Nikon AF-S DX Nikkor 18-300mm f/3.5-5.6G ED VR Review

March 1, 2013 | Zoltan Arva-Toth | Rating star Rating star Rating star Rating star


Superzoom lenses were never going to be as good in the optical department as primes or short-range professional zooms, and the Nikon AF-S Nikkor 18-300mm f/3.5-5.6G ED VR certainly doesn't challenge that paradigm. Simply put, if you aspire to make really big, sharp and detailed prints, or want a lens that makes the best use of your camera's high-resolution sensor, look elsewhere – you'll never be happy with the results you could obtain with this lens. It's simply not made for that purpose. On the other hand, if you need a carry-everywhere zoom that spares you from having to change lenses and delivers “good enough” sharpness for regular album-sized photos, you are likely to be more than satisfied. We have made a few prints from our real-world sample images at A4 size, including some that were shot wide open in the long telephoto range (above 200mm), and found the results to be perfectly acceptable. As always, we encourage you to do the same – download some of our samples, and print them out at the maximum size you plan on making from your own photos to see if the quality matches your requirements.

When compared to the superzoom competition, the Nikon 18-300mm lens certainly holds its own. Centre sharpness is generally adequate to good, approaching very good levels at certain zoom settings. The borders and especially the corners tend to be soft but improve upon stopping down (to varying degrees, depending on focal length). Vignetting is fairly well controlled except at 18mm f/3.5, where the corners are approximately 2 stops darker than the centre of the frame, assuming an evenly illuminated scene. Chromatic aberrations and geometric distortions are relatively strong, but both can be corrected in software, or in-camera. In terms of maximum magnification, the lens's performance is better than advertised; although the sharpness of your macro shots leaves something to be desired.

One area where the Nikon 18-300mm f3.5-5.6 VR lens is clearly better than the competition is auto focus speed. While you should not expect performance on the same level as the pro zooms, the lens is definitely capable of keeping moving targets in focus if paired with a capable camera body. Another competitive advantage is the ability to simply grab the focus ring at any time to manually fine-tune focus, even when the focus mode switch is in the M/A position. In addition, the lens also features Nikon's second-generation Vibration Reduction technology complete with Active and Normal modes, which work well.

Having said that, there are two things that you will also need to consider if shopping for a superzoom lens: weight/bulk and price. The AF-S Nikkor 18-300mm f3.5-5.6 VR is a rather big and heavy lens, much bigger and heavier than, say, the Tamron 18-270mm f3.5-6.3 VC PZD, which weighs 45% less. For a walk-around or travel lens, the 18-300mm can be a bit of a burden to carry around all day long. And at £679.00 / $996.95, it's considerably more expensive than the competition, too.

The alternative is, of course, a multiple-lens setup, with a double-zoom kit being the most obvious choice. A combination of a kit zoom like the AF-S 18-105mm VR and a dedicated telezoom such as the 55-300mm VR will yield generally sharper images but you lose the ability to go from wide angle to long telephoto with just a twist of your wrist. Also, you'll need to keep in mind that the 55-300mm lens, while definitely better in the sharpness department, is considerably slower to focus than the 18-300mm, meaning it's not so well suited to capturing fleeting moments or moving subjects. As always, the buying decision will ultimately depend on your very own expectations, preferences, requirements – and budget.

4 stars

Ratings (out of 5)
Design 4
Features 4.5
Ease-of-use 4
Image quality 3.5
Value for money 3.5