Sometimes referred to as ‘travel lenses’, superzooms are ideal for holidays and for going on trips near and far. They can stretch from generously wide-angle viewing to serious telephoto reach, and cover everything in between. Without the need to carry multiple lenses, you can save on space and weight, but that’s not the only advantage.
For general shooting, you might find you often need to swap between wide-angle and telephoto shooting. It’s naturally much more convenient to apply a quick twist of a zoom ring, rather than rummaging around in a bag for another lens, then waste time swapping the lens on the camera before you’re ready to shoot. In some situations, the time saved by using a superzoom lens could potentially make the difference between getting the shot and missing it altogether.
Superzoom lenses for APS-C format cameras have grown in popularity over the past few years, while research and development from major manufacturers, like Canon, Sigma and Tamron, has seen an increase in performance, often with a reduction in size and weight. There are superzooms for full frame Canons too, but they are less widely used, so for this roundup we're sticking to lenses for Canon's EF-S mount cameras.
The relative compactness of some of the latest designs further adds to the attraction of these superzoom lenses. So, let’s take a closer look at what the current contenders have to offer, and pick out the best buys.
Look no further than the Sigma 18-300mm f/3.5-6.3 DC Macro OS HSM C when choosing the best superzoom.
Read on to find out why...
1. Sigma 18-300mm f/3.5- 6.3 DC Macro OS HSM C for Canon
The bigger Sigma lens offers extended reach
Effective zoom range: 28.8-480mm | Lens construction: 17 elements in 13 groups | No. of diaphragm blades: 7 | Minimum focus distance: 0.39m | Filter size: 72mm | Dimensions: 79x102mm | Weight: 585g
Outclassing every other lens in the group, apart from the Tamron 16-300mm, this Sigma goes all out for telephoto reach, equivalent to a mighty focal length of 480mm on a full-frame camera. The trade-off is that it’s noticeably bigger and heavier than Sigma’s 18-200mm lens on test, at 79x102mm and 585g. As in the Sigma 18-200mm lens, the motor-based rather than ring-type ultrasonic system helps with downsizing but is a little sluggish and audible in operation. As well as aspherical and SLD elements, the addition of FLD elements really does help to boost sharpness, which only drops at the longest extremity of the zoom range.
2. Canon EF-S 18-135mm f/3.5-5.6 IS USM
The latest EF-S 18-135mm has upgraded autofocus
Effective zoom range: 28.8-216 mm | Lens construction: 16 elements in 12 groups | No. of diaphragm blades: 7 | Minimum focus distance: 39m | Filter size: 67mm | Dimensions: 77x96mm | Weight: 515g
Both Canon 18-135mm lenses on test have very similar styling, from their metal mounting plates to the configuration of zoom and focus rings, and the lack of a focus distance scale. The STM edition of this lens is no slouch when it comes to autofocus speed but the new Nano USM version is incredibly fast for stills, while still maintaining smooth transitions when shooting movies. The image stabilizer is equally effective in both lenses and image quality is very similar. However, sharpness at the centre of the image frame proved slightly less impressive from the new lens, at both ends of the zoom range.
3. Tamron 18-200mm f/3.5-6.3 Di II VC for Canon
This Tamron is a lightweight with a price tag to match
Effective zoom range: 28.8-320mm | Lens construction: 16 elements in 14 groups | No. of diaphragm blades: 7 | Minimum focus distance: 0.49-0.77m | Filter size: 62mm | Dimensions: 75x97mm | Weight: 400g
Despite being 4mm wider and 11mm longer than the directly competing Sigma 18-200mm lens, the Tamron is 30g lighter in weight and, at just 400g, is actually the lightest lens in the group, though the autofocus speed is a little pedestrian. Sharpness is generally better than from the older Tamron 18-270mm that’s also on test, at all equivalent zoom settings, although corner-sharpness suffers noticeably when using the widest aperture in the middle sector of the zoom range. On the plus side, colour fringing at mid-zoom settings is very negligible. Overall, the lightweight Tamron is unbeatable value at the price.
