A friend asked me the other day:
Mike – I don’t understand how to compare the zoom power of my Nikon P100 26x zoom to the Canon 28-300mm zoom with my Canon 5d MkII.
Good question. But I think it is the wrong question. Or at least, the way the question is asked shows me that it might be based on the wrong premise.
The term “zoom power” seems to indicate that the ability to chance focal length settings through a wide range is a good thing. Like, a 10-500mm lens would be a good thing. Some even call this “ultra zoom technology” – you know, as in: just add the word “technology” to a term and it somehow gains in value. But only to the ignorant: when someone says “technology” like that, I just hear “marketing”.
Here’s why I think a wide zoom range (i.e. a wide ability to change from one focal length to another) is not necessarily a great thing.
First, it is a compromise. The wider the adjustment range, the more this lens will be a compromise at all lengths. A wide zoom range lens will neither be a great wide, nor a great standard, nor a great telephoto lens. Its aperture will be small, and it will vary. It will show pincushion and barrel distortion at both ends. It will not be sharp. The more a lens is like a prime lens, on the other hand, the clearer, faster, and sharper it will be.
The other reason is that of discipline. With a lens that can go from very wide to very long. you will never have a reason to be consistent in your images. Your pictures will not take on any particular look and feel: rather, each image will be different. Neither fish nor fowl, you might say.
The reason we have these super zoom compacts is for convenience, of course. But a lot of the time, this is wishful thinking kind of convenience. I hear it often: “yes, but I don’t want to own multiple lenses to get from 10mm to 500mm”. Sure, like I don’t want to die or pay taxes. Both are, alas, inevitable.
So only you can decide whether you want a wide range zoom camera or lens. To me, the wider the zoom range, the more everything will be a compromise, and the worse my pictures will be. But you may have different thoughts if size and convenience are more important to you than quality.
My lenses are a 16-35 (“2.2x zoom”), the 100mm, 50mm and 35mm primes (“0x zoom”), a 70-200 (“2.9x zoom”), and a 24-70 (“2.9x zoom”), and they are among the best on the planet. In fact my entire range of lenses from 16 to 200mm is equivalent to one 12.5x zoom, in those terms. This shows you how little those terms really mean.
But since you ask: a 28-300 mm zoom would be a “10.7x zoom” in marketing-speak. So the compact 26x zoom has a much wider range. 2.43 times wider, in fact!