Why Photographers Should Consider Having a Walkaround Lens

Why Photographers Should Consider Having a Walkaround Lens

­With the abundance of choices in lenses, why would you choose the humble walkaround lens?

Choosing your lenses for the kind of photography that you do can be simple.  Most photographers start with a basic kit, but eventually, with more experience and hopefully more skills, we start choosing more specialized lenses that are more suited for whatever we constantly shoot. Generally, the most popular choices are zoom lens trinities that comprise of a standard zoom lens, an ultra-wide-angle lens, and a telephoto lens. An alternative option for many would be a set of fast prime lenses, specifically for people who mainly shoot portraits. But why would one consider having a generalist walkaround lens in your line-up?

What Are Walkaround Lenses?

Walkaround lenses are basically just extended standard zoom lenses. Standard zooms go from 24 or 28mm to about 70mm for full frame cameras. A standard zoom has proven to be one of the most useful in terms of range, as it goes from wide angle (24mm) to the short end of the telephoto range, which is 70mm. Virtually, those ranges are useful in most genres of photography, including landscape, travel, food, and portraits, and that’s precisely the reason why the kit lenses are actually standard zooms.

A few years back, I kept a Canon EOS M5 as a walk around body usually paired with the 18-200mm or the 18-400mm

In comparison, walkaround lenses are those that go from around 24mm to about 135mm or even longer. The most common walkaround lenses in the market are the APS-C lenses with a range of 18-200mm. The general benefit that this lens would have is basically the fact that in terms of focal ranges, it combines two components of the zoom lens trinity. In application, it’s basically a lens that you can carry around without having to change lenses. Hence, the moniker.

Now, what’s the catch? Why are these lenses generally not as popular? For the simple reason that these lenses are variable aperture lenses (usually around f/3.5 to 5.6) and are usually less sharp compared to the flagship trinity of zoom lenses. The bright side is that they are also generally much cheaper.

Applications of Walkaround Lenses

Most professional photographers would, of course, choose to always use the specialized and premium quality lenses. However, for hobbyists or even professionals who are shooting recreationally, using walkaround lenses can be quite beneficial. In my case, for example, since I shoot landscapes and architecture professionally, my go-to lenses are the usual zoom lens trinities, but for most of my professional photography life, I’ve always had an extra walkaround lens in storage for when it is applicable.

Travel

Shot with a Tamron 18-200mm VC

One of my main uses for walkaround lenses is the “in-between” moments. As a landscape photographer, since most of my shoots require quite a bit of travel, I always like to photograph interesting scenes I find while en route to the location but would generally want to avoid having to reach into my backpack and change lenses simply because what I have mounted on my camera isn’t within range of what I want to shoot. For these situations, I would rather have one lens that can cover most of the shots I would want to take along the way.

Scouting

A scouting shot that eventually sold as limited edition prints. Shot with a Tamron 18-400mm.

The same goes for when I have architectural shoots within the city. Most of the projects I have been doing in the past four years are skyscrapers that can be found within clusters of buildings. Generally, my workflow requires having a day to just explore the perspectives around the area to scout for shots that I would have to take during a specific time of day. In this case, the walkaround lens becomes my scouting lens. On that scouting day, I would just bring one camera body and the walkaround lens to be able to cover more ground and avoid carrying unnecessary weight. My favorite combination so far was a Tamron 18-400mm mounted on an APS-C DSLR or mirrorless camera. Most of the time, these photos aren’t the ones I would actually use professionally but would still have value for portfolio purposes or for the sake of showing the client what I intend to capture for the actual shoots with my full gear.

Casual Photographers

Casual photographers can be in the form of parents who use cameras to capture moments with their families, travelers who like to take photos of their experiences without the actual intention of making money with their output, and of course, hobbyists who have yet to explore the complexities of photography gear. Whether by choice or due to a limitation, having a walkaround lens as their only lens will, of course, give them more flexibility in capturing the images that interest them. Either as a mainstay lens or something to use as they learn more about the craft, having a flexible lens can allow them to try more things in different settings.

