If you’re in the market for a new Nikon DSLR, you’ll have the choice of buying it as a body alone or with a bundled kit lens. Kit lenses are traditionally budget models with 3x optical zoom ranges designed to get you started, and while Nikon sells such a lens, it also offers several alternatives with longer optical ranges and extra features. Many camera stores additionally offer the choice of buying a Nikon body bundled with a higher-end lens.
Since many owners end up using their first lens for some time, or even the entire lifespan of their camera body, it’s clearly important to choose the right one from the start. In this group test we’ll examine the four most popular lenses bought with Nikon DSLRs, whether the official kit models, or popularly bundled alternatives. All are DX models which means they’ll work with any Nikon DSLR, from the entry-level D40 to the professional D2X. They’re also all AF-S models which means they’ll auto-focus when fitted on the latest D40 and D40x bodies.
In terms of focal range, the most basic model in this group test is the Nikkor DX 18-55mm II. Introduced with the Nikon D40 DSLR, this is the cheapest lens on test here and offers a basic 3x optical range. Next up is the Nikkor DX 18-70mm, a popular general-purpose lens which offers a step-up in quality for owners of mid to high-end Nikon DSLRs; it’s the oldest of the four lenses here, but is still a popular bundled option for the D80.
Third in this group test is the Nikkor DX 18-135mm, introduced as the standard kit lens for the Nikon D80, although now also available bundled with other bodies. Finally we’ll look at the Nikkor DX 18-200mm VR, which while not strictly a kit lens, is an enormously popular model which many stores are selling bundled with several Nikon bodies including the D80 and D200.
Each of the four lenses on test most obviously offer steadily increasing focal ranges, which the DX 18-200mm also crowns with Vibration Reduction to combat camera-shake. Beyond this though there’s many differences in build quality, focusing speed and optical performance. In this Nikkor lens group test we’ll closely examine and compare their performance to help you make the right decision for your Nikon DSLR, whether you’re upgrading an existing kit lens, or buying a new body and lens combination.
To see an overview of the characteristics of each lens and examples of their coverage in practice, check out our Nikkor DX lens group test video tour.
We tested each lens here with a Nikon D80, although the results and features are equally applicable to any Nikon DSLR. Following our convention of using default factory and best quality JPEG settings, the D80 was set to Large Fine JPEG mode and sRGB, with Auto White Balance, 3D Matrix metering and the Optimise Image parameter set to Normal for sharpening, tone, colour, saturation and hue; High ISO Noise Reduction was set to Normal.
The serial numbers for the DX 18-55mm, DX 18-70mm, DX 18-135mm and DX 18-200mm lenses tested were 2095691, 3599043, 2280910 and 2666378 respectively.