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Nikkor AF-S DX VR 55-200mm f/4-5.6 G ED Gordon Laing, August 2007
 
Nikkor DX 55-200mm VR design and build quality

The Nikkor DX 18-135mm, DX 55-200mm VR and 70-300mm VR lenses are pictured below, from left to right, zoomed-out to their shortest focal lengths. For each lens, this represents their physically most compact configuration.

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Nikkor DX 55-200mm VR

Nikkor 70-300mm VR

Nikkor 18-200mm VR
from left: Nikkor DX 18-135mm, DX 55-200mm VR and 70-300mm VR lenses - zoomed out






















Measuring 73mm in diameter and 100mm in length when zoomed-out, the DX 55-200mm VR is the same width as the DX 18-135mm kit lens and only 13mm longer in its shortest configuration. Both lenses are clearly dwarfed by the 70-300mm VR lens, which measures 80mm in diameter and 144mm in length when zoomed-out.

Zoom each lens into their longest focal lengths, as seen below, and the DX 55-200mm VR becomes the shortest of the three, extending with a single barrel by only 35mm. The DX 18-135mm extends by 59mm using twin barrels, while the 70-300mm adds 49mm to its total length. The latter may not actually extend by as much as the DX 18-135mm, but comfortably remains the biggest of the three lenses pictured.



from left: Nikkor DX 18-135mm, DX 55-200mm VR and 70-300mm VR lenses - zoomed in


In terms of weight, the DX 55-200mm VR is the lightest of the three at just 335g; next up is the DX 18-135mm at 385g, leaving the 70-300mm to weigh-in at 745g. These figures don’t quite get across the shock of picking up the DX 55-200mm VR in person though and realising just how light it is. If you’re familiar with the DX 18-135mm, you’ll know from the figures above that it’s actually a little lighter, while if you have the DX 18-55mm II kit lens, the telephoto zoom is only around 50% heavier. Certainly it’s in a different league to the relatively hefty 70-300mm VR.

Of course this can be seen in both a positive and negative light. If you want a telephoto zoom which you’ll hardly notice mounted on your Nikon DSLR or which will rarely be a burden in your bag, then the DX 55-200mm VR will delight. It’s also so light, there’s no chance of any lens creep where the barrel can extend or retract under its own weight. On the other hand, it’s clearly not as tough or well-built as the 70-300mm VR.

To be fair, the DX 55-200mm VR’s build quality is actually quite good for such a light, budget lens. It’s roughly to the same standard as the DX 18-55mm II and DX 18-135mm kit lenses, and like these models employs a plastic lens mount. So while it can’t be described as substantial in any way, the DX 55-200mm VR is certainly well-assembled with smooth moving parts and no wobbles or creaks to worry about.

If you’re after something tougher though, the 70-300mm VR is in a completely different league. The DX 18-200mm VR is also built to a similar standard to the 70-300mm VR and both offer more confident operation than the budget models. Interestingly while the DX 18-200mm VR is much heavier than the DX 55-200mm VR at 560g, it is in fact only 20g more than the combined weight of it and the DX 18-55mm II lenses. So if you were thinking of the lightest Nikkor optical solution with an 18-200mm range, there’s not really much benefit in going for the twin lens solution.

In terms of accessories, the DX 55-200mm VR may be a budget model, but that doesn’t stop Nikon including both a lens hood and pouch. Are you listening Canon? You should be ashamed.


Nikkor DX 55-200mm VR aperture

The Nikkor DX 55-200mm VR has a maximum aperture of f4 when zoomed-out and f5.6 when zoomed-in. This actually makes it a whole stop brighter than the DX 18-55mm II when both are at 55mm, and it’s also around a third of a stop brighter than the 70-300mm VR when its zoomed-out.

The DX 55-200mm VR uses a seven-blade aperture diaphragm, compared to nine on the 70-300mm VR, and this would normally produce less attractive out of focus bokeh effects. That said, Nikkor’s done a good job with the cheaper lens and in our tests the bokeh wasn’t significantly worse than the 70-300mm VR. This is a very personal thing though, so head over to our DX 55-200mm VR Sample Images for some examples.

If you’re comparing the DX 18-55mm II and DX 55-200mm VR against the DX 18-200mm VR, you’ll have essentially the same maximum focal ratio across the entire range. Both combinations offer f3.5 at 18mm and f5.6 at 200mm. The DX 18-55mm II and DX 55-200mm VR share the same small filter thread of 52mm though compared to the larger 67mm threads of the DX 18-200mm VR and 70-300mm VR.


Nikkor DX 55-200mm VR focusing

In terms of focusing, the DX 55-200mm VR is equipped with one of Nikkor’s SWM Silent Wave Motors, built into the lens itself. This makes it an AF-S model, and as such will auto-focus on the D40 and D40x, along with every other Nikon DSLR.

 
 
DX 55-200mm VR controls
 
 

Nikon has to build focusing motors into its latest lenses in order for them to auto-focus with budget DSLRs like the D40 and D40x, but it has the welcome consequence of effectively equipping even its budget lenses with quick and quiet AF capabilities. Contrast this with Canon’s lens range where its quick and quiet USM motors are absent on the budget models. So this gives models like the Nikkor DX 55-200mm VR a classiness you wouldn’t normally expect at the price.

The DX 55-200mm VR takes just over one second to focus from one extreme to the other when fully-zoomed-in, which only makes it fractionally slower than the pricier 70-300mm VR. We’re also pleased to report the focusing takes place internally, so the barrel neither extends nor rotates during focusing – great news for users of polarising filters.

In terms of manual focus, the DX 55-200mm VR is equipped with a basic ring at the end of the barrel, which turns during AF and needs to be unlocked using the A / M switch on the side of the lens for manual operation. There’s no full-time manual focusing, and no distance marks behind a window. For these you’ll need a classier lens like the 70-300mm VR or DX 18-200mm VR. So while you can manually focus with the DX 55-200mm VR, if it’s something you’ll be doing on a regular basis, you’ll undoubtedly prefer one of the higher-end models.


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All words, images, videos and layout, copyright 2005-2014 Gordon Laing. May not be used without permission.

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