Walkaround Lenses for Full Frame Cameras

Walkaround lenses are not as common for the full frame format, possibly since most photographers who use full frame cameras are using specialized lenses. However, there are some exceptions. Personally, I had a bit of experience with the older Tamron 28-300mm, which was had quite decent optics for the generation of cameras that it came out with. A personal favorite that I keep to this day would be the Canon 28-300mm L, which has good optics but is even heavier than any of the three components of Canon’s zoom trinity.

Shot with a Tamron 28-300mm on a Canon 6D

Full frame mirrorless camera users have the available options of having the 24-240mm for Sony and Canon users and the 24-200mm for Nikon Z users. Of course, a walkaround lens that may be worth checking out is the upcoming Tamron 28-200mm for full-frame mirrorless cameras, which is quite unique as the first one with that range that has a maximum aperture of f/2.8.

APS-C Lens Choices

Shot with a Tamron 18-200mm VC on a Canon EOS M3 with an adapter

In comparison, there are generations of walkaround lenses for APS-C cameras. The old but notable ones are Canon’s 18-200mm from the early 2000s, which also had third-party brand counterparts. Tamron generally made sure to constantly update this with a second version for DSLR and even a version for APS-C mirrorless, which is available for the Canon EOS M and Sony E mounts. The brand, however, did make a few more relatively longer walkaround lenses in the form of the Tamron 18-270mm, 16-300mm, and the recent 18-400mm. Quality for most of them was generally similar but varied in terms of focusing motors and image stabilization mechanisms.

Whether as a main lens for casual shooters and travelers or as a lightweight one-lens setup for serious photographers, having a walkaround lens can be very beneficial. These lenses are flexible, most are lightweight, and they are generally more affordable than other lenses.

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46 Comments

Nitin Chandra's picture

The 24-120 Nikkor kit lens with the D850 is quite good IQ wise. Got that just before Corona hit us and yet to try it out in the field...

Matt Williams's picture

As long as you get a good sample. I had to try three before I got one that was proper. But a good sample is surprisingly good. One of my favorite F mount lenses because of its versatility.

Nitin Chandra's picture

Ah...Thanks for the info. Would love to know more as to what I should look for in case you can elaborate a bit.

TIA.

John Nixon's picture

I’ve been looking at those on eBay. Tempting.

Deleted Account's picture

What I use an RX100 for.

Mauricio W's picture

It's a good point, But I feel like most people, myself included, would rather spend the money on new glass instead.

Nitin Chandra's picture

Actually, the kit lenses come cheaper when purchased with the body so I guess most would go for that and then just get the lenses they want or already have. For example, in my case, I had a D7500 with the 18-140 kit lens and other lenses that I actually used. When I got the D850, a kit lens was always going to be useful not that I use it much, but, much better, price-wise, than getting another one...

Deleted Account's picture

I can't put a Hasselblad or D850 in my pocket.

Mike Shwarts's picture

I use an RX100iii when I want to carry something light. Or I go with a Sony a6400 and the 18-135mm.

Chris Fowler's picture

Newbie/casual photographer here. For Sony E-mount APSC, the 16-50mm kit lens matches the first focal range you described (24-70mm equivalent) but when I had that lens, I was lulled into a false sense of comfort that I could zoom in, but was always disappointed that I couldn't zoom more. When I traded that out for the 18-135mm (27-200mm equivalent), I have to admit I found this to be the sweet spot, and it lives on my camera almost all the time. I recognize it is not a fast lens at all, but so darned convenient for travel. I guess this is what you meant by, walk-around lens?

Visual Envy's picture

The Nikkor 24-200mm Z mount looks like a great option and proven to be better than the 28-300mm and 24-120mm F mount lenses.

Matt Williams's picture

And today, there are a lot of lenses that cover a very wide range that are actually quite good. The Nikon 24-120/4 was one of my favorite lenses because of this - it was just a great general purpose tool. And it's why I have the new Nikon Z 24-200 coming this week. It won't replace my 70-200/4 I'm sure, but I've heard very good things about it.

Troy Straub's picture

I'm just a hobbyist with a Panasonic GX85. If I need something almost pocketable 12-32 the kit lens is very capable. If I have a bit more room the 14-140 f3.5-5.6 is fantastic especially when outdoors. But since all my lenses are so small and light I usually carry a small backpack and have way more than I actually need just in case.

