Nikon 18-200mm f/3.5-5.6G AF-S DX ED VR II Review: Field Test Report


AF-S DX Nikkor 18-200mm f/3.5-5.6G ED VR II Review

Peter Burian tests Nikon’s latest multipurpose lens with some valuable benefits over the previous model

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One of the best selling Nikon lenses, the original 18-200mm VR model was a very competent performer but it has been replaced with a newer zoom that offers several benefits. The latest incarnation includes the best of its predecessor but gains improved Super Integrated Coating for better flare control, and features to prevent zoom creep. As a bonus, the diaphragm is equipped with more blades allowing for a circular aperture at many f/stops. This aspect allows the lens to render out-of-focus highlights as circular for a more pleasing “bokeh”.

The new Nikkor 18-200mm lens is a fine performer capable of producing excellent image quality. Thanks to its new features, this model is even more desirable than its highly-rated predecessor. (D300; f/22; 20mm; Hoya Pro 1 Digital polarizer)  ©2010 Peter K. Burian

The latest Nikkor 18-200mm lens is a fine performer capable of producing excellent image quality. Thanks to its new features, this model is even more desirable than its highly-rated predecessor. (D300; f/22; 20mm; Hoya Pro 1 Digital polarizer; Webster's Falls, Hamilton, ON) ©2010 Peter K. Burian

While this “all-purpose” zoom may be ideal for families who simply want nice pics, it’s suitable for more serious photographers as well. As the price (about $750 in the US) should suggest, this is a premium-grade 27-300mm equivalent lens. The most expensive in its category, the Nikon model is also one of the largest/heaviest. That’s understandable because of the solid construction, two Extra Low Dispersion (ED) plus three aspherical elements for superior image quality, a remarkably effective image stabilizer plus very fast ultrasonic Silent Wave focus motor.
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An 18-200mm lens provides numerous focal lengths from wide angle to telephoto. While serious photographers also need other lenses, this 27-300mm equivalent zoom is an ideal choice for outings when portability is important. (D200; f/8; Hoya Pro 1 D polarizer. Linear distortion was caused by tilting the lens and not by an optical flaw) ©2010 Peter K. Burian

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Design and Construction

Identical in size/weight to the older AF-S DX VR 18-200mm f/3.5-5.6G IF-ED lens, the new VR II model provides greater friction in the zoom mechanism. This modification ensures that the focal length that you set will not change when the lens is pointed upward or downward. A new switch allows for the zoom mechanism to be locked at the 18mm focal length. This keeps the lens as compact as possible because the barrel cannot protrude when the camera is being carried.

This all-purpose lens, with VR II stabilizer, Silent Wave AF and a zoom lock switch is well equipped with features; in this aspect, it's similar to some of the more expensive Nikkor AF-S lenses.

This all-purpose lens, with VR II stabilizer, Silent Wave AF and a zoom lock switch is well equipped with features; in this aspect, it's similar to some of the more expensive Nikkor AF-S lenses.

The barrel is made of an industrial-grade plastic and feels very rugged. The mount is made of metal and surrounded by a rubber gasket for some protection from dust and moisture. However, this lens is definitely not weatherproof like Nikon’s pro series. It features a 3/8″ wide focus ring and a 3/4″ wide zoom ring. Both are rubberized and ribbed for a good grip and they provide smooth operation. The filter thread is 72mm and even a thick polarizer does not seem to produce any vignetting (darkening at the corners).

In this location, there was strong side lighting and back lighting due to extremely bright sunlight entering through stained glass windows. In spite of this potential problem, my images are all technically very good, with minimal degradation caused by flare. (D200; 18mm; f/8 at 1/4 sec. with the camera/lens braced against a solid object)  ©2010 Peter K. Burian

In this location, there was strong side lighting and back lighting due to extremely bright sunlight entering through stained glass windows. In spite of this potential problem, my images are all technically very good, with minimal degradation caused by flare. (D200; 18mm; f/8 at 1/4 sec. with VR On; Church of Our Lady, Guelph, ON) ©2010 Peter K. Burian

There’s a distance scale under glass, marked in both feet and meters. Thanks to the internal focusing mechanism, the focus ring never rotates in AF operation and the front element remains fixed. Hence, the effect of a polarizing filter – useful for enriching blue skies or removing glare from reflective surfaces – never changes. Extensively-optimized for digital capture, the new lens benefits from multi-layer coatings on numerous internal elements to minimize flare for more snappy contrast. Nikon also provides a lens hood at no extra charge.

