As photographers, we train ourselves to be as pragmatic as possible when it comes to lens choice and acquisition. This is a good thing in part, but we also secretly long to own an all-encompassing lens that covers every focal length and contains every feature imaginable. Lenses like the Canon EF-S 18-200mm f/3.5-5.6 IS go a long way to solve this problem. However, no lens maker is going to make the everlasting candle, and cramming the equivalent of a dozen high-quality primes into one lens is an almost impossible task.
Weight and convenience in a zoom lens are also important factors, especially for the likes of travel photography. So, for those who still want an all-in-one zoom lens and don’t want to be carting around half a dozen imaging devices like Dennis Hopper in Apocalypse Now, read on.
The Canon EF-S 18-200mm f/3.5-5.6 IS has been designed specifically for the APS-C-format, providing an equivalent 28.8-320mm viewpoint. This range acts as very good coverage for anything from wide-angle to super-telephoto shots. The lens also weighs in at a respectable 595g, which shouldn’t be too much of a burden when shooting all day long.
The largely-plastic lens barrel has a simple layout, featuring a very wide zoom ring. The zoom ring is easy to turn, which is great for quick focal length changes but can also mean zoom creep when the lens is tilted at extreme angles. At least there is an included lens lock switch which keeps the lens barrel at 18mm. The lens barrel is also surrounded by a regular AF/MF switch and one for switching on and off the stabilization system.
The stabilization system itself offers up to 4 stops of compensation, which is especially needed at the longer focal lengths. The Canon EF-S 18-200mm f/3.5-5.6 IS also includes a DC Micro autofocus motor and, although it doesn’t have manual focus override, the lens can be quickly swapped into manual focusing mode with the accompanying switch.
Optically, the lens comprises of 16 elements arranged in 12 groups, which also includes a pair of ultra-low dispersion and aspherical elements. All the optical elements have been treated to a super Spectra coating to increase image clarity to reduce lens flare and ghosting.
Other pertinent specifications include a variable maximum aperture of f/3.5 to f/5.6, a reasonable close focusing distance of 45cm, and a front filter size of 72mm. The front filter thread doesn’t rotate when focusing, which means a variety of filters can be attached.
It’s generally the case that with a wide-ranging zoom lens there will be some optical compromises along the way. The Canon EF-S 18-200mm f/3.5-5.6 IS performs better than expected, displaying a reasonable amount of sharpness throughout the focal range.
When the lens is set to its widest focal length of 18mm, the center of the frame has good sharpness levels with the aperture wide open but displays the best resolution between f/5.6-f/8. In the middle of the focal range at 80mm, the best overall sharpness comes in at f/8-f/11. Sharpness levels at 200mm are a touch behind, looking their best at f/8. For a variable aperture zoom lens with this much range, these levels of sharpness are acceptable.
Chromatic aberration can be easily seen in high-contrast areas when the lens is set to 18mm. This effect increases up to the 200mm focal length, showing the least amount of CA in the middle of the focal range. Luckily, most of the CA can be removed in a good photo editor, but it also means you have to be acutely aware of shooting subjects against very bright backgrounds.
The light falloff in the corners of the frame is mostly well-controlled, with the least amount being displayed at 18mm. Vignetting increases to 1.7 stops at 200mm, with the aperture needing to be stopped down to f/11 to reduce the effect to its most minimum levels. Lens distortion is also visible in the form of barrel distortion at 18mm and pin-cushioning at 200mm. This effect is generally uniform across the focal range and can be easily corrected with a good lens profile.
As for lens flare, the lens isn’t supplied with a hood of any type, although it’s relatively good at keeping out stray rays of light, especially at the shorter focal lengths. At 200mm, excessive light entering the frame can result in a loss of contrast. But generally, the lens is very good at displaying a good degree of color and contrast, even in very sunny conditions.
What’s the Third-Party Alternative?
If you want to go down the third-party lens route, Tamron has a good quality lens in the form of the 18-200mm f/3.5-6.3 Di II VC. The Tamron covers the same focal range and features a very usable image stabilization system, lens lock switch, and moisture-resistant lens barrel. The aperture on the Canon EF-S 18-200mm f/3.5-5.6 IS is slightly faster and the optical quality and resolution are slightly better.
Although the specifications of each lens are largely the same, the Canon is the better-quality option, which makes sense, as it also costs almost three times the price. However, if you’re looking for a Canon telephoto lens on a tight budget and want a good walkaround zoom lens, the Tamron zoom provides a lot of features in one unit.
|Canon EF-S 18-200mm f/3.5-5.6 IS||Tamron 18-200mm f/3.5-6.3 Di II VC|
|Min. focusing Distance||45cm||49cm|
The Canon EF-S 18-200mm f/3.5-5.6 IS Offers a Fair Price for Respectable Features
Considering the large focal range of this Canon zoom lens, it performs a respectable job of providing good image definition and sharpness. The stabilization system is a great help at longer focal lengths and in low-light conditions. Plus, the lens is light enough to be carried around all day long and would make a great travel companion.
In essence, the Canon strikes a good compromise between cost and features for those times when you want to travel with as little baggage as possible. This lens may not replace a whole bunch of individual Canon prime lenses on its own, but considering what you get for the price, the Canon EF-S 18-200mm f/3.5-5.6 IS performs a respectable job in a good-quality, self-contained package.