The Nikon AF-S DX Nikkor 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6G VR II ($249.95) is a redesigned version of Nikon’s older AF-S DX Nikkor 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6G VR. It maintains the same focal length, aperture, and vibration reduction system, but cuts down on size thanks to a collapsible design, and has one functional difference that is going to make photographers who employ polarizing filters happy. Its price is high when bought on its own, but if you’re buying a new Nikon camera with the lens thrown in at a modest premium, you’ll be happy to know that it’s a solid starter zoom.
The 18-55mm has a collapsible design, not unlike the zooms that ship with cameras in the Nikon 1 system. There’s a button on the lens barrel that you can hold down to place it in or take it out of its collapsed state, which is marked by an L on the zoom ring. You can’t shoot with the lens when it’s collapsed, but it does cut down on its size in your bag. The lens measures just 2.6 by 2.3 inches (HD) when collapsed, weighs 6.9 ounces, and has a 52mm thread surrounding its front element for filters. Unlike the previous version of the 18-55mm, the front element never rotates, so you can utilize a circular polarizing filter if desired. These filters change the way that light passes through when turned, which allows you to eliminate reflections in scenes; they also enhance color saturation and contrast, helpful if you prefer images with a punchy look. Nikon does not include a lens hood with the 18-55mm, but does sell one for $26.95. I did notice some loss of contrast when shooting strongly backlit subjects with this lens (see image below); a hood will block some incoming light from the side, which can improve contrast in situations where the sun or another bright source hits the front element from an askew angle. The Nikkor AF-S 50mm f/1.8G Special Edition did a much better job when dealing with the same backlit subject.
The lens mount is plastic, which cuts down on weight but isn’t as durable as a metal mount. If you’re not often changing lenses this isn’t a major concern. Optical stabilization is built in, which is helpful given the rather narrow f/3.5-5.6 aperture range. Kit lenses are built on price, and it’s rare that you’ll find one that gathers a lot of light. The lens does manage to blur backgrounds if desired, but you’ll have to make sure you’re working close to your subject to emphasize the effect. If you’re in want of a zoom for your APS-C SLR that can really create a shallow depth of field and shines in low light, consider our Editors’ Choice Sigma 18-35mm F1.8 DC HSM. It’s a lot bigger and more expensive, but it delivers the optical quality of a prime lens throughout its zoom range.
I used Imatest to check the optical quality of the lens when paired with the 24-megapixel Nikon D3300. At 18mm f/3.5 it exceeds the 1,800 lines per picture height we use to mark a sharp image, scoring 2,332 lines on a center-weighted sharpness test. Sharpness is good through most of the frame, but drops off at the edges; they show just 1,127 lines. Stopping down to f/5.6 fixes that; the center-weighted score jumps to 2,692 lines and edges top 2,000 lines. At f/8 performance is more even across the frame, with an average score of 2,949 lines and edges that top 2,700 lines.
At 35mm the lens has a maximum aperture of f/4.5, and is a bit softer with an average score of 1,670 lines. If you’re able to, stop down to f/5.6—the average score jumps to 2,422 lines with most of the frame (including the edges) approaching 2,200 lines. At f/8 the average score is 3,100 lines, with just a slight drop off in resolution at the edges of the frame. Zooming to the maximum 55mm focal length narrows the aperture to f/5.6. The lens performs well here, notching 2,603 lines with edges that hit 2,500 lines; stopping down to f/8 bumps the score to 2,974 lines with even sharpness across the frame.
Just because a lens isn’t sharp doesn’t make it great; the 18-55mm does have a few issues. At 18mm it shows a lot of barrel distortion, about 4.2 percent; that’s going to make straight lines appear to curve noticeably outward, like the ribs of a barrel. If you shoot in Raw format you’ll have to correct this yourself in software, but JPG shooters can enable in-camera distortion control to straighten those lines out. Distortion isn’t an issue at 35mm or 55mm.
No one is going to accuse the Nikon AF-S DX Nikkor 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6G VR II of being a great, classic lens that will be praised on Internet forums and sought after for years to come. But it is an excellent starter lens for casual photographers and other shooters who are buying their first D-SLR. It’s sharp throughout its zoom range, but it does exhibit a good deal of distortion at its widest angle. If you’re getting the lens bundled with a camera, you’ll be happy to know that it’s a good one, but there’s no reason to upgrade from the previous 18-55mm lens to this one. If you’re looking to get a better zoom for your APS-C Nikon, our Editors’ Choice Sigma 18-35mm is a great place to start; its zoom range is modest, but it makes up for it thanks to excellent optics and a constant f/1.8 aperture. If you’re in a want of a longer zoom, the Nikon AF-S DX Nikkor 18-105mm f/3.5-5.6G ED VR is a good lens to consider.
|Lens Mount||Nikon F|
|35-mm Equivalent (Telephoto)||82 mm|
|Dimensions||2.6 x 2.3 inches|
|35-mm Equivalent (Wide)||27 mm|
|Optical Zoom||3 x|
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