If you're interested 50-200WR vs 55-300 vs 18-250 (long winded post)

Started Dec 3, 2009 | Discussions thread
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Jon Schick
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If you're interested 50-200WR vs 55-300 vs 18-250 (long winded post)
Dec 3, 2009

Currently have all three of these (the WR is available in the UK for £109, and for that money it's a bit of a no brainer as a compact telephoto for British weather conditions).

Thought I'd try them all out last night and not going to bore you with the photographs. But what I did was mount the camera on a very heavy tripod, use live view to focus, self timer (so mirror up) and remote control to minimise any kind of shake. Photos of a boring test chart that came free with a magazine a few years ago. Here's what I reckon based on my lenses:

(1) build quality - none of them are brilliant but the WR lens actually feels very nice for the price, the Tamron 18-250 is perfectly acceptable, and if anything the 55-300 feels like it has the cheapest build. Not much in it though, and they're all OK. Probably a draw between the Tamron and the 50-200, but extra points to the Pentax for being WR.

(2) at 50mm (55mm for the 55-300) - the WR lens is noticeably soft at f4 but sharpens up nicely when stopped down. The 18-250 performs much better wide open (f4.5) but there is little meaningful difference from the 50-200WR at f8. Wide open at this focal length, the 55-300 performs better than the 50-200 but not as well as the 18-250. Stopped down to f8, and it is beaten by both of the other lenses (although not by much). Both Pentax lenses have vignetting wide open at this focal length, but because you're in the sweet spot for the 18-250, that lens does not. At 50mm I'd say the Tamron 18-250 is the clear winner. Wide open, the 50-200 is almost unusable,but stopped down it performs well. 55-300 more consistent but not as good as the Tamron.

(3) at 100mm, the 18-250 starts to lose its advantage and shows some CA (green) that I don't get from the Pentaxes. At f8, I'd just about say the 50-200 performs best out of the three, but it's very close and for anything other than pixel peeping there's no meaningful difference between the two Pentax lenses. The Tamron is still more than "good enough". All of them show some moderate pincushion distortion but in the real world it would hardly matter. The biggest difference by far is actually due to the internal focusing mechanism of the 18-250: I know it sounds odd, but the field of view for this lens varies depending upon where you focus. So at 100mm it performs like a 100mm lens when focused to infinity, but looks more like an 80mm lens when focused close! Winner at 100mm - the 50-200 ("just", in DPR speak).

(4) at 200mm, the 50-200WR is OK wide open but improves when stopped down a bit. There's a bit of CA but not enough that I'd worry about it. There's a similar story for the Tamron18-250, which holds things together pretty well in the centre, but the borders are falling apart - even at f8 (that said, it's still good enough to view on screen or up to A4 print). The 18-250 has the most CA at this focal length. The 55-300 is the best performer wide open (when it is perfectly usable) and stopped down. The difference at f8 when compared to the 50-200 would probably be noticeable even viewed on screen or printed at A4 (ditto the difference between the 50-200 and the 18-250). So at 200mm the 55-300 is the clear winner, the 50-200 is acceptable especially when stopped down a little, and the 18-250 is acceptable for A4 prints as long as you don't want the borders to be crisp.

So what to make of all this? It probably confirms what many people suspected already:

The 18-250 is a good all in one, but starts to fall behind at the longer focal lengths. The centres stay reasonably sharp but it's a different story around the edges, and CA starts to become an issue at longer lengths.

The 55-300 performs the best of the three when wide open, and at the longer focal lengths. The lens seems to be optimised for longer lengths, and does a nice job.

The 50-200WR performs well when stopped down a bit, but wide open (esp at 50mm) is not its forte. As a cheap and compact weather resistant travel lens that's barely larger than the 18-55 and can be stuffed in your pocket, it's pretty decent as long as you don't need to push it to its limits.

If I could only keep one, it'd be the 18-250 - it's good enough most of the time that it's incredible flexibility make it a great all in one solution. If I had to sell one, it'd probably be the 55-300. Yes, it's the best performer of the three on the whole, but it's also significantly larger than the 50-200, you'd not notice much difference between them in the real world for the focal lengths where they overlap apart from when wide open (and I forgot to mention, it is very noticeably slower to focus, even with the K-7), and I don't often need to venture to 300mm. If I knew I was going there, I'd rather use my Tamron 180SP with a TC - it would kill the results from any of these!

I know this is not the most scientific of posts and I haven't included a lot of pixels to pour over - but hope it may help because you see quite a few people asking for views on the relative merits of these lenses, and almost no info is available about the 50-200 in its WR version.

Jon

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