Superzooms have just got even more powerful with the Nikkor 18-300mm, but is it a lens for everyday use and what compromises have been made? Find out with the AF-S DX Nikkor 18-300mm f/3.5-5.6G ED VR review
Image: The huge zoom of the 18-300mm lens is suitable for a huge range of images, although chromatic aberrations can be an issue towards the corners
As you would expect from a lens with such a large zoom range, the autofocus can be a little sluggish when shooting at longer focal lengths. If the point of focus is missed, the lens has a long range over which to focus back and forth.
For general-purpose use, the 18-300mm is ideal. As part of the test, I used the lens out and about on a walk in the countryside, without the intention of specifically taking test images. The aim was to see how the lens performed in real situations, but I was also interested to see exactly which parts of the focal range I used. I wanted to see how much I used the 200-300mm range, to find out how much more useful the lens would be over the 18-200mm.
Interestingly, I took more than half my images between 18mm and 200mm. However, most of the remaining images where taken at the maximum 300mm setting. Almost exclusively, these images were of wildlife and, of course, the focal length will be dictated by circumstance and subject. I would suggest that many enthusiast photographers are drawn to whatever the maximum setting of a zoom lens is, especially when out snapping and an opportunity to take a wildlife image presents itself. So it would appear that there is some advantage to having a 300mm focal length, even if you don’t expect to use it too often.
The new 18-300mm lens performs in a very similar manner to the 18-200mm. Barrel distortion is quite severe at the widest focal lengths, and, as well as a bend, the curve waves. Most Nikon DSLRs should correct the distortion in JPEG files, but those using older cameras or shooting raw images will have to correct this. Due to the wave of the distortion, it is best if a calibrated correction, such as that found in Adobe Lightroom, is used, rather than a generic correction. Pincushion distortion is also present, and is at its most severe at 300mm, although it is visible before this.
Vignetting is noticeable when shooting with the aperture wide open, and is at its worst at the 18mm focal length. This is corrected in JPEG files, and even if you are shooting raw it isn’t too much of an issue as it is easily corrected
Unfortunately, chromatic aberrations aren’t uncommon in zoom lenses with such extreme focal ranges. They are caused by the sheer number of glass elements that the light must travel through. As a result, there is chromatic aberrations visible in raw files and a hint of purple fringing at the edges of images. This is almost entirely reduced in JPEG files except in extreme cases, and it can be removed from raw files without too much effort. Again, to some extent, chromatic aberrations are almost inevitable with this type of lens, and they are the compromises that must be made when using such a lens to take images that contain high-contrast edges.
This lens is about on a par with the AF-S DX Nikkor 18-200mm f/3.5-5.6G ED VR II. At the 18mm setting, the 18-300mm can resolve up to around 30 in our resolution test. However, by 300mm the resolution significantly reduces, as does the level of contrast.
The sharpest aperture is around f/8-11, which is the same as that on the Nikkor 18-200mm and the Tamron 18-270mm. Although the performance of all three lenses is similar, the slightly more powerful zoom of the Nikkor 18-300mm gives it a slight edge over the Tamron 18-270mm. However, with the Tamron costing half the price of the Nikkor 18-300mm, it may be more popular among the target market.
If carefully focused, and set to its sharpest aperture and a fast shutter speed, images from the 18-300mm can look very good. It is worth finding out how best to use the lens to get the sharpest results, such as shooting at f/8. Of course, this isn’t always practical, so a compromise must be made in return for having the convenience of a single lens on which most images can be taken.
We recorded the test chart images using the AF-S DX Nikkor 18-300mm f/3.5-5.6G ED VR , AF-S DX Nikkor 18-200mm f/3.5-5.6G ED VR II and Tamron AF 18-270mm f/3.5 -6.3 Di II VC LD Aspherical IF Macro lenses. Images were taken on a Nikon D3200. Due to the minimum focus distance not being close enough, the 18-200mm shots were taken at 24mm, rather than the widest 18mm setting. *Images taken at f/6.3, not f/5.6