The DSLR with its ability to allow the user to change lenses has meant for many that in order to cover a range of situations while on a shoot or on holiday that a number of lenses may need to be carried around. This of course has meant at times that a heavy load of camera equipment needs to be carried and handled. This may be fine if you are not far from home but for many when they travel they want to carry as little as possible with the minimum of fuss.
Nikons 18-200mm f/3.5-5.6G ED DX VR Nikkor is one of the new wave of lenses designed for the APS-C format and covers a focal range that is the equivalent of 27-300mm in the 135 format. Weighing in at around 560g the lens has a nice weight to it and its construction is very sturdy and designed to last. The zoom ring is nicely sized but the focus ring (to the rear) is narrower. No doubt Nikon doesn’t expect the focus ring to be used very much. The lens has a 72mm diameter filter thread and as the lens focuses internally filters will not rotate. A petal style lens hood is supplied.
Image stabilisation has become one of the key features of the modern camera. Although it cannot entirely replace a tripod it does permit low light shooting in environments what might not be practical for a tripod.
Nikon's Vibration Reduction technology works by having a group of lenses that move horizontally or vertically to compensate for the movement detected by a sensor in the lens. The system employed in the 16-85mm lens is an improvement on the original to provide greater image stabilisation with improved response times.
The VR system will automatically detect if the lens is being panned and adjust sensitively so that only movement in the vertical plain is compensated for. The lens may be mainly used in the Normal more for everyday use but when shooting from a moving vehicle or perhaps a rather wobbly boat the Active mode should be employed.
The VR mode can be left enabled apart from when the camera is being stabilised by a tripod.
The 18-200mm VR lens employs the SWM technolgy to provide quiet and reliable autofocusing. An added benefit of SWM is that the lens can be manual focused with need to actively switch the lens or the camera body to manual focusing mode.
The SWM helps to ensure precise focusing whether dealing with static or moving subjects
The 18-200mm VR lens was used on a Nikon D80 body and it was found that the SWM focusing system ensured that auto-focusing was both smooth and quiet. The lens incorporates the updated VR system, VRII which is quoted to allow hand held photos up to 4 stops slower than is usual. In practice it around 3 stops was easily achieved and this could be improved upon depending on how well the camera could be steadied. It was certainly a performance improvement compared to the older Nikkor 24-120mm VR lens. Both the Normal and Active modes worked well but the performance of the two modes were not compared against each other.
Optically the lens is more than capable of achieving decent results. Sharpness is good across the zoom range apart from the extreme telephoto where it is necessary to stop down the aperture. Beyond 150mm things can get a little soft.
Images appeared to be rendered neutral in colour with a respectable level of contrast. Barrel distortion was apparent at 18mm but I did not find it an issue unless I was shooting architecture. At the other end of the focal range, at 200mm, with the aperture wide open at f/5.6 results were on the soft side but stopping down by at least one stops helped improve matters.
The lens aperture value increased with the focal length as follows:
- 18mm (27mm) : f/3.5
- 24mm (36mm) : f/4
- 36mm (54mm) : f/4.5
- 60mm (90mm) : f/5
- 105mm (157.5) : f/5.6
Light Falloff is an issue with this lens. It is very apparent with this lens and is no doubt a design compromise. Closing down the aperture does help but may not be an option depending on the photographic situation. If the captured images are going to be processed with Capture NX or other RAW image processors the vignetting can be compensated for with the appropriate adjustments.
Chromatic aberration was apparent on some images more than others but it was not excessive and can usually be removed or reduced with the appropriate software application. Capture NX will automatically remove CA if the image is in the NEF format. Don’t expect great defocused backgrounds as the lens design was not able to achieve this but at least backgrounds did not render with aggressive looking transitions.
Flare seemed to be under control as no significant problems were noted shooting intp the sun or other bright light sources.
Used on a D80 body, it was found that when the internal flash was used to provide illumination and the lens set at 16mm, the shadow of the lens barrel was just visible at the bottom of the image. Zooming the lens to 22mm and above resolved this issue. If the widest field of view much be used with flashlight then it will be necessary to use one of the available Speedlight flashguns.
The if there was an issue with the lens then it’s not its optical performance but it’s mechanical performance. The lens suffers from lens creep whereby pointing the lens up or downwards with the lens zoomed beyond 24mm results in the lens barrel moving backwards for forwards respectively. It is therefore essential to ensure that the lens zoom ring is held in position while taking photos. Because of this issue I found the lens awkward to use when using a tripod at times.
With a lens of this zoom range, it is difficult to fault the 18-200mm VR lens. This large zoom range will always have optical compromises and this design is an improvement on what had gone before. It is very easy to assume this lens is only good as a general purpose walk around lens but this is a modern lens optimised for the digital camera. As a result it outperforms the 24-120mm VR Nikkor lens in both optical quality and image stabilisation. This is a lens worth considering when you need to travel light and only want to take one lens that can cover a range of subjects. The SWM AF makes focusing quick enough to handle some sports. Image editing applications like Capture NX with their array of features helps to mitigate any shortcomings in the lens.
If higher optical quality is a requirement and the need is still to travel light then the combination of the 16-85mm VR f/3.5-5.6G VR DX and the 70-300mm f/4.5-5.6G VR lenses will be a better option. The 16-85mm VR is a great travel lens in its own right especially if a wider focal length is required and telephoto focal lengths are of no interest. It also brings improved sharpness, contrast and reduced light fallout in a smaller package.EA