If you’re buying your first serious camera, you are probably considering the purchase of a single lens that allows you to do ‘everything’ as you take a walk, a ‘walkabout lens’. Let me help you understand what your first multi-purpose lens should be able to do for you.
A walkaround lens needn’t have the best quality output. It does have to be sturdy, and versatile. Most people buy their new interchangeable-lens camera with the kit lens, or a 50mm prime lens. Those aren’t bad options, for the most part… But if you’re moving on from a point and shoot, it could leave you feeling like your brand-spanking new mirrorless camera is less capable than the easily-pocketed point and shoot that you used to use. And with good reason.
Walkabout Lenses: What are they?
If you take a look at the old photography books, you won’t find a section on Walkabout/Walkaround Lenses. Instead, you’ll find lenses classified under Wide Angle, Telephoto, Zoom, and Special Purpose (Lenses like fish-eye lens, tilt-shift lenses, and catadioptric lenses). The walkaround lens is a relatively new concept to photography. Quickly defined, a walkaround lens is a lens with a very large zoom range, with an emphasis on convenience instead of quality.
Walk around lenses are great all-purpose lenses that allow photogprahers to focus on learning about composition and focal lengths. Since it’s essentially three zoom lenses built into one, they are able to learn different types of photography with a single, simple, cheap lens.
No matter whether your camera is a mirrorless interchangeable lens camera, a full-frame DSLR, or APS-C DSLR, there is a walkabout lens that will suit your needs.
Characteristics of a Walkaround Lens
Walkabout lenses usually have a wide focal-length range. They’ll often have between 7x and 14x zoom. So, instead of carrying about 4-5 prime and zoom lenses, you have just one versatile lens mounted on your camera no matter what the subject.
Modern optics allow for pretty decent image quality through the entire range of focal lengths.
On an APS-C sensor or crop-frame sensor the lenses start around 18mm and end around 135mm – 250mm. On a full-frame sensor, this corresponds to something like 28mm and 200mm-300mm. So expect to see focal lengths that look like 18-135mm or 28-300mm.
Some of these lenses could be made of plastic materials. This makes them quite light and easy to carry. On the other hand, this is what makes the lens easy cheap to produce; but less durable than metal bodied lenses.
One hindrance of these lenses is that they have a variable aperture. This means that the largest aperture varies – typically from f/3.5 to f/5.6. When the lens zoomed out at the widest aperture, it will be at f/3.5. But when the photographer Zooms in, the aperture would change to f/4 and even f/5.6 automatically as it reaches its telephoto end. This is expected, but something that professional photographers pay a lot of money to avoid in their zoom lenses. It’s ok, for most of us though.
Pros and Cons of using a Walk Around Lens:
|1.||Wide Focal Length Range allows for fewer lenses to be carried||Wide focal length that isn’t necessarily optimised for maximum sharpness.|
|2.||Relatively cheap for the range of focal lengths offered.||Some may have just average build quality with plastic bodies.|
|3.||Allows the user to understand the effects that focal length and aperture combinations have on an image.||Usually limited range of wide apertures.|
|4.||A quick twist allows for significant reframing of the image. More intuitive reframing, with less need to ‘previsualise’ an image. This is particularly useful for beginners who don’t really understand lenses all that well.||There is the possibility of becoming sloppy by not trying to find the absolute best vantage point. Small changes can make a big difference. This may be better learned by using shorter zoom lenses.|
|5.||Less walking around needed. (No need to ‘zoom in with your feet’)||Less walking around needed. You may not discover something absolutely amazing that’s just 10 feet away.|
|6.||Less lens swapping. Good for dusty environments that also need a range of focal lengths.|
Should Your First Lens be a Walkaround Lens?
I would say yes! A resounding yes for the amateur who is yet to discover their niche. But the ultimate answer is probably a little more nuanced: it depends. It depends on what you will be photographing. This is always the correct answer to the question: should I buy this lens? It depends…
The second, quick answer depends on where you are with your photography. If you’ve just upgraded from a bridge camera, or a point & shoot to a mirrorless or dSLR Interchangeable Lens camera, you may find the transition less restrictive if you get yourself a ‘walkabout’ lens.
The wide range of focal lengths of a walkabout lens will help you understand composition and the range of possibilities that your new camera can offer you.
For example, with just a twist of the zoom ring, you can either take a wide angle photograph of the African Savannah as you roll across it in a dusty jeep, or you could zoom in to take close-up photographs of a pride of lions as they relax in the shade of a rock cluster.
While I may have mentioned that these lenses offer ‘lower’ quality images at some focal lengths, the term ‘quality’ is relative. In my experience, the sharpness and colour that most of these lenses offer is rather good, and in some cases surprising. Of course, you’ll find the combination to be quite a bit better than a point-and-shoot camera.
What if the Quality of Photographs isn’t to Your Liking?
Some more particular photographers would find that these lenses do not stack up to their quality needs. That is, especially in comparison with some of their higher quality prime, and zoom lenses. This is only to be expected. Remember that the lenses are not really optimized for any one given focal length, but are tuned to perform decently across a range of focal lengths.
A novice photographer can later shift to either prime lenses or zoom lenses with a smaller range of focal lengths, but that are more focused on quality and wide apertures. The need for these changes will become apparent as they become more skilled, demanding and discerning in their photography.
What Kinds of Photography are They Good For?
The beauty of the walkabout lens is that it’s good for almost any kind of photography – with a few exceptions, of course. You can easily use them for Landscape Photography and Cityscape Photographs, Candid Street Photographs, Portraits, maybe even Macro Photography… The point of having this lens on your camera is to give you the widest range of opportunities when your camera is with you.
Suggested Walkaround Lenses
So where do you start with your walkabout lens selection?
For Full-Frame Cameras, you would want to look for lenses that have a focal length range like 28mm to 300mm. Here are some excellent samples.
- Canon RF 24-240mm f/4-6.3 IS USM – Amazon | Adorama
- Canon EF 28-300mm f/3.5-5.6L IS USM Lens (discontinued, but still available) – Amazon | Adorama
- Nikon 28-300mm f/3.5-5.6G ED-IF AF-S NIKKOR VR Vibration Reduction Lens – Amazon | Adorama
- Tamron 28-200mm f/2.8-5.6 Di III RXD Lens for Sony E-Mount – Amazon | Adorama
For APS-C / Cropped-Frame Cameras, lenses are likely to have a focal lengths in the range of 18mm to 200mm. This would correspond to a 27mm or 28mm wide, and 300mm on the telephoto side of this lens when compared to a full-frame sensor.
- Canon EF-S 18-200mm f/3.5-5.6 IS Lens – Amazon | Adorama
- Canon EF-S 18-135mm f/3.5-5.6 IS USM Lens – Amazon | Adorama
- Nikon 18-300mm f/3.5-6.3G ED IF AF-S DX NIKKOR VR Lens – Amazon | Adorama
- Sony E 18-135mm f/3.5-5.6 OSS E-Mount Lens – Amazon | Adorama
- Tamron 18-200mm f/3.5-6.3 Di III VC Lens for Sony E Mount – Amazon | Adorama
Look at the images produced by these lenses, and you can choose one of the many availablef or Nikon, Canon, or Sony cameras. You should be able to find some sample images at dpreview.com or Ken Rockwell’s website.
If you’re looking for a lens that you will be using for a very specific purpose, you can check out our lens selection guide for more specific lens choices.
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Published: July 24, 2011 | Last Updated: July 20, 2021