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Nikon AF-S DX 18-300mm f/3.5-5.6G ED VR Lens Review

Nikon AF-S DX 18-300mm f/3.5-5.6G ED VR lens  


 

June 2012 (updated February, 2013)
(tested with Nikon D7000)

The Nikon AF-S DX 18-300mm f/3.5-5.6G ED VR was announced earlier this month and made available for sale as of June 28th in the US. This lens has a built in silent wave motor (SWM), which means it will auto focus with all of Nikon's DSLRs, including the entry levels such as the D3200 and D5100. This is a DX (cropped sensor) lens which means it is specifically designed to work with DX cameras, but will also work with some of Nikon's higher end DSLRs in crop mode. The effective field of view is 24-450mm.

The lens is made mostly of plastic. The focus and zoom rings are rubber coated and turn smoothly. The lens mount is metal and includes a rubber gasket. The lens has a super integrated coating to help prevent flare. The lens has a distance meter and a standard Nikon manual focus switch. Autofocus can also be overidden just by turning the focus ring. There is also a VR on/off switch and a VR normal/active switch, as well as a zoom lock which only works when the zoom is in the 18mm postion. The front element doesn't rotate so using filters is no problem. I found the autofocus to be fast and accurate. Although it will suffice for the average soccer mom I would probably use something else for serious sports photography.

Sharpness in the center of the lens at 18mm and f/3.5 is very good. The corners and borders are a bit soft. Stopping down to f/8 the center is excellent and the borders and corners are good until f/11 when diffraction starts to occur. The overall sharpness of the lens remains constant up to about 50mm. By 70mm at f/5.6 the corners and borders are very good and the center is excellent. Sharpness improves a bit a f/8. From about 100mm to 180mm at f/5.6 center sharpeness is very good and the borders and corners are good. At f/8 sharpness improves somewhat. At 200mm the lens starts to soften up at all apertures. By 300mm it is softer still, but still remains good. I wouldn't hesitate to shoot wide open at 300mm, but it would be better to stop it down a little and back the zoom out some. I found the overall sweet spot of the lens to be at 70mm and f/8. In general I was pleased with the performance given the wide zoom range.

There is pronounced barrel distortion at 18mm. By 35mm there is pincushion distortion, but by 100mm the lens flattens out. The pincushion distortion should be easy to correct. But I would try to avoid shooting straight lines at 18mm. There was some vignetting at the wide end of the zoom, but nothing really to worry about. There is some chromatic aberration visible wide open, also at the wide end of the zoom. Stopping down the lens improves it. Overall it's not really an issue. It's easily corrected with post processing or in camera (if available). Flare isn't a problem whatsoever. I found the bokeh to be good, not great. Below is an example.

Nikon AF-S DX 18-300mm f/3.5-5.6G Ed VR bokeh example
Example of Nikon AF-S DX 18-300mm f/3.5-5.6G ED VR lens bokeh at 300mm and f/5.6.

 

I did a comparison of the AF-S DX 18-300mm f/3.5-5.6G ED VR lens with the Nikon 18-200mm DX VR and the Nikon 70-300mm VR lenses. Below you can see the size differences between the three:

Nikon AF-S DX 18-300mm f/3.5-5.6G ED VR

From left to right, the 18-200mm, 18-300mm, 70-300mm.

Below are some examples comparing sharpness between the three lenses. I chose f/8 for the examples but the results were consistent at all apertures. These are 100% crops from the center of the test images (please note that this is just one sample from my lenses and camera. Different camera/lens combinations may have different results):

18mm Comparison:

Nikon AF-S DX 18-300mm f/3.5-5.6G Ed VR example

Nikon AF-S DX 18-300mm f/3.5-5.6G Ed VR example 

70mm Comparison:

Nikon AF-S DX 18-300mm f/3.5-5.6G Ed VR example 

Nikon AF-S DX 18-300mm f/3.5-5.6G Ed VR example

Nikon AF-S DX 18-300mm f/3.5-5.6G Ed VR example

200mm Comparison:

Nikon AF-S DX 18-300mm f/3.5-5.6G Ed VR example

Nikon AF-S DX 18-300mm f/3.5-5.6G Ed VR example

300mm Comparison:

Nikon AF-S DX 18-300mm f/3.5-5.6G Ed VR example

Nikon AF-S DX 18-300mm f/3.5-5.6G Ed VR example

 

Based on my testing I would say the 18-300mm lens is sharper than the 18-200mm lens at 18mm. It also has better contrast and less chromatic aberration. From about 35-50mm the 18-300mm lens was slightly sharper. At 70mm the 18-300mm lens was sharper than the 18-200mm lens, but the 70-300mm lens was clearly the winner in this range. From 100mm to 200mm again the 70-300mm lens was better than the other two, but at 200mm the 18-300mm and 18-200mm lenses were virtually identical. At 300mm the 18-300mm lens may appear to have the edge on the 70-300mm lens in the example above. But when shooting real subjects the 70-300mm lens was again better. So overall I would say the 70-300mm lens was better at all focal lengths. The 18-300mm lens was better than the 18-200mm lens from 18-100mm, but from 100-200mm they were for the most part equal.

Overall the Nikon AF-S DX 18-300mm f/3.5-5.6G ED VR is a nice all around lens. If you are looking for a do it all zoom and are considering the 18-300mm or the 18-200mm I would say the 18-300mm is the easy choice provided you don't mind paying a little more and are comfortable with the larger size and weight. If you are thinking about replacing one or several lenses, ie the 70-300mm VR, I would say don't bother. For me personally the sacrifice of image quality isn't worth the extra range and smaller, lighter advantage of the 18-300mm. If you already have the 18-200mm and would like a little longer zoom range, again you will have to consider the size and weight over the other advantages. The Nikon AF-S DX 18-300mm f/3.5-5.6G ED VR lens currently retails for $999.95.

(Addendum  - I've received a few emails about the sharpness results between the 18-300mm lens and the 70-300mm VR lens. A few readers have pointed out that Nikon's MTF charts show the 18-300mm lens to be slightly sharper in the center at 300mm. I usually don't put too much stock in charts. As I mentioned above, when shooting real world subjects my 70-300mm lens was sharper at every focal length. Maybe my 18-300mm/D7000 combo is a little off, maybe not. But there are three more reasons I prefer the 70-300mm VR lens. It has better bokeh, the autofocus is a bit faster, and it's a faster lens. I know on paper the 70-300mm VR lens has a maximum aperture range of f/4.5-5.6, and the 18-300mm lens has a range of f/3.5-5.6. But when you set your camera at max. aperture with the 70-300mm VR lens you don't reach f/5.6 until about 240mm. With the 18-300mm lens you reach f/5.6 at only 68mm. With the 18-200mm you reach f/5.6 at 130mm).

(Update Sept. 2012 - I decided to sell my 18-200mm lens and go with the 18-300mm when I want to travel light with only one lens in my bag).

(Update Feb. 2013 - I sold the 18-300mm when I made the switch to full frame (FX)).

 



Specifications:

Focal length 18-300mm
Maximum aperture f/3.5
Minimum aperture f/22-32
Lens Construction 19 elements in 14 groups
Angle of view 76o - 5o20'
Closest focusing distance 1.48 ft
Maximum reproduction ratio 0.32x
Number of diaphragm blades 9
Auto focus type AF-S (Silent Wave Motor)
Filter diameter 77 mm
Macro No
Dimensions 3.3 in x 4.7 in (83x120mm)(Diameter x Length)
Weight 29.3 oz (830g)



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