Easy to overlook, the best standard zoom lenses are incredibly versatile pieces of kit that cover most eventualities for day-to-day shooting.
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Some kit zooms feel like they’re built down to a price, with a plastic mounting plate and no weather seals. If you decide to shift up to a more exotic standard zoom, you can expect premium or fully pro-grade build quality, faster aperture ratings and, hopefully, better overall performance.
Kit lenses for crop-sensor mirrorless cameras often have a retractable design, making them particularly compact for stowing away, adding to the svelte attraction of this type of camera. Upgrade zooms for mirrorless cameras tend to be larger and heavier, but usually have a constant aperture rating that’s generally about two f/stops faster at the long end of the zoom range. That’s great for gaining a tighter depth of field, as well as fast shutter speeds under dull lighting. They also tend to have better build quality and classier glass.
Here are the best standard zooms Sony, Canon, Nikon, Olympus, Panasonic and Fujifilm system cameras.
The best standard zoom lenses
This G Master lens is as good as it gets for an own-brand Sony standard zoom. And so it should be, costing about five times the price of the 28-70mm kit lens. The weather-sealed construction feels sturdy, and switches are featured for AF/MF and a focus hold. There’s no optical stabiliser, but newer Sony full-frame cameras have in-body stabilisation instead.
Sharpness and contrast are fabulous at all focal lengths, aided by the inclusion of one extreme aspherical, two regular aspherical, one Super ED, and one regular ED element in the optical path. Nano AR coating is also on hand to fend off ghosting and flare.
Read more: best Sony lenses
As a standard lens with a classic zoom range, the Sony E 16-55mm f/2.8 G ticks nearly all the right boxes. Designed to work with the Sony A6000 range of cameras, it delivers sumptuous image quality with fabulous sharpness and contrast, along with pleasant bokeh.
Handling is very refined, with the addition of a customizable focus hold button, strong build quality and weather-seals. Autofocus is super-fast and deadly-accurate.
The only downsides are the lack of optical stabilization and the extreme barrel distortion at the short end of the zoom range, if uncorrected in-camera or with raw processing.
This lens is a popular kit lens option with A7-series bodies. It’s pretty compact and light for a full-frame compatible standard zoom lens, at 73 x 83mm and 295g, despite lacking a retractable design. It also includes a three-stop optical stabilizer, which comes in very useful on older-generation A7 bodies that lack in-camera stabilization. Build quality feels good overall, and it has a dust/moisture resistant design, although without a rubber ring round the metal mounting plate.
Three aspherical elements and one ED element help to boost image quality and the seven-blade diaphragm is fairly well-rounded. Outright sharpness is disappointing, though, making it a bit of a mismatch with any of Sony’s full-frame cameras that bump up the megapixel count such as the Alpha A7R IV or A9 II.
A bit bigger and weightier than the EF 24-70mm f/2.8 for Canon DSLR cameras, this RF mount lens for full-frame mirrorless Canons weighs in at 900g, and its 89x126mm dimensions dwarf an EOS R or RP body. It’s not just the build that’s big, as the asking price is far higher than for Canon’s pro-grade zoom for SLRs and almost 2.5x that of the RF 24-105mm.
Build quality is first class and comes complete with a full set of weather-seals plus the now usual fluorine coating on the front and rear elements. The optical path includes no less than three moulded aspherical elements and three UD elements, plus Air Sphere Coating. Handling is enhanced by a customizable control ring, there’s super-fast Nano USM autofocus and 5-stop image stabilization. As well as the ‘de-click’ option for the control ring, another bonus for serious videographers is that there’s virtually no focus breathing (a small change in focal length when adjusting the focus position). Furthermore, the minimum focus distance is impressively short at the minimum focal length, shrinking to just 0.21m.
Optical performance is superb, with stunning centre sharpness throughout the entire zoom range, even when shooting wide-open. It easily beats the EF 24-70mm f/2.8 in this respect, as well as giving a noticeable improvement in corner sharpness. Colour fringing is reduced at short to medium zoom settings, as is barrel distortion at the short end. All in all, image quality is spectacular.
The closest thing that Canon has ever made to a pro-grade APS-C format lens, this one was originally launched back in 2006. Its starring attraction is a fast f/2.8 aperture rating that remains constant throughout the entire zoom range. Although the relatively fast, constant-aperture design is a bonus, the downside is that this is big and heavy for an APS-C format standard zoom. Even so, at 645g it’s still 160g lighter than the equivalent EF 24-70mm f/2.8 for full-frame SLRs.
