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Best superzoom lenses for Nikon

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 superzoom lenses 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.

All our candidates are designed for Nikon's DX-format DSLRs. You can get superzooms for Nikon's full frame FX-format cameras, but there are fewer of them as most pros prefer a selection of specialised optics.

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 stabilisation. 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 16-300mm bucks the trend, as you’ll see from our review.

Spoiler alert

With its reasonably compact and lightweight yet splash-proof construction, refined handling and class-leading zoom range, the Tamron 16-300mm f/3.5-6.3 Di II VC PZD Macro is a very attractive buy at a competitive price.

Read on to find out more...

1. Tamron 16-300mm f/3.5-6.3 Di II VC PZD Macro for Nikon

It really puts the ‘super’ into superzoom

Effective zoom range: 24-450mm | Lens construction: 16 elements in 12 groups | No. of diaphragm blades: 7 | Minimum focus distance: 0.39m | Filter size: 67mm | Dimensions: 75x100mm | Weight: 540g

Class-leading zoom range
Extra wide-angle perspective
Noticeable distortions and fringing
Not very sharp at some focal lengths

This Tamron has a bigger zoom range than any other lens available for Nikon DSLRs, and delivers a major bonus when it comes to wide-angle shooting. It’s the only superzoom that goes to a 16mm rather than 18mm focal length – equivalent to 24mm rather than 27mm on a full-frame camera. It can therefore shoehorn a lot more of a scene into the image frame. Compared with the Sigma 18-300mm, the Tamron is slightly less sharp at 100mm, but sharper at 200mm. Both lenses deliver similar sharpness at other focal lengths. The only downside is that the Tamron has worse colour fringing, but this is automatically corrected in recent Nikon DSLRs anyway.

2. Sigma 18-300mm f/3.5-6.3 DC Macro OS HSM | C for Nikon

This bigger Sigma is a more attractive buy

Effective zoom range: 27-450mm | Lens construction: 17 elements in 13 groups | No. of diaphragm blades: 7 | Minimum focus distance: 0.39m | Filter size: 72mm | Dimensions: 79x102mm | Weight: 585g

Big zoom range
Good image quality
Impressive build quality
Focus ring rotates during autofocus

Measuring 79x102mm and weighing 585g, this is one of the bigger and heavier lenses on test, but it’s still manageable and feels well balanced, even on lighter weight DSLR bodies. It certainly goes large on zoom range, with a telephoto reach equivalent to 450mm in full-frame terms, although it can’t match the Tamron 16-300mm for ultra-wide viewing angles. Autofocus is a little pedestrian and it would be nice if the manual focus ring didn’t rotate during AF. However, thanks to the inclusion of top-grade FLD (Fluorite Low Dispersion) elements, this lens outguns the Sigma 18-200mm for sharpness.

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

The original and best Nikon DX superzoom

Effective zoom range: 27-300mm | Lens construction: 16 elements in 12 groups | No. of diaphragm blades: 7 | Minimum focus distance: 0.5m | Filter size: 72mm | Dimensions: 77x97mm | Weight: 565g

High-spec autofocus and VR
Good overall performance
Limited zoom range
Poor barrel distortion

This is actually the Mk II edition of Nikon’s 18-200mm VR lens. However, both editions have the same optical design and second-generation VR system, which includes automatic panning detection in Normal mode, plus an additional ‘Active’ mode for overcoming increased physical vibrations. The most obvious update is that the Mk II features a zoom lock switch. Sharpness at 200mm is better than from the smaller of the two Nikon 18-300mm lenses, but barrel distortion at 18mm is equally poor. There’s less colour fringing, autofocus performance is faster, and the addition of Active VR mode is a bonus.

4. Tamron 18-200mm f/3.5-6.3 Di II VC for Nikon

Small build, and a small price to pay

Effective zoom range: 27-300mm | 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

Compact and lightweight
Solid and durable construction
Soft edges wide open at 100mm
No full-time manual focus override

This newest addition to Tamron’s lineup is compact and remarkably lightweight, at just 400g. Not only is it the lightest lens in the group, but it’s also the least expensive, by a big margin. Part of the weight-saving is due to the Tamron being the only lens on test to feature a plastic mounting plate, but it nevertheless includes a weather-seal ring and construction feels solid and durable. Throughout the albeit shorter zoom range, sharpness is better than from the older Tamron 18-270mm lens on test. The only caveat is that corner-sharpness was a little lacklustre when shooting at 100mm using the widest available aperture.

