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I currently have the Canon EOS 550D with the 18-55mm IS kit lens. I am primarily looking for greater telephoto reach, as I have found the 55mm length to be quite limiting at times. So, I was considering the 18-200mm IS lens which would be a good general purpose replacement for the kit lens, versus the 55-250mm IS lens that would give slightly greater telephoto reach while complementing the kit lens.

What are the pros & cons of each like optical quality, effort in changing lenses etc, considering the fact that the 18-200mm lens is almost 3x as expensive as the 55-250mm one?

Note that it's highly unlikely that I'll be printing photographs larger than A4 size.

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I finally went with the 55-250mm lens as suggested by Stan, and got the second gen version that came out this year. –  ab.aditya Sep 22 '11 at 5:57

4 Answers 4

up vote 15 down vote accepted

The 18-200 might be more expensive, but I don't think I've ever seen a lens getting worse reviews. (There are two reviews linked there, and they're two of the friendlier ones.)

The 55-250mm, on the other hand, gets rave optical reviews. The worst thing anyone has to say about it is that, well, is mostly plastic. Really good, solid, well-built plastic, but plastic. And there's some vignetting wide-open that's down to "wont notice it in the real world" levels once you've stopped down one stop. It's sharp, there's only the tiniest amount of barrel distortion at the 55mm end, chromatic aberration is at the sub-pixel level, and once you've taken the aperture off of "full blast" the light distribution is very even.

Given a choice between the two, go for the 55-250mm, no question.

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And that's what I got in the end –  ab.aditya Sep 22 '11 at 5:58
    
I've been happy with my 55-250mm. Sure, I'd like more range, but I've gotten some really nice pictures with it. –  khedron May 25 at 6:00

If you are considering paying for the 18-200, I suggest you take a long hard look at the 70-200 f/4L instead. It is among the cheapest of the pro-level "L" Canon lenses, and is a very, very good piece of glass. The main drawback is the f/4 aperture; against this it is relatively small and light.

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Assuming that this - the-digital-picture.com/Reviews/… - is the lens you recommend (without IS), how much of an impact will the lack of Image Stabilization have versus the lenses in question? From the review, it seems that the general image quality would be far superior to either. –  ab.aditya Feb 22 '11 at 5:22
    
Yes, that is the one. There is an IS version too but it is far more expensive. IS is useful in that it lets you use a slower shutter speed than otherwise. With a 70-200 at the long end, I'd want to keep at least 1/400 second shutter speed without stabilization... at f/4 this obviously puts some limits on the photographer, you need a lot of light or a high ISO. On moving subjects you may want to use a shutter speed this fast anyway, to freeze subject motion, this means that the lack of IS is no loss in this situation. –  Staale S Feb 22 '11 at 12:12
    
(continued, ran out of comment space:) So... while the lack of IS means that some pictures cannot be taken with this lens, the ones that can be are likely to be a better than with the other lenses. –  Staale S Feb 22 '11 at 12:13

Depends on your definition of "upgrade". To me, there are three paths you can take when you're starting out on purchasing your first lenses. But there is a "chicken-and-the-egg" problem, here. To know what lens you want, you have to have experience with a variety of lenses.

Shotgun coverage with "training wheels" lenses

The 18-55/55-250 IS "twin kit" generally will give you better optical quality at a lower price. But you do have the 55mm "breakover" point, and the fact that neither of these lenses would be considered best-in-class. I'd also toss on the EF 50/1.8 II (or EF 40mm f/2.8 STM) as the third basic "training wheels" lens so you get a sense of wide vs. tele, fast vs. slow, IS vs. non-IS, and zoom vs. prime for less cost than one good midgrade lens. This way, you'll get a better idea of why you'd want to move to a different lens and what features you'll want (aside, possibly, from the benefits of USM, since none of these lenses have it).

The downside is that these "training wheels" lenses are likely to be replaced when more funds and experience lead you to wanting different lenses, whether that be shooting full frame, shooting silently, autofocusing more quickly, more reach, better contrast, better low-light performance, etc. And these "training wheel" lenses won't retain a ton of value for resale.

Just Get a Superzoom

An 18-200mm superzoom does have more optical quality compromises--particularly with the wide end of the lens exhibiting wave distortion, but this is par for the course of any superzoom, and for the focal length range it covers, the performance is better than expected. And even if you do upgrade to better lenses in the future, you may still want to keep a superzoom around for that focal length range convenience. When traveling, if you need an all-in-one solution enough to compromise on image quality, this lens may still earn a place in your permanent lineup.

Spend Big Up Front

You can, of course, also skip "training wheels" lenses altogether and jump straight to getting the final "pro" lens of your dreams if you have the money and on-hand expertise to do so. But if you rely on an advisor, be certain they're going to tell you what you need vs. what they like. :) You may also want to find a good rental place so you can try before you buy. Obviously, without the experience to judge for yourself, the downside is that you can spend a lot of money only to find that the lens is not the best fit for you and what/how you want to shoot. But at least most expensive lenses retain value well upon resale.

It's up to you which approach is the one most likely to make you happy.

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My first lenses were 18-55 (kit), 50 f/1.8, and then 55-250. For quality per price, can't be beat. –  khedron May 25 at 6:01

The 18-55/55-250 combo and the 18-200 are of similar quality and will offer great performance. However, neither option is considered an upgrade to the other.

When you find the need for greater reach, would you have the time to change the lenses? If time to swap the lenses is not an issue or if you like to swap lenses then stick with the 18-55/55-250 combo. If you don't have the flexibility or prefer the convenience, then get the 18-200.

Last but not least, the weight difference between the lenses is a key item to consider. The 18-200 is heavier than the 18-55 and the 55-250 so carrying the camera for an extended period of time might lean you one way or another.

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Could you give some references which state that the 18-200 is of "similar quality" to the 18-55/55-250 combo? See user2179's link for some reviews which state the exact opposite. –  Philip Kendall May 27 at 21:03
    
Thanks @PhilipKendall but I did say similar, not equal. Here is a side-by-side comparison on DxOMark –  Ahmed May 28 at 15:02

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