Telephoto lenses tend to be large and often heavy, so one of the big advantages of a tele-zoom is that it can do the duty of the multiple lenses you would otherwise need to cover the same range, reducing the volume and weight of the gear you must carry. This bottom-line economy applies to price as well. The wider the range and the bigger the aperture, the more expensive the lens will be; but an investment in one good lens that covers a big range is more cost-effective than purchasing multiple lenses.
Ultrazooms like the Tamron model we include here go all the way from wide to long telephoto, and when coupled with the magnification effect of sub-full-frame sensors present in most popular D-SLRs, it’s possible to get telephoto lengths of 400mm and longer in a relatively affordable lens. For many photographers, a lens like this may be the only lens needed for most photo opportunities.
Remember that at longer telephoto lengths, a tripod or image-stabilization technology is important for getting sharp shots. Fortunately, many lenses now feature some form of stabilization, and some camera systems even build this into the body, so it works no matter what lens you choose.
Designed specifically for digital sensors, the Tamron Di II set of lenses is built for exclusive use on smaller-sized image sensors—thankfully so, because the AF18-270mm ƒ/3.5-6.3 Di II lens offers an incredible 15x zoom, covering an angle of view from a 29mm wide-angle to a 432mm telephoto (35mm equivalent). The lens includes Vibration Compensation (VC) for automatically detecting camera movement and compensating accordingly. Three hybrid aspherical lens elements and two Low Dispersion (LD) glass elements correct for aberration. The 18-270mm is available for Canon and Nikon mounts. Estimated Street Price: $599.
Featuring Sigma’s OS (Optical Stabilizer) function, the 18-125mm ƒ/3.8-5.6 DC OS HSM lens uses two sensors to detect vertical and horizontal movement. It then compensates for the detected shake with an optical image-stabilizing group, effectively offering up to four stops of blur reduction. Special Low Dispersion (SLD) glass combined with a molded glass aspherical lens and two hybrid aspherical lenses minimize aberration while providing high image quality. Multi-layer coatings also reduce flare and ghosting. A Hyper Sonic Motor and an inner focusing system ensure quiet and fast autofocus. The lens has a minimum focusing distance of 13.8 inches at all focal lengths, with a maximum magnification ratio of 1:3.8 for macro work. The 18-125mm is available in Canon, Nikon, Pentax, Sigma and Sony mounts. Estimated Street Price: $339.
The Sony SAL-70400G 70-400mm ƒ/4-5.6 G is a 5.7x super-telephoto zoom, the latest addition to Sony’s G-series of large-aperture, premium lenses. The lens is compatible with SteadyShot image stabilization in all Sony Alpha cameras, and uses internal focusing and an SSM system for fast and accurate autofocus all the way into telephoto. Extra-low dispersion glass is used for high contrast and uniform center-to-edge resolution while keeping aberration minimal. The nine-diaphragm aperture provides a smooth, natural, out-of-focus bokeh area when using a large aperture. There’s a focus-mode/range switch and three focus-hold buttons for extended focusing options, and the AF hold buttons also can be set to activate the Intelligent Preview function for reviewing and optimizing shots in-camera before they’re taken with the Sony Alpha A900 (a “full-frame” model). Estimated Street Price: $1,500.
With a bright ƒ/5.6 aperture at 400mm, the Tokina AT-X 840 AF D 80-400mm ƒ/4.5-5.6 (128-640mm 35mm equivalent) offers extreme telephoto with fast shutter speeds. The internal focusing system provides efficient auto and manual focusing. Optical multicoatings compensate for flare and ghosting. A tripod collar is included for attaching the lens rather than the camera, ideal when zoomed all the way out to telephoto range. A zoom lock switch locks to avoid zoom creep while the camera and lens are being moved. The included BH-725 lens hood uses a PL Assist spring-loaded thumbwheel to allow for filters to be rotated with the included lens hood in place. The AT-X 840 is available in Canon EOS and Nikon D mounts. Estimated Street Price: $649.
DESIGNED FOR DIGITAL
The focal plane on a digital SLR, the sensor, is absolutely flat. Comprised of photodiodes that need to collect light information evenly, it’s even more important to digital cameras that the optics are able to perfectly project and reflect entering rays of light through the lens for a crisp image that doesn’t have any aberration. CCD and CMOS sensors also have a much more reflective construction than film, so many lenses designed for digital utilize multicoatings in order to reduce optical aberrations like ghosting and flaring.
