Nikon 18-300mm f/3.5-5.6G ED VR DX AF-S Nikkor
Lab Test Results
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July 23, 2012
by Andrew Alexander
Nikon released the 18-300mm ƒ/3.5-5.6 VR in June of 2012. The lens does not appear to replace Nikon's popular 18-200mm travel zoom lens, as at the time of writing both are still available for purchase.
The lens was designed to fit on camera bodies fitted with an APS-C sensor, and while it will mount on FX bodies, massive vignetting will result. The lens uses a variable aperture, in that as you increase the focal length, both the maximum and minimum aperture sizes decrease. The following table reflects the change in aperture with focal length:
The lens takes 77mm filters, and ships with the HB-58 petal-shaped hood. The lens is available now for around $1,000.
The Nikon 18-300mm ƒ/3.5-5.6 offers decent results for sharpness, but there are some curious results that are worth specific mention.
Wide open at 18mm and ƒ/3.5, the lens offers decent results for sharpness, with a sharper center and very light corner softness. This improves very slightly at ƒ/5.6 - the central area gets somewhat sharper - but corners are never tack-sharp. Zoom in to 28mm and you get much softer corners, while the center is about the same. I would say if you wanted to isolate a subject in the center of the frame this is actually an effect you might like, but if you wanted everything to be in focus, avoid the 28mm setting. Stopping down at 28mm offers some slight improvements, but again, corner softness is never mitigated at this focal length.
Sharpness is excellent at the 50mm setting, with a very curious about-face compared to what we noted a few millimeters previously at 28mm. Even wide-open at ƒ/5.3 the results are almost tack-sharp; in fact, stopping down does nothing to improve overall sharpness at this setting, it just gets very slightly worse as you do so.
At the telephoto settings - 105mm and longer - we see a return of corner softness when used at the widest aperture settings (ƒ/5.6) with worse central sharpness as you zoom towards 300mm. At 105mm it's not so bad, even offering better results stopped down to ƒ/8, but at 200mm and 300mm results for sharpness are only average, making us think that some design concessions have come in to play to offer the extra-long telephoto ability.
Diffraction limiting sets in at ƒ/11 for this lens, meaning that any sharpness advantage obtained from stopping down is very limited, especially at the more telephoto end of the lens where the maximum aperture starts at ƒ/5.6. Performance at ƒ/16 is fairly good up to 105mm, but at 200mm and 300mm it's mediocre at best. At any focal length setting stopping down past that is best avoided, as you get some severe generalized softness: at 50mm and longer at the lens' minimum aperture, ƒ/32, we note some truly soft and fuzzy results.
The results for chromatic aberration are a bit misleading in this case, as our testing software evaluates RAW images and the sample images show JPEG in-camera conversions. In this case, the D7000 offers automatic chromatic aberration removal, and in this case (when viewing the sample images) we can see the D7000 has done an excellent job in removing CA. Untouched, the Nikon 18-300mm has some notable chromatic aberration, both in the corners and across the frame; but looking at the sample images, I can only see some trace magenta fringing in areas of high-contrast.
Corner shading is really only an issue for the Nikon 18-300mm ƒ/3.5-5.6VR when the lens is used at its widest apertures (ƒ/3.5-5.6), and in the worst case we note extreme corners which are almost 3/4EV darker than the center, at 18mm and ƒ/3.5. At any other setting, corner shading is negligible.
The complex array of lens elements that allows such a vast range of focal lengths in one lens leads to some dramatic results for distortion. When used in the wide angle configuration, the lens provides uniform barrel (''bloat'') distortion up to around 18mm, with dramatic distortion in the corners (1.25%, quite significant). After around 24mm, distortion across the frame remains consistently barrel-distorted, but at a moderately low level (around 0.25%, on average) and the extreme corner distortion turns into the pincushion (''squeeze'') style. The worst pincushion distortion is noted very early on at 28mm and continues all the way through to 300mm, where the corners show on average -0.6% pincushion distortion. Post-processing would be required to correct for these effects.
The Nikon 18-300mm is fairly quick to autofocus - the lens takes just over a second to slew through the entire range of focus. Small changes in focus are conducted extremely quickly. As an AF-S lens, autofocus results can be overridden by just turning the focusing ring at any time.
The lens does not offer exceptional results for macro, with a magnification of just 0.15x. Minimum close-focusing distance is 45cm (just under one and a a half feet).
Build Quality and Handling
The 18-300mm extends the lineup in Nikon's 18mm+ range of consumer zoom lenses, exceeding the previous travel zoom with an extra 100mm of telephoto reach.
The 18-300mm is a solid lens. Compared to the 18-200mm, it's longer, wider and (significantly) 9 oz heavier, no doubt to accommodate the increased focal length. It features a metal lens mount and uses plastic 77mm filter threads which don't rotate during focus or zoom operation. The lens features a distance scale under a plastic window, marked in feet and meters, but there's no depth-of-field scale (not surprising for a zoom lens) or an infrared index marker. Focal lengths are marked on the lens near the zoom ring. Two control switches are available on the lens' left side: one which enables or disables autofocus (A or M) and one which enables or disables vibration reduction (ON or OFF).
The zoom ring is the major feature of the lens, mounted forward of the focus ring. It's over 1 1/4 inches wide and is composed of a thick ribbed rubber texture which is very easy to grip. The zoom action of the lens is not internal, so the lens will extend a whopping 3 1/2 extra inches at the 300mm end. The zoom ring travels roughly 100 degrees in its range. There is a nice resistance in the zoom action, and zoom creep was not a problem with this lens; however Nikon has seen fit to include a zoom lock switch on the odds that over time, this action will loosen up and zoom creep may become an issue.
