Superzoom lenses have an extra-long zoom range and can replace both a standard zoom and a telephoto lens. But even the best superzoom lenses for Nikon cameras bring compromises, so it's good to know what to expect, and which is best!
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 pack much lighter than with a single lens fixed to your camera, and that’s where superzoom lenses are often considered the best lenses for travel. 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.
But there are compromises. One thing that always suffers when trying to squeeze a superzoom lens into a compact build is the aperture rating. This shrinks down at longer zoom settings, right when you need faster shutter speeds to prevent camera shake.
This is why all current superzoom lenses for Nikon cameras 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.
The other thing you need to know is that superzoom lenses can't really compete for optical quality with regular lenses. This is particularly true at longer zoom settings, where you can expect to see some softening of image detail and more noticeable color fringing (chromatic aberration) near the edges of the frame.
We're not saying superzoom lenses aren't worth using – they can be really great for travel, for example – but you should just modify your expectations about image quality and accept that a lens with a zoom range as wide as this may not quite deliver the image quality of regular lenses.
But if you don't care about any of that and you're just keen to find a way to pack one lens in your bag instead of two or three, then keep reading!
Nikon DX superzooms
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 Nikon's two 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.
Measuring 79x102mm and weighing 585g, this is one of the bigger and heavier lenses on this list, but it’s still manageable and feels well balanced, even on lighter 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 lens 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 Sigma's 18-200mm f/3.5-6.3 DC Macro OS HSM | C (below) for sharpness.
This Tamron is narrowly beaten for zoom range by the Tamron 18-400mm lens, but it has a wider 16mm angle of view, which is ultimately more useful. In fact, 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 and can be fixed in most photo editing programs too.
Compared to Nikon’s first 18-300mm superzoom, 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, but that's 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.
This addition to Tamron’s superzoom lineup is very well priced, compact, and remarkably lightweight, at just 400g. Part of the weight-saving is due to it having a plastic rather than metal mounting plate, but it nevertheless includes a weather-seal ring and the overall construction feels solid and durable. Throughout the albeit shorter zoom range, sharpness is better than from Tamron's older 18-270mm lens. The only caveat is that corner-sharpness was a little lacklustre when shooting at 100mm using the widest available aperture.
This 18-200mm lens is very small and light by superzoom standards, measuring a mere 71x86mm and tipping the scales at only 430g. And Sigma has still managed to fit 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.
This lens is the superzoom of choice if you want maximum telephoto reach – and it performs rather well, considering its massive 22x zoom range. However, Tamron’s 16-300mm has a slightly wider angle of view, is smaller and lighter in weight, and better value for money. Superzoom lenses are all about compromise, and this one pushes the envelope a bit too far in extreme focal length and pays the penalty in size and portability. It's the superzoom with the biggest reach, but that's not enough to get it to the top of our list.
Read more: Tamron 18-400mm f3.5-6.3 Di II VC HLD review
Nikon FX superzooms
Nikon only makes one superzoom lenses for its FX cameras, and it's this one. The AF-S NIKKOR 28-300mm f/3.5-5.6G ED VR has been around for a little while, and Nikon shows no signs of replacing it just yet, perhaps expecting that owners of full frame Nikon cameras are less likely to pick a do-it-all lens like this one. There's not a lot wrong with the 28-300mm's performance, as it achieves a similar level of quality to other superzooms – with superzoom's you're paying for focal range rather than optical quality. While the image quality is decent, though, you're paying plenty for it, both in terms of price and weight.
The Tamron 28-300mm f/3.5-6.3 Di VC PZD is a good deal cheaper than its Nikon equivalent while covering the same focal range. The optical quality is adequate for a superzoom but not great by regular lens standards, and the quality drops off noticeably at longer zoom settings. While it's certainly a convenient and affordable all-in-one lens for full frame Nikons, it's unlikely to satisfy experts and enthusiasts who rate image quality over convenience. You do, however, get a good focal range for your money, together with built in image stabilization.
Sometimes as photographers, we have a very long wish list when it comes to lenses. Even though we have ‘interchangeable lens’ cameras, we hanker after a single lens that can do pretty much everything, with a mighty zoom range that stretches from serious wide-angle viewing to long telephoto reach. And we want it in a compact and lightweight build, with speedy autofocus and strong stabilization that enables consistent sharpness in handheld shooting. This Z-mount superzoom ticks every box. It has a tough, weather-sealed construction but weighs in at just 570g, and offers the kind of zoom range normally requiring two separate lenses. Designed for full-frame FX Z-series mirrorless cameras (the Z 6 and Z 7), it also works well on the DX format Z 50, with an effective focal length range of 36-300mm. Naturally, what you lose in wide-angle ability you gain in telephoto reach. Autofocus is very fast, highly accurate and practically silent, while VR is worth about 4.5-stops in beating camera-shake. All in all, it’s a hugely versatile lens for any Z-series camera.
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• The best superzoom lenses for Canon cameras
• The best lenses for travel photography