Best Zoom Lenses of 2017
posted Friday, January 5, 2018 at 3:00 PM EDT
From wide-angle to supertelephoto, zoom lenses are all about versatility. Whether you're calmly composing a serene landscape or trying to tackle that tricky wildlife subject, there's likely a zoom lens out there for you. Zoom lenses come in all shapes and sizes, and budget limits large and small.
This year, we saw a variety of new and impressive zoom lenses debut for all sorts of camera categories, both mirrorless and DSLR. For some, these zooms lenses fill critical gaps in lens lineups, whereas others are welcomed additions to the family as well as nice, refreshed models with improved quality.
Although we witnessed a veritable onslaught of prime lenses arrive this year, as evidenced by our Best Prime Lenses from this year, 2017's new zoom lenses were a bit more of a reserved bunch with fewer overall models. As such, we were able to distill our 2017 Zoom Lens Awards down to an easy-to-hand four categories: Wide-Angle, Standard, Telephoto and Best Value. So, whether you shoot a DSLR or a mirrorless camera, APS-C, full-frame or Micro Four Thirds, there's a little something for everyone in our award-winning picks for the Best Zoom Lenses of 2017.
One of the major complaints against jumping ship and picking up a Sony camera has been, at least until recently, lens selection. No doubt Sony noticed this, which is likely the reason for their absolute manic release of new optics over the last couple years. The most recent additions to their collection have been nothing short of amazing, and that absolutely includes the stellar 16-35mm f/2.8 G Master.
The 16-35mm lens is a near must-have in any landscape photographer's bag, as it lends itself to so many uses. From astro work through basic mountain scapes, it's just wide enough to include a great field of view, but not so wide as to warp perspective. Sony's iteration does an excellent job maintaining corner-to-corner sharpness and pairs wonderfully with the new A7R III, translating the sensor's outstanding capability into breathtaking imagery. Images come out crisp and stunningly lifelike, and the lens does an outstanding job curtailing common wide-angle lens problems such as flare, distortion and chromatic aberration.
From a practical perspective, the Sony 16-35mm is just so darn reliable. The focus speed is wicked fast and capable of handling action sequences like dirt biking, skateboarding or surfing without problem. It's lightweight and easy to handle, and its balance is excellent. Sony really did their homework on what the camera community expected out of a 16-35mm and delivered what they thought to be the best possible example of one. They did an excellent job, and it has become one of my top five favorite lenses to use on a Sony body, and one of my favorite lenses period. It's a masterpiece of optics, and deserving of the best wide angle zoom of 2017.
Ultra-wide and ultra-affordable, the Nikon AF-P DX NIKKOR 10-20mm f/4.5-5.6G VR lens offers an interesting alternative to the company's 10-24mm f/3.5-4.5G ED optic if you don't need that lens' brighter aperture and slightly greater zoom range. Image quality is superb for the price, and yet the 10-20mm weighs just half as much as its brighter sibling. And it sports a swift AF-P autofocus system which also works very nicely for video capture.
We do have to note, though, that since it's an AF-P lens, you'll need a fairly recent camera body to be able to shoot with the Nikon 10-20mm. This lens can't be used with most bodies made in March 2014 or before, with only a handful of earlier models exempted. (These are the D3300, D5200, D5300, D7100 and Df.) But if you own a recent Nikon body and can't justify spending $1000 or more on the 10-24mm or another similarly-wide zoom, well... the 10-20mm really should be in your camera bag. It's a great little wide-angle zoom for a very reasonable price indeed!
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With the crop factor of the Micro Four Thirds system, Panasonic's new 12-35mm f/2.8 II ASPH Power OIS lens has a 35mm equivalent focal length of 24-70mm. The Panasonic 12-35mm f/2.8 II is compact and lightweight but don't let its small stature fool you as it still packs weather resistance via its splash/dust/freezeproof construction. It also includes optical image stabilization (O.I.S.) technology and silent autofocus, making it a good choice for video as well as stills.
All that technology is great, but it doesn't mean much if the lens doesn't deliver sharp, high-quality images wide open across its focal length range. After all, this lens is designed for the pros and pros demand the best in performance. Fortunately, the new 12-35mm Mark II has remarkable image quality to go with its great construction and feature set.