As this technical illustration indicates, the 18-200mm VR II lens incorporates five high-tech elements to minimize optical aberrations as well as linear distortion. Extra Low Dispersion glass is indicated in yellow while the aspherical elements are shown in blue.

As this technical illustration indicates, the 18-200mm VR II lens incorporates five high-tech elements to minimize optical aberrations as well as linear distortion. One of the Extra Low Dispersion elements is very large and that does increase the manufacturing cost.

When zoomed to 200mm, the (lightweight) internal barrel extends by 2.7″; that’s typical of 18-200mm lenses. The Nikon lens is not macro designated like some competitors; the minimum focus distance is 20″ adequate for frame filling photos of a large blossom. Maximum magnification is 0.22x at the 200mm focal length. As with many internally focusing lenses, the actual focal length differs in extremely close focusing versus infinity focusing. Focus on a subject very close to the lens, and the focal length is wider at the short end and shorter at the long end than the markings indicate.

While this 18-200mm lens cannot focus extremely close, it's fine for tightly framed shots of some nature subjects, particularly at the 200mm focal length. Particularly at f/11 and at f/16 - apertures often used for adequate depth of field - image quality can be impressive. My technically best close-focus photos (made with a D200) allowed me to make gorgeous 13x19" prints. (D200; Manfrotto tripod; f/16 at 1/60 sec.; ISO 200)  ©2010 Peter K. Burian

While this 18-200mm lens cannot focus extremely close, it's fine for tightly framed shots of some nature subjects, particularly at the 200mm focal length. Especially at f/11 and at f/16 - apertures often used for adequate depth of field - image quality can be impressive. My technically best close-focus photos (made with a D200) allowed me to make gorgeous 13x19" prints. (D200; Manfrotto tripod; f/16 at 1/60 sec.; ISO 200) ©2010 Peter K. Burian

Like all AF-S/Silent Wave lenses, this one provides very fast autofocus. It also includes an M/M-A switch for selecting manual focus or autofocus with manual focus override after AF has been confirmed. There’s also a Vibration Reduction mode switch. In Normal VR, image stabilization is provided on the 2-axis horizontal plane; this is the standard mode and it’s also ideal when panning with a moving subject. Switch to Active VR and 4-axis (in all directions) stabilization is provided. This second mode is particularly useful when shooting from an unstable platform such as a boat bobbing on the waves.

Vibration Reduction Evaluation

Although the original AF-S Nikkor 18-200mm VR lens was not labeled with the VR II designation, it also employed the same image stabilizer technology. Nikon’s specs indicate that this system – in either of the 18-200mm models – allows for hand holding the lens at a shutter speed of up to four steps longer than with a non-VR lens. The shake compensating effect is visible in a DSLR’s viewfinder – or the LCD display in Live View – as a visual indication of its effectiveness.

Thanks to the Vibration Reduction system, I was able to use relatively low ISO levels while shooting indoors without flash. In this case, ISO 400 provided an adequately fast shutter speed (1/10 sec.) to prevent blurring from camera shake. Without the lens' stabilizer, an ISO of 1600 or 3200 would have been required; at such high levels, image quality is degraded due to digital noise. (D200; 42mm focal length)  ©2010 Peter K. Burian

Thanks to the Vibration Reduction system, I was able to use relatively low ISO levels while shooting indoors without flash. In this case, ISO 400 provided an adequately fast shutter speed (1/10 sec.) to prevent blurring from camera shake. Without the lens' stabilizer, an ISO of 1600 or 3200 would have been required; at such high levels, image quality is degraded due to digital noise. (D200; 42mm focal length) ©2010 Peter K. Burian

The VR II stabilizer is a valuable amenity since it allows for shooting at longer shutter speeds, reducing the need for a tripod or for a high ISO level. (Every digital SLR provides superior image quality at lower ISOs.) A stabilizer is certainly useful in low light, but it’s also great when shooting a moving subject – such as waterfalls – at a long shutter speed, for intentional motion blur. The VR II system helps to ensure that the static surroundings are sharply rendered.


