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    Superzoom lenses group test

    | Lenses | Reviews | 13/04/2010 14:48pm
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    Fit a superzoom lens to your DSLR and you’ll be prepared for almost any shooting situation. Find out which one’s for you in our superzoom lens review.

    One of the main attractions of a D-SLR over a compact is that you can swap lenses on demand. But there’s a catch or two. Most digital photographers prefer to change lenses as little as possible, to avoid dumping dust on the sensor.

    And if you’re on holiday, travelling or just walking around, wouldn’t it be nice if you could replace a whole gadget bag full of lenses with just one do-it-all lens? That’s where a superzoom comes in.

    Superzoom lenses have been around for decades, but historically, these 28-200mm or 28-300mm beasts have been fraught with compromises. Older models were often big and bulky, and offered mediocre optical quality. More recently, manufacturers have made huge strides, increasing sharpness and contrast and reducing unwanted side-effects such as chromatic aberrations (colour fringing), ghosting and flare. It’s all thanks to the use of computer-designed aspheric elements, high-tech lens coatings and precision-engineering methods.

    All the lenses in this test group are specifically designed for D-SLRs with APS-C sensors, rather than full-frame cameras, so another bonus is that you can expect to get a generous telephoto reach neatly wrapped in a relatively small and lightweight package.

    The maximum apertures at telephoto settings still tend to be a little slow, making camera shake a potential problem, but most of the latest examples feature built-in image stabilisation (IS) as well, giving them every chance of making great all-rounders.

    Canon EF-S 18-135mm f/3.5-5.6 IS

    Price: £400

    (Street)

    Supplied as a kit lens with the new EOS 7D, the EF-S 18-135mm IS looks low-tech compared with Canon’s high-performance, semi-pro body. The somewhat basic design lacks USM (UltraSonic Motor) autofocus and the standard micro-motor fitted is comparatively noisy. Build quality is a step up from canon’s most basic ‘kit’ lenses. For example, the mounting ring is metal rather than plastic.

    However, out of two samples of this lens, one had almost no zoom creep at all while the other suffered quite badly, a problem made worse by this being the only lens in the group not to feature a zoom lock switch. The latest-generation Image Stabilizer lived up to its four-stop promise in our tests and the upside of the modest 7.5x zoom range is that distortions are less of an issue than with some super-zooms.

    Sharpness was pretty good and, again, rather better than with the previous sample of this lens that we’ve seen, which raises questions about manufacturing consistency.

    Ratings:

    Features – 3/5
    Build Quality – 3/5
    Handling – 4/5
    Image quality – 4/5
    Value for money – 4/5

    Verdict:

    With only a basic set of features and questionable consistency in build quality, this lens seems a little over-priced. 80%

    Canon EF-S 18-200mm f/3,5-5.6 IS

    Price

    : £480 (street)

    At first glance, there’s little difference between this lens and Canon’s cheaper EF-S 18-135mm model. Both have an identical layout of Image Stabilizer and AF/MF switches and the zoom and focus rings are almost the same, although the focus ring is a little narrower on the 18-200mm.

    They’re also almost exactly the same length when used at the 18mm end, although the 18-200mm is more than ready to extend itself under the force of gravity, so the zoom lock switch is a worthwhile addition. As with the ower-powered Canon in the group, there’s no finery, such as USM autofocus or a focus distance scale, and the overall build looks and feels rather basic.

    The trade-off of having the extra zoom range is that distortions are more noticeable and there’s a little more chromatic aberration (colour fringing), but at least these are fairly easy to minimise if you shoot in RAW and use the Digital Photo Professional software that comes bundled with Canon Cameras.

    Ratings:

    Features – 3/5
    Build quality – 3/5
    Handling – 4/5
    Image quality – 4/5
    Value for money – 4/5

    Verdict

    : Features and performance aren’t captivating at the price and even the lens hood costs extra. 83%

    Nikon 18-200mm f/3.5-5.6G AF-S DX ED VR II

    Price

    : £590 (street)

    Nikon launched its original 18-200mm AF-S VR back in 2006, but the newer ‘VR II’ edition boasts four-stop rather than three-stop Vibration Reduction, improved lens coatings and a zoom lock switch. As it turns out, zoom creep is much less of an issue than with the original lens, which would go into freefall between focal lengths of 24mm and 135mm, and both models generally stay firmly in place at 18mm.

    Despite having an RRP that’s £10 less than Canon’s 18-200mm, the Nikon has plenty of extra goodies, including super-fast, practically silent AF-S autofocus complete with full-time manual override, switchable Normal/Active VR modes, a focus distance scale neatly positioned beneath a viewing window and better-feeling build quality all round.

    Optically, the Nikon proved not only to be the sharpest lens on test, but also retained its sharpness better at maximum apertures throughout the zoom range.

    Ratings:

    Features – 5/5
    Build quality – 5/5
    Handling – 5/5
    Image quality – 4.5/5
    Value for money – 4/5

    Verdict

    : This is simply the best superzoom for Nikon users, even if it’s more than twice the price of some lenses on test. 94%

    Sigma 18-125mm f/3.8-5.6 DC OS HSM

    Price

    - £240 (street)

    The Sigma 18-125mm is wonderfully compact, and at just £240 it’s also the cheapest lens in the group. The catch is that the zoom range is also the smallest, but you still get a useful 29-200mm effective reach on a Canon body, or 27-187mm on a Nikon.

    Along with a very high standard of finish, the lens features Sigma’s latest four-stop OS (Optical Stabilizer) system, which works a treat, as well as super-quiet and reasonably rapid HSM (Hypersonic Motor) autofocus. There’s a lot to love here.

