Conclusion - Pros
- Huge 11x focal length range, ideal general purpose and travel lens
- Excellent image stabilization system, consistently delivering three to four stops benefit
- Good central sharpness at all focal lengths (but inconsistent corners)
- Attractive rendition of out-of-focus regions of the image
- Improved build quality in comparison to the 18-55mm and 55-250mm kit lenses
- Well-placed zoom lock switch
Conclusion - Cons
- Poor sharpness across much of the frame at 18mm and wider apertures
- Pronounced barrel distortion at wideangle, and pincushion distortion around 50mm
- High levels of chromatic aberration at either end of the zoom range
The EF-S 18-200mm F3.5-5.6 IS is a lens which many Canon users have been waiting for with great anticipation, as an ideal 'all-in-one' lens for travel and 'walkaround' use. In the flesh it behaves much as we'd expect from such an ambitious design, as an 11x zoom range will always necessitate some fairly major optical compromises. Wideangle performance is distinctly mediocre due to a combination of barrel distortion, chromatic aberration, and softness at wide apertures; and while the lens is respectably sharp at longer focal lengths, this is tempered by pincushion distortion around 50mm and chromatic aberration at 200mm. However Canon has to be given some credit for providing users with free software which can compensate for those lens aberrations in RAW conversion, although it can't of course cure underlying sharpness issues.
But having dealt with the inevitable optical negatives, it's also important to appreciate the positives. First and foremost is that hugely flexible zoom range, which can handle the vast majority of photographic opportunities (this is, after all, the whole raison d'etre of such a lens). The superb image stabilizer extends the capability of the lens still further, allowing you to keep the lens stopped down to optimum apertures for longer as light levels drop. Coupled with the high ISO performance of modern DSLRs, it also opens up a whole range of possibilities hitherto more associated with fast primes, such as hand-held available light and night time photography (as long as subjects aren't moving too much). The lens also does well in areas which are not readily measurable in the headline-grabbing studio tests, with good resistance to flare and attractive rendition of out-of-focus regions of the image. The macro coverage is quite impressive too, although image quality isn't brilliant at the closest focus distances.
Canon users will perhaps most wish to know whether the 18-200mm is a good replacement for the EF-S 18-55mm F3.5-5.6 IS and EF-S 55-250mm F4-5.6 IS kit lens combination. The primary advantage of the superzoom is simply that it eliminates the need to change lenses; it's also somewhat better built, and has a non-rotating front element which is an advantage for filter users. But the two-lens solution gives longer reach, and (although we've not yet formally tested the 55-250mm) we'd expect it to give nothing up in terms of optical quality; the overall weight is near-identical too. So overall, the answer isn't necessarily clear-cut.
Naturally many readers will also wish to compare this lens with Nikon's AF-S 18-200mm F3.5-5.6 VR, but as might be expected there's really no clear-cut winner (indeed perhaps the more interesting comparison lies in the different compromises the two manufacturers have made in their designs). In terms of sharpness, the Nikon is better at 18mm, but the Canon wins at 200mm, and also shows a less catastrophic drop in performance in the 135mm region. The Canon generally exhibits a tad more chromatic aberration all round, and has higher barrel distortion at wideangle, but less pincushion distortion at 50mm. And while the Nikon has a superior autofocus system, the Canon fights back with its highly impressive image stabilizer. So the two essentially match each other punch-for-punch, with neither quite able to deliver a decisive knockout blow.
So overall, this lens has to be accepted for what it is: a general purpose solution which allows the photographer not to worry about fiddling around changing lenses when out traveling, but which makes inevitable optical compromises to achieve this goal. Those seeking the ultimate in technical image quality will need to look elsewhere, but as an overall package it's likely as good as any other DSLR superzoom out there. So for users looking for the convenience of such a lens, it's a perfectly good choice.
Rating (out of 10)
|Ergonomics & handling||8.0|
Recommended (with reservations)
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|Canon EF-S 18-200mm F3.5-5.6 IS Samples Gallery - Posted 15th October 2008|