These lenses give you so much bang for the buck, they're practically
One-Eyed Jack of All Trades: Tamron 18-250mm F/3.5-6.3 Di II AF LD Aspherical
Who? Light-packers who hate switching lenses. What? Tamron 18-250mm F/3.5-6.3 Di II AF LD Aspherical. Why? Why not? If you can get an equivalent of 29-375mm from a single lens, what's not to like? Particularly since in Pop Photo Lab tests it posted Excellent SQF numbers at all four tested focal lengths -- remarkable for a zoom of this range (almost 14X). While it shows Visible barrel distortion at widest angle (not uncommon), distortion is very well controlled at other focal lengths. No clunker, this lens is less than 4 inches long at its most compact and weighs slightly under a pound. Now!$500, street, in mounts for Canon, Nikon, Pentax/Samsung, and Sony.
Working Glass Hero: Nikon 55-200mm f/4.5-5.6G ED-IF AF-S VR DX Zoom-Nikkor
Who? Members of the Nikon DSLR family seeking stability. What? Nikon 55-200mm f/4.5-5.6G ED-IF AF-S VR DX Zoom-Nikkor. Why? We initially thought the price on this lens was a misprint. Just $250 for an 80-300mm equivalent lens, with built-in image stabilization, from Nikon? Okay, we said, maybe it's a dog. But no bow-wow this: In Pop Photo Lab tests, it showed Excellent SQF at all tested focal lengths, no more than slight distortion through the focal-length range, and fast and quiet AF. Yes, maximum apertures of f/4.5-5.6 hardly make this a superspeed optic, but the Vibration Reduction tested out to an average gain in handholding of about 3 stops. The moderate size and weight of this lens have made it a favorite among the Pop Photo editors. Now!$250, street.
Closer Encounter: Sigma 50mm f/2.8 Macro EX DG
Who? Avid travelers of the tiny world. What? Sigma 50mm f/2.8 Macro EX DG. Why? If you really want to take great close-ups, nothing beats a dedicated macro lens. Not only are they optimized for close focusing, they do it without extra paraphernalia. The Sigma Macro EX DG, designed for digital SLRs, focuses down to 1:1 (life-size). With an equivalent focal length of 75mm, 80mm, or 85mm, depending on your camera model, the lens also puts extra working room between you and your subject (which may be a skittery little creature). It's based on the older full-frame Macro EX (which proved exceptionally sharp in Pop Photo Lab tests), but has special lens coatings to suppress ghosting from digital sensors. Now!$270, street, in mounts for Canon, Nikon, Pentax, and Sony DSLRs.
Crossover Closeout: Tokina 19-35mm f/3.5-4.5 AF
Who? Select shooters seeking a full-frame ultrawide. What? Tokina 19-35mm f/3.5-4.5 AF. Why? This full-frame ultrawide proved quite sharp in Pop Photo Lab and field tests, and kept flare and light falloff well under control. So why has it been discontinued? It may be a victim of its own goodness: With so many SLR shooters switching over to smaller-than-full-frame digital models, 19-35mm may not sound like such a big deal -- although we should point out that even with a 1.5X lens factor, it works out to a respectably wide 28-52mm. And remember that you're shooting through the central sweet spot of the lens with such DSLRs, so your shots will be even sharper. And if you have both film and digital bodies in the available mounts, it's a super deal. Now!$130, street. We found some at retailers in Pentax/Samsung and Sony mounts.