I started out my photographic career distrustful of zoom lenses. Every point-and-shoot compact camera my family had ever owned sported an all-in-one lens that promised a focal length from a decent wide angle all the way to a whopping 400x zoom.
The caveat of course, is that the camera only went to something like a 40x optical zoom, and digital zoom provided for the balance of its massive zoom range. Digital zoom merely crops the frame to make it larger, at a significant loss of quality.
My first DSLR (a Canon 50D) came with a kit lens that covered a 28-135mm focal range; a range that spanned from semi-wide angle to short telephoto distance.
Though I wasn’t overly fond of the included kit lens, I became enamored at the quality I could attain when I later purchased my first professional-grade “L” series lens, a fixed focal length (prime) 400mm lens.
From then on, my next three lenses were all fixed at a single focal length. What I sacrificed in focal length range was made up for in price and optical quality.
However, after listening to multiple rave reviews of Canon’s 70-200mm “L” series, and hearing it described numerous times as the quintessential photojournalist’s lens, I looked more closely into Canon’s zoom lens offerings.
I passed up the 70-200mm choice for the wider range of the 70-300mm lens and have been quite happy with its performance ever since.
This lens allows great versatility in focal range and can capture medium-range establishing shots that provide context as well as more intimate detail shots at the long end of its focal length.
Even though a prime lens is generally sharper at any single focal length than a zoom one, the latter’s versatility attracted me to it.
As the subject of a photojournalist’s lens is often fast and fleeting, having zoom flexibility to capture the subject at multiple focal lengths is critically important as the situation often doesn’t accommodate the time required for a lens change.
However, though I have now come to accept the benefits of zoom lenses, I wouldn’t get a lens that has a bigger focal range of 250mm or so. There are lenses that boast a 100-400mm or even 50-500mm range, yet, I don’t think one can comfortably substitute all of one’s kit for an all-in-one solution—at least not yet.
There are too many moving parts to fit into these lenses without a significant drop in optical quality. From reviews I have read, the center portion of the image stands up decently from a sharpness perspective, but knowing how heavily the rule of thirds plays into composition, I would pass up a mega-zoom for a few good in-between lenses.
I wouldn’t have been able to capture this ultrawide 14mm scene with an all-in-one zoom, at least not one that’s yet been invented. Keep your equipment bag diversified with a few good lenses and pass on the ultrawide zoom options, for now, at least.