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Design

The 18-300mm is distinctly supersized compared to other DX-format superzooms, and indeed contrives to be larger and heavier than the full frame AF-S Nikkor 28-300mm f/3.5-5.6G ED VR. Its design and construction are both typical mid-range Nikon, with extensive use of high-quality plastics for the lens barrel, and a runner seal around the metal lens mount to help prevent dust and water getting into the camera. The large barrel does mean that the zoom and focus rings are both generously sized.

An array of switches on the side of the lens controls the focus and stabilization systems. These are smaller than on third-party superzooms, which makes them a bit more fiddly to operate, but has the advantage of reducing the risk of changing settings accidentally. There's also a switch to lock the zoom at the fully-retracted 18mm position, to prevent it extending under its own weight when you're carrying it around.

One feature worthy of note is the focusing system - the lens has an A/M position that allows manual override of autofocus at any time, and the focus ring doesn't rotate during autofocus. It's also geared, which means it has a much-longer travel from closest focus to infinity compared to most of its peers, which should facilitate more-accurate manual focus. These characteristics are all associated with a ring-type focus motor.

Zoom action / zoom creep

Superzoom lenses, with their long extensions and heavy front elements, tend to suffer from two related ergonomic issues - uneven zoom ring actions, and 'zoom creep', i.e. a tendency to extent under their own weight when carried around. This tends to be most problematic if you habitually carry the camera with the lens pointing downwards, either in-hand or using a sling-type strap.

The 18-300mm has large front elements and and a weighty extending barrel section, so might be expected to be predisposed towards zoom creep. However we found our sample to be impressively resistant - the lens tended to stay put even when carrying it around with the camera pointing downwards. The trade-off is a slightly stiff zoom action, but not to an extent that interferes with shooting. The lens also has a zoom lock switch to prevent inadvertent extension, handily-positioned on the side of the barrel for quick operation by your left thumb.

On the camera

The 18-300mm's size is emphasized on the compact D3200 we used for this review, and its weight makes for a relatively unbalanced combination (essentially you end up supporting the camera by the lens when shooting, rather than vice versa). Naturally it'll feel much better-matched to larger camera bodies which have more-substantial handgrips, such as the D7000.

Compared to Tamron 18-270mm F/3.5-6.3 Di II VC PZD and Sigma 18-250mm F3.5-6.3 DC Macro OS HSM

Here's the Nikon 18-300mm dwarfing its closest rivals, the Sigma 18-250mm F3.5-5.6 DC Macro OS HSM and Tamron 18-270mm F/3.5-6.3 Di II VC PZD (both here in Canon mount, and therefore a couple of millimetres longer than their respective Nikon versions). The Tamron and Sigma have shorter zoom ranges and smaller maximum apertures at the telephoto end, and use micro-type ultrasonic focus motors which don't allow full-time manual override. But they do both have built-in optical image stabilization, and are little over half the weight of the Nikon.

The images below give an idea of the difference in magnification you'll get between these three at their telephoto ends. All three were taken within minutes of each other from the same camera position.

Nikon 18-300mm @ 300mm Tamron 18-270mm @ 270mm Sigma 18-250mm @ 250mm

The increased magnification of the 300mm telephoto end is clear here - the 18-300mm does give noticeably more 'reach', and of course gathers a bit more light than the other lenses too. But whether this is worth the increased bulk and price is very much a personal decision.

Autofocus

The 18-300mm uses Nikon's 'Silent Wave Motor' for focusing, which is reasonably fast and near-silent in normal operation using the optical viewfinder. We saw no evidence for any systematic focusing errors during our real-world shooting, but using the D3200 as the test body, we saw a certain predisposition towards random misfocusing towards the telephoto end of the zoom. As usual, though, it must be noted that focus speed and accuracy is dependent upon a number of variables, including the camera body used, subject contrast, and light levels.

Switch the camera to live view or movie mode and, as is common for SLR systems, autofocus slows dramatically, although on Nikon's latest SLRs it's quite usable as long as your subject isn't moving. Unlike the latest generation of lenses designed with video in mind, though, AF during movie recording isn't silent, and the sound of the lens buzzing to itself like an angry insect will be clearly audible on your soundtracks.

Dependence of effective focal length on focus distance

The lens's angle of view widens dramatically on focusing from infinity to 0.45m, especially at the telephoto end. This is a common trait with superzooms, and the Nikon 18-200mm, Sigma 18-250mm and Tamron 18-270mm behave in just the same way. The result is that when the lens is focused to 2m, the 300mm telephoto end has an effective focal length that looks much closer to 200mm. In context, it's worth bearing in mind that long telephotos generally tend to used more for distant subjects, in which case the lens naturally behaves as a 'true' 300mm (as you can see from the comparison above). Meanwhile at short distances you merely have to move a little bit closer to compensate.

