The Nikkor DX 55-200mm VR is one of the best value lenses around right now for Nikon DSLRs. It’s compact, light and perfectly complements the DX 18-55mm kit lens, extending the effective range to 300mm for useful telephoto coverage. The addition of Vibration Reduction effectively reduces camera shake and in order to support AF on its entry-level DSLRs, Nikon’s had to equip the lens with a quick and quiet SWM focusing motor which gives the DX 55-200mm VR a degree of classiness that’s absent on rival budget telephoto zooms.
At this price point though you shouldn’t expect miracles, and indeed the DX 55-200mm VR can suffer from fringing and softness in the extreme corners of the frame, especially at longer focal lengths. The build quality is also fairly basic compared to higher-end lenses, although to be fair it’s not poor in any way and many photographers will value the light weight. Finally, like the DX 18-55mm II kit lens, the manual focusing is fairly basic, with a thin ring perched at the end of the lens and no distance markings, nor clutch for full-time operation.
That said, it’s AF performance is very good, the VR genuinely effective and the optical quality capable of delivering some great results – especially as many subjects photographed at its longer focal lengths will generally be positioned towards the middle of the frame with a blurred background surrounding them, neatly avoiding any optical weaknesses in the corners.
So if you’re a Nikon DSLR owner in the market for a telephoto zoom should you buy the DX 55-200mm VR? That all depends on the focal range you’re after, the ultimate quality you demand and of course the money you have to spend. Here’s how it compares to two popular Nikkor alternatives.
Compared to Nikkor 70-300mm VR
Just under twice the price of the DX 55-200mm VR buys you the Nikkor 70-300mm VR. Most obviously it offers a 50% longer range, albeit starting at a slightly longer focal length of 70mm. As such it better complements the DX 18-70mm lens, although if you’re a DX 18-55mm owner, you unlikely to miss the gap between 55-70mm all that much.
The bigger budget gets you a much tougher lens with far superior build quality. It feels much more solid, has a proper manual focusing ring with a full-time clutch and distance markings, and a metal lens mount. The VR system also offers a second mode which only stabilises in the vertical axis for horizontal panning. You’ll also notice it’s not a DX model, which means it’s corrected for use on a full-frame body – handy for 35mm owners or anyone thinking of upgrading to a D3 in the future.
This lens is however almost 50% longer and over twice the weight of the DX 55-200mm VR, so you’ll certainly know you’re carrying it. The cheaper DX 55-200mm VR also boasts a slightly faster focal ratio of f4 when zoomed-out compared to f4.5 on the 70-300mm VR. Ultimately though if you want superior quality and the extra effective reach of 450mm, and don’t mind the size, weight or price, the 70-300mm VR is a superior telephoto zoom and comes recommended. For more details, see our Nikkor 70-300mm VR review.
Compared to Nikkor DX 18-200mm VR
The Nikkor DX 18-200mm VR is an interesting alternative to the DX 55-200mm VR as it effectively replaces both it and the DX 18-55mm II with a single lens solution. This gives the DX 18-200mm VR enormous flexibility and convenience, covering you from wide angle to reasonable telephoto without having to carry two lenses, waste time or potentially miss shots when switching them, nor run the risk of dust entering the body when you do.
The DX 18-200mm VR also matches the focal ratio of the twin lens alternative – f3.5 at 18mm and f5.6 at 200mm – weighs only fractionally more than both the DX 18-55mm and DX 55-200mm VR combined, and offers VR anti-shake throughout its entire range. The build quality and manual focusing are far superior, matching both the DX 18-70mm and 70-300mm VR models. Despite the long focal range, the optical quality is also pretty good.
The only downside to this otherwise perfect sounding lens is the cost – it comes in at around three times the price of the DX 55-200mm VR, and around 50% more than the 70-300mm VR. If you can afford it, the DX 18-200mm VR is one of the best all-round lenses you’ll ever use – and a great reason for choosing the Nikon system in the first place – but if you’re just after something to complement rather than replace an existing lens, go for a telephoto zoom instead. For more details, see our Nikkor DX 18-200mm VR review.
Nikkor DX 55-200mm VR final verdict
The Nikkor DX 55-200mm VR is a great entry-level telephoto zoom for Nikon DSLR owners. It’s compact, very light, offers respectable quality, quick and quiet AF, decent VR, and best of all is available at a great price. If you have a DX 18-55mm kit lens, are happy with the build quality and simply want a longer range, it’s absolutely ideal. If you have one of the other Nikkor kit lenses though, there’s better choices.
For example if you have the DX 18-70mm lens, the DX 55-200mm VR range is a little less compelling and the build quality noticeably inferior. Owners of this lens should go for the 70-300mm VR instead which is a better match both in range and build.
Similarly, while the build quality of the DX 55-200mm VR and the DX 18-135mm kit lens are comparable, the former doesn’t really offer that much extra reach to justify the price. If you’re after something much longer, go for the 70-300mm VR, or if you’d prefer a general-purpose replacement with anti-shake, consider the DX 18-200mm VR.
So while we’re very impressed by the Nikkor DX 55-200mm VR, it makes the most sense when complementing the DX 18-55mm kit lens. If you have a different kit lens, there’s more appropriate models to complement or replace it, but if you do own the DX 18-55mm II and are happy with its performance and build, then the DX 55-200mm VR is as close as you’ll get to a no-brainer. It comes Highly Recommended.
For an overview of the headline features of this lens, check our Nikkor DX 55-200mm VR video tour.