This photography review covers the Nikon 18-200mm Nikkor f/3.5-5.6G ED DX VR, which is viewed as a great “vacation lens” or “superzoom” for photographers. This seemingly makes it the perfect lens for Walt Disney World or Disneyland photography. What this means is that, while it compromises image quality, speed, and build quality, it compensates for these losses by gaining in convenience, range, and weight. This has led it some dubbing it the “jack of all trades, master of none” lens. If you’re going on vacation and want to travel light, but still want the quality of a DSLR, the Nikon 18-200mm is perfect for you. If photography is half the fun of a vacation for you and you don’t mind changing lenses or extra weight, this lens is not for you.
Presently, I fall into the latter camp of photographers. If you’ve read my Tamron 17-55mm f/2.8 review, my 8mm Fisheye Lens Review, or my Tokina 11-16mm f/2.8 review (or my photography reviews page in general) you probably know that I’m not the type of person who uses an “all in one” lens to travel light. I don’t mind carrying about a 25 pound camera bag and changing lenses doesn’t bother me. I’m not a professional photographer, so I don’t go on vacation to ‘go light’ and bring less gear with me. (If anything, theme parks photography is my bread and butter!) I don’t have kids so I don’t need to carry less gear out of necessity, either. For these reasons, it’s been a while since I used the Nikon 18-200mm VR lens regularly. That said, I used it constantly for the first year that I was into photography (it was my only lens for a long time), and it accomplished a lot that I needed it to accomplish.
Note that almost all of the photos here were taken by an incredibly inexperienced photographer (me) with a Nikon D40 and the Nikon 18-200mm VR, so if the quality doesn’t appear as good as my photos are now, it’s mostly a product of the photographer, not the lens.
Before we start out the review, if you’re a novice, it’s important to know when reading other reviews that this lens is incredibly divisive in the photography community. On one end of the spectrum, you have people like a man whose first name is the same as Barbie’s boyfriend and last name is…well, rockish…(I think his site is seriously so bad that not only will I not link to him, but I won’t mention his actual name here–use extreme caution if you stumble onto his site) who praises the lens as the greatest thing Nikon has ever created (it’s not) and serious professionals on the other end of the spectrum who turn up their noses to this lens because it doesn’t perform as well as a $2,000 prime (no zoom) lens. It doesn’t, but that’s not the point. You can’t fairly compare it to a $2,000 prime lens.
Quite simply, the Nikon 18-200mm VR lens is a good lens for what it does. However, if you have yet to purchase a DSLR and are considering doing it along with an all in one lens like this for convenience, and aren’t overly concerned about image quality, I might give a long hard look at a high end point & shoot camera, like the Canon S95, too. The quality won’t be as good as a DSLR plus this lens, but it will be even more convenient. Just another thought to consider.
So, what, exactly does this lens do and why is it a good upgrade over the standard kit lens? Well, just about everything. The Nikon 18-200mm VR is basically the all-in-one lens for virtually everything except ultra wide angle, extreme telephoto, macro, and low light. It can do everything else, and it can do everything else fairly well. This versatility alone should make it a great choice for those traveling or vacationing at Walt Disney World or Disneyland.
This lens offers a substantial amount more “zoom” given its 18-200mm focal length range plus it has vibration reduction. Both of these features are very significant. The extra zoom is fairly self explanatory, but it makes a lot of otherwise impossible shots possible because it gets you closer to your subject in cases when you can’t move closer to it. It also allows you to pull your background closer to your subject for an effect called perspective compression.
The Nikon 18-200mm VR lens’ versatility and ability to perform in so many situations is its greatest strength. What this will mean to you depends upon your circumstances. It may prevent you from missing a shot if you’re using the wide end and suddenly see a beautiful bird flying in the distance–a situation that would normally force you to change lenses and miss the shot. It may allow you to leave the camera bag at home and only bring your camera and this one lens–saving you back from pain at the end of a long day of touring. It may prevent you from purchasing other lenses–saving you thousands of dollars as you use this lens for all of your needs instead of 2-3 (or more!) separate specialty lenses. You get the idea.
As far as optical quality goes, beyond the VR and zoom range, the Nikon 18-200mm VR is actually pretty good optically, too. It’s reasonably sharp up to around 150mm, and good after that. However, don’t expect miracles from this lens. If you compare it side-by-side to shots taken with specialty lenses like the Tamron 17-50mm f/2.8, the quality of the Tamron image quality of the Tamron photo will be better. Even the Nikon 18-55mm VR and 55-200mm VR lenses are slightly sharper than the 18-200mm VR.
There is also distortion across the entire range of the lens. You can either live with this or fix it in post processing (I always just lived with it). This is not to say the images will be bad (not by any means), and as always, it’s more about the photographer than the equipment–but equipment does matter too. I’ve had images published that I shot with this lens, and in some cases I haven’t been able to distinguish between photos I took with this lens and the significantly nicer (and much, much more expensive) Nikon 70-200mm f/2.8 VR.
Bluntly, with the Nikon 18-200mm VR lens, you won’t be capturing photos as sharp and visually pleasing straight out of the camera as you will with, say, the Nikon 85mm f/1.4. That’s a trade-off that is probably patently obvious to most, but it bears saying. What you will get with the Nikon 18-200mm VR is a nice and convenient lens that allows those looking to travel light to fulfill most of their needs with one single lens.
All told, is the Nikon 18-200mm VR lens worth purchasing? My answer is “maybe.” Whether this lens is for you or not is a wholly personal decision. At this point in my photography, it’s not for me. I’d prefer to spend more on multiple lenses and carry around those lenses for the incremental improvements they offer me. But, as I said at the outset, I’m not averse to carrying around 25 pounds of gear. If convenience and traveling light are important to you, but so is image quality, this lens is a great compromise.
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Do you own the Nikon 18-200mm VR or another superzoom? Interested in it? Share your thoughts about this lens in the comments!