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

Nikon AF-S DX Nikkor 18-300mm f/3.5-5.6G ED VR Lens Review - Gary Wolstenholme reviews the Nikon AF-S DX Nikkor 18-300mm f/3.5-5.6G ED VR lens.

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Category : Interchangeable Lenses
Product : Nikon AF-S DX Nikkor 18-300mm f/3.5-5.6G ED VR
Price : £850
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Handling and features
Performance
Verdict
Specification

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

This super-zoom lens for Nikon DX format DSLRs covers a huge 16.7x zoom range, equivalent to 27-450mm on a 35mm camera. It sports internal focusing, Nikon's second generation Vibration Reduction system and a maximum aperture of f/5.6 at 300mm, which is relatively bright for this kind of lens. All these features come at price though, with the lens retailing for around £850. Is it worth it? We'll take a closer look in this review.

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

Nikon AF-S DX Nikkor 18-300mm f/3.5-5.6G ED VR Handling and features

For a DX format lens, this optic is relatively large having a diameter of 83mm, length of 120mm when retracted and heavy at 830g. This is probably due to the huge zoom range covered and the relatively bright f/5.6 maximum aperture at 300mm. It feels right at home on the Nikon D300 body used for testing, but may be a little large and heavy for smaller, entry level bodies. As is the case with Nikon's other high-end consumer lenses, high quality plastics have been used for much of the lens' construction and a rubber gasket surrounds the metal lens mount, to help prevent the ingress of dust and moisture into the camera body.

Auto focus is powered by a silent wave motor, and autofocus speeds are reasonable, but certainly not amongst the fastest. Manual adjustments can be applied at any time via the narrow focusing ring, which is located close to the camera body. Manual focusing action is smooth and well damped, which makes fine adjustments quite easy to apply. The zoom action is also very smooth and consistent through the range. Just enough resistance has been applied to prevent the zoom creeping forward when it is pointed down and a switch to lock the lens at 18mm is provided, to prevent the lens from extending when it's removed from a case or bag.

Closest focus distance is 45cm, and focusing is performed internally, so the 77mm filter thread does not rotate, which should make this lens ideal for use with graduated filters and polarisers.

Nikon's second generation Vibration Reduction system promises to allow hand held shooting at shutter speeds up to four stops slower than the usual rule of thumb for sharp hand-held photos would allow. The system delivers, but with one small caveat. Time needs to be allowed for the system to settle, around a couple of seconds, or it can actually blur images more. The image in the viewfinder can be seen to shake a little just before it settles down. Even so, with this kept in mind, sharp hand held shots were possible at shutter speeds as low as 1/15sec around half the time, which is roughly five stops slower than would normally be possible.

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

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

At 18mm and f/3.5 sharpness is already excellent in the centre of the frame, and good towards the edges. No real benefit is seen as the lens is stopped down at this focal length, with sharpness in the centre being limited by diffraction.

With the lens zoomed to 105mm, sharpness at maximum aperture is reduced slightly in the centre of the frame, but can still be considered very good. Stopping down to f/8 increases clarity further, just excellent levels of clarity. Sharpness doesn't really improve noticeably towards the edges as the lens is stopped down.

Finally, at 300m, sharpness remains good in the centre of the frame, but falls to fair levels towards the edges. Stopping down improves sharpness towards the edges of the frame slightly, with the clarity reaching fairly good levels by f/11.

Resolution at 18mm
Resolution at 18mm
  Resolution at 105mm
Resolution at 105mm
Resolution at 300mm
Resolution at 300mm
 

How to read our charts

The blue column represents readings from the centre of the picture frame at the various apertures and the green is from the edges. Averaging them out gives the red weighted column.

The scale on the left side is an indication of actual image resolution. The taller the column, the better the lens performance. Simple.

For this review, the lens was tested on a Nikon D300 using Imatest.

Levels of chromatic aberrations are an issue for this lens towards the edges of the frame, throughout the zoom range. Fringing is at its most prevalent at 105mm towards the edges of the frame, where it approaches three pixel widths in size. This level will be clearly visible along high contrast areas towards the edges of the frame.

