Since the invention of the zoom lens, there has been a demand for the perfect lens that would allow photographers to ditch lens-heavy camera bags and head out into the field or out onto holidays and vacations with only a single lens—one that handled every photographic demand thrown at it; from wide-angle landscapes, to beautiful portraits, to group photos, to macro shots, to telephoto framing of distant subjects. Enter the all-in-one zoom lens for SLR, DSLR, and mirrorless cameras—the photographic representation of the jack-of-all-trades. Is it a master of some? Many think so!
Before we dive into the buying guide, let’s give a deserved nod to lens maker Tamron for starting this lens movement way back in 1992 with its Zoom Wide- Angle Telephoto 28-200mm f/3.8-5.6 Aspherical LD IF lens, now discontinued after 30 years. Designed for 35mm film cameras, its 7x zoom was regarded as the first true high-ratio zoom lens, or “superzoom,” for interchangeable-lens cameras. Today, the superzoom moniker has shifted from the purview of these SLR lenses to the world of the—forgive the use of the word again—superzoom or bridge point-and-shoot cameras with 16, 25, 65, and even 125x zoom lenses.
These days, for interchangeable-lens cameras, we get to enjoy high-ratio zooms that range from 7x to a head-turning 33x zoom range.
One lens to rule them all. It sounds attractive. But there are pros and cons, so let’s take a quick look at both sides of the all-in-one lens.
One versatile lens weighs less than several less versatile lenses.
Farewell, Camera bag
While it’s smart to protect your gear with a camera bag, a bag designed to carry one camera and a single lens, versus one camera and several lenses, is going to be smaller and lighter—and, if you still carry a bag, leave room for other things like water bottles and walkabout necessities.
Convenience and Versatility
No need to carry or switch four separate lenses to go from wide to normal to portrait to extreme telephoto.
No More Lens-Swapping
Have you ever dropped a lens while changing lenses or gotten a bunch of dust on your exposed sensor while swapping glass? I have done both. Ouch.
Fewer Missed Moments
Not switching lenses means you will be less prone to missing fluid compositional moments or dynamic action due to fumbling around in your camera bag, looking for a different focal length lens.
There is nothing like an all-in-one zoom lens when it comes to recomposing a scene without moving your feet (or swapping lenses). This flexibility is, often, a boon to creativity and creative compositions.
Not a redundant entry. Most all-in-one lenses are lightweight and fairly compact, especially when compared to telephoto lenses. Even with larger all-in-one lenses, when you consider all the lenses that this one lens might virtually replace in your camera bag, the size/weight argument is handily won by the all-in-one lens.
Most all-in-one lenses have relatively small maximum apertures of f/3.5 or smaller. In the world of light, larger apertures are better, but here we are sacrificing light-gathering power in the name of convenience. Some all-in-one lenses for smaller format sensors have wider apertures—a welcome thing—and many combat the potential of slower shutter speeds with image stabilization. As a counter to this drawback, might I humbly suggest being a two-lens photographer and carrying a small, inexpensive, and lightweight “nifty fifty” 50mm lens in your bag for low-light situations?
Many all-in-one lenses are relatively sharp—and today’s zooms are much sharper than zooms of yesteryear, but no all-in-one zoom is going to compete against a nice prime lens, or a wide-aperture pro zoom, for ultimate sharpness. If you want to use an all-in-one lens and want to maximize sharpness, I recommend staying away from the wide-angle and telephoto extremes of the focal length (dial it back a bit) and shoot at mid-range apertures around f/8. All this notwithstanding, there are some all-in-one zooms that are known for their sharpness—a Canon all-in-one lens even gets the celebrated white paint, red ring, and “L” badge.
When you are asking optics to bend light from wide-angle focal lengths and then focus light from telephoto focal lengths, physics starts to fight back. All-in-one lenses will likely have unwanted barrel distortion. This is not carnival fun-mirror distortion, mind you, and today’s post-processing software does a pretty good job of making straight lines straight after capture.
Here is a list of all-in-one zooms for your interchangeable-lens camera from your favorite optical shops for your chosen lens mount:
(Remember, lenses that are designed for full-frame cameras are usually compatible with that manufacturer’s cropped sensor cameras.)
Canon RF (Full-Frame) All-in-One Zoom Lenses
Canon RF-S (APS-C) All-in-One Zoom Lenses
Canon EF (Full Frame) All-in-One Zoom Lenses
Canon EF-S (APS-C) All-in-One Zoom Lenses
Canon EF-M (APS-C) All-in-One Zoom Lenses
FUJIFILM X-Mount (APS-C) All-in-One Zoom Lenses
Olympus and Panasonic (Micro Four Thirds) All-in-One Zoom Lenses
Nikon Z-Mount FX (Full Frame) All-in-One Zoom Lenses
Nikon Z-Mount DX (APS-C) All-in-One Zoom Lenses
Nikon F-Mount DX (APS-C) All-in-One Zoom Lenses
Pentax K-Mount (APS-C) All-in-One Zoom Lenses
Sigma SA (APS-C) All-in-One Zoom Lenses
Sony E-Mount (Full Frame) All-in-One Zoom Lenses
Sony E-Mount (APS-C) All-in-One Zoom Lenses
Sony A-Mount (APS-C) All-in-One Zoom Lenses
Are you a fan of the all-in-one zoom lens? Do you have questions about this species of lens? Hit us up in the Comments section and let’s chat!