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The VR II stabilizer is very useful when a tripod cannot be used. As these examples indicate, it was impossible to get a sharp photo at 1/15 sec. with the lens hand-held at 200mm, but the stabilizer instantly solved that problem. (D200; ISO 400; Church of our Lady, Guelph, ON) ©2010 Peter K. Burian

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During testing, I was usually able to get sharp photos at 200mm (a 300mm equivalent) at 1/25 sec. in a dark cathedral while hand-holding the camera. By comparison, with the VR set to Off, I needed to use a 1/200 sec. shutter speed for a high success ratio. Even at a 1/15 sec. shutter speed, roughly half of my images were adequately sharp for nice 8×12″ glossies. When bracing the camera on a solid object, I got some sharp images (at 200mm) even at a surprisingly long 1/6 sec. shutter speed.

Optical Evaluation

Although the new lens uses the same types of optical elements as its predecessor, it provided slightly higher sharpness in my tests. At every focal length from 18mm to 125mm, it produced high image quality at the maximum apertures; sharpness in the central 70% of the frame was high. Stopping down to f/8 provided an obvious improvement in edge sharpness. As with all lenses of this type, performance at longer focal length was less impressive at f/5.6 but definitely improved by f/8, particularly in the 140mm to 200mm range.

Particularly in the mid-range of focal lengths at f/8, image quality is excellent. This D200 image is suitable for a stunning 13x19" print with high resolution of the most intricate detail. (70mm; f/8; Hoya Pro 1 Digital polarizer)  ©2010 Peter K. Burian

Particularly in the mid-range of focal lengths at f/8, image quality is excellent. This D200 photo is suitable for a 13x19" print with high resolution of intricate detail. (70mm; f/8; Hoya Pro 1 D polarizer) ©2010 Peter K. Burian

In tests made with a Nikon D200, chromatic aberration was visible in images made at very short and very long focal lengths. That was easy to correct by shooting in RAW capture mode and taking advantage of the aberration correction available with some of the converter programs. Note too, that newer Nikon cameras (like the D300 that I also used)  provide automatic chromatic aberration reduction processing to minimize “purple fringing”.

Particularly at 18mm to 70mm there was some distortion of straight lines near the edges of the frame. And at very short and very long focal lengths, some darkening at the corners was obvious. Both aspects are common with multipurpose zooms. Switching to f/8 provided brighter corners. Linear distortion cannot be reduced by stopping down. On the other hand, it’s really problematic only in formal architectural photography; that’s not a typical use for an 18-200mm lens. Note too, that linear distortion can be corrected with certain software programs.


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While some barrel or pincushion distortion is visible in photos of a test pattern or a brick wall, it’s rarely noticeable in most other types of images. More importantly, the lens provides good to very good image quality even at f/4-5.6. While the same photo made at f/8 does provide better resolution, this RAW capture allowed me to make an excellent letter size print. (A: the full photo; B: a small portion of the photo; D200; 82mm; f/5 at 1/320 sec.; ISO 100). ©2010 Peter K. Burian

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Note: The term “linear distortion” refers to the bending of lines near the edges of an image. There is another type of distortion that becomes obvious when a lens is tilted upward, to include an entire building, for example. Called “perspective” distortion, it can make the structure appear to lean backward. This happens because the base of the building is closer to the lens than its top. Whenever we fail to keep the camera back parallel to a subject, the perspective does appear to be skewed. (See the wide angle Oracle photo, for example.) This effect is caused by the shooting technique and not by any optical flaw.

