Want to make the step up from your standard kit lens to to something that will deliver a bit more in terms of performance? One of these standard zoom lenses will fit the bill
Standard zoom lenses are those designed to be suitable for everyday subjects, with an effective focal range starting at a moderate wideangle and typically reaching through to a mild or moderate telephoto. Many cameras are shipped as standard with these kinds of lenses, such as 18-55mm or 16-50mm options, and while these are great for getting you started, there exists a raft of alternative options that can broaden shooting and creative possibilities.
The main reason people upgrade to an alternative lens is to gain a better standard of optical quality, as well as to have a slight longer or wider focal range and also to benefit from a wider maximum aperture. By the standard of most lenses, a suitable upgrade here doesn’t necessarily need to be an expensive one, although there are a number of options at different price points – and with that, a choice of functionality to have at your disposal.
At the cheaper end of the spectrum you will typically benefit from a slightly wider aperture than the average kit lens, together with a better build quality and greater use of special elements to help control optical aberrations. Spending a little more may get you a constant maximum aperture (ie one that does not change as you zoom the lens), as well as weather sealing, more refined autofocus motors and superior coatings on the internal elements.
Here is our pick of the best standard zoom lenses currently on the market.
Canon EF-S 18-135mm f/3.5-5.6 IS STM
This lens covers an impressive effective focal range of 29-216mm on a Canon body equipped with an APS-C-format sensor, and boasts a four-stop Image Stablizer to help images stay sharp and detailed at all focal lengths. This can also be used to stabilise video footage, which benefits from the further inclusion of a STM motor for smooth and discreet autofocus operation during recording.
Nikon 18-105mm AF-S DX Nikkor f/3.5-5.6 G ED VR
Available as a kit option but also separately for the benefit of those starting out with 18-55mm lenses, this image-stabilised lens stretches all the way up to 35mm-equivalent focal length of 157mm on a DX-format body, and has an internal focusing system to keep the front element from rotating (useful with filters).
Sigma 17-70mm f/2.8-4 DC OS Macro HSM
A relatively recent addition to Sigma’s lens stable, this objective offers a respectably wide f/2.8 aperture at its wide end and covers a focal range roughly equivalent to 26-110mm in 35mm terms, varying slightly with the host camera. Available in Canon, Nikon, Sigma, Sony and Pentax options, users of the former three systems also gain image stabilisation (which the latter systems have in their camera bodies).
Sigma 17-50mm f/2.8 EX DC OS HSM
That this lens offers a slightly shorter focal length than some of the others here is no doubt the reason why it can offer a constant f/2.8 maximum aperture, something that’s usually reserved for pricier optics. It’s available in the same fittings as the optic above, with the Optical Stabilizer technology where applicable.
Canon EF-S 15-85mm f/3.5-5.6 IS USM
When used in conjunction with APS-C bodies, this lens offers a very useful effective focal range equivalent to 24-136mm in 35mm terms. It also lists a four-stop Image Stabilizer and Super Spectra coatings among its draws, and even a focused-distance window that would find itself useful when using hyperfocal focusing.
Nikon AF-S 16-85mm f/3.5-5.6G ED VR
Despite its compact size, this lens delivers an effective focal range of 24-127.5mm on DX-format bodies, with the further advantages of Nikon’s second-generation Vibration Reduction system and a Silent Wave Motor on board. Extra Low Dispersion glass has also been used on the inside to help combat chromatic aberration.
Pentax 17-70mm f/4 SDM
This 26-105mm-equivalent lens benefits from Pentax’s Supersonic Drive Motor (SDM) for superior autofocus performance over previous motors, as well as a Quick Shift Focus system and a constant aperture of f/4. Pentax has also furnished it with extra low dispersion and aspherical elements to help keep optical aberrations in check.
Sony DT 16-80mm f/3.5-4.5 ZA Carl Zeiss Vario-Sonnar T*
This compact, ten-year-old optic offers a usefully broad 24-120mm focal length (in 35mm terms) when used against APS-C bodies, with the further advantages of Carl Zeiss T* coatings for high light transmission and a focused-distance window on the barrel.
Canon EF-S 17-55mm f/2.8 IS USM
With the dual advantage of a constant f/2.8 aperture and a built-in Image Stabilizer, this lens is particularly suitable for APS-C users shooting handheld in testing lighting conditions. The 27-88mm (35mm equivalent) focal range suits it to street photography and landscapes, and with the wide maximum aperture you can successfully use it for portraits too.
Nikon AF-S DX Nikkor 17-55mm f/2.8G ED-IF
Unlike Canon’s version above, this 25-82mm-equivalent lens doesn’t offer an image stabilisation system of any kind, although its constant aperture of f/2.8, internal focusing system and ring-type Silent Wave Motor (SWM) show that it has lots to justify its place on the Nikon user’s shortlist.