5. Nikon AF-S DX 18-300mm f/3.5-5.6G ED VR

It’s overweight in every way

Effective zoom range: 27-450mm | Lens construction: 19 elements in 14 groups | No. of diaphragm blades: 9 | Minimum focus distance: 0.45m | Filter size: 77mm | Dimensions: 83x120mm | Weight: 830g

9 diaphragm blades
Fast autofocus
Heavy in size, weight, and price
Suffers in wide-angle sharpness

Predating the other Nikon 18-300mm lens, this has the more usual configuration of VR II stabilization, with a secondary Active mode, as well as a focus distance scale. Both lenses feature three ED (Extra-low Dispersion) elements in their optical paths, but this one has three additional elements in total, and a better-rounded aperture based on nine, rather than seven, diaphragm blades. Along with faster AF and better stabilization when shooting from a vibrating platform, this lens retains better sharpness than Nikon’s newer 18-300mm lens at zoom settings of 100mm and above. The flip side is that it’s not so sharp for wide-angle shooting, although distortion at 18mm is slightly less noticeable.

6. Tamron 18-270mm f/3.5-6.3 Di II VC PZD for Nikon

Not the newest design, but boasts decent reach

Effective zoom range: 27-405mm | Lens construction: 16 elements in 13 groups | No. of diaphragm blades: 7 | Minimum focus distance: 0.49m | Filter size: 62mm | Dimensions: 74x88mm | Weight: 450g

Impressive 15x zoom range
Optical stabilizer good for static shots
Long-zoom sharpness falls short
Distortion levels only average

Representing an upgrade over the original Tamron 18-270mm, this revamped edition nevertheless harks back to 2010, making it one of the oldest lenses on test. Even so, it sports an impressive 15x zoom range with an ‘effective’ focal length of 405mm at the long end. Improvements over the previous incarnation include the fitment of a PZD (Piezo Drive) autofocus system. It’s essentially an ultrasonic motor-based system, similar to that used in both Sigma lenses on test. Typical of the Tamron lenses on test, the optical stabilizer is very effective for static shots, but less beneficial when panning. Wide-aperture sharpness is pretty poor at long zoom settings, particularly towards the edges and corners of the frame.

7. Sigma 18-200mm f/3.5-6.3 DC Macro OS HSM | C for Nikon

The most travel-friendly Sigma superzoom

Effective zoom range: 27-300mm | Lens construction: 16 elements in 13 groups | No. of diaphragm blades: 7 | Minimum focus distance: 0.39m | Filter size: 62mm | Dimensions: 71x86mm | Weight: 430g

Good stabilizer with panning detection
Minimal size and weight
Focus ring rotates affecting handling
No manual focus override

This 18-200mm lens is the smallest superzoom on test, measuring a mere 71x86mm. It’s also just 30g heavier than the unfeasibly lightweight Tamron 18-200mm, despite featuring a metal, rather than plastic, mounting plate. However, as with the larger Sigma 18-300mm C-class lens, the mount has no weather-seal ring. Multiple aspherical elements help in downsizing the design, while SLD (Special Low Dispersion) elements boost sharpness and contrast, and help reduce fringing. The optical stabilizer works well and comes complete with auto panning detection. Wide-aperture sharpness isn’t quite as good as from the less expensive Tamron 18-200mm at short to mid zoom settings, but about equal at the long end.

8. Nikon AF-S DX 18-300mm f/3.5-6.3G ED VR

Nikon’s newer 18-300mm is cut down to size

Effective zoom range: 27-450mm | Lens construction: 16 elements in 12 groups | No. of diaphragm blades: 7 | Minimum focus distance: 0.48m | Filter size: 67mm | Dimensions: 79x99mm | Weight: 550g

Solid construction
Weather-seal ring on mounting plate
Lack of focus distance scale
Hood not included

Compared to Nikon’s first 18-300mm superzoom (also on test), this newer edition is narrower, shorter and slashes nearly 300g off the weight, making it much more manageable. The downsizing is partly down to clever design, but there’s also a sacrifice in the widest available aperture at long zoom settings, which shrinks from f/5.6 to f/6.3. That’s a third of a stop ‘slower’ than in the other Nikon lenses on test, but no slower than the competing Sigma and Tamron lenses. Sharpness is good at wide angles but tails off dramatically at 200mm, and is disappointing towards the 300mm mark. Other attributes of image quality are uninspiring as well, making this poor value at the price.