Nikkor AF-S DX 18-200mm f/3.5-5.6 G ED VR II review
Written by Gordon Laing
The Nikkor DX 18-200mm VR II is an updated version of the best-selling super-zoom lens for the Nikon DX system. Unlike many version II lenses, the update here is minimal to say the least. The optical and physical construction is essentially unchanged with the only significant difference being a new switch on the side of the barrel which locks it at the 18mm focal length to prevent unwanted extension. With this switch unlocked, the DX 18-200mm VR II still suffers from creep when pointed vertically up or down within a certain focal range, so if you were hoping for a solution to this problem, or perhaps superior build and optics, you’ll be disappointed.
But while the update here is modest, it doesn’t diminish the overall impact of the DX 18-200mm VR II lens, which remains one of the most compelling options for owners of Nikon’s DX format DSLRs. Like its predecessor, it delivers a huge equivalent range on DX-format bodies, taking you from 27mm wide-angle coverage all the way to 300mm for pretty serious telephoto reach. So with a quick twist of the zoom ring you could go from capturing expansive landscape or group shots to grabbing spontaneous detail in the distance, then back again while other photographers are still swapping lenses.
This degree of flexibility and sheer convenience is the key selling point of the DX 18-200mm VR II, along with other lenses which share the same super-zoom range. They simply cover you for most situations with a single lens, eliminating the need to carry multiple lenses and the time taken to change them along with the risk of dust entering the body and missing the shot while you do so. Indeed for many photographers, it’ll be the only lens they’ll ever need.
The reason you don’t see a super-zoom lens mounted on every single DSLR though is their design and target market often result in a number of compromises. Most importantly, it’s difficult to deliver a lens with a long range and top-draw optical quality – two or more lenses covering the same total range will normally do so with better results, albeit obviously less convenience. Recognising the target market for a super-zoom lens may be less discerning (or more willing to accept compromise), some manufacturers also keep costs down and compromise the design in other respects, such as build or AF capabilities.
But while the DX 18-200mm VR II inevitably involves compromises due to its large range, Nikon has gone beyond most of its rivals to deliver a lens which simply out-classes the competition. Starting with the optical quality, you’ll see in our results pages the DX 18-200mm VR II is beaten by lenses with shorter ranges, but overall it’s actually pretty good considering the range at your disposal.
The autofocus isn’t blindingly quick, but it’s very quiet and doesn’t rotate the manual focusing ring or barrel while operating. The build quality is also a step-up from most super-zooms, including nice touches like a rubber ring providing some environmental protection on the lens mount and a focus distance window, along with a lens hood and pouch supplied as standard.
Compare all of that to Canon’s equivalent super-zoom, the EF-S 18-200mm IS, which has noisy focusing, no focus distance window, a manual focus ring which turns during AF, and as usual for Canon, the absence of a hood and pouch. The Nikkor version is simply much classier.
But the DX 18-200mm VR II isn’t without its downsides. Most obviously as mentioned above, you’ll still achieve superior quality results if you cover the same range with two or more lenses. As always this is a personal decision with some photographers willing to trade convenience for quality, while others place convenience as their top priority. Others will understand the compromise, but opt for the super-zoom regardless, perhaps for certain situations or trips where its convenience outweighs carrying and swapping multiple lenses – after all, it’s better to get the shot with an okay quality lens than potentially miss it with a top one.
The biggest problem facing its predecessor – zoom creep – is still present here. Point the lens vertically up or down within the actual focal range of 28-135mm and the lens will extend or retract under its own weight, and you can see this happening in our video tour. The important question though is how often will you find yourself in this position and is it a deal-breaker? Tilt the lens only slightly away from a vertical angle and we found our sample tended to hold its position fairly well. Zoom it all the way out or in, and we also found the barrel held steady even when pointed directly up or down – and of course during transportation there’s the new switch which locks the barrel firmly in the shortest position.
So zoom creep may be equally present on the new version, but it may not actually affect you that much in practice. It’s also interesting to note while the switch is the ‘big’ new feature on this second version of the lens, you may find yourself leaving it unlocked more often than not. We found several occasions when we forgot the lock was on, and switching it off again slowed the process of getting ready for a shot, and potentially missing spontaneous opportunities for which this lens is so good. As such we only used the switch during transportation when the lens wasn’t potentially going to be used for a while – although we of course appreciate those who carry their cameras on straps around their necks will be relieved to have an option which prevents the barrel from extending on its own accord.
It’s also important to mention zoom-shrinkage, where a lens delivers a shorter total range when focused at a close distance than it does at infinity – see our Features page for an explanation and examples. To be fair, this problem affects all camera lenses which employ internal focusing, especially zooms and particularly those with long ranges like this one. As such the DX 18-200mm VR II acts more like a DX 18-135mm at its closest focusing distance, rendering an 11.1x zoom into one with a range closer to 6 or 7x. It’s annoying, but par-for-the-course for a super-zoom lens design. Portrait and especially macro photographers be warned.
