most brushed-aluminum lens barrel.

  Format Image    Stabilized Minimum Focus Filter Size Weight
Sony  E-Mount DT 18-200/3.5-6.3   NEX In camera  1.5' (0.45 m)  67mm  14 oz (397 g)

If you have any questions about all-in-one zoom lenses, feel free to post them in the Comments section below. We’d be pleased to hear from you.

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Are there any zoom lenses for Nikons that start at a wider focal length? I need at least a 16mm (24mm full frame equivalent) but dont't need as much telephoto length. An ideal range for me would be 16-80. But all I find are either expensive fisheye zooms (11-18) or ranges starting no wider than 18mm. Are there any options for me?

Hello,

The Nikon 16-85mm f/3.5-5.6G ED VR AF-S DX Nikkor Lens is a compact, lightweight, fully-featured zoom lens that covers a wide 5.3x focal zoom range, and is ideal for a wide range of shooting situations. It is ideally suited for use with compact Nikon digital SLR cameras with the smaller DX size chip. This lens offers an equivalent focal length in 35mm terms of 24-127.5mm. It will conveniently cover everything from tight indoor portraits to medium telephoto shots.

The Sigma 17-70mm F2.8-4 DC Macro OS HSM Lens is a large-aperture lens with a maximum f/stop of f/2.8 in wide angle setting. The large zoom range of this 4x zoom lens (equivalent range of approx. 27-112mm when used with a Nikon digital SLR camera with an APS-C size chip) makes it ideal as an everyday large-aperture lens. In addition, the minimum focus distance of 8.7" along with the maximum magnification of 1:2.7 also makes the lens perfect for close-up photography.

The Tokina 16.5-135mm f/3.5-5.6 AT-X DX AF Lens is a compact super wide zoom lens. The zoom range begins at 16.5mm and offers the photographer a wider angle of view than most lenses. This makes the lens better suited for scenic and travel photography in addition to being a great standard lens for most general photography situations.

I'm interested in purchasing the Panasonic Lumix GH2 camera with a 14-140 lens. Is the Panasonic Lumix G Vario HD 14-140/4-5.8 ASPH MEGA O.I.S. the same as the one that comes in the GH2 14-140 kit? If not, is there a comparison review of the differences between the two (three) 14-140 lenses? If I would like to purchase the more expensive lens, can I substitute that for the one that comes in the kit?

Thank you.

Hello,

As far as I know, there is only 1 Panasonic Lumix G Vario HD 14-140mm f/4.0-5.8 ASPH/MEGA O.I.S. Lens which is included with the Panasonic Lumix GH2.

According to Panasonic's web site, there is only 1 14-140mm lens available.

An excellent summary and an un-biased guide to all who need such lens versatility.

As a Canon EOS 5D Mk2 user I picked the Canon 28-300 mm and have carried it on trips from the UK to most of Europe, Egypt and China and even NYC.  With the camera's excellent image stabilisation and high ISO capabilities the f/3.5 - 4.5 has seen me shooting really inpressive night shots as well as daytime.

About as close as it gets to a universal lens I think. It is heavy of course and when not shooting I often carry the lens/camera unit by the tripod foot for balance. But I have never wished I had left it at home.

Add my Canon 16 - 35 2.8L and my Fish-eye 15mm and I have never been lacking a suitable lens on a trip.

I use a Nikkor 28-300mm as the general-purpose lens of choice on a D7000 for video.  It's really good for this application - and the VRII really helps a lot when the rig is shoulder-mounted

Is the Tamron 18-200mm f/3.5-6.3 compatible with a Canon 40D?  I just want to verify that this lens will work with the sensor on this camera.

Yes, it will work with the Canon EOS 40D, as it is designed for the APS-C 1.6x cropped sensor in your camera.  You must, however, ensure you purchase the correct lens designed for the Canon mount, as Tamron does make this lens to fit different camera brands, so ensure you purchase the lens for the Canon lens mount.  You can use the link below to purchse the correct Tamron AF18-200mm F/3.5-6.3 XR Di-II LD Aspherical (IF) lens for the Canon EOS 40D.

Tamron AF18-200mm F/3.5-6.3 XR Di-II LD Aspherical (IF) for CANON

I am looking for 75-300mm lens for my canon rebel. I have not seen anything with image stabalization. Is this something I really need? Also can you turn off the auto focus on these lenses?

While Image Stabilization is not a necessity, it is a big benefit in assisting you in getting sharp images in either low-lighting situations or in situations that would require you to use a shutter speed slower than you can normally hand-hold the lens without natural breathing and movement (or car or moving platform you are on) causing camera-shake to blur the image.  At slow shutter speeds, your breathing or natural body movement can introduce slight blur into your image.  Image Stabilized lenses have small motors inside the lens that predict and move exactly opposite of your movement, allowing you to shoot at slower shutter speeds and still obtain sharp images.

Without getting too technical, the rule of thumb is to use a shutter speed that is the reciprocal of the focal length you are using.  In layman's terms, that simply means look at your lens' focal length and your shutter speed should be faster than the lens' setting.  For example, if you have a 75-300mm zoom lens and your lens is at 75mm, your shutter speed should be 1/80 sec or faster.  If you're set to 300mm, the shutter speed should be 1/320 sec or faster. 

What Image Stabilization technology does is allow you to shoot at much slower shutter speeds, in some cases, up to four f-stops slower than one can normally hand-hold and obtain sharp images.  In the above example, that would mean at 75mm, you could hand-hold at 1/5 sec, and at 300mm, you could hand-hold at 1/20 sec.  (Do understand, however, although Image Stabilization allows you to hand-hold at slower shutter speeds to obtain sharp images, Image Stabilization cannot stop your subject from moving across the frame at slower shutter speeds, so you may still get blur if your subject is moving.)

All this being said, realize Image Stabilization only recently was introduced into cameras and lenses within the last 15 years, while photographers have been taking sharp, slow shutter speed images for the last 185 years.  Before Image Stabilization was placed in cameras and lenses, you could stabilize your camera by simply purchasing and placing your camera on top of a tripod or other steady surface (of if standing, lean against a tree or building to help stabilize yourself).  It IS NOT a necessity; it is a BENEFIT, and an additional reason to consider purchasing the lens, especially if you typically hand-hold your camera or cannot set up a tripod.

To answer your last question, all of the aforementioned lenses allow you to either focus automatically or manually.  It depends on your camera/lens as to how this is achieved.  Some lenses have the Autofocus/Manual switch built into the lens; some cameras have the switch built into the camera body; still others require you to adjust the focus setting via a menu in the camera.  You can either look at your equipment or refer to your instruction manual to see how to switch your camera from autofocus to manual focus.

I was remiss in listing lenses that would work in your focal range for your Canon Rebel.  If you have a Canon EOS Digital Rebel DSLR camera, the following lenses would work for your needs with image stabilization:

Telephoto Lenses with Image Stabilization between 55mm-300mm for Canon EOS DSLR cameras

I have a Nikon D3100 and I want to exchange my 2 lenses 18-105 and 55-200 for an all encompassing lens for traveling. I would like your opinion on a lens that would cover either 18-270, 18-300 or 18-250. I am not concerned about the make. I would just like to get a lens I will be happy with for a change!! I have read conflicting reports and now not sure where to go from here. Thanks very much.

Hello,

Would the Tamron 75-300mm f/4-5.6 lens be compatible with a Panasonic Lumix DMC-G5 camera?

Thank you!

Maybe I just misunderstood but you wrote that the 18-200/18-250 is the equivalent of a 44 (on the small side) but that's not 1.5x/1.6x besides on the next line the sigma is listed at 27 etc. Which is is it?