Flare was very well-controlled. Even in bright side lighting the lens hood – plus the multiple internal coatings – worked well to minimize flare, ensuring snappy contrast. I was pleasantly surprised at the image quality in extremely close focusing while taking photos of Gerbera daisies. While the images were soft at wide apertures, stopping down to f/11 – and especially to f/16 – provided high edge-to-edge sharpness. I recommend f/16 for close focus work since this aperture also provides the depth of field necessary for sharp focus in all parts of the subject.

The Bottom Line

A lens with an 11.1x zoom range is certain convenient since it packs the most commonly used focal lengths into a single barrel. Whenever space and convenience are most important, this Nikon multipurpose zoom would be a fine choice especially on a compact DSLR like the D3000. Tucked into a hip pack or slung over a shoulder, the weight/size should not become a burden. And as a bonus, you’ll get less gunk on your camera’s sensor because you won’t be changing lenses.


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The Nikkor 18-200mm VR II lens is great for taking  snapshots during family events but it’s also fine for travel photography thanks to its portability and focal length versatility. (D200) ©2010 Peter K. Burian

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In addition to its wide range of focal lengths, the Nikkor AF-S 18-200mm VR II model provides very fast autofocus, a superior optical formula and a very effective image stabilizer. Serious shooters usually own high-grade, wide aperture lenses with a less ambitious set of focal lengths, such as a 70-200mm f/2.8 and a 17-55mm f/2.8 zoom. On the other hand, an 18-200mm lens is preferable  for use when  hiking, touring a city or on a family vacation.

Because this location was on top of a steep, icy slope, it was a pleasure to be carrying a camera with only a single lens.. More importantly, I was very impressed with the quality of the images produced by the Nikkor 18-200mm VR II lens. For example, this RAW capture is suitable for making a 13x19" - or even larger - print that would be suitable for framing. (D300; 22mm f/11; ISO 200; Hoya Pro 1 Digital polarizer)  ©2009 Peter K. Burian

Because this location was on top of a steep, icy slope, it was a pleasure to be carrying a camera with only a single lens. More importantly, I was very impressed with the quality of the images produced by the Nikkor 18-200mm VR II lens. For example, this RAW capture allowed me to make a 13x19" print that would be suitable for framing. (D300; 22mm f/11; ISO 200; Hoya Pro 1 D polarizer; Webster's Falls, Hamilton, ON) ©2010 Peter K. Burian

When shooting stock images, I often drag a 20 lb. camera bag around but that can be a real pain in the “¦ shoulder. And even when hiking with a single pro lens, the equipment can become an albatross around my neck. That’s why it was such a pleasure to work with this multi-purpose alternative. In the past five years, I have tested many “all-in-one” lenses and the AF-S DX Nikkor 18-200mm f/3.5-5.6G ED VR II model been the best of the group. It’s certainly not inexpensive but this one deserves my Best Value award in the 18-200mm category.

For more information and user reviews check out: Amazon   Nikon 18-200mm f/3.5-5.6G AF-S ED VR II Telephoto Zoom Lens for Nikon DX-Format Digital SLR Cameras, or B&H Photo   Nikon AF-S DX NIKKOR 18-200mm f/3.5-5.6G ED VR II Zoom Lens

Nikon AF-S DX NIKKOR 18-200MM F/3.5-5.6G ED VR II Specifications

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Comments

  1. Lens creep was definitely a problem with the first model of this lens, I’m glad they have sorted that problem out. Otherwise, a great lens for travel photography.

  2. Agreed; I wish I had been traveling across Europe or India when testing this lens. Peter

  3. I got the new 18-200 as soon as it came out and really like it as my general purpose lens, the barrel lock was a welcome addition, how ever I wish it was able to lock down at any focal length. but then a piece of tape will still do the trick.

  4. Hey Peter – love the images, esp. great composition on the ewe. And did you make your wife stand out in the cold, on the ice for that picture?

    – Jack

  5. Thanks, Jack. Yes, I often do take my wife along and ask her to wear a red jacket. So she can walk through a scene and add a hint of color.