With its gold ‘ultrasonic’ ring around the front, the lens has styling from a somewhat bygone era. Inside, the relatively old-generation image stabilizer only gives a 3-stop benefit. Canon has never made an L-series lens for APS-C format cameras but this one comes the closest. However, it still lacks weather-seals and you need to buy the hood separately.
The ring-type ultrasonic autofocus system is fast and accurate, complete with the usual full-time manual override. Sharpness is noticeably better than from any other APS-C format lens in Canon’s current catalogue, while colour fringing and distortions are better controlled and bokeh is better. All in all, this lens really does prove than ‘new’ doesn’t necessarily mean ‘improved’. That said, we’d still like to see up updated version of the lens for use with Canon’s latest top-end APS-C format cameras like the 90D.
Designed for the most demanding enthusiast and pro photographers, the original edition of this lens was launched back in 2002. This Mark II is the result of a major revamp and hit the market 10 years later. The upgraded optical design features three aspherical elements which aim for greater sharpness along with a reduction in distortions, colour fringing and colour blur. The aperture is also more well-rounded for enhanced bokeh when stopping down, based on nine rather than eight blades.
The Mark II is more robust and sturdy than the original, and is weather-sealed. Fluorine coatings are applied to the front and rear elements to repel moisture and grease, and to enable easier cleaning. Given that Sigma and Tamron have built effective image stabilizers in their latest 24-70mm f/2.8 lenses, it’s disappointing that this Canon lacks stabilization. The f/2.8 aperture enables fast shutter speeds under dull lighting conditions, so stabilization is less of a ‘must have’ feature. However, you might often want to shoot at narrower apertures to gain extra depth of field.
Sharpness is excellent, even when shooting wide-open at f/2.8, although it generally doesn’t reach the dizzying heights of Canon's RF 24-70mm f/2.8 lens. It also loses out to this lens for levels of colour fringing and barrel distortion at 24mm, although there’s less pincushion at the long end of the zoom range.
Available in kit form with EOS R and RP bodies, this lens is shorter and lighter than the EF 24-105mm f/4L, at 84x107mm and 700g, making it an ideal match for a sleek mirrorless. Typical of L-series rather than more modest ‘kit’ zooms, it has excellent build with extensive weather-seals and comes with a hood.
Highlights include aspherical and UD elements, a 9-blade diaphragm and fluorine coatings. As in the RF 24-70mm lens, there’s a 5-stop image stabilizer that outperforms anything in Canon’s range of standard zooms for SLRs. Like the EF-S 18-135mm, this lens has Nano USM AF, which is rapid for stills and enables super-smooth focus for movie capture. An extra handling benefit featured in RF mount lenses is the customizable control ring. This is mounted at the front end of the lens and operates with click-stops. Canon offers a ‘de-click’ service for videographers who will prefer stepless control. The control ring can be assigned to functions like aperture, shutter speed and ISO.
At short to medium zoom, this lens wins out over its EF 24-105mm L-series counterpart for SLRs in maintaining impressive sharpness across the entire image frame. Centre-sharpness is better towards the long end, although both lenses are equal for corner-sharpness. The RF lens also keeps tighter control over barrel distortion at short zoom settings.
This kit lens is the only non L-series full-frame standard zoom from Canon. Unlike all of its other EF and RF stablemates, it lacks the red stripe around the front and the weather-seal on the mounting plate. It’s slightly smaller than the EF 24-105mm f/4L lens, and noticeably lighter in weight. Autofocus is driven by a stepping motor, rather than being based on an ultrasonic system and, typically, there’s no focus distance scale. There is Image Stabilization though, with 4-stop effectiveness.
AF is fast and virtually silent, and despite lacking L-series credentials, the lens is impeccably turned out. It looks and feels solid, and its zoom and focus rings operate with smooth precision. As usual for STM lenses, the focus ring is electronically coupled and enables fine adjustments.
Although it’s light for a full-frame lens, this lens punches above its weight in terms of image quality. There’s plenty of sharpness on tap throughout the zoom range, even when shooting wide-open. Distortions, colour fringing and vignetting are minor and automatic corrections are available in the 6D Mark II and most other recent full-frame SLRs.
