Features to look for…
There are plenty of things to consider when picking out your ideal superzoom
Lock it down
So-called ‘zoom creep’, where the lens stretches out while it’s being carried around, can be awkward. All of the lenses in this test feature zoom lock switches to stop this happening.
Keep it light
Superzoom lenses haven’t always enjoyed the best of reputations. They’re clunky things with dubious image quality and heinous distortions… or so some say. And surely, one of the biggest attractions of SLRs and other interchangeable-lens camera systems is that you can change the lens, fitting the ideal optic for the task at hand. However, that’s not always convenient.
If you’re jetting off on holiday, pounding city streets or even hiking up into the hills, a large collection of heavy lenses is the last thing you need. Sometimes it’s nice to be able to have a single lens that gives wide-angle coverage, generous telephoto reach, and everything else in between.
Then there’s the fact that digital SLRs can suffer a nasty reaction to dust. In mucky environments where there’s grit, sand or other contaminants blowing around, changing lenses can be nervewracking. Again, a superzoom lens can come to the rescue, enabling terrific versatility without requiring you to lay bare the innards of your camera to the elements.
All three Nikon lenses on test have ring-type ultrasonic autofocus. The others have ultrasonic motors (see Jargon Buster, below), apart from the Tamron 18-200mm, which has a more basic electric motor.
The long end
Shoot with stabilisers
Optical stabilisation is definitely worth having, especially for any handheld shooting at the telephoto end of the zoom range. It’s featured in practically all recent designs of superzoom lens. 10cm or less in length. However, downsizing isn’t always good news. Reasonably compact lenses with modest-sized front elements can’t offer very wide apertures. As such, most current superzooms have a widest available aperture of f/6.3 at the long end of the zoom range.
The relatively narrow maximum aperture at telephoto focal lengths isn’t as big a problem as you might think, however. The latest Nikons offer excellent image quality at high ISO settings, so it’s not a big deal to increase the sensitivity in dull conditions when you need fast shutter speeds. Also, the majority of current superzooms have optical stabilisation built in, so you’ll only need a fast shutter speed when you want to freeze action, rather than relying on it to fend off camera shake for all handheld shooting.
All in all, most of the latest superzoom lenses offer mighty zoom ranges in easily manageable sizes, making them more attractive propositions than ever before. Let’s see how the various makes and models measure up…
Most DX-format superzooms have a shortest focal length of 18mm, equivalent to 27mm when using a fullframe camera. The Tamron 16300mm bucks the trend, with a greater maximum viewing angle. Lens weight ranges from 405g for the non-stabilised Tamron 18-200mm to 830g for the bigger of the two Nikon 18-300mm lenses. This can be an important consideration when you’re choosing a ‘travel’ or ‘walkabout’ lens. 200mm used to be the typical cut-off point at the long end of the zoom range. Many recent designs push the boundaries, stretching to 250mm, 270mm or even 300mm.