Monday, May 4, 2015

Comparing 3 Nikon Super Zooms

Superzoom lenses are probably among the most popular lenses. Whether you are a beginner who wants something close to the outrageous 30x zoom of your previous compact camera or a more advanced user who would like to have only one lens for your trip, there seems to be a lens for your needs. So, how to choose a superzoom for your Nikon without getting lost in the sea of options? Today I'll offer you a comparison of three very popular DX Nikon superzooms (for FX, scroll to the bottom of the page).

I decided to choose lenses that had the following characteristics:
- at least 11x zoom factor
- VR
- good value

The lenses I chose were:
1) Nikon Nikkor AF-S VR 18-200mm f/3.5-5.6

2) Sigma HSM OS 18-250mm f/3.5-6.3 

3) Tamron Di II VC 16-300mm f/3.5-6.3

So, let's have a quick and to-the-point look at the three lenses.

1) Nikon Nikkor AF-S VR 18-200mm f/3.5-5.6
+ Although optically it shows its age (@24MP that is), its performance is very consistent across the range. Sometimes that's more important that absolute image quality.
+ fast, accurate, silent, and reliable autofocus
+ If you don't mind used, this older (VR I) version can be had at very decent prices

- As mentioned, this lens was optically stellar with 6- and 12MP sensors. The new 24MP sensors do reveal some little flaws, but realistically, what do you expect from a 18-200mm zoom anyway?
- Construction quality could be better; it feels a bit too plastic (and occasionally bit wobbly)
- horror of horrors, it's "only" a 18-200mm zoom compared to the rest.

2) Sigma HSM OS 18-250mm f/3.5-6.3 
+ great "macro"closeup characteristics
+ fast, reliable autofocus and image stabilization
+ superb value

- yes, it's a superzoom, but I always hate seeing "-f/6.3" at the long end.
- optical quality not so great wide-open (improves stopped down)
- strong distortions (from a 18-250 superzoom, what did you expect?)

3) Tamron Di II VC 16-300mm f/3.5-6.3
+ outrageous 19x zoom factor
+ more important still, it begins from 16mm!
+ image quality is quite good, considering the scope of the lens

- bokeh could be better
- wide-open the corners are soft (but still acceptable - and again, what would you expect from a superzoom?)
- A bit more expensive than the rest (but probably the best value)

Final Verdict

These are three very different lenses. Yes, they are all superzooms (I guess the Tamron would count as a megazoom), but they are clearly meant for different kinds of photographers. Here's how to choose smartly:

- If your budget can stretch a bit, the Tamron is clearly the lens to get. Frankly, its optical performance is close to miraculous considering it's a lens that gives you a focal length range from 16mm to 300mm - in full-frame equivalent terms, that's a 24-450mm range! It's compact enough (at 16mm, when stored) to fit any bag, it doesn't get in the way of taking a photo. VR (or VC as Tamron calls it) is efficient, and the autofocus is reliable and fast enough.

- If you can live with "only" an 18-200mm lens, the Nikon is the second best thing. It's cheaper (used it can be quite cheap) and its image quality is, if not at great as the Tamron, at least very decent. More importantly, it's very consistent - this lens won't unpleasantly surprise you as you change from one aperture or focal length setting to the next.

- The Sigma would be the lens to get if you want the absolute cheapest option from the three. It's still 18-250, it has image stabilization, very good closeup characteristics, and "good enough" image quality. It's not as great as the other two, but in good light and stopped down (most travel shots are taken like that anyway), it can deliver.

What about FX?
Frankly, an FX user with a superzoom is an oxymoron. You paid good money to have a top-quality imaging tool, a tool that would allow you to select the best lens for the occasion. Why would you want to undermine that by attaching a jack-of-all-trades lens on it? You'd be better served by a midrange zoom - my personal favorite is the Nikon Nikkor AF-S VR 24-85mm f/3.5-4.5

Travelling is the best (if not the only) application for a superzoom

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