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SuperZoom Lenses Canon 18-200 vs Sigma 18-250 vs Tamron 18-250 & 18-270

2009-07-02 13:46
Note: Check out the latest article updated on June 22 2011 with the new Tamron 18-270mm lens.

Superzoom lenses are popular among amateur photographers as they are extremely versatile, and they allow photographers to take almost all kinds of photo with a single lens. Canon has the EF-S 18-200mm f/3.5-5.6 IS zoom lens supporting an focal length range equivalent to 29-320mm in the 35mm format. The lens also features Canon's built in Optical Image Stabilization system which gives the equivalent effect of a shutter speed roughly 4 steps faster, for better image clarity, even in shaky shooting conditions. It also supports auto panning detection -- when you pan during a shot, it turns off the IS along either the horizontal or vertical axis, depending on camera orientation. With a minimum focusing distance of 45cm (17.7in) at all zoom settings, this lens should prove to be ideal for those situations where swapping lenses isn't an option. The selling price of the lens is around $699 (Street price around $554). Note that the Canon 18-200mm lens is using the EF-S mount and it won't fit into older Canon cameras or the full-frame Canon EOS 5D Mark II.
The Sigma 18-250mm F3.6-6.3 DC OS HSM superzoom lens incorporates Sigma's original anti-shake compensation function, with a 13.8 times zoom ratio. This lens Hybrid Optical Stabilizer provides not only an anti-shake function for the camera body, but also compensates for image shaking in the view finder as the Optical Stabilizer is built in to the lens. This system offers the use of shutter speeds approximately 4 stops slower. The HSM (Hyper Sonic Motor) ensures fast and quiet auto-focusing. This lens has a minimum focusing distance of 45cm (17.7in) and a maximum magnification ratio of 1:3.4, making it convenient for close-up photography. Sigma also recently announced that this lens is now available in mounts for Sony and Pentax DSLRs, in additions to the Sigma, Canon and Nikon mount. The selling price of the lens is around $800 (Street price around $529).
Tamron, originator of the superzoom lens more than a decade ago (Back in 1992, the AF 28-200mm F/3.8-5.6 Aspherical 7.1x zoom ratio lens), has the 18-250mm f/3.5-6.3 lens with a 13.8 times zoom ratio. At focal length range equivalent to 28-388mm, it adds 50mm to the tele end and does so at no cost of weight, dimension, or optical performance over the older Tamron lens 18-200mm f/3.5-6.3 lens. It comes with attractively finished in a satiny matte black, with ribbed and rubberized zoom and focusing rings, the lens sports the bright gold Di II band that distinguishes all Tamron digital-only lenses. The Tamron 18-250mm F/3.5-6.3 AF Di-II is available for Canon EOS (Digital Rebel XT/XTi, EOS 20D/30D) DSLRs, Nikon DSLRs, Sony (Minolta) DSLRs and Pentax DSLRs. The selling price of the lens is around $499 (Street price around $450). Last year 2008, Tamron also announced the AF 18-270mm F/3.5-6.3 Di II VC LD Aspherical (IF) MACRO (Model B003) lens, the first DSLR lens in the world that delivers a zoom ratio of 15X and is also equipped with Vibration Compensation (VC) mechanism. The lens covers angles of view equivalent to 28mm to 419mm when converted to the 35mm format. The lens is available in Canon and Nikon mounts. The selling price of the lens is around $599 (Street price around $589). Here is the technical specifications comparison of the four superzoom lenses:

  Canon 18-200 IS Sigma 18-250 OS Tamron 18-250 Tamron 18-20 VC
Focal Length 18-200mm 18-250mm 18-250mm 18-270mm
Macro ratio 0.25x (1:4.0) 0.30x (1:3.4) 0.29x (1:3.5) 0.29x (1:3.5)
Max Aperture f/3.5-5.6 f/3.5-6.3 f/3.5-6.3 f/3.5-6.3
Stabilization Yes Yes No Yes
Autofocus Lens motor (no USM) Lens motor (no USM) Lens motor (no USM) Lens motor (no USM)
Closest Focus 0.45 meters 0.45 meters 0.45 meters 0.49 meters
Dimensions 79 x 102 mm 79 x 101  mm 74 x 84 mm 80 x 101 mm
Weight 600 g 630 g 430 g 560 g
Weather sealing No No No No
Street Price $554 $529 $450 $589
Announced 2008 2009 2006 2008

