A starting photographer choses a camera with an 18-55 mm kit lens as a first SLR. That is a compact, light zoom lens with—certainly given the price—a surprisingly good image quality. And really only one shortcoming. With a focal length of 55 mm, you are not able to adequately pull in subjects that are far away. That bird flying over, your children playing, or the lion in the zoom will be there, but it is less imposing than the feeling that you had when you took the picture. What you need is a compact, light telephoto zoom lens with a longer focal length.
Then you automatically come to the Nikon AF-S DX 55–200 mm f/4–5.6G ED VR II. Actually, with the purchase of a Nikon D5500 or D3200, you should not only buy the standard kit lens, but immediately get the Nikon AF-S DX 55–200 mm f/4–5.6G ED VR II as well. The chance is very great that you will do that later anyway. And you can buy a kit with both lenses for a more attractive price than the individual components.
Nikon AF-S DX 55–200 mm VR II?Surprisingly good.
A focal length range of 55-200 mm on a camera with a DX sensor delivers the same field of view as an 82.5-300 mm lens on a camera with an FX sensor. There is no sign in the image quality of how small, light and inexpensive the zoom lens was with which this photo was made. Nikon AF-S DX 55–200 mm f/4–5.6G ED VR II + D7100 @ 65 mm f/5.6, 1/640 sec, 100 ISO
Build and auto focus
This zoom lens has a retractable lens mechanism: pull in the lens when it is not in use so that it is exceptionally wearable. The lens weighs just 300 grams (10% lighter than its predecessor) and is just 83 mm long when it is retracted. In order to make the weight as low as possible, as much high-quality plastic was used as possible. It is put together solidly, but feels less luxurious than the high-end Nikon lenses. It is also a question of taste: some photographers prefer telephoto lenses that are a bit heavier, like the Nikon 70-300 mm, instead of a very light telephoto lens like the Nikon 55-200 mm, just because they find it nicer to work with. On the other hand, there are many photographers who usually leave their telephoto lens at home because they think it's too heavy.... For use, you have to extend the lens before you can take a picture. The optical design consists of 13 elements in 9 groups, including an ED (extra-low dispersion) glass element that limits chromatic aberration to a minimum. Nikon's compact Silent Wave Motor technology (SWM) offers silent, fast and accurate auto focus. Sharp pictures, for both photo and video, are assured.
The shortest focal distance is 1.1 m across the entire zoom range. The AF of more expensive Nikon lenses can be manually overruled when you want, usually for creative purposes. With the Nikon 55-200 mm, you first have to flip the AF/MF switch to MF, and that costs you some time. The focus ring is very small and is all the way at the front of the lens. You can manually focus with this lens, but if you want to do that often, a more expensive Nikon is probably a better choice.
As far as vignetting is concerned, this lens gives nothing up to more expensive telephoto zooms. At full aperture, the vignetting is sometimes visible. That is simple to correct with software, if it becomes necessary. In most practice shots that you make at full aperture, like the one below, nothing is noticeable.
The zoom range of the Nikon AF-S DX 55–200 mm f/4–5.6G ED VR II is exceptionally suitable for an enthusiastic nature photographer. Even through the fencing of Amersfoort Zoo, it delivers a nice picture. ;-)
Distortion Nikon AF-S DX 55–200 mm f/4–5.6G ED VR II
This zoom lens shows the pattern characteristic of telephoto zooms, from barrel-shaped distortion at the shortest focal distance to pincushion-shaped distortion at the longer focal distances (above 80 mm). With critical applications, it is visible, but the degree of distortion is actually kept nicely within limits: just as good as with more expensive lenses. If there is a need for it, then any distortion can always be corrected simply with software.
Built-in vibration reduction
Spring 2015: all birds, in this case a magpie, in the Netherlands are starting to build their nests
Nikon indicates that, thanks to the vibration reduction system, it is possible to make a shot by hand with shutter times up to four stops (1 stop more than the previous model) longer, without camera vibrations causing less sharp photos. Especially for telephoto shots, in particular in low light, the Vibration Reduction System (VR) ensures that motion blur (from the photographer, not from the subject) is significantly limited. The system works perfectly and is silent, which is important for making stable video recordings in low light.
At a focal distance of 55 mm, the shots that I made with image stabilization and a shutter time of 1/3 of a second were measurably less sharp than shots made at shorter shutter times, but are still always spectacularly sharp. The illustration below is a partial enlargement, blown up to 100%, of two shots of a test card made with a shutter time of 1.3 seconds: on the left without image stabilization, on the right with image stabilization.
Both wide-angle lenses and telephoto lenses are sensitive to backlighting. There are then, for example, colored, angular flecks when you photograph directly into a bright light source. You will certainly encounter ghosts sometimes in such situations. But where the Nikon 55-200 mm VR II surprised me was the lack of prominence of those ghosts. In the illustration shown here, there are two ghosts from a practice shot that have been enlarged. This is a really great performance for a zoom lens in this price class.