Sharpness is excellent throughout the entire focal length range across the frame and the autofocus proved to be quick and accurate. For Micro Four Thirds shooters looking for a high-end 24-70mm f/2.8-style lens, the new 12-35mm f/2.8 II cannot be beat. This outstanding lens is the best standard zoom lens we've gotten our hands on in 2017.
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The ubiquity of the 70-200mm focal range makes it tough to stand out from the crowd, but Tamron manages it through a well-designed, high performance optic in their 70-200mm f/2.8 Di VC USD G2 SP.
While keeping vignetting at a minimum, especially beyond f/4, and controlling chromatic aberration quite well, especially at 200mm, the Tamron 70-200mm brings excellent image quality and combines it with their legendary Vibration Compensation technology. The result is a lens that works with the photographer to produce sharp images across its entire zoom range. That vibration compensation allows you to get five additional stops in low light situations, which especially when combined with a zoom range of 200mm is incredibly useful. Tamron also worked hard to assure the lens is capable of keeping up with moving subjects, as they understand its potential use as an action optic. The result is a lens that can focus fast and refocus just as quickly, making it excel at high-speed shooting.
There are a lot of little things built into the 70-200mm that make it stand out. The aforementioned Vibration Compensation, a fluorine coating on the front element to repel water and oil, weather sealing in the form of special sealants at every joint and seam, and the incredibly smart built-in Arca Swiss mount on the tripod collar all combine to offer a lens that has clearly been thought through by people who really wanted to use it and know what a photographer is actually looking for. Often photographers want more from their equipment than just pure image quality, and Tamron not only delivers that high quality but puts it into a package that just makes real, practical sense.
The Sony FE 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6 GM OSS is a critical lens for Sony's E-mount lens lineup for a variety of reasons, not the least of which is that it delivers a long telephoto lens for the many sports and wildlife photographers looking to take advantage of Sony's fast A-series mirrorless cameras. The 100-400mm is currently the longest lens in Sony's E-mount lens lineup.
While not as fast as the upcoming 400mm f/2.8 lens, the 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6 competes directly against similar lenses from other manufacturers, including the Canon 100-400mm telephoto zoom, which finds itself in the kits of many wildlife and sports photographers. We had the chance to put the new Sony 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6 GM lens to the test as a wildlife lens and it delivered great image quality and fast autofocus, earning it an award of "Distinction" in this year's edition of our Lens of the Year Awards.
It's not unusual for a telephoto zoom lens to be a bit underwhelming at its maximum focal length, but this is no issue for the Sony 100-400mm lens as it captures very detailed images at 400mm with an f/5.6 aperture. Even in the corners, the lens does a great job on full-frame cameras. It's an awesome optic with very few drawbacks. It is fairly expensive at just under $2,500, but for photographers needing a long lens and versatility, there's no better option for Sony E-mount cameras.
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The Sigma 100-400mm F5-6.3 DG OS HSM | Contemporary lens is great news for enthusiastic nature photographers who aren't also part-time weightlifters! Priced at around US$800, it's an affordable yet powerful zoom that brings distant subjects much closer than can the shelves of 70-300mm lenses you'll find at your local camera store. At the same time, it's much smaller, lighter and much more affordable than the even further-reaching 150-600mm zooms you'll see targeted at nature photographers.
And it's also significantly more compact, far lighter and more affordable than its nearest house-branded alternatives on the Canon EF and Nikon F-mounts, the Canon 100-400 and Nikon 80-400 respectively. (Admittedly, while being just fractionally less bright, as well.) Yet despite its affordable pricetag, the Sigma 100-400mm offers good build quality and is pretty well-specified, to boot.
A dust-and-splash proof lens mount protects your camera body, and there's a manual focus override function for last-moment focusing tweaks. Even cooler, the lens zoom functions either as a rotary or push-pull type, allowing you to choose on the fly to match your subjects. And with a 63-inch minimum focusing distance at telephoto, it even doubles as something of a pseudo-macro lens! Throw in generally good image quality, especially towards the all-important telephoto end of the range, plus some very attractive bokeh in out-of-focus areas, and the Sigma 100-400mm Contemporary is an easy pick for best value zoom lens of the year!
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Imaging Resource Camera of the Year Awards 2017
Best Zoom Lenses (current page)