Travel light with superzoom lenses that go from wide-angle to super-telephoto
Supersize your zoom range with a lens that’s geared up for holidays and travel. Matthew Richards reveals the best buys
Having a big DSLR kit with plenty of lenses is great: you can choose the right tool to suit every photo opportunity. Or is it? Nobody really enjoys being weighed down by a heavy camera bag when they’re out and about. Whether you’re exploring city streets and landmarks, trekking into the hills, or journeying to the other side of the world, there’s a lot to be said for travelling light.
You can’t travel much lighter than with a single lens fixed to your camera, and that’s where ‘superzooms’ come in. They’re designed to take you all the way from wide-angle viewing to long telephoto reach, as well as covering everything in between, with just a quick twist of the zoom ring. The advantages are three-fold: firstly, you can cut down on the size and weight of the kit you’re carrying with you; secondly, you can react instantly to different shooting scenarios, without the fear of missing shots because you’re too busy rummaging around in your kit bag and swapping
You can’t travel much lighter than with a single lens fixed to your camera, and that’s where ‘superzooms’ come in
the lens on your camera; and thirdly, you can avoid dust and dirt drifting into your camera body by not having to swap lenses in dusty environments.
The downside, at least historically, is that superzooms have been somewhat notorious for sacrificing image quality in the pursuit of giving you greater zoom range. Some examples of the breed have also tended to be quite big and heavy, so it can actually be a pain to use them all the time, instead of shooting with a smaller standard zoom and just switching to a telephoto lens as and when you need to.
Over the past few years, manufacturers have been on a mission to improve the performance and quality of superzooms, while also reducing their size and weight. Complex aspherical elements are now commonplace in competing designs. FX (full-frame) superzoom lenses still tend to be fairly large and weighty, but some of the latest DX (APS-C) format superzooms are barely any bigger or heftier than most standard zoom lenses. It’s not always the case though, as demonstrated by the larger of Nikon’s two 18-300mm superzoom lenses.
One thing that always suffers when trying to squeeze a superzoom lens into a compact build is the aperture rating. It’s common, nowadays, for the widest available aperture to shrink to as little as f/6.3 towards the long end of the zoom range. The upshot is that, under anything other than bright sunny lighting, you may struggle to maintain fast shutter speeds without bumping up your camera’s ISO setting. It’s no surprise, then, to discover that all current superzooms for Nikon DSLRs have built-in optical image stabilization. This enables you to get consistently sharp images that are free from the effects of camera-shake, at shutter speeds of up to around four times slower than you would otherwise need.
There’s more of a mix when it comes to autofocus systems. All of Nikon’s superzoom lenses have ring-type ultrasonic autofocus, which tends to offer rapid performance. Handling is also more refined, because the focus ring remains stationery during autofocus, so you can concentrate on holding the camera and lens in a natural, comfortable position, rather than having to keep your fingers clear of the focus ring. Another bonus is that full-time manual focus override is also available. These luxuries are unavailable in the Sigma and Tamron lenses on test, which use electric or ultrasonic motor-driven systems, although the Tamron 16300mm bucks the trend, as you’ll see from our review.