The built quality of the four lenses are quite similar with polycarbonate shells and solid rubber zoom and focus rings. The Tamron 18-250mm f/3.5-6.3 lens is the most compact of the four lenses, while the other three lenses are clearly bigger and heavier. The Sigma and the Tamron are supplied with a lens hood, while the Canon comes without hood, but you can easily purchase a lens hood for Canon at around $25. The autofocus of the four lenses are about the same with the exception of the Canon which is probably twice as fast. That said, the autofocus speed of the Tamron and Sigma are not deal-breakers as they are sufficiently quick for most of the situations. In terms of AF accuracy, the Canon and Tamron are more reliable than the Sigma, though again, they all performed good enough. In terms of noise, Sigma probably is the loudest of the four lenses. The image stabilization of these lenses allows to compensate about 4 stops of shake (as claimed by the manfacturers). Stabilization is definitely a big plus on the longer range of the focal length. As a result, for Tamron lenses, I would most probably opt for the Tamron 18-270 VC rather than the Tamron 18-250 without VC. Here are the review roundup of the four lenses:

The Canon EF-S 18-200mm F3.5-5.6 IS

"The Canon EF-S 18-200mm F3.5-5.6 IS offers slightly better performance than we're accustomed to seeing with vacation lenses, with image stabilization thrown into a very portable form factor. Users who seek optical perfection shouldn't flock to this lens, but when used stopped down by one or two stops, it'll give fairly impressive results. On its own, it's a decent lens, but users considering replacing a kit 18-55mm IS lens with this model should consider the 55-250mm IS if they're not adverse to switching lenses, and have room for it in their bag. Between the two-lens combination There's as much and more range covered, and the optical performance between the two lenses exceeds that of the 18-200mm IS. But if you absolutely can only bring one lens, then you won't be let down by the 18-200mm F/3.5-5.6 IS."... [Source]

"The Canon EF-S 18-200mm F3.5-5.6 IS is a lens which many Canon users have been waiting for with great anticipation ... Wideangle performance is distinctly mediocre due to a combination of barrel distortion, chromatic aberration, and softness at wide apertures; and while the lens is respectably sharp at longer focal lengths, this is tempered by pincushion distortion around 50mm and chromatic aberration at 200mm. ... it's also important to appreciate the positives. First and foremost is that hugely flexible zoom range ... The superb image stabilizer extends the capability of the lens still further, allowing you to keep the lens stopped down to optimum apertures for longer as light levels drop. So overall, this lens has to be accepted for what it is: a general purpose solution which allows the photographer not to worry about fiddling around changing lenses when out traveling, but which makes inevitable optical compromises to achieve this goal."... [Source]

Sigma 18-250mm F3.6-6.3 DC OS HSM

"The Sigma 18-250mm F3.6-6.3 DC OS HSM lens has a lot to offer and is worth serious consideration. The one primary drawback for the professional is the relatively slow aperture. While not all my wedding work is done with on-camera flash, there are times I do so out of necessity. The extensive zoom range would make this lens attractive to keep on a camera at a wedding as one would not have to keep switching lenses in order to cover the ever-changing situations encountered at a wedding. With its relatively slow aperture, this lens may not be the primary lens for a professional, but it certainly is excellent for scouting, back-up or when you want to travel light. Because of the wide range capability, I would seriously consider taking this lens along."... [Source]

"The testing on the lens shows it to be very capable when used in the wide-angle or mid-range settings, but telephoto performance leaves something to be desired. In all cases stopping down helps to improve the image, and using the lens at 250mm and F/11 only serves to underline the previous point. This is a walkaround lens, but really only if you're walking around outside on a sunny day. With those caveats, it's important to note that most lenses in this category have to struggle with the same limitations, and this lens perhaps comes out better than most. The whole point of the lens is to combine multiple lenses into one, and with the competitive price point, it serves the function admirably, with the side benefit of saving you a little money in the process."... [Source]

Tamron AF 18-250mm f/3.5-6.3 Di II LD Aspherical [IF] MACRO

"The Tamron AF 18-250mm f/3.5-6.3 Di II LD Aspherical [IF] macro does not only offer a longer range but also a higher quality over the old Tamron AF 18-200mm XR and the lab results confirm these impressions. The results may not touch the sky but the new AF 18-250mm delivers a very solid performance for most of the range. Unsurprisingly the weak spot is at 250mm @ f/6.3 - stopping down to f/8 is a good idea here. Nonetheless the resolution characteristic is fairly amazing regarding the extreme zoom range. Typical for such lenses the Tamron exhibits a quite extreme level of barrel distortions at 18mm but at longer focal lengths to the problem isn't overly significant. Vignetting is a problem at 18mm f/3.5 and in critical situations you should generally stop down a bit. Lateral CAs (color shadows at the image borders) are on a medium level except at 250mm where the problem can get more disturbing. As to be expected for a zoom lens in this price league the lens body is mostly made of plastic but the build quality is fairly decent. The AF speed is quite slow on the D200 whereas the AF accuracy is generally fine here. All-in-all the Tamron is a decent all-round/travel zoom lens. Just make sure that you can live with its rather slow max. aperture at the long end which requires quite a bit of light or high ISO settings for stable hand-held photography."... [Source]

