Summary

Highly Recommended awardIf you own (or are buying) a DX-format body and convenience is your number-one priority, but you want it with the least compromise in quality and features, the Nikkor DX 18-200mm VR II should be top of your list. Highly Recommended. Good points: Very flexible and convenient 11.1x zoom range; optical stabilisation with four stops of compensation; quiet autofocusing on all Nikon bodies; decent build quality and zoom-lock switch. Bad points: The most expensive super-zoom for cropped bodies; suffers from zoom creep between 28 and 135mm; suffers from zoom-shrinkage at close range; beaten on price and quality by twin lens solutions.

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Nikkor AF-S DX 18-200mm f/3.5-5.6 G ED VR II

Nikkor DX 18-200mm VR II design, build quality and focusing

The Nikkor DX 18-200mm VR II is pictured below on the far right, with the DX 18-105mm VR kit lens in the middle and the DX 16-85mm VR on the left. The DX 18-200mm VR II looks almost identical to its predecessor, with the only external changes being the zoom lock switch on the side, a slightly narrower zoom ring to accommodate the switch, and a swap from red to gold for the VR logo.

Measuring 77mm in diameter and 97mm in length when zoomed-out to its shortest focal length, the DX 18-200mm VR II is exactly the same size as its predecessor. Both are a little larger in each dimension than the DX 18-105mm VR (which measures 76x89mm) and the DX 16-85mm VR (which measures 72x85mm). In terms of size and looks when zoomed-out, the DX 18-200mm VR II is essentially a chunkier version of the DX 16-85mm VR. Zoom all three lenses into their longest focal lengths as seen below though and the 200mm reach of the super-zoom unsurprisingly results in the longest overall barrel extension.

Nikon quotes the DX 18-200mm VR II’s weight as 565g, or 5g heavier than its predecessor, attributable no doubt to the new zoom lock mechanism. Both models feel heftier than the DX 16-85mm VR and DX 18-105mm VR which weigh 485 and 420g respectively. All are clearly much larger and heavier than the DX 18-55mm VR kit lens which measures 73x80mm and weighs just 265g.

The weight of the DX 18-200mm VR II lends it an air of solidity and confidence that can be lacking in lighter lenses, but in terms of build quality, it’s essentially the same as the DX 16-85mm VR.

As mentioned above, the only major change between the DX 18-200mm VR II and its predecessor is the presence of a zoom lock switch on the side of the barrel. This locks the lens at the 18mm focal length, preventing the barrel from extending during transportation. The extension of a barrel under its own weight when pointing down, or retraction when pointing upwards is known as zoom-creep, and was the major complaint of the original Nikkor super-zoom. While the switch on the new model certainly holds the lens in position, creep is still very much present when unlocked.

 

But first the good news: when our test sample was fully zoomed out to 18mm, the barrel held in position even when pointed vertically downwards, or mounted on a camera hanging on a strap; likewise when zoomed-in to 200mm and pointed vertically upwards, the barrel again didn’t budge.

But between the focal lengths of 28 and 135mm, our test sample suffered from the same degree of creep as its predecessor. With the lens set within this range, the barrel will extend or retract under its own weight when pointed vertically down or up – and that’s even on a brand new sample with relatively stiff mechanics. To be fair if the lens isn’t vertical, the creep quickly becomes less of an issue, but under the right (or wrong) conditions, you’ll experience it – and we have a demonstration in our HD video tour.

So if you were hoping for a super-zoom lens bereft of creep you’ll be disappointed, but again to be fair, it may rarely be a problem. In our tests it never occurred with the lens fully zoomed in or out, and of course the new lock switch will ensure the barrel remains in place while being transported or carried on a strap. Somewhat perversely though you may find yourself leaving it unlocked more often than not, as it can be annoying to find the zoom ring locked when you want to quickly twist it to a longer focal length to grab a photo opportunity. Indeed it slightly defeats the convenience and speed of the lens when you have to remember to unlock it before use, but again Nikon’s provided the facility should you want to use it. As a final postscript, it’s also worth noting creep is equally a problem for other super-zooms, including Canon’s EF-S 18-200mm IS, which coincidentally also offers a lock at 18mm.

The weight of the optical elements which cause creep in the first place can also be felt when twisting the zoom ring. If the lens is pointing upwards, you’ll need to apply more force to twist the zoom ring than most models, but the operation is fairly smooth and you’ll easily be able to make small adjustments where desired.