Jon Kellett's picture

I've always loved having a 24-105 (or thereabouts). So versatile.

Sharpness is overrated in most contexts, especially so when printing where the paper choice has a bigger impact on the result than lens sharpness.

I thought that the Canon 24-105 was acceptably sharp, with the corners not being too bad. The Sony 24-105G is a great lens.

Petr Svitil's picture

I wouldn't have thought of a 1600g lens as a walkaround lens tbh.. 🤔🤔

sam dasso's picture

Actually Tamron 28-200/ 2.8-5.6 is out already out and it is surprisingly good. Dustin Abbott just posted excellent review of this lens. https://dustinabbott.net/2020/06/tamron-28-200mm-f2-8-5-6-rxd-a071-review/
I have one and I love it.

Deleted Account's picture

His reviews are usually pretty good, and that one's no exception. Thanks for the link.

Personally waiting until more information comes out before getting one - I'd be swapping my 28-75 for it (which I use as a walkaround and to take vignettes for real estate), so it's a tough call given how great that lens is.

Charles Mercier's picture

Because you can take a quick shot/less hassle than switching lenses and it's less stuff to carry around. It's just more convenient.

John Ellingson's picture

I usually have a "walk around" lens on one of my camera bodies. Over the years the lens that is my walk around lens has changed. My POV has gotten wider and wider over the years. It is now a full frame fisheye lens.

sam dasso's picture

"Walk-around" implies that lens will be useful in multitude of situation from macro to wide angle to telephoto. You can walk around with iPhone or 600 mm lens - your choice, but if you want to take pictures while you walk around then you need versatile lens. Unless you walk around city streets only, you need to to have a range of focal lengths.

Troy Straub's picture

No offense intended, but you're the one who seems a bit confused by the idea of a walk around lens. Of course you can walk around with any lens you wish to. but if you're out shooting with a specific thing in mind you're on a shoot. The idea of a walk around lens it to just take a relaxing stroll and shoot whatever you happen to come across with no real reason to be out just to have some fun and relaxation and hopefully come home with a few keepers whatever they may be..

Troy Straub's picture

No it does not sound relaxing at all to me and is the reason I don't shoot street. If it's what you find relaxing that;s great and is what you should do. But to say others should already know what they want to shoot before going out and have to have a prime on there camera is just wrong.

To expand on the on a shoot. I shoot macro and for that I need a dedicated lens and a flash. I miss a lot of other great shots because of this. It may not be a paying gig, but I am on a shoot looking for a very specific style of shot. Sometimes it can be liberating to carry a zoom that goes from wide to fairly tele. I'm most likely not going to get profile worth pics But I will come back with many shots I could't have gotten with my prime. It also puts me it two completely different mindsets.

Deleted Account's picture

I agree with you with regards to using a 50 or 35 for fun, though I've been hard pressed to buy primes after getting the 28-75/2.8.

That said, "walkaround" lenses kind of are a thing and this author isn't coming out of nowhere with it. Your awareness of terminology is kind of your own burden.

Jack Carbone's picture

Do you do that on vacation? If you're in Rome, or someplace you've not been before, are you specific about the lens you go out with? What do you take with you when you travel to new places? You take a lot of gear?

Sam Sims's picture

People who use prime lenses are generally only looking for shots that suit that focal length. Yes it’s limiting but that’s the point. I generally can’t be bothered with zoom lenses and when I’ve used one in the past I would end up sticking to one or two focal lengths only. Using primes is just the way I prefer to shoot. Of course many people love the versatility of zoom lenses, nothing wrong with that.

Trey Mortensen's picture

I'm with you. When I traveled to Europe, I had 3 lenses: Tamron 24-70, Rokinon 14mm, and a 50mm 1.8. All fit into a discreet bag that I took everywhere. I hardly shoot further than 70, so I wasn't missing anything. The 50 was only for night time and the 14 was for architecture. Whenever I go again, I'll probably do 24, 50, 85 and that's it.
But again, to each their own.

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