Good Budget Zoom Lenses

Zoom Lenses

I know this has been discussed more often the one can count, but I have never addressed this subject and want to share some of my impressions and recommendations. But finding a good zoom lens on a budget can be a nerve racking experience.

Fixed focal length lenses are no longer the be all and end all in lens optics heaven. I have used several zoom lenses that compete quit readily with some of the fixed lenses I have used.

In fact I would go as far as saying that even some of the standard zooms can do the trick if stopped down a stop or two. Some even rate excellent wide open. The only draw back is that when wishing to really blow out the background, you will either have to shoot longer i.e. from 100 to 200 mm or use a fast fixed lens like a 50 1.8 or faster.

Here are a few lenses that I would feel comfortable using for professional applications. They are all budget priced lenses and accessible to most of us.

 I would love to hear from those of you using zooms and your impressions

Canon EF-S 55-250mm f/4-5.6 IS II

Canon EF-S 55-250mm f/4-5.6 IS II

Canon EF-S 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6 IS (Very sharp stopped down one stop)

Canon EF-S 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6 IS

Nikon AF-S DX NIKKOR 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6G VR ( a great lens for the money)

Nikon AF-S-DX-Nikkor-18-55mm-f-3.5-5

Nikon  AF-S DX NIKKOR 18-105mm f/3.5-5.6G ED VR

Nikon AF-S DX NIKKOR 18-105mm f/3.5-5.6G ED VR

Pentax-smc-DA-18-55mm-f3.5-5.6-AL-II-IF (An incredible lens for the money)

Pentax-smc-DA-18-55mm-f3.5-5.6-AL-II-IF

Pentax SMC P-DA 50-200MM F4-5.6 ED

Pentax SMC P-DA 50-200MM F4-5.6 ED

Sony 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6 DT SAM SAL-1855 (very nice lens and fast auto focus)

Sony 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6 DT SAM SAL-1855

Sony 55-200mm f/4-5.6 SAM DT

Sony 55-200mm f/4-5.6 SAM DT

Tamron AF55-200mm F/4-5.6 Di II ( a bit slow to focus, but good optics if stopped down one stop)

Tamron AF55-200mm F/4-5.6 Di II

I will add the Tamron 28-75 f2.8 although quite a bit more expensive. But compared to comparable lenses, it is a steal!

Tamron AF 28-75mm f/2.8 XR Di LD

Sigma 18-50mm F2.8-4.5 DC OS HSM (a bit more pricy)

Sigma 18-50mm F2.8-4.5 DC OS HSM

Sigma 55-200mm f/4-5.6 DC (excellent for a very inexpensive lens) Stop down at longer focal lengths around one stop)

Sigma AF 55-200mm f/4-5.6 DC

Sigma AF 18-50mm f/3.5-5.6 DC

Sigma 18-50mm f/3.5-5.6 DC AF

Tokina AT-X 16.5-135 DX 16.5-135 mm f/3.5-5.6

Tokina AT-X 16.5-135 DX 16.5-135 mm f/3.5-5.6

Well there you have it for now. Looking forward to your suggestions on a budget.

About Benjamin Kanarek
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Fashion and Beauty Photographer. Some of the magazines I have shot for include: VOGUE (China, Portugal, Brazil, Italia, Paris and South America & Mexico editions), RG VOGUE Brazil, Harper’s BAZAAR (China, en Español & Latin America, Hong Kong, Italy editions), L’Officiel Paris, ELLE (Spain, Portugal and Greece editions), Madame Figaro (France), Cosmopolitan (France and Italy editions), Glamour (France), Votre Beauté, Jardin des Modes, Dépêche Mode, New York Daily News, Fashion District News, New York Times Magazine, W (British edition), WWD, Fashion Magazine (Canada), Flare (Canada), Oyster, Tank, WestEast…
  • Dietmarkohl

    i must say that i prefer the fixed Lens and No autofocus..under many conditions Autofocus sucks-i have to refocus sometimes 2-3 times.. even in daylight where it shouldnt be too much trouble dont want to talk about dim or Nightlightsituations..and they wear out fast get soft so you have to buy another Lens fast ..that means you didnt save really that much.If you worked with a good old fashioned Zeiss Schneider or Leitz and Nikkors you can see the Difference in the Results.The Tool makes a Difference and you can see it.But they are very good Tools to start and to learn with for those with a small Budget and i know all about that too !

  • Anders C. Madsen

    I’ve actually compared the Canon 18-55 f/3.5-5.6 and the Canon 28-70L f/2.8 on a Canon 30D at f/8, and while sharpness was not that different (it was a portrait shoot with a fashion style so the less than perfect border performance of the 18-55 was not an issue), I did notice that my autofocus was struggling a lot more with the 18-55 and the number of badly focused shots was a lot higher.

    I was shooting strobist style and indoor, so while there was some daylight from the windows (f/5.6 at 1/15 as far as I remember), it was not enough to register on the image, and without any modelling lights to help the AF, it was definitely being asked to do some pretty heavy lifting.

    Also, I prefer to place my AF point on the eye in-camera instead of focusing and recomposing. Yes, I know that at f/8 there should not be a real issue with this, but I still feel that my keepers rate go down when I focus and recompose. Could be bad technique on my part, I don’t know – it’s just how it is.

    However, this means that I am not using the center AF which on a Canon 30D is much more precise than the other AF-points, and I have a distinct feeling that the two stops difference in the lens as well as the USM-autofocus on the 28-70 L makes a huge difference. I’m not talking about completely out-of-focus shots, just slightly
    misfocused and only something that you notice when shooting tethered and
    enlarge the images to 50-100%, but at that point the difference is
    obvious and the image is essentially useless above 4×6 or so.

    So, while sharpness and bokeh on a cheaper lens may be OK, the results that you walk away with may still be a lot less satisfying, simply because the images have been badly focused as you asked too much of the AF-system in the cheaper lens (on in the camera/lens combination). Shooting tethered in this situation helps a lot – at least you can check your images right away and reshoot on the spot if needed.

  • DarioToledo

    I’ve had the pentax DA 18-55 AL II and the 50-200 (basic DA, non WR).
    Well they’re good kit lenses, but always kit lenses, with their own limits. Only 6 blades, and slow (I won’t talk about sharpness because as a portraiture photographer it’s not my primary concern). On the other hand they are very compact, and thanks to that, the front element is small and this grants good resistance to flares. And, man, what colours.

    I’ve replaced he 50-200 with a 50-135, and the 18-55 with a Tamron 17-50. If it weren’t for its 6 blades and the poor max aperture I’d have not replaced the 18-55, but if it had these charateristics then it should not have been a kit lens anymore.

    In the end, they’re only tools, and everything depends on what you’re gonna do with these tools. You might have more possibilities with better tools, which doens’t automatically mean you’ll make better shots.

  • frank donato

    Just goes to show you, you do’t need to spend a lot of money to make a nice photo

  • frank donato

    nice post Benjamin
    Yeah I use zooms a lot for portrait and some of the fashion stuff I’ve done. I own both the pentax 18-55 and the 50-200.  The 50-200 is an incredible lens for the money.  I got mine for 129 after a rebate because i was going to school at the time.  Though these zooms and I’ve also used some of the Nikon ones too are really good  All these lens are sharp and do a great job with color and contrast.

    I find that if you want to capture a lot of detail like for beauty shots or some close up stuff  then a prime lens is really what you need.  I was using a 135 2.8 a few weeks back and was floored by the detail…I guess that’s how pixel peepers get started.  I also have a 50 f2.0 that when I look at the pictures it takes I’m memorized by the detail.