Saturday, August 29, 2015

Review: Nikkor 18-55mm AF-S DX f/3.5-5.6G ED II Lens

Nikkor 18-55mm AF-S DX f/3.5-5.6G ED II Lens
When I purchased my Nikon D3300 DSLR, I went out of my way to buy it without the kit lens. Nikon doesn't sell the D3300 "body only" in the U.S., so I purchased one from Japan, where it is available without the cheap 18-55mm lens. I decided (perhaps foolishly) that I did not need the kit lens. My intention was to use the camera with a good prime lens, and that's what I have done, for the most part. 

Recently a job came up that would require me to use a wide-angle lens. I didn't own a wide-angle lens, except for the one on my Nokia Lumia 1020, which I do occasional use for more "serious" work, but it wouldn't be sufficient for this job. However, I wasn't going to be paid enough from this project to justify purchasing a wide-angle prime or a high-end wide-angle zoom. I needed something inexpensive.

I decided that the best option was a cheap 18-55mm kit lens. Nikon has several, and the cheapest one that I could find was a "factory refurbished" Nikkor 18-55mm AF-S DX f/3.5-5.6G ED II lens. This is not the same lens that normally comes with the D3300 or even the D3200 (each came with a different Nikkor kit lens). This is an older version that doesn't have image-stabilization (or "vibration reduction" as Nikon calls it). It was introduced in 2006 and initially came with the Nikon D40.
Summer Country Feeling - Stallion Springs, California
55mm focal length at f8.
When preparing for product reviews I like to consider who will be purchasing the product. I had a tough time coming up with scenarios in which someone might buy this lens. I came to buy it through unusual circumstances, and I suspect that, if you are considering it, that your circumstances are a bit unusual, too. Perhaps, most commonly, someone has accidentally broken their kit lens and are looking for a cheap replacement.

Like I said, I purchased my Nikkor 18-55mm AF-S DX f/3.5-5.6G ED II lens as factory refurbished. What this means is the lens was returned to Nikon, most likely as a defective product. It was torn apart, cleaned up and (if appropriate) fixed, and resold in a "like new" condition. I've purchased a couple factory refurbished Nikon products before and I've never had any issues with any of them. The product looks brand-new and, aside from the packaging it came in, you wouldn't know that it wasn't new.

The Lens
Circle And Lines In Monochrome - Stallion Springs, California
55mm focal length at f5.6.
The Nikkor 18-55mm AF-S DX f/3.5-5.6G ED II wide-angle zoom lens is for Nikon cameras with APS-C sized sensors (Nikon calls it "DX"). For this review I used a D3300. With the APS-C crop factor, the lens has an equivalent (in 35mm "full-frame" terms) 27-82.5mm focal length. That's a good focal length for portraits and landscapes. It doesn't have any image stabilization.

Build quality is pretty low. It's mostly plastic, except for the glass, some rubber, and a very small amount of metal. It doesn't feel like it will last forever, but on the positive side it is very light weight.

This lens has no distortion at 55mm, but as one zooms out the distortion shows up somewhat quickly. It's quite noticeable by 24mm and is at its worst at 18mm, which is what one would expect from a kit lens. It isn't horrible (and it is certainly correctable in post-processing), but this is something to be aware of. Keep the lens at 55mm if you want straight lines to be straight. On newer Nikon DSLRs, the camera can correct the distortion for you if distortion correction is enabled.
The Sun Has Set - Stallion Springs, California
55mm focal length at f5.6.
I couldn't find much in the way of chromatic aberrations at all, which is really good. I'm not sure if this is entirely because of the lens. Nikon "fixes" chromatic aberrations automatically in-camera with their latest generation of DSLRs.

The 18-55mm AF-S DX f/3.5-5.6G ED II is sufficiently sharp. It's not terrible or great--about what one would expect from a kit lens. If you want a wide-angle zoom lens with sharpness similar to a prime lens, be prepared to spend at least $700.

The lens is actually surprisingly sharp in the center from 18mm to about 45mm with the aperture set between f3.5-f8, but seems to lose a bit of sharpness when longer than 45mm and/or with the aperture smaller than f8. Corner sharpness is a weak point. It seems to only perform well in this area between 30mm and 45mm focal lengths and with the aperture set between f5.6 and f8. Otherwise, expect soft corners.
Three Steps In The Sand - Stallion Springs, California
55mm focal length at f5.6.
A downside to this lens is vignetting. There is significant vignetting at 18mm, especially when combined with a large aperture. The amount of vignetting does decrease as you zoom in. Apertures of f8 and smaller will produce the least amount of it. If you are photographing a white wall or empty sky you'll notice the vignette, otherwise this is not a huge deal.

Diffraction occurs around f11. The lens is at peak sharpness around f5.6. Contrast is pretty good thought the focal lengths.

The Nikkor 18-55mm AF-S DX f/3.5-5.6G ED II has seven elements in five groups. It has seven rounded blades. Bokeh (the quality of the out-of-focus area in a photograph) is fairly nice and smooth and won't be a distraction. Highlights show up as soft circles. Lens flare is well controlled and sunstars look good.
Stres Relief - Tehachapi, California
Autofocus is perhaps slightly slower than what one would expect. If the change in focus is small the camera locks focus almost instantaneously. If the change in focus is from near-to-far or far-to-near, it takes a noticeable moment for the lens to get focused. Manual focus is possible with a flip of the switch on the side of the lens, but the focus ring isn't great and the experience is less than ideal. Still, I manually focused multiple times with success.

Minimum focus distance is about 11 inches from the camera's sensor, or about five inches from the front of the lens. This is pretty good for a kit lens, and more than sufficient for everything except macro photography.

The largest aperture is f3.5, available at 18mm, but it decreases to f5.6 as you zoom in. The smallest aperture is between f22 and f38, depending on the focal length, but diffraction makes these impractical for use.
Sagebrush - Stallion Springs, California
38mm focal length at f4.8.
The lens has threads for 52mm filters. Those who use polarizer filters won't like that the front element rotates during focus.

The Nikkor 18-55mm AF-S DX f/3.5-5.6G ED II retails for $100 brand new. I paid $70 for my refurbished lens. You shouldn't have much trouble finding a used one for around $50. That's a price that most people should have no problem affording.

Conclusions
A Sunset In June - Stallion Springs, California
40mm focal length at f5.6.
The Nikkor 18-55mm AF-S DX f/3.5-5.6G ED II lens performs very well within limited parameters, mainly between 30mm and 45mm and between f5.6 and f8. Otherwise it is an average lens and the price is understandable.

If you are like most people and are on a limited budget, the Nikkor 18-55mm AF-S DX f/3.5-5.6G ED II is a descent lens that will get the job done for not too much money. It is a good value option for adding some versatility to your DX camera, or for replacing your broken kit lens.

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