Review: Nikkor DX AF-S VR 18-200/3.5-5.6G ED-IF

The idea of a one-lens-fits-all is extremely alluring, and I can say that when I heard Nikon was coming out with this lens I was lined up in queue to get it. I ordered it in May 2006 and received it in August. The lens must have been one of Nikons best selling of all times since it was impossible to find in stores for several months due to unanticipated demands.

The full lens designation: Nikkor AF-S DX VR 18-200 f/3.5-5.6G ED-IF

This is what it means:

Autofocus with the new silent focus motor built-in to the lens. Means it works well with the D40 and other Nikon cameras without focusing motor in the camera house.
This lens is not suited for digital cameras with FX sensor or analogue cameras using 135 format film.
This lens has the Nikkor VR II vibration reduction system meaning that you can use the lens with much longer exposure times handheld that you would ordinarily be able to. I have shot frames that was perfectly steady in 2 seconds of exposure with this function turned on!
There is no aperture control ring on the lens, the aperture is controlled electrically from the camera body.
Low-dispersion glass, Nikons better glass in this lens.
Internal focus. The lens do not extend when focusing which is usually very nice, it does not move when yo try to hold i steady and focus as some lenses do.

The price was right, it was around $1000 here in Sweden, about €650 or so. When I got it I was very impressed with the VR (anti-shake or vibration reduction system that Nikon use in their Nikkor lenses). I have shot 2 second long exposures with a minimum of blur due to shaking. It allows me to go 2-3 EV lower on the shutter speed than normal which is definitely something that is great.

An example, shooting at 200mm focal length, I would like a shutter speed to be about 1/250-1/320 in order to feel safe that I will be able to hold the camera and lens steady by hand. With the VR function activated I may now go as slow as 1/60 and still produce decent pictures! Or by contrast, at 18mm I can shoot hand held at around 1/30 without problems, sometimes even lower down to 1/10s. With VR activated I can go much lower than that, about 1/2s to 1s and still produce great shots.

However it does not of course help if there are moving objects in the picture. Cars, people and other things that are not stationary will still be blurry no matter how much anti-shake you activate on the lens. So the use although impressive at first can be limited for street photography and nightclub activity which is not really the strength for this lens.

The other downside of the lens is the sharpness. Really, it is not very sharp compared to other lenses I have tested including the 18-70mm kit lens which I experienced as definitely sharper at 70mm and about the same at 18mm. Hard to judge at such a wide angle really. Test available on the net confirms this and also that the lens has a sweet spot between f/8 to f/11 for most of its register. Try to keep the aperture around f/8 and it should give you decent pictures.

However, if I can bring only one lens this is one of the most versatile tools there is. Combine this lens with a circular polarizing filter and you have a great sunny day walkabout lens that can do everything from landscapes at a rather good wide angle (18mm on a DX body is great) and up to a decent telephoto as well, 200mm is not bad at all. The range it covers is staggering and it is not called a super-zoom for no reason the zoom factor of 200/18 being 11,11!

The colors are a little bleak at 200 mm compared to more expensive glass-ware, but it is acceptable and chromatic aberration is generally not too bad either. Distortion is not much of a problem either, visible at 18mm but that is to be expected.

Positive sides

  • Probably the most versatile lens you will ever have
  • Great at wide angles
  • VR function allows you to take those shots you did not think possible
  • Lightweight
  • Balances well with the camera body
  • Price is really good, now you can also find used ones even cheaper.
  • Fast and accurate focus

Negative sides

  • Sharpness is not so good and it is definitely noticeable compared to more expensive glass.
  • A little weak at 200 mm
  • VR is great for still pictures but not for moving objects, then you wish it was a f/2.8 lens instead
  • Dof is a little difficult to control because of largest aperture = f/3,5

All in all I would recommend the lens, especially if you find yourself in the situation having to discard either your wide angle or tele-photo lens when you go in the field and can only bring a limited number of items. This lense will serve you pretty well as both, but it is definitely a compromise and if you are happy with that then this is the lens for you!