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PostPosted: Mon Jun 18, 2007 11:20 am 
When I upgraded from my Kodak 12x superzoom to the Nikon D40, I new I could not resist getting a stabilized lens with a similar reach. As I was only looking at consumer grade lenses, the newly announced Nikkor 70-300 VR was at the top of my list. Then I got to try one in a store and I thought it was a bit to large and too heavy for the D40. I was still considering it when the first reviews hit the net... and the noted CA problems did not help at all. Then the new Nikkor 55-200 VR was announced... Everything looked pretty good for my needs except the max focal length which was way bellow the 432mm I had with my superzoom. I thought a lot about it, pondered the pros and cons - life is full of compromises :-) - and in the end decided to go with the 55-200 VR.

Due to its reduced size and weight I was able to carry my D40 with it mounted on for hours in my hand and not get tired! The zoom ring is smooth but firm. It has a restricted AF-S that does not allow manual focus override - this does not bother me since I don't plan to use manual focus. The AF is about as fast as with the 18-55mm II kit lens. It is sharp, with good contrast and the bokeh is pretty good for a 7 blade lens. CAs are well controlled - this was very important for me. The VR works as advertised and is the first version - the one that offers a 3 stop advantage and does not have the "Active" mode. The front element does not rotate so I can use a circular polarizer with no problems. It comes with a hood which I have not yet used. It is not a macro lens - it actually has a smaller magnification ratio than the old Nikkor 55-200mm (non-VR) - but is still OK for the kind of close-ups I like to take.

All in all I'm very happy with this lens - a real steal for its price!

Here is a sample - first a 100% crop with no sharpening and then the same crop with a bit of sharpening in PP.

Image

Image

Picture taken at the Washington DC Zoo
55-200mm @ 200mm, ISO 200, f5.6, 1/1000sec, Matrix Metering
NEF processed with ACR4.1 / Photoshop Elements 5

Darrin


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PostPosted: Mon Jun 18, 2007 10:15 pm 
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Thanks Darrin, that's great! I promise not to delete this one!

Gordon


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PostPosted: Thu Jun 21, 2007 12:18 am 
Gordon Laing wrote:
Thanks Darrin, that's great! I promise not to delete this one!

LOL :) Gordon - that's good to know :wink: This time I also saved a copy on my computer.

More pictures and updates coming soon...

Darrin


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PostPosted: Mon Jun 25, 2007 12:49 am 
In the last couple of weeks I've tested the lens in different situations to learn more about its capabilities. Two main things that interest me are the effects of VR on shooting experience and image quality, and the minimum aperture beyond which diffraction becomes a problem.

As many already know, the proper use of VR is to half-press the shutter button, wait for the stabilization motor to engage (you can tell when it's working because it also stabilizes what you see in the viewfinder) and only then fully press the shutter button. Sometimes, when I want to take a picture of a very active subject (a bee for example) the VR gets in the way because the subject stays still for only a very short interval of time. If I cannot get it right there, it will move to another place and I have to change my position and/or re-frame. I found that the time it takes the VR motor to engage can make me lose the shot (well, because I need first to frame the shot, then half-press the shutter, etc.)... In such cases I turn the VR off and bump the ISO to get a good shutter speed. This way I can fully press the shutter from the beginning - the AF is fast enough.

Another interesting issue I wanted to clarify was whether the VR system has any negative effect on image quality - that is, if the shutter speed is fast enough to allow me to take the shot without VR, would enabling it degrade or improve the sharpness/contrast/color saturation in any way? I did an unscientific test to check it - I took a number of shots of a brick wall, handheld, at different apertures, with the VR on and, respectively, off. I only had time to test with the lens at 55 mm (I will try 200mm the next time), and I set ISO to 400 which gave me enough shutter speed for handheld shots even at f16. After comparing the images on my computer at 100% (f4, f5.6, f8, f11 and f16) I found out that there is no significant difference in IQ between the shots with VR on and the shots with VR off for the same exposure.

I also wanted to see at which aperture diffraction starts to become a problem. I noticed the fact that the photozone.de review of this lens did not show any results beyond f11, so I suspected that f16 might have some problems with diffraction. That is why I shot with apertures from f4 to f16 for the VR test - I planned to use the same images to analyse potential diffraction problems at f16. Again, after analyzing at 100%, I concluded that in both the shots with VR on and the ones with VR off, at f16 the images are noticeable softer than the ones at f11 and a bit brighter too (loss of contrast?). So it seems that there are signs of diffraction starting at f16... I did a bit of sharpening on the f16 imges and I was able to bring them closer to those taken at f11. Of course, these were all images taken at 55mm. I'll see what the 200mm test will bring.

Another thing I realized recently and used to my advantage is that at 55mm this lens goes to f4, while the kit lens stops at f5.6. I did use that extra stop (plus the VR) when shooting some low light photos recently...

Finally, this is not a macro lens, but with a little bit of cropping I can get the type of close-ups I'm interested in taking :) :

Image

Nikon D40, Nikkor 55-200mm VR @ 200mm
ISO 800, f5.6, 1/100 sec, center weighted average metering, VR on :wink:
Shot in NEF and processed with ACR4.1/PE5

Darrin


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PostPosted: Mon Jun 25, 2007 6:34 am 
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Very nice photo and report, Darrin. So I assume you're happy with this lens!?
Would be interesting whether the diffraction starts later at longer focal length!

