The Do-It-All Lens

Canon EF 24-105mm ƒ/4L IS USM

Over time, many pros build up an impressive arsenal of lenses for specialized use, but if you’re just starting out, superzooms are a great way to save on cost while still being able to cover most subjects. Digital lens design has mitigated the difference in image quality between zooms and prime lenses for the most part, as well, so what are the downsides? Unlike prime focal-length lenses like a 35mm or 50mm lens or very expensive professional zooms, the aperture on a superzoom is variable. This means that at the wide end of the zoom, your minimum aperture is different than the minimum aperture on the telephoto end. That’s problematic if you’re shooting manually, as your aperture may change while you’re moving through the zoom range, and this affects your exposure and focus.

The Canon EF 24-105mm ƒ/4L IS USM all-in-one professional zoom, for example, is available with a constant aperture of ƒ/4 through the whole range of the zoom. Lenses require very sophisticated designs and expensive optics to maintain a "constant" aperture throughout the range, so this lens is comparatively very heavy to other zoom lenses, and is also more expensive than most at $1,149.

Tamron 18-270mm F/3.5-6.3 Di II VC PZD

Additionally, while the Canon 24-105mm ƒ/4L can cover a full-frame sensor, it has less range when compared to a lens designed for sub-full-frame sensors like the Tamron 18-270mm F/3.5-6.3 Di II VC PZD zoom with a 35mm equivalent focal range of 28-419mm. At less than half the cost of the 24-105mm, the Tamron 18-270mm is also much easier to carry since it weighs slightly less than a pound. There’s a trade-off, though. As mentioned, the aperture on the Tamron 18-270mm F/3.5-6.3 is also variable. When opened wide to the 18mm mark, it’s a fast ƒ/3.5, but when zoomed in to telephoto at 270mm, the aperture only opens to ƒ/6.3, which limits your shutter speed and depth of field. The Tamron 18-270mm is available for Canon, Nikon and Sony cameras. Estimated Street Price: $449.

Nikon 18-200mm ƒ/3.5-5.6G ED VR II

Canon also has a number of their own affordable all-in-one zooms, including the EF-S 18-200mm ƒ/3.5-5.6 IS and the EF-S 18-135mm ƒ/3.5-5.6 IS, as well as a Stepless Motor version of the same lens for silent autofocusing during video, the EF-S 18-135mm ƒ/3.5-5.6 IS STM. (The EF-S 18-135mm ƒ/3.5-5.6 IS STM is available in a kit purchase with the well-regarded Canon EOS 70D if you happen to be looking for a good prosumer camera.) The more capable EF-S 18-200mm ƒ/3.5-5.6 IS gains much further reach, however, with a 35mm equivalent zoom range of 29-320mm. Optical image stabilization on all three lenses provides up to four stops of shake compensation. Estimated Street Price: $499 (EF-S 18-135mm ƒ/3.5-5.6 IS); $549 (EF-S 18-135mm ƒ/3.5-5.6 IS STM); $699 (EF-S 18-200mm ƒ/3.5-5.6 IS); $1,549 (EOS 70D with 18-135mm ƒ/3.5-5.6 IS STM).

Olympus M.Zuiko 14-150mm ƒ/4-5.6

Zoom lenses that have been made specifically for APS-C-sensor cameras are much lighter and far less expensive over full-frame models. As a member of Nikon’s DX series of lenses rather than their higher-priced, full-frame FX family, the Nikkor 18-200mm ƒ/3.5-5.6G ED VR II works with DX-format, APS-C cameras like the Nikon D300S, D7100 or D5300. It can also be used with full-frame cameras in the Nikon line thanks to an automatic DX crop mode that captures a smaller portion of the sensor. The 11x zoom has an equivalent zoom range of a 27-300mm lens in 35mm format, and it features Vibration Reduction for up to four stops of image stabilization, as well as a zoom lock switch and Manual/Autofocus switch on the barrel. Estimated Street Price: $849.

35mm equivalence refers to the actual angle of view you see on an APS-C camera, since there’s a crop factor of approximately 1.5x or 1.6x, depending on the sensor size of the camera. A 100mm lens on an APS-C camera would have the field of view equivalent to a 150mm lens on a full-frame camera, for instance, while a 200mm lens would translate to the same viewing angle as a 350mm lens. Manufacturers refer to this as a "magnification factor" since you’re gaining zooming power, but in reality, it’s a crop factor because an APS-C sensor is roughly two-thirds the size of a full-frame 35mm image plane. Micro Four Thirds sensors are even smaller than APS-C, with a 2x equivalence. The Olympus M.Zuiko 14-150mm ƒ/4-5.6 is a Micro Four Thirds lens equivalent to 28-300mm in 35mm. Because Micro Four Thirds sensors are so small, the lenses (and cameras) can be designed to be quite compact, and the 14-150mm is only 3.3 inches long with a light weight of 0.62 pounds. Estimated Street Price: $599.

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