4. Canon EF-S 18-135mm f/3.5-5.6 IS STM
A relatively modest zoom range for a superzoom
Effective zoom range: 28.8-216 mm | Lens construction: 16 elements in 12 groups | No. of diaphragm blades: 7 | Minimum focus distance: 0.39m | Filter size: 67mm | Dimensions: 77x96mm | Weight: 480g
This is another 18-135mm lens from Canon and it's a popular kit option sold with the likes of the 750D and 80D. It represents a significant upgrade over Canon’s original 18-135mm, with more refined handling, mainly due to it having an STM (Stepping Motor) autofocus system rather than a basic electric motor. The inclusion of a UD (Ultra-low Dispersion) element helps to increase sharpness and contrast while keeping colour fringing at bay. A plus point of the relatively limited zoom range is that wide-angle barrel distortion at 18mm is less noticeable than in some of the other lenses on test, even though it’s telephoto reach that you’re really missing out on.
5. Sigma 18-200mm f/3.5-6.3 DC Macro OS HSM C for Canon
Neat and stylish, the Sigma is a good performer
Effective zoom range: 28.8-320mm | Lens construction: 16 elements in 13 groups | No. of diaphragm blades: 7 | Minimum focus distance: 0.39m | Filter size: 62mm | Dimensions: 71x86mm | Weight: 430g
Typical of the Sigma Contemporary lenses, this 18-200mm is designed to be small, lightweight and stylish. Despite the lightness in weight, the lens features a metal mounting plate, unlike the plastic mount of the directly competing Tamron, although the Sigma omits a weather-seal ring. Autofocus is fairly quiet but clearly audible, as well as being slower than the virtually silent systems featured in the Canon 18-135mm lenses. Optical image stabilization is as effective as in the Canon lenses and, again, features automatic panning detection. Sharpness is less impressive than in Sigma’s 18-300mm, but other attributes of image quality are impressive overall.
6. Tamron 16-300mm f/3.5-6.3 Di II VC PZD Macro for Canon
Tamron’s superzoom goes extra-large in a new way
Effective zoom range: 25.6-480mm | Lens construction: 16 elements in 12 groups | No. of diaphragm blades: 7 | Minimum focus distance: 0.39m | Filter size: 67mm | Dimensions: 75x100mm | Weight: 540g
While matching the Sigma 18-300mm for maximum telephoto reach, the Tamron also goes extra-large in wide-angle viewing, with a 16mm focal length. The PZD autofocus is much more refined than in the older Tamron 18-270mm. It’s still a motor-driven ultrasonic mechanism but the manual focus ring remains stationary during autofocus, which greatly improves handling. The optical path includes LD, XR and hybrid aspherical elements, which help to boost sharpness and contrast while keeping the size and weight to manageable proportions. In this case, however, sharpness is better throughout the entire zoom range, although colour fringing is a bit worse at either end. As you’d expect, barrel distortion is slightly worse at the wide 16mm focal length.
7. Tamron 18-270mm f/3.5-6.3 Di II VC PZD for Canon
A veteran superzoom that goes large on zoom range
Effective zoom range: 28.8-432mm | Lens construction: 16 elements in 13 groups | No. of diaphragm blades: 7 | Minimum focus distance: 0.49m | Filter size: 62mm | Dimensions: 74x88mm | Weight: 450g
Like in the two Sigma lenses on test, the Tamron's autofocus is based on an ultrasonic motor-driven rather than ring-type actuator. The advantage is that the system can be smaller and lighter, but it tends to be slower and less quiet, and the focus ring rotates during autofocus. Capable of good results, boosted by the stabilizer, the Tamron 18-270mm nevertheless runs out of steam a bit towards the long end of the zoom range. Compared with the newer 16-300mm lens, wide-aperture sharpness is poor near the 270mm mark, where it’s soft in the centre of the frame and downright disappointing towards the edges. On the upside, colour fringing and distortions are slightly better controlled.
8. Canon EF-S 18-200mm f/3.5-5.6 IS
Unlike Canon’s 18-135mm lenses, this looks outdated
Effective zoom range: 28.8-320mm | Lens construction: 16 elements in 12 groups | No. of diaphragm blades: 6 | Minimum focus distance: 0.45m | Filter size: 72mm | Dimensions: 79x102mm | Weight: 595g
Whereas the Canon 18-135mm has undergone two major revamps, this lens remains unaltered, with a comparatively old-fashioned autofocus system. Based on an electric motor, autofocus is relatively slow and noisy in operation. The focus ring rotates during autofocus, which impairs handling as you have to be careful to keep your fingers clear of the focus ring, and there’s no full-time manual override. By today’s standards, the zoom range isn’t extravagant, yet the lens’s image quality is unimpressive. Sharpness towards the edges and corners of the frame is particularly poor in wide-angle shooting, where barrel distortion is very noticeable. All in all, this lens is overdue for a revamp.