Nikon AF-S DX Nikkor 18-300mm F3.5-5.6G ED VR
Category: Superzoom Lens
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
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.
Ergonomics and Handling
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.
- Nikon AF-S DX Nikkor 18-300mm F3.5-5.6G ED VR on DxOMark
- Nikon AF-S DX Nikkor 18-200mm F3.5-5.6G ED VR Review
- Sigma 18-250mm f/3.5-6.3 DC OS HSM Review
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