Best superzoom lens for travel: 8 lightweight optics tested and rated

Best superzoom lens for travel: 05 Sigma 18-200mm f/3.5-6.3 DC Macro OS HSM | C

Best superzoom lens for travel 05 Sigma 18 200mm f 3 5 6 3 DC Macro OS HSM C

£270 / $410
Sacrificing a little in telephoto reach can pay dividends when you want to travel light. At 430g and 71 x 86mm, this lens is only about two-thirds of the weight of most 18-300mm APS-C format lenses.

An exercise in downsizing, it's also 180g lighter and 14mm shorter than the first edition of Sigma's optically stabilised 18-200mm.

Part of this reduction is due to the introduction of double-sided aspherical lens elements and a downsized autofocus motor, while a new TSC (Thermally Stable Composite) material used in the lens barrels also plays a part.

However, autofocus lacks full-time manual override, and the focus ring rotates while autofocusing.

As the lens is quite compact, you need to be careful to keep your fingers clear of the focus ring when using autofocus.

The maximum telephoto reach is equivalent to a focal length of 300mm on Nikon, Pentax and Sony bodies, and 320mm on Canon cameras. That stacks up well against the MFT lenses in the group, which give an effective reach of between 280mm and 300mm.

SEE MORE: Infographic: full-frame vs crop factor lenses

Helped by the inclusion of four SLD (Special Low Dispersion) elements, colour fringing is well controlled, beating most other APS-C format lenses.

The optical stabiliser is pretty efficient as well, giving a benefit of about three-stops (Canon and Nikon fit versions). Sharpness is above average at the telephoto end and consistent through the whole zoom range.

Tech focus…
16 elements in 13 groups; seven diaphragm blades; closest focus distance, 39cm; 62mm filter thread; ultrasonic (motor) autofocus; 71 x 86mm; 430g.

Features: 4/5
Build Quality: 3/5
Image Quality: 4/5
Value: 5/5

Overall Score: 4/5

SEE MORE: 6 things you didn't know about using apertures, but probably should

Best superzoom lens for travel: 06 Sigma 18-300mm f/3.5-6.3 DC Macro OS HSM | C

Best superzoom lens for travel 06 Sigma 18 300mm f 3 5 6 3 DC Macro OS HSM C

£400 / $610
Compared with Sigma's 18-200mm lens that's also on test, this one is relatively big and heavy, at 79 x 102mm and 585g.

Similar features include motor-driven rather than ring-type ultrasonic autofocus, with the same weaknesses of focus ring rotation during autofocus and the lack of full-time manual override.

Both lenses feature a focus distance scale printed on the focus ring, and a macro scale printed on the inner barrel which extends at longer zoom settings.

The maximum macro magnification ratio is 0.33x but you can boost this to 0.5x by buying Sigma's optional close-up filter, developed exclusively for this lens. Neither of the Sigma lenses has a weather-sealed mount.

While the Sigma 18-200mm features four SLD elements, the 18-300mm upgrades to four top-quality FLD (Fluorite-level Low Dispersion) elements as well as one SLD element.

A newer optical stabiliser (Canon and Nikon fit only) is also more efficient, with performance that's closer to four stops than three.

SEE MORE: Canon EF 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS II USM review

Our tests reveal the new Sigma 18-300mm to be the sharpest lens here at wide-angle to mid-zoom settings, and it remains sharper than the competition at longer focal lengths between 150mm and 300mm (where available in other lenses).

Colour fringing is well contained and distortions are less noticeable than in the Canon, Nikon and Tamron APS-C class lenses.

Tech focus…
17 elements in 13 groups; seven diaphragm blades; closest focus distance, 39cm; 72mm filter thread; ultrasonic (motor) autofocus; 79 x 102mm; 585g.

Features: 4/5
Build Quality: 3/5
Image Quality: 5/5
Value: 4/5

Overall Score: 4/5

SEE MORE: What is image stabilisation? A simple layman's guide

Best superzoom lens for travel: 07 Tamron 14-150mm f/3.5-5.8 Di III

Best superzoom lens for travel 07 Tamron 14 150mm f 3 5 5 8 Di III

£340 / $520
Compared to APS-C and full-frame lenses for various makes of camera, independent lenses for the Micro Four Thirds format are thin on the ground.

Indeed, the likes of Sigma, Samyang and Voigtlander only make prime lenses in MFT-fit. This Tamron 14-150mm is the only independently made MFT zoom lens currently available.

It equals the Olympus's extended zoom range but lacks the Panasonic's optical image stabiliser. It's compact and lightweight at 64 x 80mm and 285g, although the filter thread is smaller at 52mm.

Build quality feels good with a smooth action to both zoom and focus rings, similar to the other MFT lenses on test. Again, there's no hint of zoom creep but the Tamron includes a zoom lock switch which is absent on both other MFT lenses.

The metal mounting plate lacks the Olympus's weather-seal but the finish looks stylish. Inside, the construction includes two LD (Low Dispersion) and one XR (Extra Refractive Index) elements, along with the virtually silent stepping motor autofocus system.

SEE MORE: DO or Di? Your lens markings explained

It's the least impressive lens in the whole group for sharpness at either end of the zoom range, although mid-zoom sharpness is marginally better than from the Panasonic MFT lens.

Fringing is more noticeable than from either of the other MFT lenses, but there's less barrel distortion than from the Panasonic lens at the 14mm focal length.

Tech focus…
8 elements in 6 groups; 7 diaphragm blades; closest focus distance, 18cm; 49mm filter thread; autofocus driven from camera; 64 x 40mm; 189g.

Features: 3/5
Build Quality: 3/5
Image Quality: 3/5
Value: 3/5

Overall Score: 3/5

SEE MORE: Annoying problems at common aperture settings (and how to avoid them)

Best superzoom lens for travel: 08 Tamron 16-300mm f/3.5-6.3 Di II VC PZD Macro

Best superzoom lens for travel 08 Tamron 16 300mm f 3 5 6 3 Di II VC PZD Macro

£480 / $730
Pricier than the Canon and both Sigma lenses for APS-C format SLRs, the Tamron undercuts the Nikon, while beating them all in terms of outright zoom range. The Tamron offers a wider viewing angle at its shortest zoom setting than any other lens in the group.

In full-frame terms, it has an effective focal length of 24mm in Nikon and Sony mount options, and 25.6mm in Canon-fit.

The lens feels robust but it's actually lighter than all the other APS-C lenses here, apart from the Sigma 18-200mm.

Like the Nikon, it has a weather-seal ring on its mounting plate, and it's the only lens on test to feature a focus distance scale that's positioned beneath a viewing window.

Switches are on hand for auto/manual focus and zoom lock, plus VC on/off (Canon and Nikon fit only). The Vibration Compensation stabilisation gave four-stop effectiveness in our tests.

The PZD (Piezo Drive) autofocus is an ultrasonic motor-based design, but the focus ring doesn't rotate during autofocus, while also enabling full-time manual focus override.

A downside of the extra-wide viewing angle is that barrel distortion is worse at the minimum zoom length than in any other lens in the group, although it's only marginally worse than from the Canon and Nikon lenses.

It has the highest levels of colour fringing of any lens in the group, while sharpness at any competing focal length is less impressive than from the Sigmas.

Tech focus…
16 elements in 12 groups; seven diaphragm blades; closest focus distance, 39cm; 67mm filter thread; ultrasonic (motor) autofocus; 75 x 100mm; 540g.

Features: 4/5
Build Quality: 4/5
Image Quality: 3/5
Value: 4/5

Overall Score: 4/5


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