Hi Everybody! After VR died on my 55-200VR, I’d been thinking on what to do next, I finally decided for convenience and comfort and went for the new 18-200VRII.
Now a lot has been said about the previous version of this lens and, certainly, Nikon hasn’t reinvented the concept with the release of this “mark II” edition. Some interesting tweaks have been made however, based on feedback from the legions of users of the previous version.
On the outside, both versions are virtually identical, you can tell one from the other because the new version has the VR engraving a bit smaller and with gold characters instead of red, and also –and this is the first interesting tweak- because the new version has a lock button to fix the zoom at the 18mm to avoid creeping while transporting it. Now you can walk around with this lens without worrying about the barrel extending by itself!
So this leads to one the first question you guys may be asking yourselves: Is this “little” one still a creeper? Short answer: Yes, I’m afraid so. Long answer: Yes it is, but I don’t think it’s a problem unless you really need to be taking photos positioning your camera completely vertical, either facing up or down all the time -I must say though, if you do, then you definitively better look elsewhere-. My lens is brand new so I don’t know how this is going to evolve in time but, at present, creeping happens only when I place the lens in vertical position between 24 and 135mm, from 18 to 24 and from 135 to 200 creeping is kept at bay. Also, between 24 and 135mm creeping stays at bay up to angles shy of 80º, so it’s only a problem when you really need to place the lens almost entirely vertical. To be frank, I wasn’t expecting miracles here, this lens has a lot of rather heavy glass inside.
Now lets go for some sample photos. Supposedly, the other tweaks on this new edition include better sharpness and improved coatings. Again, I have no way of comparing to the older version of this lens, but judge by yourselves. All shots were taken at A mode with camera’s default settings (D40) using the central focusing point, what you see are converted RAWs with no PP whatsoever. All indoor and outdoor shots were taken a few moments from each other using a tripod (VR off).
Let’s start with the greatest feature of this lens, which is, of course, its amazing zoom range that allows you to go, with a simple 100 degree turn of the zoom ring, from here (18mm F3.5):
To here! (200mm F5.6):
Even as Gordon has commented on his reviews, this is all many people will need to know, simply amazing! The best part though, is that in spite of the obvious compromises of having such range, this lens seems to be a very decent performer. But just how good is it? Let’s see.
Worst results came at 18mm F3.5, and, as you can see, it’s certainly noticeable but not so bad. Besides, it’s easy enough to correct in PP if needed. It improves greatly from 24mm onwards and becomes all but unnoticeable the moment you stop down a little bit.
Sharpness and distortion (Wide angle: 18 & 24mm)
Very good results in sharpness at both focal length here, with great center sharpness and only marginally worse on the corners.
Distortion is another matter, barrel distortion is pretty evident at 18mm, indeed, it gets to be quite pronounced as you get away from the center of the frame (Yes, that wooden beam on the top is supposed to be straight!
). In many situations distortions will be all but unnoticeable, but caution is advised when shooting at 18mm with this lens. To be fair though, many other zoom lenses, including premium ones or with quite shorter zoom ranges, behave only marginally better at this department. At 24mm things improve greatly and distortion is no longer an issue unless in extreme cases.
Sharpness and distortion (normal: 35mm)
Excellent results at normal focal length (50mm equiv.), I’ve read about this lens (at least its previous edition) poor performance in the corners at 35mm wide open, but see for yourselves, I hardly see any difference from the center.
There’s slight pincushion distortion.
Sharpness and distortion (portrait: 50 & 70mm)
The same applies for 50 and 70mm, great center sharpness with hardly worse corners and some pincushion distortion.
Sharpness (telephoto: 135mm and 200mm)
For what I’ve seen, performance from 135 to 200mm seems almost identical, so I’ll show only results of my shots at 200mm (wide open at F5.6 and at F8).
Shots show a nice center sweet spot with a slight edge in sharpness with the lens stopped down to F8. It doesn’t seem as sharp as the shots at shorter focal lengths, but still you can see a lot of detail on that rocky structure of the tower.
The extreme corner crops look noticeably duller than those from the center, again with a slight edge for the one shot at F8. Still, it’s not an abysmal result IMHO, even wide open it looks acceptable unless you’re a pixel peeper or really need the corners to be as sharp as the center of the frame for whatever reason.
The weak spot of the previous version of this lens was its telephoto performance, and it seems this is still true for the new one, albeit with some improvements. I have no lab results to confirm this and different copies of the same lens can deliver slightly different results, but for what I’ve seen in tests of the previous edition, center sharpness in the new one seems slightly improved with a larger sweet spot. The corners still suffer but, again, it seems to perform a bit better and delivers acceptable results for most people (at least for those in the market for a lens such as this, for those who want perfect corners at 200mmm there’s the new 70-200VRII waiting for them
Since all telephoto shots were taken outdoors with no evident place to detect distortion, I’ve added no comments about it, if you’re interested in distortion results for telephoto focal lengths, let me know and I’ll come up with something.
But that's enough writing for now, this is the example shot at F5.6:
And the same one at F8:
Well, that’s about it for today, in the next few weeks I’ll try to update this with some examples of bokeh and VRII in action.
Let me know what you guys think, Cheers!
(June 13th, 2010):
Hello again, back to make a quit update on my review.
VRII sample shots
Here are some samples of VRII in action. Of course, one can expect identical results from any lens equiped with this stabilization technology, which has already recieved very high praise just about from everybody who's ever used it, so there's little that I can add to all that except my own experience. Here are some shots from a recent visit to The Alhambra at Granada, Spain. As you will see, these are not telephoto shots, but shots were all taken inside the Nasrid Palaces, a compound of dimly iluminated monuments whose walls and archways have an astonishing level of detail, so nothing short of extemely sharp shots will suffice there. I think these pictures are a good example of how VR can also be very helpful at shorter focal lengths, or for those who still doubt it, of how much of a good idea it's to get an stabilized lens even if it's not a superzoom or a telephoto lens.
F/3.5 - 1/5s - 18mm:
F/4.2 - 1/4s - 52mm:
F/3.5 - 1/15s - 18mm. In this one the shutter was quicker than in the former ones, but as you can see, it's a shot of a ceiling, so I took it from a rather uncorfortable position in which it's not easy to keep the body steady, I don't think I could have achieved this shot without VR: