Design and build quality
Pictured below from left to right are the Nikkor DX 18-55mm II, DX 18-70mm, DX 18-135mm and DX 18-200mm VR lenses, each zoomed-out to their widest 18mm focal lengths. In this position, all but the 18-55mm lens barrels are at their shortest. Like many 18-55mm kit lenses, the Nikkor model extends when zoomed all the way out or in, and is at its shortest physical position when set to a focal length of around 30mm. You can see a demonstration of this in our video tour.
The Nikkor DX 18-55mm II, DX 18-70mm, DX 18-135mm and DX 18-200mm VR lenses measure 74, 76, 87 and 97mm in length respectively, in their shortest positions – this is with the 18-55mm zoomed to a focal length of around 30mm. They each have maximum diameters of 71, 73, 74 and 77mm, and filter threads of 52, 67, 67 and 72mm respectively.
Pictured below from left to right are the four Nikkor lenses zoomed-in to their longest focal lengths, and it’s now clear to see the difference between them. Here the DX 18-55mm II extends by the same 12mm as it did when zoomed-out to a focal length of 18mm. The DX 18-70mm, DX 18-135mm and DX 18-200mm VR each extend using two barrel sections by 26, 59 and 65mm respectively. While all four looked fairly similar in size in our first group shot, the progressively longer focal ranges result in physically longer barrel extensions when zoomed-in; the DX 18-200mm VR dwarfs the others here.
In terms of weight, the budget Nikkor DX 18-55mm II is unsurprisingly the lightest of the group at just 205g. Next up comes the DX 18-135mm which weighs 385g and feels quite light for its size. Third heaviest is the DX 18-70mm at 420g, thanks to its superior build quality and slightly faster aperture, more of which later. The heaviest is of course the DX 18-200mm VR which weighs noticeably more than the others at 560g, but not so much you’d find it a burden in general use.
All but the cheapest DX 18-55mm II lens comes supplied with a lens hood. While this is expected for the pricier DX 18-70mm and DX 18-200mm VR models, it’s nice to find Nikon supply one with the cheaper DX 18-135mm. It’s worth mentioning Canon doesn’t supply lens hoods with anything other than its professional L series.
Nikkor kit lens group test build quality
In terms of build quality, the budget DX 18-55mm II lens again unsurprisingly feels the weakest of the group, but it should be said it’s no worse than budget 18-55mm kit lenses from rival manufacturers, and is arguably better than many including Canon’s.
The Nikkor DX 18-135mm offers a step-up in build quality from the DX 18-55mm II lens, but it still employs a plastic mount and feels quite light compared to the two premium models on test here. The DX 18-70mm and DX 18-200mm VR both share roughly similar build quality and boast a noticeable step-up from the DX 18-135mm. Both feel like high quality products with decent construction and very smooth focusing and zoom rings.
We should however point out the physical design of the DX 18-200mm VR can result in some lens creep where the barrel can retract or extend under its own weight when pointed straight up or down respectively. This affects the lens most when zoomed to around the 100mm focal length and we have a demonstration in our Nikkor kit lens video tour.
Nikkor kit lens group test focusing
In terms of focusing, all four models feature Nikon’s SWM Silent Wave Motor built into the lenses themselves; in Nikkor terminology, this makes them AF-S models, all of which will auto-focus with the latest D40 and D40x bodies. While you’d expect SWM focusing on the premium DX 18-70mm and DX 18-200mm VR lenses, it’s impressive to find it on the DX 18-135mm and especially the DX 18-55mm II lenses, which are designed as budget kit models.
SWM allows Nikkor lenses to focus quickly and quietly, although we noticed differences between the four models on test. Unsurprisingly given their pricing and premium nature, both the DX 18-70mm and DX 18-200mm VR lenses focused a little quicker than the two cheaper ‘kit’ models. The DX 18-70mm and DX 18-200mm VR lenses also featured windows showing the current focusing distance.
In terms of manual focusing, all but the cheapest DX 18-55mm II featured dedicated manual focusing rings, leaving you to physically turn the end section of the budget model. Since this turns while focusing, manually or auto, it can prove a little annoying for users of polarising filters. We’re pleased to report the other three lenses all featured internal focusing with non-rotating filter mounts.
Before you think we’re knocking the budget DX 18-55mm II kit lens though, it’s well worth comparing it to Canon’s EF-S 18-55mm. Both lenses may have rotating end sections, but the Nikkor’s focusing is noticeably quicker and quieter. Canon may have a quick and quiet USM version of the EF-S 18-55mm, but so far it’s rarely bundled outside of Japan or special edition kits. So for a budget kit lens, the Nikkor DX 18-55mm II is much classier than its main rival and also delivers pretty respectable optical performance.