review & comparison: Nikon
55-200 VR f4-5.6
-Nikon-Nikkor 55-200 VR f4-5.6 ($269.99*)
-Nikon-Nikkor 70-200mm VR f2.8 ($1668.36*)
-Nikon-Nikkor 70-300 ED f4-5.6 ($329.99*)
*All prices from DonsPhoto.com and current only as of 09.16.08
*All tests preformed on a Nikon D300.
The Nikon 55-200 is aimed
at people who want an inexpensive telephoto or who have the
17-55mm kit lens and want more reach. But, does it provide
good image quality and focusing abilities or does it fall well
short of a professional lens?
When I first touched the lens to take it out of the box I immediately
noticed it's light weight and plasticy feel. Although plasticy
however, it still feels well put together, although nowhere
near as solid and "tank" like as the 70-200 2.8 which
is made out of hardened metal brought from the belly of a violent
It's IF SWM (Internal Focus - Silent Wave Motor) make it's
focusing very quick, accurate and silent. It locks on quickly
to objects with good contrast but on occasion will slightly
miss-focus and if you're not careful you will end up with a
poor quality image. (see images below) One thing I noticed
is that even with slight miss-focus the background tends to
poor quality image. (see images below)
After having used it for
a while one comment I have is that the manual focus ring is
placed too tightly in between the
lens hood and is very small and hard to manipulate. It can
be gotten used to however.
Another issue is that it has only M (manual) or A (Automatic)
focusing modes which means that you have to choose the mode
on the lens because changing the focus mode switch on the body
has no effect. This is the first lens I've used where this
occurs but is just another thing to get used to.
In low light the 70-200 was slightly quicker than the 55-200,
right up until I took off the polarizing filter I had accidentally
left on the 70-200 and then it out-focused and outclassed the
55-200 all the way. That said, in low light the 55-200 works
well, but still hunts on scenes with less contrast. Just like
with any other lens you have to know how to focus using areas
of good contrast.
Other general observations:
An interesting observation is that even in manual exposure
and/or when comparing to other lenses the 55-200 tends to overexpose
on a regular basis by up to 2/3 stop. In comparison the 70-200
2.8 seems to underexpose by 1/3 stop, these problems are due
to lens design and on the 55-200 tend to cause a loss of quality
in overexposed areas.
This is not a close up lens: The 55-200's closest focusing distance
is 1.1m, so if you want to get closer you'll need to use a close
up attachment or extension tubes. That said, when shooting bees
and flowers you can get adequately close
but nowhere near what a true macro or even close up attachments/extension
tubes will achieve.
When comparing the 55-200 to the higher end 70-300 ED and
the professional 70-200 (a lens almost seven times it's cost)
55-200 holds it's own. It's a lens that will definitely work
for most people, especially those who only occasionally print
larger than 11x14". Gone are the old days of needing
to worry about low end vs. high end glass when it comes to
quality, the lines have come much closer and one doesn't
need to consider it unless they need the low light advantages
extreme sharpness and detail of a professional lens.
In this animated example which is a 100% crop you can clearly
see the difference in image quality between all three lenes:
The photo above is a 100% fop of the following image:
The bokeh of the lens is really impressive. At longer focal
lengths the background blurs out smoothly when focusing on
closer images. See the image examples below:
Overall I feel very positive about the Nikon 55-200 VR.
Although there are some small issues with image quality and
the lens design (MF ring), the 55-200 is an extremely good
lens especially considering it's price. It's not a lens that
you'll regret buying down the road.
That said it is not aimed
at professionals or people who need great low light performance
or the maximum amount of detail in their images.
This is a good companion to the 17-55mm kit lens and
also a great lens for anyone who wants to save gobs of money
in exchange for a bit of image quality.
Special thanks to Don's
Photo for the use of the Nikon 55-200mm VR for testing