Top Five Budget Zoom Lenses

Buying Guides Canon Featured Lenses Nikon Sigma Tamron

 
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)

Tamron 18-270mm F/3.5-6.3 Di II VC Superzoom Lens
Lens Five
Tamron SP AF17-50mm F/2.8 XR Di-II VC LD Zoom Lens
Lens Four
Sigma 8-16mm f/4.5-5.6 DC HSM Ultra-wide Zoom Lens
Lens Three
Canon 70-200mm f/4L Telephoto Zoom Lens
Lens Two
Nikon AF-S 18-200mm f/3.5-5.6 VR II Zoom Lens
Lens One

 


 

Lens Number Five:
Tamron 18-270mm F/3.5-6.3 Di II VC zoom lens user reviews

Tamron 18-270mm F/3.5-6.3 Di II VC Zoom Lens

Street Price: $630

Looking for one compact zoom lens that can do it all? This 15x image-stabilized superzoom lens for crop-sensor digital SLRs is one-of-a-kind. It covers the range of the kit lens that came with your camera and then one more – or maybe even two more lenses! Tamron’s VC (Vibration Compensation) optical image stabilization helps keep things sharp when you’re zoomed all the way in on a mountain goat hanging off a cliff. Optically, the Tamron 18-270mm Di II VC zoom lens probably isn’t going to make a pro happy. But for beginners on a budget or family photographers who want one lens for all ocassions, the Tamron 18-270mm Di II VC superzoom is the one.

Available for Canon, Nikon, crop-sensor digital SLRs.

Read Tamron 18-270mm F/3.5-6.3 Di II VC Zoom Lens Reviews Compare Prices For Tamron 18-270mm F/3.5-6.3 Di II VC Zoom Lens Write A Tamron 18-270mm F/3.5-6.3 Di II VC Zoom Lens Review
 



Next – Lens Number Four >>

Tamron 18-270mm F/3.5-6.3 Di II VC Superzoom Lens
Lens Five
Tamron SP AF17-50mm F/2.8 XR Di-II VC LD Zoom Lens
Lens Four
Sigma 8-16mm f/4.5-5.6 DC HSM Ultra-wide Zoom Lens
Lens Three
Canon 70-200mm f/4L Telephoto Zoom Lens
Lens Two
Nikon AF-S 18-200mm f/3.5-5.6 VR II Zoom Lens
Lens One

 


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About the author: Photo-John

Photo-John, a.k.a. John Shafer, is the managing editor of PhotographyREVIEW.com and has been since the site launched back in 1999. He's an avid outdoor enthusiast and spends as much time as possible on his mountain bike, hiking or skiing in the mountains. He's been taking pictures for ever and ever, and never goes anywhere without a camera.


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  • frog says:

    I’m a bit surprised you did not list the Tokina 11-16 f/ 2.8. which I’d take the constant f/2.8 over the Sigma variable aperture any day. Not quite as wide or long as the Sigma but the performance and build quality touted in all the reviews I read more than make up for it. It will probably be my next lens for which I’ll probably trade in my tokiana 12-24 for.

  • Photo-John says:

    Personally, the Tokina appeals to me more too, Frog. But in the case of the Sigma 10-20mm, I went with the overwhelming number of reviews and visitors to the review page. Plus, the Sigma is much more affordable.

    Thanks for your comment, though. The more comments and alternative lens choices listed here the better. There’s no way my five lens picks can satisfy everyone. So the comments have the potential to make this article much more rich and diverse.

  • William says:

    Hi. I am upgrading to a Pentax K-k from a compact digital so I need help on lens selection. My question is, do these 5 lens fit on the K-7? Thanks IA, Bill.

  • Photo-John says:

    William-
    The Tamron and Sigma lenses should all be available with a Pentax mount. There might be some exceptions. Check the manufacturers sites to be sure. But in general, third-party lens makers sell lenses in all current camera mounts.

  • Phil says:

    The Tamron 18-250 creamed all the 18-200s you just mentioned and Tamron has since upgraded that lens with a version that goes all the way to 270 and has vibration control (VC). Check out tests in dpreview and pophoto. I can understand if these lenses are ranked first because of popularity among the uneducated masses who buy as a result of marketing, but for you to be recommending them without offering up better alternatives? This list isn’t bad but I think that each lens listed here might have competition that would have been critically better at competitive prices.

  • Photo-John says:

    Thanks for the comment, Phil. I’m happy to have people add their own favorites to this article. It’s impossible to make everyone happy or be entirely comprhensive with a “Top Five” article.

    As for the Tamron, I agree it’s an impressive lens. However, I tested the earlier 28-300mm VC version and although it was pretty good, I don’t think it’s better than the Canon or Nikon 18-200mm zooms, both of which I’ve used extensively. For what it’s worth, here’s a link to my Tamron 28-300mm VC lens review: http://www.photographyreview.com/reviews/blog/tamron-af28-300mm-f35-63-xr-di-vc-lens-review/

  • James says:

    I sadly bought the Nikon 18-200 VR II hoping it would be a great lens considering they raised the price of the Pre by over $150, This IS a good general Purpose walk about lens but it is not Pro Glass.It has a Zoom Lock which sadly is only good at 18mm and if you don’t use it the lens creep is unbearable. I have sent this back to Nikon Twice to replace the rubber on the Zoom and focusing ring whic they replace free but I cannot use this Lens when it is going back and forth to them. The Lens hood requires gaffer tap to keep it on for just the slightest bump will knock it off. Considering the $849 + Tax I paid for it I wish I had bought something else. Live and Learn, but I hope my review will help someone else who just might consider this Lens. I wish I would have waited and bought the 28/300 VR they came out with this year. Maybe that one would stay together.

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