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I've read that superzoom lenses have poor image quality, but how much zoom does a lens need to have before we call it a superzoom lens? 3x is certainly not a superzoom, while 10x probably is.

Wikipedia says "typically more than 5x" but that's marked [citation needed].

So, is there an agreed upon definition as to what the threshold is? The reason I'm asking this question is to know what lenses to avoid when I'm buying one.

  • "I've read that ..." - be sure to distinguish the lenses from the superzoom cameras. Those compactcameras all have small senors which makes it easier to label the whole group as "low quality". – Henk Holterman Mar 25 '15 at 18:33
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Low price, large zoom range, good image quality - pick any two.

Or in other words, a superzoom doesn't necessarily have poor image quality, but then you really have to pay for it. I have a Sigma 50-500 which has pretty good image quality, but then it cost around €1400.

As you can guess from the Wikipedia article, there isn't any clear cut rule for when a zoom lens is considered a "superzoom". It isn't really anything that you find a zoom labeled with either, except perhaps for some cheaper models where the large zoom range is actually the only selling point.

So, don't look at the zoom range only. You won't get a lens that has enough range that you never have use for more anyay, but you can get a lens that easily covers all your needs almost all of the time.

When you are looking to buy a lens, user reviews can be of help. They will give you a rough idea of what image quality you can expect, but more importantly you will find if a lens has any flaw that you would be concerned with.

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There's no binary characteristic which says "this lens is a superzoom lens, it has poor image quality". As the zoom range of a lens increases, it's image quality will decrease all other things being equal (which they never are). If you want the highest image quality, stick with primes. If you're prepared to compromise a bit for convenience, buy low zoom range lenses. If you're prepared to compromise a bit more, buy lenses with large zoom ranges.

The answer is also going to depend on the actual zoom range involved - making something like a 7-21mm lens is going to be a lot trickier than making a 14-42mm lens because of the difficulties in making wide-angle lenses.

TL;DR: buy a lens which meets your needs, not one based on arbitrary labels.

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    This seems right overall, but in many (not low cost) ultrawide zooms have a reputation for meeting or exceeding primes at the same focal length for several measures of image quality. Any thoughts on that? – mattdm Mar 25 '15 at 10:56
  • while this is certainly true, it doesn't really answer the question as stated here. – ths Mar 25 '15 at 15:51
  • @ths I think the first sentence does answer the question: there is no such definition. – Philip Kendall Mar 26 '15 at 1:00

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