2014 Superzoom Lenses Group Test (Part 2)

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2014 Superzoom Lenses Group Test (Part 2)

What to consider when choosing a superzoom lens

The starting point for choosing any type of lens is what camera body you use, and it’s especially true for superzooms. There are two main types of Canon D-SLR, those like the 5D (in all of its three incarnations) which have full-frame sensors, and those like the 650D, 60D and 7D that have APS-C (Advanced Photo System-Classic) sensors.

Cameras with APS-C sensors have a crop factor of 1.6x, effectively extending the focal range. So while you can use a lens designed for a full-frame camera on these bodies, a superzoom like Canon’s EF 28-135mm will have an effective zoom range of 45-216mm, giving you practically no potential for wide-angle shooting. Putting a lens that’s designed for APS-C cameras on a full-frame body is even less of an option, as they’re basically incompatible.

Description: A picture shot with Canon EF 28-135mm f/3.5-5.6 IS USM

A picture shot with Canon EF 28-135mm f/3.5-5.6 IS USM

It’s a sign of the dominance of APS-C cameras that there are now only two sensibly priced superzooms available for full-frame bodies: Canon’s EF 28-135mm f/3.5-5.6 IS USM and Tamron’s 28-300mm f/3.5-6.3 XR Di VC. They’re comparatively old designs, but we’re featuring both here. We’re not including the Canon EF 28-300mm, as it’s at 1.7kg, which is too heavy for a ‘walkabout’ lens.

The competition is a lot fiercer when it comes to superzooms for APS-C bodies, with plenty of factors to consider, starting with the outright zoom range. All of the featured superzooms for APS-C cameras have a wide-angle potential of 18mm, equivalent to 29mm taking the crop factor into account. Telephoto reach is a different story. The Sigma 18-125mm and Canon 18-135mm offer the least zoom range, with effective telephoto lengths of 200mm and 216mm respectively. At the other end of the scale, the Sigma 18-250mm and Tamron 18-270mm superzooms lead the long-distance stakes with effective telephoto lengths of 400mm and 480mm.

Canon EF 28-135mm f/3.5-5.6 IS USM

The meagre 4.8x zoom range barely qualifies this lens as a superzoom, but if you have a full-frame camera, you can’t betoo choosy. Mount the lens on an APS-C body and you get aneffective zoom range of 45-216mm, losing any wide-angle potential but gaining useful telephoto reach.

Description: Canon EF 28-135mm f/3.5-5.6 IS USM

Canon EF 28-135mm f/3.5-5.6 IS USM

In terms of build quality, this lens feels more upmarket than the other two Canon lenses on test. The ring-type USM autofocus is fast and practically silent, with the bonus that the focus ring doesn’t rotate during autofocus, while still being available for full-time manual override. In other respects, the design is a bit long in the tooth. The 28-135mm is over 14 years old and was Canon’s first ‘standard’ zoom to feature an Image Stabilizer; it’s an old generation that lacks a panning mode and only has a claimed three-stop effectiveness. In our tests, it only really managed a two-stop benefit.

Image quality is very good in all respects, with impressive sharpness and minimal distortions, vignetting or chromatic aberrations.


·         Price: $480

·         For: Very good image quality and solid build quality at a reasonable price

·         Against: Zoom range is the poorest in the group, and the Image Stabilizer is the least effective

Sigma 18-125mm f/3.8-5.6 DC OS HSM

The joint cheapest lens in the group, this Sigma also has the most disappointing zoom range of any APS-C format lens, equivalent to 29-200mm. Nevertheless, build quality feels robust and there are some upmarket features including a four- stop Optical Stabilizer, plus HSM (Hypersonic Motor) autofocus. It’s a motor-based system rather than Sigma’s more advanced ring-type HSM, so the focus ring rotates during autofocus, and it’s only slightly quicker and quieter than the micro-motors fitted to the Canon EF-S 18-135mm and 18-200mm lenses.

Description: Sigma 18-125mm f/3.8-5.6 DC OS HSM

Sigma 18-125mm f/3.8-5.6 DC OS HSM

There’s no hint of zoom creep, which makes for easy use with a tripod. A bigger advantage is that, with its relatively small zoom range, distortions are particularly well controlled. The Sigma also performs very well in terms of sharpness and contrast, and it does a good job of keeping vignetting and chromatic aberrations at bay.

Ultimately, if you don’t need to push telephoto reach beyond an effective 200mm focal length, this Sigma offers an excellent combination of image quality and solid build at an unbeatable price.


·         Price: $360

·         For: Excellent value considering its high standardof build and image quality

·         Against: Telephoto reach is lacking compared with most lenses in the group


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