Pro photographers generally opt for a 24-70mm f/2.8 lens as their go-to standard zoom. However, these lenses are typically big and hefty, often weighing in at around a kilogram. The f/4 aperture of this lens enables a smaller, more lightweight build but, at 600g, it’s still 75g heavier than the EF 24-105mm f/3.5-5.6 IS STM.
L-series trappings include weather-seals and a supplied petal-shaped hood. The ring-type ultrasonic AF system is typically quick and whisper-quiet, and features the usual full-time manual override and focus distance scale beneath a viewing window. Build quality feels very good and fluorine coatings are on hand. A lesser-known attraction is that the zoom lock switch has an extra push-action position that unlocks an extended range for macro shooting. This boosts the max magnification factor to an impressive 0.7x, which is two to three times greater than in most standard zooms. Better still, ‘hybrid stabilization’ is available in Macro mode, which corrects for vertical and horizontal shift as well as the more usual angular vibration. As featured in Canon’s latest dedicated 100mm macro lens, this makes stabilization much more effective when shooting extreme close-ups.
On paper, the lens looks like it should be a star performer. In our tests, however, sharpness proved lacklustre across the zoom range, at all apertures. The IS is typically effective and there’s good control over distortions and fringing, but it’s not the sharpest tool in the box.
This up-market f/2.8 zoom is hard to resist for mirrorless Z-mount Nikons. The optical design includes four aspherical elements, two ED elements, plus dual Nano Crystal and ARNEO coatings, which virtually banish ghosting and flare. Keep-clean fluorine coatings are added front and back, there’s an electromagnetically controlled diaphragm, and even multiple AF actuators to boost speed and accuracy.
Customizable extras include an additional control ring, an L-Fn (Lens Function) button and an OLED display. The last of these can show aperture setting, zoom position or focus distance, complete with depth of field indication. Suffice it to say, handling is a dream, and the lens is lighter than the equivalent AF-S zoom for Nikon SLRs.
As for performance, the Z 24-70mm f/4 lens is a tough act to follow but, this f/2.8 raises the bar even higher, with ace overall performance and image quality, more befitting a selection of best-in-class prime lenses. Centre-sharpness is simply epic and it’s well maintained right out to the extreme corners of the frame. There’s virtually no colour fringing at 24mm and even less at the mid to long zoom settings, while distortion is is essentially non-existent.
Measuring 155mm in length, this is one of the biggest standard zoom lenses on the market, and it weighs over a kilogram. You’d be forgiven for assuming it had an internal zoom, but it extends even further at both ends of the zoom range.
Completely redesigned a few years ago, this latest edition adds 4-stop stabilization whereas the previous incarnation had none. It also gains a new optical design, incorporating four ED elements, an HRI (High Refractive Index) element, Nano Crystal Coat, plus fluorine coatings on the front and rear elements of the lens. The 9-blade diaphragm is also upgraded with electromagnetic control.
The lens is capable of magnificent results but proved uninspiring in our lab-tests. It loses out to full-frame Z-mount standard zooms for sharpness, and has much more noticeable colour fringing, distortions and vignetting. However, it’s difficult to gauge just how much extra help the Z-mount lenses are getting from in-camera corrections.
This lens combines an effective yet conventional ring-type ultrasonic AF system with a new-generation electromagnetically controlled diaphragm. It helps maintain accurate exposures in continuous drive mode, especially when using speedy bodies.
The zoom range is an ‘effective’ 24-120mm in full-frame terms, which works out the same as with Nikon’s kit lens for the D750. However, while that one has a constant-aperture rating of f/4, the DX lens is up to a full f-stop faster at short zoom settings. High-spec glass includes four ED elements, along with Nano Crystal Coat for minimizing ghosting and flare. Like current kit lenses for DX-format SLRs, it has a seven-blade diaphragm, which is well-rounded, and a 4-stop stabilizer.
The lens is super-sharp at most zoom settings but drops off substantially at the longer end of the range. There’s noticeable fringing at 16mm but it mostly dies away as you stretch through the zoom range. Barrel distortion and vignetting are also quite heavy, but for quality, versatility and performance, this is still the best DX format standard zoom on the market for SLRs.