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PostPosted: Mon Jun 25, 2007 7:32 am 
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Hi Darrin, that's really good information... As Thomas says, it'll be interesting to see how it performs at 200mm. Have you noticed the sweetspots for it yet in terms of aperture and focal length?

Gordon


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PostPosted: Mon Jun 25, 2007 5:44 pm 
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I assume that with this focal length that there is not really a prob at f16, perhaps f22. But as the lens has excellent resolution at f4-f11 that would be only a small setback.

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PostPosted: Tue Jun 26, 2007 1:46 am 
Thomas and Gordon - thank you very much for taking the time to read and comment on my review.

Yes, I really like this lens - I have not taken it off the camera since I bought it... I even stepped back a few times when 55 was not wide enough from where I initially stood :D

If the weather is good this weekend I plan to complete the test at 200mm.
So far I think f8 is the best across the focal range, followed closely by f11 and f5.6. However, f5.6 seems good enough at 200mm so I don't hesitate to use it when I want shallow DOF.

I don't know too much about diffraction, other than that it causes softness beyond a certain aperture... I read somewhere that the sensor/pixel size plays a part as well in determining at which aperture it starts to appear... I'll try to go beyond f16 and see what happens.

Darrin


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PostPosted: Sun Jul 01, 2007 1:00 am 
Well, I got to complete my diffration test with the lens at 200mm. I set ISO at 400 which gave me a shutter speed of 1/320 sec at f22.

I compared shots taken at f11, f16 at f22 with and without VR. Again, there was no significant difference between the VR on and VR off shots. But more important - there were only minor differences in terms of sharpness and contrast between the f11, f16 and f22 shots. I redid the test at 55 mm and there are more important differences between the f11 and f16, and beween the f16 and f22 shots as compared to those at 200mm.

Again, this was not a scientific test - I did not use a tripod - but I take most of the pictures without one, so I wanted to see how does the camera/lens combo work in typical situations. I will have no problem now using f16 at 200mm for my closeups...

Darrin


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PostPosted: Sun Jul 01, 2007 6:46 am 
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I would have thought that at 1/320 sec there would be no substantial benefit from VR...

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PostPosted: Sun Jul 01, 2007 8:14 am 
I have been following Darrin's review with some interest and can't fault much about that which he has said, the 55-200 VR is the bargain of the year as far as I am concerned. It has allowed me to achieve hand held shots in places that a tripod could simply not be used, I will include a flickr link to a photo taken yesterday as an example of what the lens can achieve in fairly low light and awkward situations. The linked shot is totally without any processing in any software, it is hand held at 1/2 sec F/18 ISO 400. I deliberately set out to catch the flowing water as such during a period of flooding here.

http://www.flickr.com/photos/imagesatmarlo/681143174/


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PostPosted: Sun Jul 01, 2007 8:36 am 
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55mm (=82mm equiv) at 1/2 sec handhold is quite a feat! Nice demonstration of VR (or your own "unshakability" :wink: )!

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PostPosted: Sun Jul 01, 2007 12:13 pm 
tombomba2 wrote:
I would have thought that at 1/320 sec there would be no substantial benefit from VR...

You are right Thomas - I did not test how good the VR is...
I wanted to know if the VR has any impact on IQ when the speed is fast enough for turning it off.

Andrew - you did better than me... so far I was not able to get beyond 1/10 sec at 55mm. I need to work on my grip technique...
How do you like the bokeh of the lens so far?

Darrin


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PostPosted: Tue Jul 10, 2007 10:18 pm 
Hi Darrin, I finally took your counsel and got myself the 55-200 VR, I brought it fresh from the shop this very afternoon! :D

I've been folowing this thread with great interest and Iagree with all your impressions, it focuses just about as well as the 18-55 (which is not a bad performer at all IMHO) and build quality seems pretty good to me, it's not of couse a lens a pro would kill for but it sure does not feel cheap or fragile at all in my hands, on the contrary.

I just brought it home so I haven't done too much testing yet, but here it is, I think, a good example of what VR in this lens is capable of. The picture shows an old sea watch tower dating from the glory days of the Arab occupantion of Andalusia (XIV century). The shot was taken with the lens at 200mm in Aperture Priority mode (F/5.6), the camera set exposure time at 1/2. Light conditions were very poor so I had to boost ISO to 1600 to get a decent shutter speed, at ISO 800 exposure time was close to a second, rendering useless both the lens VR and my efforts to remain steady.

Anyway, I think the result is pretty decent and shows both the VR capabilities of this lens (try holding the camera steady for half a second at 200mm and you'll see what I mean :wink:) and the excellent low light performance of the D40, sure there's noise there and perhaps the better iluminated parts of the tower's wall are a bit overexposed, but nothing close to making the picture unusable (noise reduction was disabled btw).

Image

In conlusion, I love this lens and I can't wait for my holydays so that I can put it to good use! 8)

Bye!


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PostPosted: Wed Jul 11, 2007 1:00 am 
Hi beren, and congrats on your purchase!
Your picture looks pretty good for a handheld shot at 1/2 secs!

In low light make sure to use the center/cross focus sensor of the D40 - the other two focus sensors can make the camera hunt for focus...

Have fun with it and post some more pictures when you have time.

Best wishes,
Darrin


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