Review Nikon 18-300mm f/3.5-5.6G ED AF-S DX VR Nikkor (N APS-C)
The Nikon 18-300 mm f/3.5-5.6G ED AF-S DX VR Nikkor, shortly denoted as Nikon 18-300 mm VR, became available in the summer of 2012. It is essentially an extended 18-200 mm lens, whose nickname "vacation zoom" is often used. Many photographers like to bring along only one lens on their holiday. The zoom range of the Nikon 18-300 mm is actually so large that lens exchange is no longer necessary. Yet, this lens is very compact. Is it a coincidence that a vacation zoom lens is as small as a beer can? The Nikon 18-300 mm lens joins the Sigma 18-250 and Tamron 18-270, which have almost the same impressive zoom range. It is a DX lens, so designed for a small image sensor and the maximum f/3.5-5.6 aperture is partly offset by stabilization. The AF-S DX Nikkor 18-300 mm f/3.5-5.6G ED VR has a built-in focusing motor and fits therefore perfectly with Nikon camera bodies without a focusing motor.
Nikon 18-300mm f/3.5-5.6G ED AF-S DX VR Nikkor @ 18 mm
|The impressive 17 x zoom range of the Nikon 18-300 mm VR corresponds to a viewing angle of a 27-450 mm zoom lens on a camera with a full-frame sensor. This lens does a better job as a telephoto lens than the Nikon 18-200 mm VR II. Click on the right image for a larger view of the center of the right image or click here for a 100% crop of this image, shot handheld at a focal distance of 300 mm, f/8 @ ISO 400.
The zoom range of the Nikon 18-300 mm is much larger than the range of an 18-200 mm zoom lens. Nevertheless, buying an 18-300 mm as a "bird lens,” might leave you disappointed. A focal length of 300 mm, even on the DX format, is often too short for birders.
Construction and autofocus Nikon 18-300 mm
Given the large zoom range, the Nikon 18-300 mm is very compact and lightweight. The length of the lens is only 12 cm. Compare that with my beloved Nikon 300 mm 4.0! However, when you zoom from 70 mm to 300 mm, the lens becomes 21 cm long. In addition, as you twist the zoom ring fast, you can feel the wind blow through your eyes. Photographers wearing glasses are in favor here. The zoom ring turns smoothly and is sufficient, as the focus ring play is little. Focusing is smooth enough but in low light or low contrast, the camera's autofocus sometimes starts hunting. We often encounter this phenomenon.
The Nikon 18-300mm comes with lens hood and pouch. Given the huge zoom range, the hood is made for a wide-angle lens. An additional hood for the telephoto range would have been more effective.
Image stabilization Nikon 18-300 mm
The image below at the right shows Imatest results for a large number of images taken at a focal distance of 70 mm. What is there to conclude about the effectiveness of the image stabilization? The picture is not entirely clear, because of a few surprisingly good hand held shots at 1/25 seconds. It seems inevitable that the profit of image stabilization is limited to one or two stops.
Below at the left you will see two images, shot with normal VR, at a focal length of 300mm. The image shot with a shutter speed of 1/160 second is visibly less sharp than the image shot at a shutter speed of 1/500 second. This confirms that the vibration reduction will provide you with one or two stops extra only.
Click on the image for larger version.
Vignetting Nikon 18-300 mm
Because we tested vignetting at nine focal lengths, two graphs are shown here. In summary, we can say that the vignetting at all focal lengths after one aperture stop is reasonably well within bounds. The exception is a focal length of 18 mm, where, the vignetting is still significant even after one aperture stop. To illustrate this, here below, you see the vignetting at a focal length of 18 mm f/3.5 (left) and an image taken at a focal length of 300 mm f/5.6. Despite the in-camera correction of vignetting that was set on the Nikon D3200 , you will have to correct for vignetting afterwards in Photoshop or Lightroom.
