Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Nikon Nikkor AF-S 18-55 VR II Review

Yet another iteration of Nikon's rather successful 18-55 zoom lens. The big difference is its significantly smaller size when stored, thanks to its collapsible design. This of course has the extra disadvantage that you need to do something extra before you can start taking photos. But how does it compare to its older siblings?

The image quality of the 18-55 should satisfy even the most demanding (entry-level) users

+ optically it seems to be just as good as the previous versions.
+ smaller size can be a benefit (although it's slightly longer compared to the old ones when expanded!)
+ VR II works remarkably well; with caution, I easily got 4 stops latitude.

- the 18-55 never inspired confidence in build quality, and this one feels even shakier thanks to the extra button and locking mechanism.
- poor value when not bought as a kit (too expensive to buy separately)
- disappointingly, it vignettes more on FX compared to the older versions!

Intended Users
Great for:
  • bought together with an entry-level Nikon (e.g. D3300, D5300), it's an awesome choice for a first lens.
  • travelling and casual photography, when you don't want to carry much.
  • as a snapshot-kind-of-lens for everyday pictures.
Not for:
  • quality work. In absolute terms, there are a lot of better lenses out there for the same (or even more extended) focal length range
  • low light, especially at the long end. VR is good, but not panacea - the difference between f/5.6 and f/1.8 (that a prime can give you) is more than 3 stops.
  • emergency FX. Sadly, this version cannot be used as an emergency FX 24-55 lens, like the previous versions. It vignettes more, I'd call it a 35-55 lens on FX (and hence rather pointless).

Final Verdict
A rather not-so-bad-not-that-great lens. For the intended audience (entry-level camera owners, perhaps beginners), it is an awesome lens. Competent, with reliable VR, small and handy. It's a no-brainer to get it as a kit with a camera - the price difference is minimal. On the contrary, buying it separately makes little to no sense; it's too expensive to be considered good value. If you look for a really small, cheap, but very competent traveling lens, the Nikkor AF-S 35mm f/1.8 is a better deal - you give up focal length flexibility, but you get everything else (and it's cheaper, too). If you are not bothered by size and (within reason) price, a better all-around zoom would be the Nikkor AF-S VR 18-140mm. Check also the Sigma 17-70mm f/2.8-f/4 - it's a stop faster, it has better focal length range, and image stabilization, too.

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