Nikon AF-S DX Nikkor 18-300mm f/3.5-5.6G ED VR review
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.
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
Reported aperture vs focal length
Here we show the maximum and minimum apertures reported by the camera at the marked focal lengths.
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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