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Nikon AF-S DX VR 18-200mm f3.5-5.6G IF-ED review: Nikon AF-S DX VR 18-200mm f3.5-5.6G IF-ED

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One of the blessings of an SLR can also be a curse: having to choose which lenses to carry, which means finding the right balance between weight and bulk, and having the focal lengths you need. The Nikon AF-S DX VR 18-200mm f3.5-5.6 G IF ED lens offers Nikon shooters a satisfying single-lens solution. Introduced in November 2005, it is compatible with all Nikon DX digital SLRs including the D300, D60, and D40.

7.8

Nikon AF-S DX VR 18-200mm f3.5-5.6G IF-ED

The Good

Compact; broad focal-length range; Vibration Reduction for better handheld photos, especially at telephoto.

The Bad

Suffers from lens creep.

The Bottom Line

Though you pay for the convenience, the Nikon AF-S DX VR 18-200mm f3.5-5.6 G IF ED covers a range that would normally take two lenses, yet remains compact with a solid build.

There is an awful lot to decipher in its name:

AF-S Autofocus
DX Designed and optimized for Nikon's digital SLRs, which use the DX-aspect CCD
G No aperture ring
ED Extra-low dispersion glass for improved contrast and reduced chromatic aberration
VR vibration reduction optical stabilizer to minimize blur from camera shake.

Its extensive zoom range and relatively compact size, along with VR, makes it a great all-around lens capable of handling almost any occasion. It's especially well suited for traveling of any sort, from weekend getaways to a safari. This level of convenience comes at a cost well north of $600.

Design
  The lens measures 4 inches long with a 3-inch diameter and accepts 72mm screw-on filters.
  Solid construction with a quality feel to it, black crinkle finish, metal lens mount and base for added durability.
  Variable maximum aperture from f3.5 to f5.6 and a variable minimum aperture from f22 to f36.
  Magnification factor of 1.5x yields a working focal length of 27mm to 300mm on a Nikon DX body such as the D300, D60, or D40.
  Minimum focusing distance of 19.7 inches throughout the zoom range, with a maximum magnification of 1:4.5.

Features
  Optical Vibration Reduction system for sharper handheld photos at slow shutter speeds, especially in low light and at the telephoto end. The VR compensates in real time for shake and vibration with no degradation to the image. Offers two VR modes, normal (assumes horizontal motion is panning) and Active (assumes horizontal motion is shake).
  Nikon's exclusive M/A (manual/auto) mode provides full-time autofocus with instant manual-focus override by just turning the focus ring. Also has a full-time manual-focus mode.
  Included with the lens are a lens hood (HB-35) and a lens pouch (CL-1018).
  Large easy-to-read zoom markings at 18mm, 24mm, 35mm, 50mm, 70mm, 135mm, and 200mm. Distance scale window that measures in meters and feet, handy when setting the focus manually.

Hands on
The first thing you notice about this lens is its focal length range, covering just about everything you could need. Even with all of the coverage it provides, at 19.8 ounces it's not that heavy and fully extends to about 6.3 inches. It's comfortable to carry for long periods of time, especially since it will frequently be the only lens you have to carry. A large (0.75 inch) ribbed rubber zoom ring located at the front of the lens sits within easy reach. The zoom feels adequately dampened even though it suffers from lens creep; when the lens faces down, gravity causes the zoom ring to rotate unintentionally. Manual focusing was good for an AF zoom lens, with a distance scale to show how far you are focused to. With the M/A mode you can manually focus at any time. The lens focuses internally (the front lens element does not rotate during focus), which is helpful when using a circular polarizer filter.

Performance and image quality
In our lab tests, the lens displayed considerable barrel distortion (where objects appear to curve toward the outside of the image) at its widest, 18mm; although noticeable, that's par for a lens this wide. Beyond that, distortion is evident as well, with noticeable pincushion (inward) distortion at 70mm and 200mm. It delivered good sharpness at the center of the image at all points in the zoom range, with the wider end of the range being the sharpest. It also maintained good corner sharpness down to 35mm, with corner sharpness suffering at 18mm. It may not be as sharp as a 50mm prime lens, but considering its zoom range, it is very good. While zooming, the lens maintains its maximum aperture of f3.5 from 18mm to 30mm, at 30mm it shifts to f4 and turns to f5.6 at about 135mm.

To find a competing lens you have to look at one from a third-party manufacturer like the cheaper but unstabilized Tamron 18-200mm XR Di f3.5-6.3 or the similarly priced Sigma 18-200mm DC OS f3.5-6.3.

If you like the convenience of a single lens that you can carry on your vacation, and shoot the kids' ball games as well as family portraits, this lens is worth a look. Though expensive, it does cover the range of several smaller-range lenses for about the same price as each individually. Although it may not have the optical performance of a high-end professional lens, for its range and price it is an all-around good performer.

7.8

Nikon AF-S DX VR 18-200mm f3.5-5.6G IF-ED

Score Breakdown

Design 9Features 8Performance 7Image quality 7