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Conclusion - Pros

  • Huge 16.7x focal length range (while maintaining F5.6 aperture at telephoto)
  • Good image quality in the wide to short telephoto range
  • Fast, quiet autofocus
  • Good build quality, smooth zooming action and no zoom creep
  • Decent close-up capability

Conclusion - Cons

  • Very soft results at telephoto
  • Extreme distortion across most of the range (but can be corrected in-camera with recent SLRs)
  • Image stabilization not as effective as on similar lenses, especially at telephoto end
  • Flash shadowing at wideangle on smaller SLRs
  • Large, heavy and expensive compared to other superzooms

Overall conclusion

The Nikon AF-S DX Nikkor 18-300mm F3.5-5.6G ED VR is the most extreme superzoom lens for DX-format SLRs we've seen yet - not only in terms of focal length range, but also size, weight and price. That 300mm F5.6 long end inevitably results in a heavy, bulky lens, and the 18-300mm is substantially larger than its closest third-party competitors, the Sigma 18-250mm F3.5-6.5 DC Macro OS HSM and Tamron 18-270mm F/3.5-6.3 Di II VC PZD. It's notably more expensive too - indeed in some markets it's almost twice the price.

The 18-300mm does have its strong points for the money. Aside from its sheer range, it focuses quickly and positively, handles pretty well on the camera, and is well-made for its class (including a seal around the lens mount). It's also pretty good for close-up shooting, offering decent magnification and a long enough working distance that you shouldn't struggle to light your subject.

Optically the 18-300mm is fairly typical for its type, which is to say plenty of compromises come with its huge range. Sharpness is something of a mixed bag - as usual for a superzoom it's best towards the wide end, but the corners of the frame tend to look a bit soft at all settings. The lens isn't very sharp at all wide open at telephoto; but, to be fair, it holds up better into the mid-telephoto range (~100mm) than other superzooms. Vignetting is very visible wide open at 18mm, and distortion pronounced at all focal lengths - barrel at wideangle, and pincushion across the rest of the range.

Our biggest concern about the 18-300mm, though, is its performance at the telephoto end. In practical use, chances are you'll be shooting at maximum aperture much of the time, and relying on the lens's VR system to keep things steady. But image quality at telephoto isn't great especially wide open, and this is compounded by a VR system that we've found to fail consistently across a specific shutter speed range (approx 1/125 - 1/40 sec). The D3200 we used for testing also frequently misfocused slightly when shooting at telephoto. This means that we often found real-world results at to be disappointing in the telephoto range - and especially at 300mm.

Compared to its most-obvious competitors, the Sigma 18-250mm F3.5-6.3 DC Macro OS HSM and Tamron 18-270mm F3.5-6.3 Di II VC PZD, the Nikon comes out on top optically, mainly by virtue of performing a bit better at telephoto. It also focuses fastest of the three, but is (surprisingly) let down by its stabilization system. Obviously it offers the longest telephoto range, and that's not to be dismissed lightly, but the other two lenses are substantially smaller and lighter, which we think better fits the ethos of the 'all-in-one' travel lens.

The Final Word

Ultimately, when assessing a superzoom like the 18-300mm, it's always important to understand the compromises that inevitably have to be made with a lens that offers such extreme range. It's never going to match a pair of lenses covering the same range for image quality, but that's not really the point; the question is whether the convenience of carrying one lens that you never have to change makes up for this. It you really need the widest zoom range in a single lens, that's exactly what it offers. But overall we're not convinced the 18-300mm offers sufficient advantages to justify the size and price premium over its main competitors.

Nikon AF-S DX Nikkor 18-300mm F3.5-5.6G ED VR
Category: Superzoom Lens
Optical Quality
Build Quality
Autofocus
Image Stabilization
Ergonomics and Handling
Value
PoorExcellent
Good for
Nikon DX SLR owners looking for the longest possible zoom range in a single lens.
Not so good for
Photographers looking for the best possible image quality, especially at telephoto
Overall score
76%
Nikon's AF-S Nikkor 18-300mm F3.5-5.6 VR lens offers the longest zoom range currently available for any interchangeable lens camera system. But this comes with all of the usual optical compromises associated with a superzoom, in a large, heavy package. It's also much more expensive than third party alternatives.

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Nikon AF-S DX Nikkor 18-300mm F3.5-5.6G ED VR review samples

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Comments

Total comments: 7
buryan ch
By buryan ch (3 months ago)

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
By Florian Demmer (3 months ago)

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
By cw1947 (4 months ago)

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
By Florian Demmer (3 months ago)

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

0 upvotes
harvestmedia1
By harvestmedia1 (4 months ago)

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
By tbcass (8 months ago)

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
By Timmbits (Aug 28, 2013)

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