Distortion Nikon 18-300 mm
|The Nikon D3200 and Nikon 18-300 mm VR combo did a good job keeping the distortion low. To be honest, we expected, because of the huge zoom range, a large amount of distortion in the jpg files we analyzed from the Nikon D3200 . Only at the 18 mm and 33 mm focal lengths, certain subjects, buildings for example, must be corrected for distortion.
Bokeh is not the best image quality of the Nikon 18-300 mm VR. Above are two images taken at a focal length of 300 mm. The top left image is focused on the background for illustration, to show the test set-up. At the right, you see an image of the same setup, but now with the focus on the foreground. There is no good woolly background. Click on the image for larger version. Bottom left, you see an image taken at a focal length of 200 mm and f/8. Despite the long focal length, there is no nice woolly background to see in this picture either. Below right is a 100% image crop of the troubled bokeh at aperture 3.5 and a focal length of 18 mm.
|The Nikon 18-300 mm VR is constructed with 19 lens elements. Not surprisingly, such a complex construction is sensitive to flare. Below are two images taken at a focal length of 21 mm (left) and a focal length of 25 mm (right) where there is clear flare and ghosting. Loss of contrast, aperture rings and green ghosts, you can get them all. At the longer focal lengths, there is no real flare. Even with a bright light source shining directly into the camera. Here you see an image taken at a focal length of 300 mm.
The resolution of the Nikon 18-300 mm VR is represented by up to 108 columns, half of which represents the center sharpness and the other half represents the corner sharpness. At almost all focal lengths, the center sharpness is at its highest after stopping down one stop. Looking at the extreme corners, it is sometimes necessary to stop an extra aperture to achieve the optimum. In general, this lens shows high sharpness, thanks to, or may be even because of the 24 megapixel test camera. Exception is the corner sharpness at 18 mm; this continues to be below par, even after stopping down.
When possible, we apply the standard in-camera corrections to the lenses that we test. With in-camera correction of chromatic aberration applied by the Nikon D3200 , chromatic aberration is absent in jpg files throughout the entire zoom range.
Click on the image for all Imatest results for chromatic aberration of jpg files.
Those who shoot their images in RAW or use an older Nikon camera will have to take into account the chromatic aberration. At the extreme focal lengths, it can be seen as green and purple edges in sharp contrast transitions. In the middle focal length range of the Nikon 18-300 mm, it may show as blue and yellow edges. Below you can see the chromatic aberration in a 100% crop of a NEF file taken at a focal length of 18 mm (left) and a 200% crop of a NEF file taken at a focal length of 52 mm.
Conclusion Nikon 18-300mm f/3.5-5.6G ED AF-S DX VR review
|See our list of tested lenses or the lenses with a Nikon mount tested by us to compare the performance of this lens to other lenses.
||WYSIWYG score: This table shows the performance of this lens when you store the files in the camera as jpg, with all available in-camera lens corrections applied. This score gives you for this lens/test camera combination: "What you see is what you get".
||Pure RAW score: This table shows the performance of this lens when the file is stored in the camera in RAW format. This score approaches the intrinsic quality of the combination of lens and test camera.
|We had mixed feelings at the start of testing the Nikon 18-300 mm f/3.5-5.6G ED AF-S DX VR. How much quality can you expect from such a small lens with such a large zoom range? Nevertheless, during testing we got excited. Indeed, the vignetting is not too bad and what is left can easily be corrected afterwards. This also applies to distortion and chromatic aberration. The center sharpness is undoubtedly high and in many cases, the corner sharpness more than sufficient. The construction is compact and the AF is fast enough. The lens is slightly weak; playing with the depth of field is difficult because you have much depth. In addition, while we are talking about image quality: the display of focus elements, called bokeh, is not very nice. Additionally, the surcharge for an 18-200 mm is large. Otherwise, the Nikon 18-300 mm is a fine holiday buddy! Currently, we are testing the Nikon 18-200 VR II, so you can compare the resolution of these two lenses. For those who cannot wait: as a telephoto lens, the Nikon 18-300 mm VR is better.