Review of Nikon 18-200mm f/3.5-5.6G ED IF AF-S DX VR II Lens

Originally submitted at Adorama

Nikon 18-200mm f/3.5-5.6G ED IF AF-S DX VR II

Very good universal lens

Pros: Easily Interchangeable, Consistent Output, Fast / accurate auto-focus
Best Uses: Weddings/Events, Landscape/Scenery, Wildlife Photos

This lens is controversial, and has either glowing or scalding reviews. People reading the reviews, just like I was, should think about their use for the lens, and it will hopefully make it easier to decide to buy it or not. To sum up my opinion, it is a very handy lens that we use for a lot of general shots, and take off only when we are spending some time working on a particular subject that can benefit from another lens.
I used a borrowed 18-200 for a while on occasion, and loved how easy it was to use, and particularly the character of the images I got from it. I liked it enough to buy it to supplement the “Nikkor magnificent trio” of 2.8 pro zooms and some more specialized optics that I already have.
The lens definitely has distortion in most of the zoom settings. So what? Most software, and many bodies, now correct for it automatically. The lens is smaller and lighter than the newer superzooms, and is very handy on a small body.
IMO, the lens delivers pleasant and clear images, with great color, and the chromatic aberration is well controlled, even on a D40. The zoom range makes it easy to frame for a lazy photographer, but even more challenging subjects, like a bee hovering over a flower, can be caught if you are paying attention. The slow aperture, coincidentally, plays in your favor here, as you get good depth of field for casual shots, something that a fast lens can get you with sometimes if you are careless. Clearly you will have limitations in poor light, but if the body you use is anywhere near modern, the ISO increase will offset this in the majority of cases.
The lens extends a lot when zooming but you have to live with that. My original borrowed sample was also drooping a little when extended, which I found disconcerting at first; however, after pixel-peeping at the images taken in the “drooped” mode, I found absolutely no issues and that made me feel even better: if it works great as an old and loose sample, it means to me that the optical design is robust enough to work well in general.
It will not be a very robust lens. If you drop it extended, lens down, with a D3 body attached, it will not work after that I am sure. But I wouldn’t hold it against a moderately priced plastic lens. It will absorb the impact and protect your camera though.
Overall, I recommend it. It is very handy, large enough for quality images and small enough to be practical, and picture quality is excellent.

(legalese)

Guam, the rainy days – 1

Global Travelers are in the Pacific again. This time, they are on Guam, and it has been three years since they last went on a trans-Pacific expedition. This time, a few things have changed.

Guam on the map
Guam on the map

People have changed. Some people have retired; some others came on board. The location is different, it is Guam this time. Guam is a fully civilized American territory, compared to a variety of other islands visited by the Gulfstream’s field crew in the past. More on Guam later. But some things carry over from the last times you have read about the Travelers’ experiences in the Pacific.

The airplane is the same, more or less. The same $100M aircraft that you, the American taxpayers, have funded is in good working order and is working for you, even if you don’t know it. The crew traveling with it is maintaining it in top-notch condition – this is important when fundamental research is conducted. If we lose flight opportunities due to aircraft issues it means that some of your money is not spent in the most efficient way. And the Travelers themselves, as taxpayers, don’t like this any more than you would.

I guess I have gone off on a tangent. But it is for a reason: in the day and age when examples of government wastefulness are all over the TV and other media, the Travelers, in whatever small niche we occupy, try to use the funds we are trusted with in the manner  that is most efficient. I recently had an interesting conversation with a stranger at the Roy’s restaurant in the Hilton Resort on Guam. In the conversation we had, she was very surprised to learn that there are actually people working for the US Government who actually will seek cheaper, but still quality, accommodations; that will try to negotiate for cheaper, but still good, services and who will try to do their job for less of taxpayers’ money if possible.

You are probably thinking, what a hypocrite. Hilton! Cost effective, right. An oxymoron. But wait, believe it or not, the Hilton was he hotel that agreed to house our 50+ people at the rates that were the cheapest and approved by the Government, while others wanted to charge us more, which is understandable since this is the season for the Chinese  New Year. So don’t judge us too harshly. We tried our best and even got somewhere, and the Hilton came through.

I am being totally honest here. I personally know people who will run NASA projects this way, as well as NOAA and NSF ones. The only reason I am saying this is because my young acquaintance was surprised to hear this, and pleased as well. Believe it or not, there are people out there who treat taxpayers money much like their own. I am privileged to know some of them personally.

Uh, sorry about this diversion. I suppose at this point a picture is really worth a bunch of words? Well, here it is, and it shows the rainy January of 2014 on Guam…

GV on wet ramp
GV on wet ramp

The meteorologists supporting the Travelers this time are telling us that this crazy rain, with 9 inches if rain in January as opposed to the average 4, is the result of the MJO, the Madden-Julian Oscillation. We think we understand the reasons, and the process. But it is still unfathomable, why in the world wouldn’t it just stop raining?! Everything is waterlogged, the rivers on Guam are forming waterfalls, the roads are small rivers, the tourists look like… well, very wet tourists.

Rain caused waterfall, Guam
Rain caused waterfall, Guam

We have to be careful to be able to return to Guam after research flights. The pilots, experts that they are, so far were able to land every time, but the last flight they came out, saying they popped out of the solid rainshaft just seconds before they would have called a missed approach. It has been raining hard, and they have very little time to make decisions when landing. They have to be careful.

The research that the scientists are carrying out is going well. They are able to see the transport of chemicals from the ocean surface in the upper levels of the atmosphere that they wanted to see, and we are happy that the science part is working out. On occasion, it has been hard to keep dry to repair instruments that developed problems, like in this picture below:

Working under dripping wing
Working under dripping wing

So, the big minds understand it, and can rationalize it. Trained professionals can even fix sensitive electronics in these conditions.

It will finally stop raining, after we had accumulated 1 inch of standing water in the subfloor space of the airplane from the rain pouring into the entry door, and from the condensation caused by the air conditioning in the cabin in such high humidity conditions. But for now we are working in the rain.