    The Sigma’s optics aren’t quite as sharp as the Nikon’s, but they’re impressive nonetheless. Distortions and chromatic aberrations are well controlled, helped by the relatively meagre zoom range. Zoom creep in our test sample was non-existent, although you still get a zoom lock switch for good measure.

    Unless you really need the extra telephoto reach offered by the bigger lenses in the group, the Sigma 18-125mm makes an excellent choice for a wide range of camera makes and models.

    Ratings:

    Features – 4.5/5
    Build quality – 4.5/5
    Handling – 4.5/5
    Image quality – 4/5
    Value for money – 4/5

    Verdict:

    A highly accomplished lens in all respects. The only downside is that it has the smallest zoom range in the group. 90%

    Sigma 18-200mm f/3.5-6.3 DC OS

    Price

    - £290 (street)

    One of the very first lenses that Sigma produced with its proprietary OS (Optical Stabilizer) system, the 18-200mm is starting to show its age. Unlike other stabilised lenses in the group, you only get a three-stop rather than a four-stop benefit and you don’t get Sigma’s refined and near-silent HSM autofocus system, similar to Canon USM and Nikon AF-S.

    Then again, Canon’s USM autofocus isn’t featured on either of its superzoom lenses, so the Sigma still has potential at just half the price of the equivalent Canon 18-200mm. Build quality feels good overall, but our review sample had a little zoom creep, about the same as with the Nikon 18-200mm, but much less noticeable than on the Canon 18-200mm.

    Optical quality was also a notch down from the other Sigma lenses in the group, with less sharpness and contrast, while chromatic aberrations were rather more noticeable, with colour fringing frequently adorning high-contrast edges of objects within scenes.

    Ratings –

    Features – 4/5
    Build Quality – 4/5
    Handling – 3.5/5
    Image Quality – 3/5
    Value for Money – 3.5/5

    Verdict

    : The price is attractive for a stabilised 18-200mm lens, but with mediocre image quality, this isn’t our first choice. 79%

    Sigma 18-250mm f/3.5-6.3 DC OS HSM

    Price:

    £400 (street)

    A major step up from Sigma’s older 18-200mm lens, this features Sigma’s new-generation four-stop Optical Stabilizer plus you get HSM autofocus, which is quick and all but silent.

    Then there’s the mightier zoom range, which is almost on a par with the Tamron 18-270mm. For a superzoom lens with such a big range, the Sigma does an excellent job of combining silky-smooth zoom ring operation with zero zoom creep, and the manual focus ring is similarly smooth and precise, even if it lacks the Nikon’s trick of enabling full-time manual focus override when you’re in autofocus mode.

    Optically, the Sigma 18-250mm proved very convincing in our tests, with excellent sharpness, contrast and colour rendition, while distortions were reasonably well contained and resistance to ghosting and flare was also impressive.

    Considering it’s much cheaper than the Canon or Nikon 18-200mm lenses, and 60 cheaper than the Tamron 18-270mm, this really is an excellent buy at the price.

    Ratings

    :

    Features – 4.5/5
    Build quality – 5/5
    Handling – 5/5
    Image quality – 4.5/5
    Value for money – 4.5/5

    Verdict:

    A cracking lens at the price, with excellent handling and reassuring build quality, along with a monster zoom range. 92%

    Tamron 18-250mm f/3.5-6.3 Di II Macro

    Price

    : £390 (street)

    This lens was something of a revelation when it was first launched, being almost identical in size and weight to Tamron’s older 18-200mm lens, yet offering a more generous zoom range and better image quality.

    Indeed, sharpness and contrast are pretty much as good as almost any other lens in this group. Build quality is also impressive, and zoom creep is only an issue when using the 50-100mm focal range.

    The major drawback is that, unlike every other lens on test here, the Tamron 18-250mm lacks an image stabiliser. Coupled with a relatively slow maximum aperture of f/6.3, this makes the effective telephoto reach of around 400mm almost impossible to utilise without increasing your camera’s ISO to fend off camera shake in anything other than the brightest lighting conditions.
    Autofocus is only based on a standard micro-motor as well, making the Tamron look poor value compared with the Sigma 18-250mm OS HSM.

    Ratings

    -

    Features – 3/5
    Build quality – 3.5/5
    Handling – 3.5/5
    Image quality – 4.5/5
    Value for money – 3/5

    Verdict:

    Optical quality is great but lack of image stabilisation makes it hard to use the lens’s reach without a tripod. 80%

    Tamron 18-270mm f/3.5-6.3 Di II VC Macro

    Price

    - £460

    For sheer zoom power, this lens rules the roost with its amazing 15x range. It also features Tamron’s VC (Vibration Correction) stabilisation system, which matches the latest Canon, Nikon and Sigma equivalents by offering a four-stop anti-shake advantage. This makes this lens much easier to use at longer telephoto lengths comparedwith Tamron’s older 18-250mm.

    Distortions aren’t too bad considering the huge zoom range, and sharpness and contrast are extremely good,although chromatic aberrations are marginally more prevalent than usual. There’s little to choose between this lens and the Sigma 18-270mm, but the Tamron’s basic micro-motor autofocus system is noisier and its zoom ring is a little stiff and uneven by comparison.

    Another slight curiosity is that Tamron sticks a ‘Macro’ badge on both its xuperzoom lenses, even though they’re really not macro lenses and merely offer about the same maximum magnification factor as other lenses on test.

    Ratings

    -

    Features 4.5/5
    Build quality – 4/5
    Handling – 4/5
    Image quality – 4.5/5
    Value for money – 4/5

    Verdict

    : Very good optical quality and the mammoth 15x zoom range is unbeatable, but there’s still room for improvement.

    To see test shots from the superzoom group test, buy this month’s (Spring 2010) issue of Digital Camera Magazine, on sale now.


    Posted on Tuesday, April 13th, 2010 at 2:48 pm under Lenses, Reviews.

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