The Nikon AF-S DX 55–200 mm f/4–5.6G ED VR II produces perfectly sharp images at all focal distances. If you look at the measurement results, then you see that the sharpness at the shortest focal distances is a bit higher than at the longest focal distance and that the sharpness in the center is somewhat higher than in the corners. But the differences are so small that the target audience for this lens, (starting) amateur photographers, will not have to worry about it, I think. Focus on the creative side of the photography and let the Nikon AF-S DX 55–200 mm f/4–5.6G ED VR II do its work, I would say.
Nikon AF-S DX 55–200 mm f/4–5.6G ED VR II + D7100 @ 200 mm f/5.6, 1/500 sec, 100 ISO
Glass breaks up the colors of the light in different ways, so that at sharp contrast transitions in the corners of the image, colored edges can occur. Both for wide-angle lenses and for telephoto lenses, this happens. In the design, Nikon has corrected for this by applying one element of ED (extra-low dispersion) glass, which limits lateral chromatic aberration (the technical term for the separation of colors). In uncorrected RAW files, it can be seen, in particular at the longest focal distance, that some chromatic aberration remains. That was perfectly corrected by the Nikon D7100 test camera. All modern Nikon cameras correct jpg files perfectly for any chromatic aberration of a lens. Jpg files from a Nikon camera show no chromatic aberration, not even with this lens.
Bokeh Nikon AF-S DX 55–200 mm f/4–5.6G ED VR II
The Nikon AF-S DX 55–200 mm f/4–5.6G ED VR II has seen rounded aperture lamellae that, certainly at the longest focal distance, produces an unexpectedly nice background blur, so that you can beautifully isolate a subject from the background. On the edges, the bokeh changes from perfectly round to cat's eye shaped (it does resemble an FX lens, as far as that's concerned), and there is a small edge visible on the outside of the bokeh circles. Of course there are lenses with a nicer bokeh, such as the Nikon 50 mm f/1.8 or the Nikon 18-140 mm, but for this price, the bokeh looks great.
Choice stress? Nikon 55-200 mm VR II vs Nikon 70-300 mm vs Nikon 18-200 mm
Which lens do you choose for your first Nikon SLR camera? It's not easy. The choice is enormous. Even so, it does not have to be difficult. The Nikon 55-200 mm VR II has a number of important features relative to other lenses, like (the more solidly built) Nikon 70-300 mm telephoto zoom or the Nikon 18-200 mm holiday zoom. As far as image quality is concerned, you will only see the differences if you lay your shots made with different lenses right next to each other. They are small differences that are important for perfectionists and professionals, but not for starters and amateur photographers. The most important considerations for making a choice are, I believe, are these: Do you really need a larger telephoto lens in order to bring subjects closer to you? Then save for a 70-300 mm. That can also be used in the future on a Nikon camera with an FX sensor (D610, D750, for example). Do you want a large zoom range, but would rather not change lenses? Then choose the Nikon 18-200 mm instead of a 55-200 mm plus 18-55 mm. As far as size, weight and price are concerned, the choice is no-brainer: Choose a 55-200 mm VR II as the telephoto zoom next to your Nikon 18-55 mm VR II standard lens. The 55-200 mm costs half as much as what those other two zoom lenses cost. Not only in terms of compactness and zoom range do the Nikon 55-200 mm VR II and the Nikon 18-55 mm VR II fit seamlessly with each other. They also have the same filter size (52 mm). You thus only need to buy and to carry along one polarization filter or ND filter (for video). That could be an additional consideration for choosing the Nikon 55-200 mm VR II.
Conclusion Nikon AF-S DX 55–200 mm f/4–5.6G ED VR II review with Nikon D7100
Look in our list of reviewed lenses or the lenses that we have reviewed with a Nikon mount in order to compare the performance of this lens with other lenses.
Test camera: Nikon D7100, D5200
WYSIWYG score: This table shows the performance of this lens when you save 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. If you make use of Photoshop, Lightroom or SilkyPix for converting RAW files, then the RAW scores are the same as the jpg scores.
Compact (a bit more than 8 cm long) and light (300 grams) telephoto zoom
Good image quality on all fronts
Fast and silent (nice during filming) auto focus
Effective built-in image stabilization, also usable while recording video, prevents motion-blurred shots in the dark
Very high price-to-quality ratio
Less suitable for manual focusing
Too long, didn't read (TL/DR)? Good is not a synonym for big and expensive, as proven by this compact and attractively priced Nikon 55-200 mm VR II both in our test and in practice.
One of the most popular telephoto lenses from Nikon is replaced by a more compact, lighter version with better image stabilization, which fortunately is still attractively priced. We did not review its predecessor, and we thus cannot compare the two versions with each other. But we can be brief about the Nikon AF-S DX 55–200 mm f/4–5.6G ED VR II: This is a light, terrifically compact telephoto zoom that, partly thanks to the good, built-in image stabilization, delivers sharp pictures under all conditions, both for photo and video—a zoom lens with a price-to-quality ratio to drool over. Really, when purchasing a Nikon D5500 or D3200, you should not only buy the standard kit lens, but also immediately get the Nikon AF-S DX 55–200 mm f/4–5.6G ED VR II.
Author: Ivo Freriks
With Camera Review Stuff I hope to make a modest contribution to the pleasure that you get from photography. By testing cameras and lenses in the same way, evluating the results and weighing up the pros and cons, I hope to help you find the right camera or lens.