"We tend not to expect much from vacation zooms, so were pleasantly surprised by the Tamron 18-250mm f/3.5-6.3 Di II LD Aspherical IF Macro AF. It maintained good center sharpness across its entire focal length range, softness in the corners was average to better than average, and things flattened out nicely when we stopped it down just a bit. Other optical characteristics are in line with the rest of the field, and its build quality was quite good for its price range. All in all, a very nice lens, a great lens to bring, if you're bringing only one!"... [Source]

Tamron AF 18-270mm F/3.5-6.3 Di II VC LD Aspherical (IF) MACRO

"First things first; the AF 18-270mm f/3.5-6.3 Di II VC LD Aspherical (IF) MACRO undoubtedly represents an impressive feat of optical engineering, and Tamron has to be applauded for producing a superzoom that has significantly longer telephoto reach than its direct competitors without further compromising image quality. That's not to say the lens is in any way perfect, indeed it has much the same optical problems as the other superzooms we've tested. At wideangle it shows chromatic aberration and barrel distortion (our test sample also exhibited one distinctly soft corner at wider apertures). In the middle of the zoom range the lens is unexpectedly sharp and shows essentially no chromatic aberration, but suffers from rather high levels of pincushion distortion. And towards the telephoto end, the lens is somewhat soft and shows relatively high levels of chromatic aberration, especially at 270mm (although distortion is low). But overall Tamron has managed to tread a commendably fine line in balancing the various aberrations without letting any of them become too extreme...we were overall quite impressed by the Tamron 18-270mm. Where it's good, it's actually very good indeed, and even where it's weak it's not too far behind the competition. And that remarkable zoom range is a draw in itself; this is a lens which will have you shooting the same subject from the same position at both 18mm and 270mm, just to see how it looks. If you often find yourself shooting things which move then this may not be the ideal choice, but if you're willing to put up with its somewhat sluggish focusing it's a remarkably rewarding lens for the money."... [Source]

"Just like the rest of its (extreme zoom range) lens species the Tamron AF 18-270mm f/3.5-6.3 Di LD Aspherical [IF] VC macro tries to provide it all but the continuously higher degree of generalization rather than specialization has a price - image quality. The lens had a bit of a hard time to deliver a good image quality on a very high resolution DSLR (EOS 50D @ 15mp). The center performance is generally decent but the border quality could/should be better especially at large aperture settings. The long end of the zoom range does also suffer from rather hefty lateral CAs (color shadows) which doesn't really help to lift the quality perception here. The amount of image distortions it quite typical: hefty barrel distortions at 18mm but actually a pretty decent correction at all other settings. The vignetting is, surprisingly, a lesser issue although you may spot some hints at max. aperture settings. The build quality is generally Ok but it's nothing to rave about either. The AF performance is good on a capable body although even the EOS 50D had a few problems in Live-View mode (contrast AF). Tamron's new VC (Vibration Compensation) is very promising and about as good as competing image stabilization systems. All-in-all the lens may be a tad better than Canon's 18-200mm f/3.5-5.6 IS but if you're looking for high image quality rather than convenience you should look elsewhere. "... [Source]

Which Lens to choose?

As a matter of fact, if you're looking for a lens that will give you better image quality, you should probably avoid any of the above superzoom lenses as quality is sacrificed by giving you the conveience of a wide range of focal length. The main purpose and strength of superzoom lenses are to access the 18 to 200mm (or 270mm) range in a single lens saving you the hassle of changing lens when you need a wide range of focal length. I currently own a 24-105mm IS lens from Canon as well as the 70-200mm lens and the 24-105mm lens was staying on my camera more than 90% of time as my walkaround lens. If you are shooting mainly in the 18-55 OR 55-200 range and you don't mind changing lens, you really should look into getting the 18-55mm plus 55-250mm combo for better image quality and price.

To achieve the 18-200mm (or 270mm) range in a single lens, some compromise have to be make in certain setting in the lens. The key is to know the limitation and strength of different setting in your specific lens. For example, the wideangle performance of the Canon 18-200mm lens is distinctly mediocre due to a combination of barrel distortion, chromatic aberration, and softness at wide apertures; and while the lens is respectably sharp at longer focal lengths. You should then use the lens for the best of its settings. Here is the review conclusion from JuzaNature: "If I had to choose between these four superzooms, I'd go for the Canon. At the shorter focal lenght they are all about the same, but the Canon has a clear advantage at the longest FL, in spite of the slightly shorter reach. If you are looking for a super small and versatile lens for your trips or holidays, the Canon 18-200 may be the lens for you, if you can accept the limits of a superzoom (not very bright, chromatic aberration, distortion, not as sharp as more limited zooms). The Sigma and the Tamrons are about on par; the Tamron 18-250 is the best of the three, in terms of optical quality at "normal" distances, while the Tamron 18-270 is the best for macro work (even though all them are way worse than a real macro lens)." Finally, deciding on which lens to use is a personal choice depending on preference and budget . All the reviews can serve as a guide but you will have to make you own decision. Enjoy your photo shooting!

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