    That morning, she was busy so I went on my own to the waterfalls. A couple climbed up; she was wearing red, and I took some photos. (After dozens of photos of the waterfalls, without including people. But everyone seemed to like that photo best, so that’s the one I used.) Peter

  6. Hey I was wondering if this lense is compatible with nikon D40x

  7. How can see those pictures, Peter

  8. I heard that the VR feature of this lens does not work with D50. Is it true? Is there any other problem if I use this lens on the D50?
    Thanks.

  9. is this 18-200mm works with my nikon D80?
    I just bought external flash SB900 and its superb..

  10. This lens works perfectly with the D80.

    I don’t know about VR with the D50. Peter

  11. laurie gallant says:

    I loved your review. I am thinking of purchasing this lens. Do you know if it is compatible with a D-70?

  12. Thanks for your note. Yes, this lens is certainly compatible with the D70 camera.

    Peter

  13. Jim Barr says:

    Dear sir, I do hope this new version of the Nikon
    18-200 lens is a lot better then the previous one that I had, as in my opinion it was probably the worst 18-200
    I’ve ever tried.

  14. Thomas Burns says:

    Does anyone know if Nikon is compensating those who purchased an early version of the 18-200mm because of the lens creep? I use this great lens everywhere, but the creep problem is sometimes more than I can deal with.

  15. I’ve got a first version of this lens and found it convenient but quite soft even at 5.6-8. My lens was checked and tuned by Nikon service (under warranty after AFS motor failed.)

    While I do not have experience with any other superzooms, I am not sure I would purchase it again unless it is optically improved.

  16. I’m new to the Nikon Family:

    I recently purchased the D5000 will this lens be compatible?

  17. Yes, it is an AF-S lens so it is 100% compatible with your D5000.

    Peter

  18. And with D3100?

    Thank you.

  19. Yes, also with the d3100.

    ALL Nikon digital SLRs, except the D700 and the professional cameras.

    Peter

  20. Does D3100 supports AutoFocus on this Lens? Thanks!

  21. mgmoradillla says:

    i have D3000 it advisable to use 18-200 lens?

  22. Sure, this lens is perfect for any of those cameras, D3000, D3100, D5000, etc. etc. etc.

    Autofocus is available with ANY lens designated AF-S.

    That means it includes the ultrasonic Silent Wave Focus motor.

    P.

  23. Hello, Peter i like to know how much distance can i cover with this lens? Thank you ,Sasi

  24. With D3100 can i take pictures of wild life? ex: birds

  25. RevDaws says:

    I am considering buying the Nikon D7000 and want a general purpose zoom. How does this lens (Nikon AF-S DX 18-200mm f3.5-5.6G ED VR II) compare with the Tamron 18-270mm F/3.5-6.3 Di II VC PZD Lens? Thanks.

  26. Also considering the D7000. Looking at buying body only with either the 18-200 or 18-55 and 55-200. I’ll save a lot by going for the two lens option, will I also be getting better quality. The only advantage I can see with the 18-200 is convenience.

  27. Peter K Burian says:

    Get the Nikon 18-200 …. best lens of its type and definitely better than the 55-200,

    P.,

    • Unwanted lens sliding must be the most annoying side effect of all Nikon 18-200mm vr and vr ii lenses. I almost sold my highly regarded 18-200 because of lens creep. I googled stop zoom creep and found a company called LensBand, that makes a cheap and simple solution for unwanted lens shifting. Google their name or the phrase stop zoom creep. For $5 bucks, problem solved and looking good while doing so. Good luck!

  28. RevDaws says:

    Thanks Peter. But pushing you further, how does the Nikon 18-200 compare with the Tamron 18-270mm F/3.5-6.3 Di II VC PZD regarding optics/clarity etc? I’m in Sydney, Australia and the Nikon is considerably more expensive than the Nikon, but if the Nikon is truly better I will consider it. Thanks.

  29. RevDaws says:

    Sorry, meant to say Nikon is more expensive than Tamron.

  30. Santosh Puppala says:

    I have recently Purchased a Nikon D7000 along with the AF-S DX Nikkor 18-200 mm f/3.5-5.6G ED VR Lens, your explanation about the Lens would definitely help me a lot in my photography.

    Regards,
    Santosh Puppala

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