Head to head

One su­per­zoom ver­sus a pair of shorter fo­cal-length lenses – we weigh up both op­tions…

NPhoto - - Con­tents -

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.

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