Chromatic aberration at 18mm
Chromatic aberration at 18mm
  Chromatic aberration at 105mm
Chromatic aberration at 105mm
Chromatic aberration at 300mm
Chromatic aberration at 300mm
 

How to read our charts

Chromatic aberration is the lens' inability to focus on the sensor or film all colours of visible light at the same point. Severe chromatic aberration gives a noticeable fringing or a halo effect around sharp edges within the picture. It can be cured in software.

Apochromatic lenses have special lens elements (aspheric, extra-low dispersion etc) to minimize the problem, hence they usually cost more.

For this review, the lens was tested on a Nikon D300 using Imatest.

Falloff of illumination towards the corners of the frame is reasonably controlled for a lens of this type. At 18mm the corners are 2.19 stops darker than the image centre and at 300mm the corners are 1.4 stops darker. Visually uniform illumination is achieved with the lens stopped down to f/8 or beyond throughout the zoom range.

As is often the case with super zoom lenses, distortion is quite pronounced at both ends of the range. At 18mm 5.39% barrel distortion is present, which is a high level and at 300mm 1.89% pincushion distortion is present, which is less noticeable. Luckily the distortion patter is uniform across the frame, so any curvature should be relatively easy to correct in image editing software afterwards.

A deep, petal-shaped HB-58 hood is supplied with the lens, which does a decent job of shielding the front element from extraneous light that may cause flare or loss of contrast. Shooting into the light does result in quite a noticeable loss of contrast and the lens can be prone to flare in harsh conditions, so it's probably best to leave the hood attached.

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


Value for Money

This 18-300mm lens carries a premium price of £850, possibly due to its unique 18-300mm zoom range. For that you get a lens with a silent autofocus motor that allows full time manual focus override and a relatively bright f/5.6 maximum aperture at 300mm.

Nikon's current 18-200mm lens is similarly specified, except for the maximum telephoto setting being 200mm. It costs around £590 and is much smaller and lighter than the 18-300mm.

The closest offering Sigma produce is their 18-250mm f/3.5-6.3 DC Macro OS HSM lens, which costs around £500. It has a maximum telephoto setting of 250mm and the maximum aperture drops to f/6.3 at this setting. This lens also includes a second generation stabiliser and a silent focusing motor, although manual focus override is only possible by switching the lens to its manual focus setting.

Finally, Tamron's 18-270mm f/3.5-6.3 Di II VC PZD is their closest offering, which costs around £395. There is a 30mm difference at the telephoto setting and the maximum aperture drops to f/6.3 at 270mm. This lens also includes a second generation vibration compensation system and a silent focusing motor, although full time manual focus override isn't possible, just like with the Sigma.

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

Those looking for a convenient all-in-one zoom lens for travel, or simply to cut down on lens changes will love the extreme zoom range this 18-300mm lens offers. However, the large size and weight will mean you're not exactly travelling light. The only place you may save weight is in your wallet, due to the premium £850 price tag.

Performance is good for such an extreme zoom lens, especially in the centre of the frame. As far as sharpness is concerned, this lens delivers sharp enough images for general photography and casual users should be smitten with it. More discerning photographers may find issues with chromatic aberrations and distortion a little too much for them, and may be better sticking with multiple lenses covering shorter zoom ranges.

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

Good sharpness in the centre
Extreme 16.7x zoom range
Effective VR system
Good build

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

CA levels towards edges of the frame are high
Distortion, especially at 18mm
VR system lags for around a second before stabilising image.

FEATURES  
HANDLING  
PERFORMANCE  
VALUE FOR MONEY  
OVERALL  

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

ManufacturerNikon
General
Lens Mounts
  • Nikon AF-S G
Lens
Focal Length18mm - 300mm
Angle of View5░ - 76░
Max Aperturef/3.5 - f/5.6
Min Aperturef/22 - f/32
Filter Size77mm
35mm equivalentNo Data
Internal focusingYes
Focusing
Min Focus45cm
StabilisedYes
Construction
Blades9
Elements19
Groups14
Box Contents
Box Contentslens case CL-1120 and hood HB-58
Dimensions
Weight830g
Height120mm

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