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Nikon AF-S 18-200mm f/3.5~5.6G DX VR Zoom lens

In this section, I will review the photo equipment I typically take on board cruises or travel, how I pack the equipment, and some photo examples. I rarely take all of the equipment on a given cruise, but rather tailor what equipment I take to where we are going.

Note that as time goes on, equipment becomes discontinued by the manufacturer. Therefore consider this review representative of the types of equipment you wish to take on your cruise or travel vacation.

The Nikon 18-200mm DX AF-S Zoom lens f1:3.5~5.6G ED VR lens, having a 11x magnification, is considered a "Super-Zoom". Photographers often use such lenses as their main "walk-around" lens, and in fact, I do as well. When I am traveling or on a cruise, I don't want to lug a bag full of lenses, so I am willing to sacrifice a bit of image quality for portability. Note that Sigma, and Tamron make super zooms that have even more magnification. While I have not had an opportunity to test those lenses, I have to conclude that they would have even more image quality issues than the Nikon 18-200mm, which is modest in comparison.

Nikon AF-S 18-200mm f/3.5~5.6G DX VR Zoom lens Overview

Nikon AF-S 18-200mm f/3.5-5.6G VRII

Lens Type: 11x Zoom
Format: DX (APS-C)
Maximum Aperature: f/3.5 to 5.6
Minimum Aperature: f/22
Focal Length: 18mm to 200mm
Autofocus Type: AF-S
Minimum Focus Distance: 1.6ft
Maximum Field-of-View: 8 to 76 deg
Filter size: 72mm
Manufactured: Thailand
Lens construction: Amateur
Street Price: $825


Overview: This is a nice upgrade lens for those that buy Nikon D90s, D7000s, and D300s. It is constructed better than the 18-105mm kit lens - as it has a metal mounting ring, rather than a plastic one that is so typical of the entry-level grade lenses.

This lens is AF-S focusing, so that virtually all Nikon DSLRs will work with this lens in autofocus mode.

The lens features Vibration Reduction, which aids in slow shutter speed photography. Often you can extend the shutter speed down to 1/15th of a second without the need for a tripod or monopod. It should be noted that Vibration Reduction aids in camera shake - and will not help to keep the subject in sharp focus.

Testing: How does this Super Zoom lens match up with either shorter magnification zooms or prime lenses. The lens collection that I have includes a Tokina 11-16mm zoom (1.45x), Nikon 35mm prime, Nikon 50mm prime, and a Nikon 80-200mm zoom (2.5x). The zooms are short enough that there should be a clear difference with the Nikon 18-200mm zoom (11x), if there is indeed a disadvantage to Super Zooms.

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 - I don't have that much ambition. This is just a simple test I used to compare my lenses.

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

Tokina ATX 116mm DX f/2.8 @ 16mm f/5.6.

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

Nikon AF-S 18-105mm DX f/3.5-5.6 @ 24mm f/5.6.

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

Nikon AF-S 35mm DX Prime f/1.8 @ f/5.6.

Nikon AF-S 18-200mm DX f/3.5-5.6 @ 50mm f/5.6.

Nikon AF-D 50mm Prime f/1.8 @ f/5.6.

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

Nikon AF-D 80-200 f/2.8 @ 80mm f/5.6.

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

Nikon AF-D 80-200 f/2.8 @ 100mm f/5.6.

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

Nikon AF-D 80-200 f/2.8 @ 135mm f/5.6.

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

Nikon 80-200 f/2.8 @ 200mm f/5.6.

Conclusion: I used f/5.6 for each lens as it was the worst case scenario - in that the Nikon 18-200mm is limited to f/5.6 at the extreme telephoto end. But unexpectedly, the lens performed best at the telephoto end! I am baffled by that. Since the lens is a faster f/3.5 at the wide angle (18mm) end, the 1 1/3rd improvement in aperture should have resulted in at least equal performance. The Nikon 18-200mm lens had lower sharpness at all focal lengths up to 135mm and above, where it did pretty good, and had the worst sharpness at 24mm.

When changing the aperture to f/8, which is more typical of actual conditions, the Nikon 18-200mm did remarkably well. The old adage "f8 and be there" sure has application here. I also noticed that at f/11 there was further improvement so that the two lenses were indistinguishable at 35mm. However, they are so close at f/8 that I doubt anyone would notice any difference.

Nikon AF-S 18-200mm DX f/3.5-5.6 @ 24mm f/8.

Nikon AF-S 18-105mm DX f/3.5-5.6 @ 24mm f/8.

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

Nikon AF-S 35mm DX Prime f/1.8 @ f/8.

Summary: Clearly, there are measurable differences between the 18-200mm Super Zoom and other lenses. However, measurable does not necessarily mean noticeable. Unless you have a requirement for low-light performance, this lens would be more than acceptable for all but the most critical of photographers. And given it's compact package, it is hard to beat for travel use.

I have to stress though that this conclusion can only be given for the Nikon 18-200mm Super Zoom. Similar Super Zooms from other manufacturers, especially those above 11x may or may not have the same level of performance.