Lens Test: 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6G VR AF-S DX Nikkor

Upgrade your glass to Vibration Reduction without getting rattled by the price.

Nikon offers tyros an option to upgrade to Vibration Reduction technology at a very nice price ($199, street) with this digital-only (DX) kit lens. A 27-82.5mm equivalent, this 3X zoom also sports a near-silent SWM focusing motor.

HANDS ON

About 2 ounces heavier (and $80 more) than the non-VR Nikkor kit lens, this upgrade is still light and amazingly compact (it casts no shadow when used with the D60's built-in flash, see the Nikon D60 camera test). Finished in a faint crinkle texture, the barrel, including lensmount, is plastic. The outer barrel rotates during focus, making it unsuitable for some filters and filter-mounting systems.

The autofocus is fast, accurate, and, thanks to the SWM motor, very quiet. The zoom ring is rubber-clad; the focusing ring is not. With a uniform drag, the MF ring turns somewhat loosely, with a relatively tight radius for fast, if coarse, focusing. The well-damped zoom ring also turns evenly.

IN THE LAB

Sharpness and contrast are in the Excellent range. Our SQF results closely match those of both the non-VR Nikkor and Canon's comparable 18-55mm IS kit zoom. DxO Analyzer 3.0.1 tests found Visible barrel distortion at 18mm (0.48%), Imperceptible barrel distortion at 35mm (0.02%), and Imperceptible pincushion distortion at 55mm (0.04%). These numbers far surpass those of Nikon's 4-year-old non-VR kit zoom, which at 18mm showed Noticeable barreling (1.30%).

Light falloff was gone by f/4.5 at 18mm, and by f/6.3 at 35mm and 55mm -- again, very favorable numbers. The comparable Canon>, for instance, showed vignetting until f/8 at 18mm. The maximum magnification ratio at the uniform close-focusing distance of about 9.5 inches ranged from 1:7.13 at 18mm to 1:2.48 at 55mm -- far better than Nikon's published spec of 1:3.2.

In tests of the Vibration Reduction system by three different users, we found sharpness gains of 1.5 to 3 stops.

CONCLUSIONS

Especially at longer focal lengths, distortion performance is better than that of many pro lenses in its zoom range. It's also superior to Nikon's earlier non-VR kit zoom by almost every metric. Whether you're new to Nikon or looking for an optical upgrade, the $80 extra for VR will be money very well spent.

Specifications

18-55mm (18.59-54.65mm tested), f/3.5-5.6 (f/3.50-5.94 tested), 11 elements in 8 groups. Focusing turns 60 degrees clockwise. Zoom ring turns 110 degrees counterclockwise. Focal lengths marked at 18-, 24-, 35-, 45-, and 55mm.

• Diagonal view angle: 76-28 degrees.

• Weight: 9.6 oz.

• Filter size: 52mm.

• Mounts: Nikon DX AF.

• Street price: $199.

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