Towards the lens mount is a thin manual focusing ring which offers full-time adjustments and doesn’t rotate during autofocusing. Between it and the zoom ring is a focus distance window. The filter mount measures 72mm and also doesn’t rotate while focusing which will come as a relief to users of polarising or graduated filters.

Like its predecessor, there’s three switches on the side of the barrel. One switches the camera between AF with full-time manual focusing, or manual focusing only. The second switches the VR system on or off, while the third sets the VR between Normal and Active modes. We’ll examine the VR capabilities on the Features page.

The metal lens mount features a rubber ring to provide some degree of environmental sealing – it’s far from being water-proof, but it’ll help prevent dust and moisture from entering the body, or indeed the rear of the lens. Like most of its lenses, Nikon also supplies the DX 18-200mm VR II with a hood and pouch.

It’s interesting at this point to compare the Nikkor DX 18-200mm VR II against the Canon EF-S 18-200mm IS. Both lenses share the same actual focal range and aperture, but the Nikkor model manages to outclass its rival in a number of subtle respects. The EF-S 18-200mm IS doesn’t have Canon’s quiet focusing motor, the manual focusing ring rotates while autofocusing, there’s no focus distance window, no rubber ring on the lens mount, and like all non-L Canon lenses, no hood or pouch supplied as standard. But in its favour, the Canon super-zoom is typically 20% cheaper. It’s revealing to see the direction each company has taken with what could have been virtually identical lenses.

Nikkor DX 18-200mm VR II out-of-focus effects
Nikkor DX 18-200mm VR II shadow from popup flash
DX 18-200mm VR II at 200mm, 33% crop
DX 18-200mm VR II at 18mm with Nikon D90 popup flash (distance 2m)

Before wrapping-up this section, we have a couple of quick notes concerning bokeh and flash clearance. In the image above left, you can see typical out-of-focus effects from sunlight reflecting on rippling water, reproduced here at 33%. The bokeh here is par-for-the-course on a lens of this type, and you can see an example of a portrait with an out-of-focus background in our sample images gallery.

Above right is a full-size image showing the shadow cast by the relatively large lens barrel when fully zoomed-out at a distance of 2m and using the popup flash on a Nikon D90 body. Unsurprisingly given its size, the DX 18-200mmm VR II will cast a small shadow when zoomed-out to 18mm and used with popup flashes, but zooming-into 26mm and beyond will eliminate it. So if you’re taking group shots at close range with a popup flash, try zooming-in a little to avoid casting a shadow at the bottom of the frame.

Nikkor DX 18-200mm VR II optical design

The Nikkor DX 18-200mm VR II shares the same optical construction as its predecessor with 16 elements in 12 groups, with two ED glass and three aspherical elements. Nikon claims to have improved the coatings on the new lens, but we couldn’t confirm that in practice. As far as we’re concerned, the optical construction and quality is essentially the same on both versions.

The focal ratio remains f3.5 when zoomed-out to 18mm and f5.6 when zoomed-in to 200mm, and the aperture again employs seven rounded blades; you can see an example portrait shot with the aperture wide open in our sample images gallery. The closest focusing distance is 50cm throughout the focal range and again we have an example in our gallery.

The focal ratio slows down fairly quickly in the range as indicated by maximum aperture at the following focal lengths we tested: f4.2 at 35mm, f4.8 at 55mm, f5.3 at 85mm and f5.6 at 135mm.

Nikkor DX 18-200mm VR II focusing

 

The Nikkor DX 18-200mm VR II is an AF-S model, which in Nikon’s terminology means it’s equipped with a Silent Wave Motor (SWM) for autofocusing. Since the focusing motor is built-into the lens, it will autofocus on any of Nikon’s DSLRs, including the budget models which don’t feature their own AF motor for driving older, non AF-S lenses.

AF-S lenses also have the potential to be quick and quiet, although don’t assume all are equal in these respects. In use the DX 18-200mm VR II’s autofocusing may have been pretty quiet, but it was fairly leisurely in speed, taking around 1.2 seconds to go from infinity to 50cm and back again – you can see and hear this in action in our HD video tour. But while it’s far from the fastest focuser in the Nikkor catalogue, we rarely found its speed limiting in general-use, with the lens generally locking-onto subjects in fair light without any searching.

Once again, we’re pleased to report that neither the manual focusing ring nor the filter mount rotate while autofocusing. Now let’s take a look at the coverage and stabilisation in our Nikkor DX 18-200mm VR II features page.

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