The Best Walkabout Lenses

The Best Walkabout Lenses


A candid moment in time captured by a walkabout lensIf you’re buying your first dSLR 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’. Granted, this may not be the best quality lens around, but at least you won’t have to feel like your brand new dSLR camera is less capable than your old point and shoot.

So what are these magical creations, and which are the best walkabout lenses for your camera system?

Walkabout Lenses: What are they?

If you take a look at the old photography books, you won’t find a section on Walkabout 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 walkabout lens is a relatively new concept to SLR photography. Quickly defined, it is a lens with a very large zoom range, with an emphasis on convenience instead of quality.

Walkabout lenses allow you to zoom in a lot when needed

You suddenly spot a beautiful juxtaposition and you zoom in with your walkabout lens to frame it just right.

Characteristics of a Walkabout Lens

Walkabout lenses usually have a wide focal-length range. They’ll often between 7x and 14x. 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, making them quite light.


  1. One lens fills all (or almost all) needs.
  2. Less bulk in the camera bag.
  3. Could be quite light, making it an all-in-one solution for travellers
  4. No clumsy swapping of lenses to get the right focal length.
  5. Faster and more intuitive framing of photographs.
  6. Less lens swapping means less dust in the camera, and on the sensor.
  7. Less ‘walking about’ to frame your photograph just right. Easier.


  1. Image quality is not the best, and can suffer badly at some focal lengths and apertures, usually the telephoto end of the lens.
  2. Need to settle for f/3.5 or smaller apertures. (not good for low-light use).
  3. Variable aperture means that f/5.6 is often the widest aperture available when zoomed in.
  4. Less thought goes into previsualising your photograph.
  5. Less ‘walking about’ to frame your photograph just right. You discover less.

Do You Really Need a Walkabout Lens?

Typical situation in which you may encounter something that will look good with a wide angle lens. That's when walkabout lenses come into use.

Typical situation in which walkabout lenses are useful – You suddenly need a wide lens to get the shot!

The answer depends on where you are with your photography. If you’ve just upgraded from a bridge camera, or a point & shoot to  a dSLR, 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.

Do remember that while these lenses do offer ‘lower’ quality images at some focal lengths, the term ‘quality’ is relative. For most people, the sharpness and colour that most of these lenses offer will be quite sufficient, and indeed superior to that of a point and shoot camera. At the same time, some more particular photographers would find that these lenses do not stack up to their quality needs, especially in comparison with some of their higher quality prime, and zoom lenses. This is only to be expected, given 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 dSLR photographer can later shift to either prime lenses or zoom lenses with a smaller range of focal lengths 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 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.

Top Walkabout Lenses


  1. Canon EF-S 18-200mm f/3.5-5.6 IS – Buy on Amazon
    | Buy on BH Photo
  2. Canon EF 28-300mm f/3.5-5.6L IS USM – Buy on Amazon
    | Buy on BH Photo


  1. AF-S DX NIKKOR 18-200mm f/3.5-5.6G ED VR II – Buy on Amazon
    | Buy on BH Photo
  2. AF-S NIKKOR 28-300mm f/3.5-5.6G ED VR – Buy on Amazon
    | Buy on BH Photo

Do you use a camera system other than Nikon or Canon? Do let us know which lenses you think fit this category. Follow our lens selection guide for more specific lens options. 
What walkabout lens do you own? Do you like it?
Leave your thoughts in the comments.

Photos: Chaval BrasilmainblancheStuck in Customszaqi