Head to head
One superzoom versus a pair of shorter focal-length lenses – we weigh up both options…
Nikon AF-S DX 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6G VR II + AF-S DX 55-200mm f/4-5.6G ED VR II
Equiv. focal length (DX) 27-82.5mm+82.5-300mm Mounting plate Plastic Diaphragm 7 blades Filter size 52mm Hood included No Weight 195g + 300g Diameter x min length 65x60mm + 71x83mm (retracted) Focus type Ultrasonic (motor) Focus ring during AF Rotates Min focus distance 0.25m + 1.1m Price £430/$395 (£190/$245+£240/$150)
Both of these Mk II editions have a retractable design, enabling the lenses to shrink to just 60mm and 83mm long respectively. They’re also very lightweight, weighing less than 500g between them, and they're both small enough to slip into a coat pocket.
It’s no real problem carrying two small lenses instead of one larger, heavier lens. Of course, you need to swap them to switch between standard and telephoto shooting, but fitting the right lens for the job is part of the attraction of DSLRs.
These lenses aren’t exactly bristling with high-tech features. Autofocus is ultrasonic but not ring-type, so the focus rings rotate and don’t enable full-time manual override. The mounting plates are plastic rather than metal, and lack weather-seals.
Both these lenses are sufficiently compact and lightweight to feel well-balanced on smaller bodies, like D3XXX and D5XXX models. Handling is good overall, the only niggle being that you need to unlock the retracting mechanism and extend the lens before use.
Compared with the 18-300mm, these lenses’ relatively modest zoom ranges mean distortions are less noticeable, sharpness is better (especially at wide apertures) and there’s less fringing. Image quality is simply superior than from the superzoom lens. Vs
Nikon AF-S DX 18-300mm f/3.5-6.3G ED VR
Equiv. focal length (DX) 27-450mm Mounting plate Metal, weather-sealed Diaphragm 7 blades Filter size 67mm Hood included No Weight 550g Diameter x min length 79x99mm Focus type Ultrasonic (ring type) Focus ring during AF Stationary Min focus distance 0.48m Price £630/$700
You only have to carry one lens, but the 18-300mm is 100mm long even at its shortest zoom setting, and weighs in at 550g. That’s nearly three times the weight of the 18-55mm lens to hang around your neck, and heavier than both competing lenses combined.
A superzoom lens gives a saving in time and effort, because you can stretch from wide-angle to telephoto settings with the flick of a wrist, rather than having to swap lenses every so often. The trade-off is a having a comparatively big, heavy lens attached all the time.
Ring-type ultrasonic autofocus means the focus ring remains stationery when autofocusing, and also enables full-time manual override. However, there’s no focus distance scale. The metal mounting plate has a weather-seal.
It’s quite a big lens, especially when used near the long end of its zoom range, where physical extension is considerable. It also feels a little heavy and cumbersome on Nikon’s smallest DSLRs, but is better balanced on D7XXX-series cameras and the D500.
The trade-off for flexibility is lower image quality. This lens has noticeable distortion at both ends of the zoom range, and it's not all that sharp at wide apertures. On the plus side, it wins out for telephoto reach, with a maximum 450mm ‘effective’ focal length.