The up-market build of this, Nikon's more affordable Z-mount standard zoom, includes an aspherical ED element, three further aspherical elements and one additional ED element. A Nano Crystal Coat is employed to fend off ghosting and flare, and there’s a fluorine coating on the front element to repel moisture and grease. The stepping motor AF system works with speedy precision in almost complete silence, and the customizable focus ring is a useful addition. There’s no optical VR, however.
This is the first Z-mount lens that we ever tested and it impressed us at the time. Despite a number of top-drawer Z lenses that have followed, image quality and performance continue to be spectacular for a kit zoom lens. Centre-sharpness is scintillating across the entire zoom range, although it drops off a bit towards the corners. There’s essentially no noticeable colour fringing to be seen, even in the extreme corners of the frame, and distortion is also a non-issue.
Tipping the scales at just 135g and measuring a mere 32mm when retracted, the kit lens for the Z 50 looks and feels tiny. Indeed, the optical path is dwarfed by the enormous diameter of the Z-mount flange. Even when extended for use, the overall length is only 55-60mm, depending on zoom setting. The only minus point is the f/6.3 aperture rating at long zoom settings.
The design includes four aspherical elements and one ED (Extra-low Dispersion) element. New-generation optical VR has 4.5-stop effectiveness, beating that of every other stabilized Nikon standard zoom. Build quality feels good and, although the mounting plate is plastic, it’s pretty durable.
Sharpness is excellent, even when shooting wide-open at the shortest zoom setting, beating the AF-P DX 18-55mm lens in this respect. However, both lenses deliver very similar levels of sharpness throughout the rest of the zoom and aperture ranges. Levels of distortion and colour fringing are flattered by automatic corrections.
Building on the success of Nikon’s original AF-S 24-120mm VR, this second edition has a constant rather than variable aperture rating and an upgraded stabilizer. Even so, it’s been on sale for a decade now, and the 3.5-stop stabilizer is less effective than in most newer Nikon lenses.
As with the newer Z-mount 24-70mm f/4, it comes complete with weather-seals and a hood. Quality glass includes three aspherical elements and two ED elements, along with Nano Crystal Coat. Conventional internals include mechanical control for the diaphragm and a ring-type ultrasonic autofocus system. As such, there are no incompatibility issues with older Nikon SLRs.
Sharpness holds up pretty well throughout the zoom range, right out to the edges and corners of the frame. If uncorrected, however, colour fringing and distortions are much more noticeable than with new-generation Z-mount lenses. This lens is well suited to the D750 and older full-frame SLRs but won’t get the most out of high-res Nikons like the D850.
By far the largest of Nikon’s kit zooms for DX cameras, this one is also 2.5x to 3.5x the weight, at 490g. The main contributing factor is its supersized zoom, which stretches from 27-210mm in full-frame terms. Two concentric inner barrels stretch the length of the lens to achieve this, although focusing is done internally. Autofocus is driven by a conventional ring-type ultrasonic system, featuring the usual full-time manual override. Switches are on hand for auto/manual focusing and for VR on/off, and the aperture is controlled via a mechanical lever. This makes the lens Nikon’s only DX format standard ‘kit’ zoom that’s fully compatible with the whole back catalogue of digital SLRs. It’s also the only one that has a weather-sealed metal mounting plate.
Considering the extended zoom range, there’s minimal compromise in image quality. Sharpness is ace at the short end and good at the long end, although it drops off a bit in the middle sector. Autofocus is brisk and VR lives up to its 4-stop billing.
At around four times the price of Fujifilm's more basic XC15-45mm f/3.5-5.6 OIS PZ lens, this constant aperture 16-55mm f/2.8 standard zoom is the pick of the crop for any APS-C Fujifilm user upgrading from their kit lens.
Sure, it doesn’t feature optical stabilisation, but it does have a tough weather-sealed build, a rapid ‘linear motor’ autofocus system, a constant f/2.8 aperture and a control ring. Three aspherical and three ED elements help to boost image quality, while dual HT-EBC and Nano-GI coatings do a great job of minimising ghosting and flare. Two f-stops faster than Fujifilm's 15-45mm kit lens at the long end of the zoom range, it gives a tighter depth of field.
This is fairly big and heavy for an APS-C format lens but build quality, handling and image quality are all epic, as you’d expect from one of Fujifilm’s ‘red badge’ best-of-breed lenses.
