Mr Mars' Nikon 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6G VR AF-S DX Review

All shots are 100% crop with some jpg compression to keep the size down.

I can't quite believe that this lens is this good actually. After all, it's only a KIT lens!!!

I compared it to the Canon 18-55 IS kit lens and also the Canon 50mm f/2.8 prime, (both well regarded). Check out the result:

Dandelion Canon Prime

Dandelion Seedhead. Canon 400D, 50mm prime, 1/350 s, f/2.8.

I thought this was quite sharp when I took it. Mind you, the autofocus didn't quite catch the leading edge, so the nifty fifty is actually better than this.

Dandelion Canon IS

Dandelion Seedhead. Canon 400D, 18-55 IS kit lens, 55mm, 1/90 s, f/5.6.

Even better! I thought this was impressively sharp when I took it. Admittedly it would have been sharper at f/8, but I think it's still very good, remember these are 100% crops.

Dandelion Nikon IS

Dandelion Seedhead. Nikon D60, 18-55 VR kit lens, 55mm, 1/125 s, f/8.

Wow! Now that is really, really, REALLY, SHARP!!!
Needle Sharp, Razor Sharp, Pixel-Slicing-Homicidal-Focus Sharp!!!

Hard to believe really. And the contrast and colour look perfect to me.
And the lens has a lovely quiet SW motor. And it has an effective image stabilisation mechanism. And it's light. And it's cheap!!!
Is there anything wrong with this wonder???

Well yes! I am being picky of course, and really none of these nits are going to worry anyone in reality. However there needs to be a little room left for the lens that really is perfect:

So let's look at my test results, click on the thumb to view the full image.

First the famous Tim Jackson focal field positioning test:

The lens and D60 performed flawlessly here. Nikon have set up the combination to provide a bit of back bias to the 18 - 24mm wide angle range, knowing that one will focus on the nearest object and thus get maximum DoF. In the normal range (35 - 55mm) the focus is positioned precisely in the centre, which is what you want for portraits and objects where you need some DoF to the front as well as the rear.

TJ Focus test 24mm  TJ Focus test 45mm

24mm                                   45mm

Now Mr Mars' Ulysses Blur test to check sharpness across the frame:

As I mentioned above, the sub f/5.6 apertures are generally weak away from the centre, but I'm not even going to bother showing them, since I am treating this as a simple f/5.6 lens.

More important is the question of how sharp this lens is at its proper maximum aperture: f/5.6. The answer is pretty damn well. More than acceptable, but there is room for improvement especially in the corners at the lower focal lengths. Note the light fall off in the 55mm f/5.6, not enough to be a real-world worry, but it's there.

Ulysses Blur Test 18mm  Ulysses Blur Test 55mm

18mm f/5.6                         55mm f/5.6

Once you get to f/8 the lens is absolutely superb across all focal lengths, and it stays that way until f/22 where diffraction makes it drop away. At f/32 (when available), you wouldn't want to use it. I do wonder why they bother including blurry f/32 settings, since I can't see that anyone would use them. Still I guess it does no harm...

Ulysses Blur Test f/8  Ulysses Blur Test f/22

55mm f/8                       55mm f/22

So there it is. A really great lens at an unbelievable price. Well it ought to be unbelievable that a kit lens could be as good as, or better than, a prime, but here's the proof. If you want a wideish lightweight daytime walk-around lens I suspect you can't do better than this no matter how much you pay. I haven't bought a Nikon prime (yet), but it's hard to believe it could be noticeably better at f/8 than this little gem.

Of course indoors and at night, f/5.6 simply isn't fast enough, so this is not the great all purpose wide angle solution. Sure, you know that already, but I am just trying to inject a note of reality into the assessment of this lens.

If you don't have an image stabilised wide angle zoom, get it.

If you are about to buy a Nikon camera for the first time, make sure you get this as your kit lens, it's a ripper!