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The jack of all trades lenses

Lenses that have variable focal length are called zooms. They are extremely versatile and can practically replace an entire bag of prime lenses.

Zooms according to their ranges

Do you want to buy one lens that will do everything, then you are looking for a universal zoom. These can go from wide angle all the way to very long focal distances. The Nikon 28-300 for full frame and the Nikon 18-200 for APS-C cameras are good examples. Many manufacturers sell what they call a kit lens with their cameras, these are lower range universal zooms that are reasonably priced and give the users great versatility.
The main problem with Wide angle lenses is that they are quite specialized. You may want one for a few shots, but for the rest you want something that is less wide. There are many excellent wide angle zooms, for example Nikon 10-24 for APS-C cameras.
  • Mid range zooms
By far the most common category. Lenses that cover usually a range between 24mm (18mm for APS-C) to 70mm or a bit more. The Nikon 24-70 is probably the best representative of these zooms.
  • Long range zooms
Long range zooms are rather specialized lenses with very long focal lengths. They are good for sports, nature photography, and capturing details. But they are also usually heavy and bulky. My all time favorite is Nikon 70-300 as it strikes a good balance between weight and range.
If you buy just one lens, make it a zoom!

Especially when you are starting out, a zoom is all you need. You carry just one less, and can basically take any picture you want. A very good option is to get an APS-C camera with a Kit lens. If you are a bit more serious, consider buying only the camera body and pair it with a longer universal zoom. Notice that, focal lengths are quite deceiving. There is a huge difference between a 18mm and 24mm but not so much difference between 200mm and 300mm.

Zooms for APS-C and Full Frame are quite different

There is a 1.5x factor between APS-C and full Frame cameras in terms of field of view. So a 35mm lens would seem like a 50mm lens on a APS-C camera. This is important for all zooms except for long range zooms. Basically the wide angle and mid range zooms as well as most kit lenses make only sense for the type of camera they were built, either APS-C or full frame.

As an example the Nikon 24-70 lens on a APS-C camera would behave like a 36mm-105mm lens. This is not completely useless, but also not the best range, you lose the interesting part between 24mm and 35mm completely. The simple and extremely cheap Nikon 18-105 Kit lens for APS-C cameras would give you the equivalent range 27mm-157mm on your APS-C camera for a fraction of the cost.

What is wrong with zooms?

If you are putting so much functionality, you will end up making some compromises. Most zooms have different characteristics at different part of their focal length ranges. This is where prime lenses usually have a big advantage.

They are heavier, and are usually slower (have higher apertures) when compared to prime lenses. Especially kit lenses are usually built more cheaply, they are there to make an attractive package together with the camera and are designed with that in mind.

Prime vs zoom.jpg

Comparing the Nikon 24-70 mid range zoom on the left, to two primes Nikon 35 in the middle and Nikon 24 on the right, all for full frame cameras.

Zoom lenses on this Wiki


These pages are for Amateur Photographers and not really for seasoned photographers and professionals. I have no affiliation or commercial interest with any brand/make. I write from my own experience. I ended up using mainly Nikon, so I am more familiar with this brand than others. See price for notes on pricing as well as photography related links.