The focus ring of the lens a comparative afterthought, only 1/2 of an inch in width. It does have a nice rubber texture though, with raised ridges, and the difference in sizes means you won't accidentally turn the wrong ring (provided you remember which ring does what). The focus ring ends in soft stops to let you know you have reached the end of the focusing range.
The lens comes standard with a plastic, petal-shaped lens hood that attaches via a bayonet mount and can be reversed for storage. The lens isn't flocked on the inside but does a decent job shielding the front element from sun coming in at oblique angles. The lens hood adds an additional 2 inches to the overall length of the lens.
Be sure to check out our IS Test section tab to view our image stabilization testing for this lens.
Nikon 18-200mm ƒ/3.5-5.6G IF-ED AF-S DX VR ~$750
The perennial and long-standing Nikon travel zoom, the two lenses are very comparable with the obvious difference that the new lens offers slightly more telephoto reach. In terms of numbers the 18-200mm is very, very slightly sharper, but not so much so that for the purpose, it would be a clearer choice over the 18-300mm.
Sigma 18-250mm ƒ/3.5-6.3 DC OS HSM ~$500
Sigma's offering in this category is in the same realm as the Nikon zoom, while not offering quite as much reach (250mm instead of 300mm) and quite as fast (ƒ/6.3 instead of ƒ/5.6) the performance is almost as good and certainly the price tag isn't as high.
Tamron 18-270mm ƒ/3.5-6.3 Di II VC PZD AF ~$650
For a long time Tamron held on to its travel zoom crown with the longest reach of DX-style superzoom lenses. Performance is in the same ball park as the Nikon, but again, the price tag isn't quite as severe.
There is definitely a wide array of options in the travel zoom department, but it comes down to the age-old concession between image quality and convenience. The performance you get out of the Nikon, or any travel zoom, at its extreme telephoto range, is not going to be comparable to any dedicated zoom lens. But if you can only bring one lens, then it's probably better to have the all-in-one than miss the shot because you couldn't get close enough. As for whether you should go with Nikon or less expensive Sigma or Tamron: the third-party lenses are good, but small things like build quality and image stabilization performance are where Nikon justifies its existence. If these things aren't crucial to you, then you can certainly save some dollars, but you won't be wasting your money if you decide to spend the premium price for the Nikon.
The VFA target should give you a good idea of sharpness in the center and corners, as well as some idea of the extent of barrel or pincushion distortion and chromatic aberration, while the Still Life subject may help in judging contrast and color. We shoot both images using the default JPEG settings and manual white balance of our test bodies, so the images should be quite consistent from lens to lens.
As appropriate, we shoot these with both full-frame and sub-frame bodies, at a range of focal lengths, and at both maximum aperture and ƒ/8. For the ''VFA'' target (the viewfinder accuracy target from Imaging Resource), we also provide sample crops from the center and upper-left corner of each shot, so you can quickly get a sense of relative sharpness, without having to download and inspect the full-res images. To avoid space limitations with the layout of our review pages, indexes to the test shots launch in separate windows.
Nikon 18-300mm f/3.5-5.6G ED VR DX AF-S Nikkor
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Nikon 18-300mm f/3.5-5.6G ED VR DX AF-S Nikkor User Reviews
10 out of 10 points and recommended by ppk (8 reviews)Amazing all in one.Heavy. but not as heavy as the 80-400....
Wow! I reviewed the 80-400 VR on this site and in comparison with that.. the 18-300 is better. In fact it replaces nearly all my current half a dozen nikkors. It is a lot better than the 18-200 VRII. Don't know why I bought that one, now...reviewed February 23rd, 2013 (purchased for $699)
I do go to alaska each year and have drug the slow focusing 80-400 each year... along with the 18-200. The 18-300 is the new single lens.
I cannot tell any difference between the 80-400 and the 18-300 in sharpness or color at f8 at full telephoto. At f5.6 the 18-300 is a little better, with better contrast, too. My example is posted on the Nikon site...
I got mine at B&H for $699 and it came with 77mm filters, UV and polarizer. YOU CAN NOT BEAT THAT!!!
I have a 12-24 dx that is sharper in the overlap by a bit at 24, but 18 both are the same. and that lens was $599. ..
Good color, better than the 80-400 at full telephoto. Get it while it is on sale - you have only one week left!!!
7 out of 10 points and recommended by touristguy87 (33 reviews)combines an 18-250 and a 70-300 for DX camerasstill not wide enough, is outrageously expensive and weighs > 800g
...since we're here rating lenses that we don't actually own, speaking in generalities...this lens would be great if it weighed say 400g instead of 800. At 800g it requires true dedication...you really have to need it to want to carry-around that much weight. To me it's just a good argument for a 4/3rds camera and a matching 14-150 IS lens. Carry this around for a week and a CX camera with a 10-120mm IS lens will make you drool. If not a good p&s with a matching effective range like the Coolpix S9100.reviewed July 26th, 2012
but in any case, in my opinion 28-450mm effective is only 2/3rds of the battle. What about 17-50mm effective?
What about a real DOF at long focal-lengths?
This lens won't gie you either, even at F13 the DOF will be measured in yards at the long end.
8 out of 10 points and recommended by iffo (7 reviews)Large zoom range Compact and light weight in relation to zoom range At all focal lengths high resolution in the centre and at most focal length sufficiently high resolution in the corners (using the Nikon D3200) Vignetting and distortion lOnly f/3.5-5.6 At 18 mm considerable distortion and vignetting Ghost and flare at the wider focal lengrths Less attractive bokeh AF hunts sometimes with low contrast subjects Expensive compared with the Nikon 18-200 mm VR II
Tested the 18-300 mm in combination with a Nikon D3200reviewed July 19th, 2012
Corner resolution lags behind, but is compensated by high resolution of the D3200. Better as a telephoto lens than the Nikon 18-200 VR2