I wrote this top five inexpensive zoom lens article in December of 2009 and I’ve updated it here for 2010 / 11. Giving a digital SLR as a gift isn’t practical or affordable for most of us (if you are shopping for a DSLR make sure to read my Top Five Beginner Digital SLRs guide). A new lens is often a better gift for a photographer than a new camera. Every photographer can use a new lens – especially if they’re still using the kit lens that came with their camera. There’s no one-size-fits-all SLR lens but I’ve chosen five quality zoom lenses (along with some alternative options) that I think have universal appeal and won’t send you to the poorhouse. Almost every photographer will benefit from at least one of the lenses in this list.
The lenses in this list were chosen based on popularity (visits to their respective review pages, ratings and user reviews), price, and my own experience. For DSLR newbies and others who haven’t been schooled on this yet – lenses are more important than the camera. Cheap lenses compromise your camera and your photos. It doesn’t make sense to drop $500 or more on a digital SLR and then put a crappy kit lens in front of that nice sensor. Kit lenses get you up and running but that’s about it. Every self-respecting digital SLR owner should replace his or her kit lens as soon as possible.
In order to find a balance between quality and value, I set a price cap of $1000 for the lenses in this guide. That may seem like a lot of money to most readers – and I admit, it is a pile of cash. But a good lens is a long-term investment and photographers will likely own and use these lenses much longer than whatever digital SLR they’re using now. I have lenses I’ve been using for 15 years and I’ve been through 8 or so SLRs in that time. By that measure, those lenses were a much better value than any camera I’ve owned.
Before you buy one of the lenses below, make sure it’s compatible with your camera and that it’s actually a worthy replacement or compliment to the lenses you already have. To make this guide more universal I’ve included some alternatives with each of my lens picks. If you don’t find something that fits your budget or needs, check the zoom lens user reviews, post a question in the Comments section at the bottom of the page or on our Digital SLRs forum. We’ll do our best to make sure everyone gets some lens recommendations that fit their needs.
Calling the lenses in this guide the “top five” affordable zoom lenses may be a bit of a stretch since “top” is so subjective. I know I’m not going to please everyone here but I’m gonna stick to my guns and if you disagree with the lenses listed feel free to share your own picks in the Comments section at the end of each page. Reader picks will just make this a better article.
Five Affordable Zoom Lens Picks
(In no particular order)