So ultimately the good points and bad points remain the same as its predecessor, which shouldn’t come as any surprise since it’s essentially the same lens, only now with a switch which locks it at the 18mm position. So before wrapping-up, let’s take a look at some typical kits and see if it’s worth swapping or upgrading to the DX 18-200mm VR II.
DX 18-55mm VR owners – should they buy the DX 18-200mm VR II?
Owners of the DX 18-55mm VR lens have the most to gain by upgrading to the DX 18-200mm VR II lens. Most obviously they’ll be able to zoom-in almost four times closer than before, although as explained above, this range will shrink when shooting subjects close-up. Even then though, the range remains much greater and with that comes greater compositional flexibility.
The DX 18-200mm VR II will also bring a jump in build quality and features, with a metal lens mount, rubber sealing ring, a focus distance window and a barrel (and manual focusing ring) which don’t rotate during AF.
But with this build comes a significantly bigger, heavier and more expensive lens. A great alternative for owners of the DX 18-55mm VR is to complement it with the DX 55-200mm VR telephoto zoom instead. The combination will match the total range of the DX 18-200mm VR and suffer from less shrinkage at close range. In our results, the DX 55-200mm VR may not have been as sharp in the corners when zoomed-out, but zoom it into 200mm, and the quality is noticeably better than the super-zoom model. And while you’ll be carrying two lenses instead of one, the total weight is actually almost the same.
Of course you’ll still have the inconvenience of carrying two lenses instead of one, but costing a quarter of the price of the super-zoom, the DX 55-200mm VR is certainly a very compelling option for existing owners of the DX 18-55mm VR kit lens. See our Nikkor DX 55-200mm VR review for more details.
DX 18-105mm VR and DX 18-135mm owners – should they buy the DX 18-200mm VR II?
Owners of the DX 18-105mm VR and DX 18-135mm lenses will also enjoy a boost in range if switching to the DX 18-200mm VR II, but much less so than the basic DX 18-55mm VR kit model. You can see in our Features page the difference in coverage with the DX 18-105mm VR and it may not be as much as you’d think; obviously this is even less with the DX 18-135mm, although the super-zoom does at least bring owners of this model very useful anti-shake facilities across the range.
If you own either of these kit lenses and want something more powerful, you’ll notice a much bigger difference by complementing them with the AF-S 70-300mm VR telephoto zoom instead. There’ll still be some overlap at the shorter end of the range, but fully zoomed-into an equivalent of 450mm on a DX-format body (while also supporting full-frame should you go down that route in the future), the AF-S 70-300mm VR simply outguns the Nikkor super-zoom at the long-end. It also suffers from less zoom shrinkage, which is important for those who photograph subjects at close range, like portraits.
While the AF-S 70-300mm VR is nowhere near as cheap as the DX 55-200mm VR, it also remains more affordable than the DX 18-200mm VR II, costing roughly one third less. Again there’s the convenience factor to weigh up, but if you own either of these two kit lenses and want something more powerful, the AF-S 70-300mm VR is a highly compelling option. See our Nikkor AF-S 70-300mm VR review for more details.
Nikkor DX 18-200mm VR II final verdict
The Nikkor DX 18-200mm VR II may only represent a minor update over the original model – indeed it’s essentially just the addition of a zoom lock switch – but this doesn’t diminish its highly compelling nature in use. You get the convenience of an enormously flexible zoom range covering wide-angle to serious telephoto in a single lens, and as discussed above, Nikon’s included a number of classy aspects including quiet focusing and a rubber ring on the mount for some environmental sealing.
In short it’s a useful and classy lens, but as explained in detail above, one which will still be beaten on price and quality if you’re willing to carry two or more lenses instead. If you already own a Nikkor kit lens and simply want to zoom-in closer, then complementing your existing model with either the DX 55-200mm VR or AF-S 70-300mm VR will give you better results at a much lower price. It’s also worth noting for all the criticism we’ve given Canon’s EF-S 18-200mm IS lens for being inferior to the Nikon equivalent, it costs around 20% less.
So while the Nikkor DX 18-200mm VR II is without a doubt the classiest super-zoom lens for cropped-frame cameras, it’s also one of the most expensive, so you have to think very carefully about the value of convenience, not to mention the quality level you’re after. If you’re happy to carry two or more lenses and swap them as required, then we’d recommend complementing an existing general-purpose lens with a telephoto zoom. You’ll enjoy better quality and a potentially longer total range while saving money at the same time.
But there are a great many photographers for whom convenience is the top priority. Maybe they want to travel light. Maybe they want to minimise the impact of dust entering the body. Perhaps they’ve missed a spontaneous opportunity before while swapping lenses, or are taking pictures in an environment where it’s neither possible nor practical. There are many reasons why a single lens with a big range is desirable or even a necessity, and for these, the Nikkor DX 18-200mm VR II is hard to beat. There may be cheaper and even longer super-zooms available from third parties like Sigma and Tamron, but few can measure-up to the standards set by Nikon.
So if 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.
Bad pointsGood 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.
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.