As the last installment of my Camera Lenses 101 series, we come to the all-in-one zoom lens, the lens that can do 90% of what all the other classes can do. Covering extreme focal lengths, typically 18-200 on crop and 28-300 of FF/film, these lenses easily earn the nickname of “street sweepers” because they can, literally, capture just about anything you come across when out and about.
Tamron created quite a stir in the early 1990s when it introduced the world's first vacation zoom, a 28-200mm model. As with any first, the initial 28-200 was, other than for its zoom capability, nothing worth writing home about, the optics were terrible. As a budget-orientated college student when I took up dSLR photography, I snagged one of these lenses for its ability to cover a vast zoom range in a single package. My take? Well, it got the job done, but not overly well unless one closed it up 2 stops, not a very practical undertaking at 200mm in less than ideal light!.
In time, other third-party and name brand manufacturers would get into the vacation zoom market and the quality of the lenses themselves would improve as opticians got more used to designing such extreme lenses. Now, as the vacation zoom enters its second full decade, about the only thing that hasn't changed are the focal lengths. For FF/film, 28-300 is still the standard. With the advent of sub-frame crop cameras, 18-200 is the norm, although some lenses are now ending in the 250+mm range. Now, the innovation is all about optical quality and add-ons.
Like with anything else, the addition of stabilizers, sonic drive AF, and weather sealing ups the price of a vacation zoom lens. Right now, the cheapest models are the $300ish third party offerings while the $2,200 weather sealed Canon 28-300L IS leads the pack in price. In the middle, there is a wide variety of lenses priced to suit anyone's budget. For those who are especially budget-conscious, there are always the older vacation lenses, though the dollar savings often come at the price of optical quality.
In short, the vacation zoom can do 90% of what the other classes of lens can do all in a single package. While missing the ultrawide, true macro, and ultra telephoto offered by other specialty lenses, the vacation zoom is a jack of all trades that can do most things increasingly well. Oh yes, if you're going on a trip, I'd highly recommend one of these plus a fast prime for your pocket just in case you encounter extreme low light situations.
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