Pentax smc DA* 16-50mm f/2.8 ED AL (IF) SDM
Not the newest of optics but there’s still plenty to like about this versatile lens from Pentax, from its internal focusing system to keep the front from rotating to the use of two ED (extra-low dispersion) elements and a Quick Shift Focus system. It even matches many of Pentax DSLR bodies in offering weather sealing.
Sigma 18-35mm f/1.8 DC HSM
This lens may have a relatively brief focal range but a super-wide, constant aperture of f/1.8 makes it stand out from all other lenses in its class. It goes on to offer nine diaphragm blades for rounded bokeh and is available in a wide variety of fittings, from Canon and Nikon to Pentax, Sony and, of course, Sigma.
APS-C and full-frame
Canon EF 24-105mm f/3.5-5.6 IS STM
An affordable choice for full-frame users, this lens employs an Image Stabilizer to help keep images sharp and videos steady, as well as STM technology to provide smooth and silent autofocus while recording videos. You can also use it in conjunction with APS-C bodies, where it provides an effective focal length equivalent to 38-168mm in 35mm terms.
Nikon AF-S 24-85mm f/3.5-4.5G ED VR
This compact Nikkor boasts second-generation, four-stop Vibration Reduction technology, as well as automatic tripod detection and internal focusing to keep the barrel the same length while focusing. Extra Low Dispersion and aspherical elements are also used to help keep image quality high.
Pentax 28-105mm f/3.5-5.6 D FA ED DC WR Lens
Launched alongside the full-frame K-1 and described as its ideal partner, this weather-sealed lens offers a Super Protect coating on its front element to repel water and grease, along with multi-layer HD coatings and a Quick Shift Focus system to allow focus to be fine tuned with ease.
Tamron AF 28-75mm f/2.8 SP XR Di LD Aspherical (IF)
Surprisingly compact for a full-frame optic with a constant f/2.8 aperture, this lens comes in Canon, Nikon, Sony and Pentax fittings, with the use of multiple aspherical elements and high refractive index glass explaining its size. Internal focus also means the barrel stays the same length during focusing.
Canon 24-105mm f/4L IS USM
This is one of the most popular all-purpose lenses for the full-frame Canon user, with the benefit of a constant f/4 aperture and a three-stop Image Stabilizer to help at longer focal lengths and slower shutter speeds. Canon has also equipped the lens with a focused-distance window on the barrel and an eight-blade circular diaphragm.
Nikon AF-S 24-120mm f/4G ED VR
In addition to a longer-than-standard focal length, this lens from Nikon packs in Vibration Reduction to help steady images and videos, as well as internal focus to keep the front of the lens and its centre of gravity constant as the optic is focused.
Sigma 24-105mm f4 DG OS HSM
One of Sigma’s latest ‘Art’ lenses, this optic can be used across Canon, Nikon, Sigma and Sony bodies, with an Optical Stabilizer benefitting the former three. You also get a focused-distance window on the barrel and Sigma’s latest Hyper Sonic Motor (HSM) for speedy AF operation.
Canon EF 24-70mm f/2.8L II USM
The second-generation version of the classic pro choice, this lens’ focal length and constant f/2.8 aperture suits it to landscapes, reportage and low-light work, with a revised optical formula over the previous version together with a weather-sealed design and nine-blade diaphragm for circular bokeh.
Nikon AF-S 24-70mm f/2.8G ED VR
Replacing the popular Nikon AF-S 24-70mm f/2.8G ED, this relatively new addition to the Nikkor line-up boasts a four-stop VR system and High Refractive Index glass, on top of everything that made the previous version so well loved among professional photographers.
Pentax 24-70mm f/2.8 D FA HD ED SDM WR Lens
This zoom boasts three Extra-Low Disperision and three aspherical elements within its construction, with the further draws of a Supersonic Direct-drive Motor and circular diaphragm, all wrapped up in a weather-sealed casing.
Tamron 24-70mm f/2.8 Di VC USD
Available in Canon, Nikon and Sony mounts, at the time of its release this was the first standard, full-frame zoom to sport image stabilisation (in the Canon and Nikon versions). Today it’s still a competitive option against camera manufacturers’ own offerings, with a weather-sealed design and a ring-type Ultrasonic Drive (USD) focusing system to recommend it.
Sony Zeiss Vario-Sonnar T* 24-70mm f/2.8 ZA SSM II
This second-generation, weather-sealed optic boasts a streamlined design and wide zoom and focusing rings, together with two Extra Low Dispersion and two aspherical elements, on top of improved T* coatings to benefit light transmission.