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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.