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Super Zooms, are they really any good?

We have all seen them, those super zoom lenses from Nikon and others that cover 18-200mm, 18-270mm, or 28-300mm zoom ranges. But how good are they? To find out, I did a lens "shoot-out" between the Nikon AF-S 18-200 f3.5~5.6G vs. the combination of the Nikon AF-S 55-200 f4~5.6G and Nikon AF-S 18-55 f3.5~5.6G. I did not test the 3rd party super zooms as, well - I don't have any of those lenses.

The three lenses I did test seem to me to be more of a situation that you might find yourself in someday since the 18-55 is the normal kit lens for Nikon entry level cameras. The decision then is whether to get the kit lens and add a 55-200mm zoom, or spend a few more dollars (about 40% more) and get the 18-200mm lens for your camera.

None of these lenses are professional quality, they should be regarded as daylight-only lenses. Remember that is the framework of this test.


Nikon AF-S 18-200 f3.5~5.6G | Nikon AF-S 55-200 f4~5.6G | Nikon AF-S 18-55 f3.5~5.6G

 

Testing: The test was conducted photographing this scene with several lenses at different focal lengths; all using an aperture of f/5.6. The yellow box in the lower right is the cropped area for each photo shown below. While this isn't entirely scientific as one should sample the center and all corners at different aperture values - I don't have that much ambition. This is just a simple test I used to compare the lenses. I used f/5.6 as this is the worst-case example, whether or not you actually use f/5.6.

18mm

Nikon AF-S 18-200mm DX f/3.5-5.6 @ 18mm f/5.6.

Nikon AF-S 18-55mm DX f/3.5-5.6 @ 18mm f/5.6.
24mm

Nikon AF-S 18-200mm DX f/3.5-5.6 @ 24mm f/5.6.

Nikon AF-S 18-55mm DX f/3.5-5.6 @ 24mm f/5.6.
35mm

Nikon AF-S 18-200mm DX f/3.5-5.6 @ 35mm f/5.6.

Nikon AF-S 18-55mm DX f/3.5-5.6 @ 35mm f/5.6.
55mm

Nikon AF-S 18-200mm DX f/3.5-5.6 @ 55mm f/5.6.

Nikon AF-S 18-55mm DX f/3.5-5.6 @ 55mm f/5.6.
70mm

Nikon AF-S 18-200mm DX f/3.5-5.6 @ 70mm f/5.6.

Nikon AF-S 55-200mm DX f/4-5.6 @ 70mm f/5.6.
100mm

Nikon AF-S 18-200mm DX f/3.5-5.6 @ 100mm f/5.6.

Nikon AF-S 55-200mm DX f/4-5.6 @ 100mm f/5.6.
135mm

Nikon AF-S 18-200mm DX f/3.5-5.6 @ 135mm f/5.6.

Nikon AF-S 55-200mm DX f/4-5.6 @ 135mm f/5.6.
200mm

Nikon AF-S 18-200mm DX f/3.5-5.6 @ 200mm f/5.6.

Nikon AF-S 55-200mm DX f/4-5.6 @ 200mm f/5.6.
The initial results revealed that the worst performance for both lens pairs was in the 35mm range. To see how much improvement f/8 would bring, I retested at that focal length. You can see that there is quite a bit of improvement in both lenses at this aperture.
Retest: 35mm @ f/8

Nikon AF-S 18-200mm DX f/3.5-5.6 @ 35mm f/8.

Nikon AF-S 18-55mm DX f/3.5-5.6 @ 35mm f/8.

Conclusion: Clearly there are differences in the lenses at f/5.6; however both lenses are well known as being sharp lenses, so the differences, while measurable are not likely noticeable. And at f/8, a more normal aperture, there is not really any discernible differences. While this test is only a quick check and not an exhaustive test, either lens will likely provide you with acceptable results.

So it really comes down to two things; ease of use and build quality. Here the Nikon 18-200 is the clear winner. It is obviously easier to use as you can carry a single lens rather than having to change lenses constantly. That will perhaps make the difference in obtaining a photo or not, as well as less chance of getting dust in the camera, dropping, a lens, and so on.

 


Nikon AF-S 18-200 f3.5~5.6G | Nikon AF-S 55-200 f4~5.6G | Nikon AF-S 18-55 f3.5~5.6G

Build quality goes to the 18-200 as well. It has a metal mounting ring, where the 18-55mm and 55-200mm lenses mounting rings are plastic for some gawd-awful reason. And the 18-200 has a gasket on the mount to help keep dust out of the camera. All-in-all, you get what you pay for, and the premium price of the 18-200 seems worthy.

The 18-200, for a 11x lens did remarkably well for such a super-zoom. It is not known if the more powerful Sigma and Tamron zooms enjoy the same quality or not. However, as you increase zoom power you usually lose image quality. Perhaps for that reason the other lenses may not quite be up to the Nikon 18-200. But that is my conjecture - I sure would like to test them.