Photography / Buying Guide

Zoom Lenses that Can Replace Your Primes


I love my primes, but some days I just want to go out with a camera slung over my shoulder and have nothing else to worry about. I’m going to ignore the obvious differences between zooms and primes for the sake of this piece, since that’s a whole separate topic. So, here is a list of some solid zooms that you should consider adding to your set.

Sony FE 24-70mm f/2.8 GM Lens

One of the first of the G Master series to make it to market, the 24-70mm f/2.8 is, optically, a phenomenal lens. It is a little big for the mirrorless system for which it was designed, but if you want a one-lens solution, an excellent 24-70mm is going to be hard to beat. If you aren’t a Sony mirrorless shooter, don’t worry—pretty much every brand has its own 24-70mm f/2.8, or equivalent, option.

Sony FE 24-70mm f/2.8 GM Lens

Nikon AF-S NIKKOR 200-500mm f/5.6E ED VR Lens

Most of us can’t justify having a series of super-telephoto optics lying around our house or apartment, so it is almost a necessity to pick up one zoom that covers all you might need. Nikon’s 200-500mm reaches out farther than most super-telephoto zooms, it sports a decent f/5.6 constant aperture, and still manages to stay relatively affordable. This is pretty much all you could ask for from this type of lens, so if you shoot Nikon and want to go super telephoto, it is a must-have.

Nikon AF-S NIKKOR 200-500mm f/5.6E ED VR Lens

Canon EF 11-24mm f/4L USM Lens

When it comes to wide-angle zooms, the Canon 11-24mm f/4L is an outstanding ultra-wide option. It is the widest full-frame zoom lens currently available and it is extremely sharp. Distortion is kept to an absolute minimum, which is impressive considering the range it covers, which is much more dramatic than it seems by the numbers. For Nikon owners, there’s the almost-as-wide AF-S NIKKOR 14-24mm f/2.8G ED, which is loved by many landscape photographers for its relatively fast maximum aperture and excellent optical performance.

Canon EF 11-24mm f/4L USM Lens

Any 70-200mm Lens

I know I said I would talk about specific lenses only, but I love this focal length. The 70-200 is so versatile if you need a bit of reach for your shots. Normally, I don’t reach for anything longer than my 90mm macro, so having one lens that covers everything I need past that is super useful. Also, if you get an f/2.8 model, you can create portraits with extremely shallow depth of field, and generally, as a higher-end option, these lenses are great optically. If you want something a little more compact, f/4 models are very good and bring the same extended reach.

Pentax HD PENTAX D FA* 70-200mm f/2.8 ED DC AW Lens

APS-C Combo: Sigma 18-35 and 50-100mm f/1.8 Lenses

APS-C shooters can benefit from Sigma’s latest groundbreaking f/1.8 zooms. An 18-35mm lens, equivalent to 27-52.5mm, and a 50-100mm lens, equivalent to 75-150mm, are available with this super-fast constant maximum aperture. As a part of Sigma’s Global Vision Art series, they have some serious technology and optical optimizations that help guarantee sharp images with excellent color rendition. If you purchase both, you will have excellent coverage and large apertures, making these some of the best choices for replacing your primes.

Sigma 18-35mm f/1.8 DC HSM Art Lens for Nikon

The Do-Everything Zoom

I wasn’t sure whether I should include this or not, but those 28-300s, 24-240s, 18-200s, 12-100s, and many others are useful if you just want one lens to cover any possible situation you could encounter. They sacrifice constant apertures and usually aren’t perfect optically, but the ability to zoom from wide-angle to super telephoto without changing your lens is unmatched. Also, many manufacturers are able to keep them quite compact for their zoom ranges, so for your family vacations or weeklong hike through the mountains, cutting down on size and weight might make more of a difference to you than a slightly faster aperture or marginal improvements to sharpness.

Sony FE 24-240mm f/3.5-6.3 OSS Lens

Now, there are still quite a few other unique lenses out there that didn’t get covered, such as the Sigma 24-35mm f/2 and Canon’s 200-400mm with built-in 1.4x teleconverter, but this should hopefully be enough to get those prime lovers interested in some zoom lenses. Lens manufacturers are always trying to push the limits of modern optical technologies, so I’m sure more and more spectacular zooms are on the way, as well.

Canon EF 200-400mm f/4L IS USM Lens with Internal 1.4x Extender

What are some of your favorite zoom lenses? Tell us about it in the Comments section, below.

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i read what you said about 70-200 lenses, actually im thinking on buy one, but could you tell me the real differences between canon 70-200 2.8L usm and canon 70-200 f/2.8L IS II.

And if u can tell me why sigma 70-200 cost the same as canon 70-200 I

Hi Leonardo,

This is a great question. The 70-200mm f/2.8L USM is an older design and has been dramatically improved with the 70-200mm f/2.8L IS II.The version II upgrades include image stabilization, a closer minimum focus distance, improved optics, and general improvements all around. The version II is the easy recommendation if you can afford it. Now, the Sigma likely is close to the older Canon 70-200 because the Canon has come down in price over the years. A direct comparison of these would be interesting but I don't have any experience with the Sigma to make a decision here.

My (old vers) 70-200 f1.8 has IS.

# f2.8 sorry

Hi Carol,

You are correct in pointing out that there is a version I of the 70-200mm f/2.8 with IS. However, Leonardo appears to be looking at currently available f/2.8 models, of which only the non-IS version I and the IS version II are available as new, which is why I stated these differences in my answer.

I bought years ago the Nikon 16-85 zoom. It's a "B" optically, to me, and the worst case f/6.3 is not a deal breaker, as I use a flash indoors and don't usually need flash outdoors. I find that it's my lens of choice 90% of the time! It's not too big and it's a great compromise, do-almost-everything lens for my D90 and D7100.


Glad you like your 16-85. If you were looking to upgrade to a lens that is better optically but still fills that role the Nikon DX 16-80mm f/2.8-4 is a great choice. We even have a hands-on review to check out.

Hi. Seen you related to hiking with zoom lens weght and size. This is a pro remark, that thru hikers who shoots nature know...thank u for that.
Nedd a bit of edvice. I use a sony nex 6 in 2-7 dayes throu hikes. I use the 16-55 kit lens which is horrible in view and landscape and useble in close range or big animals and preety good in macro, if it have enough light. I would like a good quality, well build yet light zoom that covers view, and go up to 135 or higher for animals macro. Sony's emount lens offer is too narrow. What do u recvomend?
Another isdue: u mentioned the nikon 200-500 that a few of my friends have. I use the g2 tamaron 150-600 on 810 body for heavy duty nature photos. They r very close opticly and its also an affordable price. The other player is the sigma 150-600 sport, but up to day, in this price level, my canon 5.6 400 was the best followed buy the 200-400, that its new version is remarkble. Maybe a long range lens article will be also usefull.

Hi tzur,

This is a tough question to answer, but my initial recommendation is the Sony E 16-70mm since it balances optical quality with a decent range. If you want more range the next recommendation would be the E PZ 18-105mm. Both are constant f/4 zooms as well. Beyond that, larger zoom ranges tend to impact quality a bit too much for my liking, so I would want to pick up a second zoom for telephoto.

If you are a Micro 4/3 user, I own the Lumix 12-35mm and 35-100mm zooms. Both have constant f2.8 apertures, solid build with weathersealing and are easy to carry. One on camera body and other in lens case looped on my belt. The Olympus 12-40mm f2.8 is an excellent lens also (just a little heftier than the Lumix)

Hi BillNBPT,

Those are all excellent suggestions and great examples of versatile zooms that can fill the role of multiple primes. Thanks for sharing!