Lens body elements

The lens uses Nikon's F mount. It's designed for DX format SLRs - on FX cameras, DX crop mode will be engaged automatically. It can also be used on Nikon 1 System mirrorless cameras via the F mount adapter, giving a 50-800mm equivalent range, with autofocus and stabilization.

Here you can also see the rubber 'O'-ring that surrounds the mount to protect against dust and moisture getting into the camera.
The filter thread is 77mm. This is unusually large for a modern superzoom - its Sigma and Tamron competitors have 62mm threads - which means filters will be correspondingly more expensive.

The good news is that it does not rotate on autofocusing, which makes use of polarizing or ND gradient filters a bit easier.
The bayonet-mount HB-58 hood is provided as standard, and clicks positively into place on the front of the lens. It's made from thick plastic, with a matte black finish on the inside to minimize reflections of stray light into the lens.

A white dot on the outside of the hood aids alignment for mounting, and the hood reverses neatly for storage.
The zoom ring has a 31mm wide rubber grip, and rotates a generous 120 degrees clockwise from wide to telephoto. It rotates reasonably smoothly, although with a pronounced increase in stiffness around the 50mm mark.

The front element extends fully 86mm on zooming. There's noticeable 'play' in the barrel at the telephoto end.
The focus ring has a 12mm-wide ridged rubber grip, and rotates fully 210 degrees anti-clockwise from infinity to 0.45m, in principle allowing much more precise manual focus than most other superzooms. It doesn't rotate during autofocus either.

A basic distance scale, marked in feet and meters, appears in a window just in front of the focus ring.
An array of switches on the side of the barrel control focusing and stabilization. The top one selects between manual focus (M) and autofocus with manual override (M/A). Next down is a switch to turn stabilization on and off, and at the bottom, one to select VR mode.

To the left of these is a switch which can be used to lock the lens at the 18mm position, and prevent it extending under its own weight.

Reported aperture vs focal length

Here we show the maximum and minimum apertures reported by the camera at the marked focal lengths.

Focal length 18mm 28mm 50mm 105mm 200mm 300mm
Max aperture
F3.5
F4.0
F5.3
F5.6
F5.6
F5.6
Min aperture
F22
F25
F32
F32
F32
F32

From 18mm through to about 105mm, the 18-300mm offers similar maximum apertures to other superzooms such as the Tamron 18-270mm F3.5-6.3 Di II VC PZD or Sigma 18-250mm F3.5-6.3 DC Macro OS HSM; where it differs is in then maintaining F5.6 out to its 300mm setting. Compared to the AF-S DX Nikkor 18-200mm F3.5-5.6G ED VR II, it's roughly the same across the shared range (perhaps 1/3 stop slower at 50mm, which isn't exactly the end of the world).

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Comments

Total comments: 7
buryan ch

How much better is 70-200mm f2.8? I know that it's more expensive, but is it worth it?

http://aburyan.com

Comment edited 9 seconds after posting
1 upvote
Florian Demmer

i like to travel and previously owned a 70-300mm Nikkor lens, which was unfortunately stolen on my last trip. the idea is to have less things with me travelling, so i was looking into super zoom. yes, i need 300mm and i also want to get as wide as 18 for indoor shots, so this lens seems perfect. distortion i can fix in lightroom, but my concern is sharpness. shot this http://i.imgur.com/TOvCv0s.jpg at 300mm 1/320 f8 iso100 (d7000) on a past journey. can this superzoom get as sharp as this? all the samples are shot wide open :(

0 upvotes
cw1947

I am using the Nikon 18-300mm 3.5 5.6 g for birds in flight;I am getting on target but most of my shots are blurred. Can anyone help me with this problem?

0 upvotes
Florian Demmer

in my experience you need to get as fast or faster than 1/1000 for birds in flight.

0 upvotes
harvestmedia1

Can anyone help me to find a suitable lens for my Nikon camera? I use the camera mainly for video and looking for a wide angle lens which is good in low light with VR option and also which can cover wide area in focus. I already have a 18-105 lens.
Thanks in advance.

0 upvotes
tbcass

Anybody who buys a quality DSLR and then puts a garbage superzoom on it should just stick to P&S cameras. Anybody who is serious about photography shouldn't touch this lens with a 10 foot pole.

1 upvote
Timmbits

50mm is this lense's sweet spot, with sharpness good from centre to the edges. but that's at 5.3 maximum aperture. who wants to be limited to shoot 50mm @f5.3?

CA definitely could be better, as it's performance at full tele, which appears to be very disappointing.

These tests show us the limitations of such lenses, and makes us realize why its often preferable to have several lenses instead.

It is a pity that the Fuji X-S1 also isn't stellar at full zoom... but you can have a camera like that one for half the price of this lens alone. Pity that it's sensor is only 2/3" though, or it would be a real alternative option to spending this sort of money on just a lens.

Comment edited 3 minutes after posting
0 upvotes
Total comments: 7