While there's the excellent but pricey XF16-55mm f/2.8 R LM WR (above) and the very dependable XF18-55mm f/2.8-4 R LM OIS, there's been a lens missing that bridges the gap between the two. Step forward the XF16-80mm f/4 R OIS WR. Covering a very practical 24-120mm focal length in 35mm terms, this compact standard zoom enjoys a constant f/4 aperture. Not as fast as the 16-55mm then, but it also means it's lighter and more affordable. It sports an excellent optical image stabilization system that's rated up to 6 stops, while it's been weather-sealed in 10 places to ensure it's a match for the weather-sealing on Fujifilm's high-end cameras. Optical performance is very good - we'd like to have seen sharpness in the corners at 16mm stand up a little more, but otherwise there's not much to fault here. A great lens for those looking for a versatile general purpose lens.
Available in black or silver, this Fujifilm standard zoom isn’t as tiny or featherweight as similar Micro Four Thirds lenses, but it still boasts a space-saving retractable design that's remarkably small and light for an APS-C format standard zoom. It has a motorised zoom mechanism and the lens automatically extends and retracts when you switch the camera on and off. Fast and slow zoom speeds are available, depending on how much you twist the zoom ring. It’s useful for video capture, but less than ideal for very precise adjustments while you’re shooting stills.
The minimum focus distance is unusually short at the wide-angle end of the zoom range. The electronically coupled focus ring works smoothly, and the stepping motor autofocus system is quick and quiet. Image quality is very good overall - centre-sharpness is strong in the short half of the zoom range, but drops off at 45mm.
Micro Four Thirds
Coming in at three times the price of Olympus's 14-42mm f/3.5-5.6 EZ Pancake lens and four times the weight, this is very much the pro-grade big brother for Micro Four Thirds cameras. Indeed, the constant f/2.8 aperture rating makes this lens two f-stops faster than the Olympus pancake zoom at the long end of the zoom range. The weather-sealed build quality is excellent, while handling luxuries include a physical focus distance scale and a neat customisable Lens-Function button.
Optical highlights include two aspherical, one dual surface aspherical, one ED aspherical , two ED and two HR elements, along with A Zero coating. Sharpness and contrast proved excellent in our real-world testing - this lens delivers pictorially gorgeous results.
Read more: Best Micro Four Thirds lenses
Compared with Panasonic’s Lumix G Vario 12-32mm f/3.5-5.6 Asph Mega OIS retractable kit lens, this one costs about three times the price and is a much more hands-on affair. Whereas the smaller lens lacks any control switches or even a manual focus ring, this one has AF/MF and stabiliser on/off switches for instant control, plus a smooth-action, electronically coupled focus ring. It doesn’t have a retractable design, and is somewhat larger and heavier, at 68x86mm and 320g, but still entirely manageable. Unlike all the other upgrade zooms on test, this lens doesn’t have a constant-aperture design that enables the widest aperture of f/2.8 throughout the zoom range.
Thanks to the inclusion of four aspherical and two ED elements, plus a three-stop stabiliser, image quality is highly impressive in all respects.
The jumbo zoom range and effective optical stabiliser are two of the biggest attractions in this lens, making up for the aperture shrinking from f/2.8 to f/4 at the long end.
This lens comes in silver or black finishes and has a retractable design. It collapses to a mere 24mm long and is unbelievably light at just 70g, yet Panasonic has still manage to cram in a three-stop optical stabiliser. There's a manual rather than motorised zoom mechanism: you have to manually extend the lens for use when you switch on the camera, which is not so convenient for movie capture, but offers greater zooming precision for stills.
There’s no manual focus ring, but autofocus is quick, ultra-quiet and very reliable. Image quality is good for such a tiny lens but, as usual, the widest available aperture of f/5.6 at the long end of the zoom range can be a challenge.
This ‘pancake’ zoom from Olympus is available in black or silver and has a retractable design with a motorised zoom mechanism. The speed of the zoom motor increases if you twist the zoom ring further, but precise adjustments for stills capture can be tricky. Build quality is good: surprisingly for such a lightweight kit lens, the mounting plate is made from metal rather than plastic. Upmarket optics include three aspherical elements, one aspherical ED element and a Super HR (High Refractive index) element, along with Olympus’s A Zero coating.
Outright sharpness is a little mediocre, but image quality on the whole is good for a lens this small.
Adding to the slimline, travel-friendly credentials of Olympus Micro Four Thirds cameras, this is a neat lens that takes up next to no room at all when it’s retracted.