Super Zoom Lens vs Fast Lens – Which One Should You Choose?
I have received tons of questions recently and they revolve around the same issue: Should I choose a super zoom lens because of its convenience or a fast lens because of its sharpness and low light capability?
Before I start, I’ll give you a brief explanation in case you’re not familiar with super zoom and fast lens.
Basically a super zoom lens is a lens with huge focal range. The focal length range usually starts from a wide angle end and end in the telephoto end. For Nikon cropped sensor user, an example of a super zoom lens is the Nikon 18-200mm. The focal length starts at 18mm (wide angle) and ends at 200mm (telephoto).
The upside of a super zoom lens is convenience. You don’t have to bring a whole bag of lenses with you if you have a super zoom lens. This is a great advantage to have if you are traveling and want to keep your bags light. However, the downside of a super zoom lens is its small, variable aperture number. The aperture number usually starts from f/3.5 on the wide end and ends at f/5.6 on the telephoto end.
A fast zoom lens is a lens with small zoom range and large aperture. Usually the aperture remains constant throughout the focal length range. An example of this lens is the Nikon 17-55mm f/2.8 lens.
Because a fast zoom lens generally cover only a small focal length range, you will most likely need to carry another lens if you’re traveling and want to shoot a little bit of everything. But you get something in return when you sacrifice inconvenience: better image quality and tougher lens.
So, back to the initial question in this post. Given the choice of purchasing a super zoom lens (Nikon 18-200mm) or a fast lens (Nikon 17-55mm), which one should you choose?
This is quite an easy question to answer so bear with me here for a bit.
A fast lens like the Nikon 17-55mm is great if you love to shoot landscape, portraits and low light situation for PROFESSIONAL work. Remember that this is a fast f/2.8 lens that is geared towards professional photographer. They get PAID for their work. They buy a lens because it’s an investment for them and they’re looking to get a return out of it.
That doesn’t mean you can’t buy or use them if you’re not a professional photographer. If you want to get the maximum quality out of everything that you shoot (including small hair details in a portrait shoot) and you can afford this lens, by all mean go for it.
You will get superb quality and performance if you use this lens. The downside is, if you want to reach the 200mm focal length, you have to switch lens. This can be quite a bit of inconvenience.
On the other hand, if you choose to purchase the Nikon 18-200mm lens, you can get variety of shoot ranging from landscape and portraiture. However, you would not be able to use this lens for low light situation because of the slow aperture and the quality is not as good as the Nikon 17-55mm lens. This lens is not made for the professional in mind. This lens is made for amateur / enthusiast photographers who love to shoot a bit of everything and is willing to sacrifice quality for convenience.
So, the issue here is just choosing between quality and convenience.
If you want quality go with a fast zoom lens like the Nikon 17-55mm lens.
If you want convenience go with a super zoom lens like the Nikon 18-200mm lens.
What about my personal choice?
When I’m traveling with my families, I don’t like to spend time changing camera lenses and I love to shoot just about everything that I find. Quality is not the most important aspect for me here. So, my choice is always a super zoom lens. I have a Nikon 28-300mm VR lens (a super zoom lens for full frame sensor) that I always carry with my Nikon D600 when I go on vacation.
But when I travel to some exotic places (usually alone or with other photographers) I carry my fast zoom lens to get the best pictures from that place. The fast zoom lens that I carry with me is the Nikon 24-70mm f/2.8 lens.
Before I end this article, I want to say something really, REALLY important here.
Your final image is NOT determined by the lens that you use. It’s largely determined by your photography skills.
So, can you get an award winning picture using a super zoom lens? You bet.
Don’t go out buying a fast zoom lens with the false hope of improving your image quality. Better image quality always starts in the photographers’ mind.