Thanks to computerized optical design, we’re living in a lens age where precision has become more efficient. Many lenses feature designs that are tailored specifically for sub-full-frame sensors, enhancing edge-to-edge sharpness and reducing (or entirely eliminating) vignetting. These lenses are lighter and cheaper than full-frame lenses. At the same time, new chemical formulas are able to provide lens coatings for subtly manipulating light in order to design lenses that are cheaper and lighter. Here are a few lenses that sport construction tailored specifically for digital.
MORE ABOUT STABILIZATION
Image stabilization provides compensation for shooting when sharpness is critical, in other words, pretty much always. The further you’re zoomed in, really anywhere near the telephoto range, the more noticeable even the smallest movements will be. This is why image stabilization is incredibly important for long telephoto lenses.
Some manufacturers, like Olympus and Sony, choose to place image stabilization in the camera bodies, saving you money in the long run by keeping lens prices down and giving you the power of stabilization with every lens. Other companies, like Canon and Nikon, have customers already heavily invested in their camera systems and choose to design image stabilization into the lenses themselves. Both methods work fine, with most lenses able to compensate up to three or four stops for faster shooting in low light.
Olympus claims its entire line of Zuiko Four Thirds lenses to be “Digital Specific.” Each features integrated CPUs with the ability to upgrade firmware as technology improves for faster autofocusing and optimization of lens and body communication. Compatible with cameras that share the Four Thirds format, including D-SLR models from Olympus, Panasonic and Leica, Olympus Four Thirds lenses also give an extra kick to zoom lenses over other companies, thanks to the smaller sen
sor size. Four Thirds sensors reach a focal length double the same range in a 35mm equivalent lens. The Olympus Zuiko Digital ED 70-300mm ƒ/4-5.6 zoom, for instance, actually offers up 140-600mm. Despite the range, the 70-300mm ƒ/4-5.6 has good macro ability with a close minimum focusing distance of only 38 inches. List Price: $399.
Canon’s current big daddy telephoto zoom lens, the EF 100-400mm ƒ/4.5-5.6L IS USM (with a 35mm equivalence of 160-640mm on sub-full-frame Canons) uses a six-group configuration with five movable groups for a four-time magnification ratio. A dual-mode Image Stabilizer can be set to best serve panning or stationary subjects, and Canon’s Ultra Sonic Motor (USM) offers smooth and silent autofocusing with enhanced speed, thanks to the floating rear element focus design. Minimum focusing distance is a short 5.9 feet, the lens can be set to manual focus through an external switch, and there’s a friction adjust ring for setting the comfort of the zoom’s torque. The EF 100-400mm is one of Canon’s top-tier L-series lenses; it uses Fluorite and Super UD glass for heightening color rendition. List Price: $1,649.
The Vibration Reduction (VR) system on Nikon’s AF-S VR Zoom-Nikkor 70-200mm ƒ/2.8G IF-ED lens offers faster shooting at up to eight times the normal speed, giving up to three stops of camera shake compensation. The system is able to detect automatically when the camera is panning, and it’s available for both the viewfinder and the exposure, or exposure only for saving battery power. (The function also can be turned off.) The lens uses five ED glass elements for precision, and a Silent Wave Motor (SWM) provides high-speed autofocus. Super Integrated Coating (SIC) offers superior color reproduction while minimizing ghosting and flare. There’s a built-in Auto/Manual switch with a lock mechanism for fast change-ups, the filter attachment is designed not to rotate for better use with circular polarizers, and a detachable tripod mount is included. Estimated Street Price: $1,699.
The Pentax smc P-DA* 60-250mm ƒ/4 ED (IF) SDM extends to a minimum aperture of ƒ/32 for large depth of field and fast shutter speeds. The lens uses Extra-Low Dispersion (ED) optical elements with lens coatings for clear images with high-contrast, edge-to-edge clarity and minimized ghosting and flare. The 60-250mm lens features water- and dust-resistant sealing and a Super Protect (SP) fluorine compound for repelling dust, water and greasy fingerprints. The lens can be switched quickly back and forth from autofocus to manual focus by hand. List Price: $1,499.
| Canon (800) OK-CANON
Pentax (800) 877-0155
Tamron USA (631) 858-8400
Nikon (800) NIKON-US
| Sigma (800) 896-6858
Tokina (THK Photo Products)
Olympus (888) 553-4448
Sony (877) 865-SONY