Nikkor 55-200VR

Edit: This blog has moved to http://dslr-video.com/blogmag. Please visit me there.

When I got the 55-200 VR almost exactly a year ago, I was very positive about the lens. I have read some different opinions lately, so I decided to do some tests against my 70-200 VR, with my Nikon D300.

An odd couple – D300 with 55-200VR to the left, 70-200 VR with the D40 mounted, more or less as a lens cap.
Odd couple - D300 with 55-200VR to the left, 70-200 VR with the D40 mounted, more or less as a lens cap.

I already had the excellent 70-200VR, so why did I buy it? At the time I had a Nikon D200 and a Nikon D40. I wanted to put together a very small, compact travel set. With the D40, 18-55 II kit lens and the 55-200VR the whole set weighs slightly more than a kilo (475g + 210g + 335 g = 1.025g), yet covers the field of view of 28-300 mm with a 35 mm camera. Another option would have been the Nikkor 18-200VR lens, but it was hard to get at that time, usually out of stock.

The build quality of the lens is not much to write home about. The build is plastic, the mount is plastic. The AF-S autofocus is the cheaper kind, with no constant manual override. The manual focus ring is very narrow, but with a rubber coating that gives a little better grip. It is light (335 g) and compact, with 52 mm filter thread – the classic size of most old Nikkor AI and AIS-lenses.
D300 with 55-200VR.

Conditions were good, with nice weather and sunshine. Here are some walk-around shots (the first ones with the 55-200VR, the last with the 70-200VR. There are links to larger images at the end of the article).
flowers
backlight
overview
details
dog

Optical quality
I wondered if some of the good results I got with the 55-200VR was dependent on the fact that I mostly had used it with my 6 mp D40 – how would it fare with the more demanding 12 mp D300?

OK – on with the testing. Here is the first scene – 70 mm. All shots made with D300, ISO 200. USM 100/0.3/0 added in Photoshop. These are jpegs fine quality, but I will also show some RAW-comparisions. Aperture 5.6 in this scene.
70 mm first test

100 percent crops. 55-200 VR left, 70-200 VR right.
100 percent cropa 70mm
Click here to see it in full size. (Use the “back button” on your browser to return here.)
Very hard to see a difference, but a slight nod to the 70-200VR if one has to make a choice. At 5.6 the 55-200VR is down a 2/3 stop from 4.2, while the 70-200VR is down two stops from 2.8.

Now at 200 mm. The scene:
200mm scene1
100 percent crops. 55-200 VR left, 70-200VR right.
100percent200mma
Click here to see it in full size.
Here the differences are more clearly in favour of the 70-200VR. Look for instance on the ventilation lid. The 55-200VR also shows signs of CA (chromatic abberation) in white areas. But remember that the 55-200VR now is wide open at 5.6, while the 70-200 VR is two stops down.

Lets try some RAW. Now at aperture 8, to level the differences in speed. NEF-files converted to jpegs with Capture NX, USM 100/0.3/0 added in Photoshop.

The scene at 70 mm:
70mmscene2
At 70 mm, 55-200VR left, 70-200VR right. 100 percent crops.
70mmb400px
Full size, click here.
There is a slight difference in tonality, but the sharpness is very close.

The scene at 200 mm:
200nef
100 percent crops, 55-200VR to the left, 70-200VR to the right.
200mmnef400px
Click here for full size.
Again, larger differences at 200 mm. No CA now with the 55-200VR, but the 70-200 VR is sharper anyway.

Another comparision, now at 50 percent, which is more close to how a print would look.
50 percent
Click here for full size.
One interesting observation consistent with other test images s that the 70-200VR seems to be able to show more nuances and tones. A quality aspect seldom mentioned in tests of lenses. Maybe it is hard to quantify.

Overall conclusion: I still stand by my opinion that the 55-200VR gives a very high optical quality in relationship to its price, even with a 12 mp camera. It doesnt reach the 70-200 VR, but overall a very good performance.

Autofocus performance
The 55-200VR is not a sports lens – that goes without saying, considering the modest speed, F4-5.6, and the low cost AF-S. But can you use it for sports? My answer is yes, if you have camera body with fast AF. I noticed this last summer, when I shot the Stockholm Marathon. When I used the 55-200VR on my D200, the AF worked fine with a very high percent keepers.
sthml marathon
Many more images in this gallery.

However, my D40 had much more difficulty with this.

I tried shots of skiing with my D300 recently. Here the D300/55-200VR worked great, shooting long tracking series at 6 fps with almost all in focus.

skiing
See this gallery.

VR – does it work?

Some people have reported problems with the VR (vibration reduction) technology with this lens, getting inconsistent results.
The VR in the 55-200VR is an older version, not as effective as the ones in for example the 18-200VR, 70-300VR or16-85 VR lenses. However, there is no doubt that it is working – I have many samples of images that would be more or less impossible without the VR function.
Here is a situation where VR is extremly convinient. Michelangelos famous sculpture Pietà in the St. Peters church in Rome. 55-200 VR, 85 mm, 1/45 s, ISO 1600, Nikon D40.
VRex1
Larger version here.

Another sample, at a longer shutterspeed – 1/4 s at 135 mm. ISO 1600, Nikon D40.
VRex2
Larger image here.

Of course with these very long shutterspeeds you have to take the same care and use the same technique as with a non-VR lens, and not expect success with every shot. One problem with the 55-200VR might be that it is so light, it can be difficult to feel when the VR locks. It is much less obvious than, for example, with the 70-200 VR. There may also be some some sample variation of course, with this relative cheap lens.
One thought that crossed my mind was that the VR results I have had with the lens, had something to do with the relative low resolution of the 6 mp Nikon D40, and the very smooth shutter/mirror action of that camera.
So I made some simple tests with the D300. I took a series of five images, at 200 mm and 1/5 s, at 120 mm at 1/6 s, at 55 mm at 1/10 s. The result was 3 relative sharp images, 2 blurry. Thats an OK result in my opinion considering the shutterspeeds. USM 100/1/0 on all images added in Photoshop.
Here is the subject:
VRscene
Larger version here.
100 and 50 percent crops:
VRD300ex1
200 mm at 1/5 s here
120 mm at 1/6 s here
55 mm at 1/10 s here

Finally…
I got a question about how the lens works for portraits. I am no expert in the appearance of bokeh, but I can offer some “portraits” of my cat… (Both with the 55-200VR)
kasper1
Larger image here.
kasper2
Larger image here.

Link to gallery with the images in the test in larger sizes, klick here.

15 Responses to “Nikkor 55-200VR”

  1. PerL,

    Thanks for the Test of the 55-200mm VR lens. I have this lens and use it on my D40x and really like it for its light weight. My 18-200mm VR is better in many respects, but the 55-200mm VR is much lighter for travel.

    Cheers, Bill Creech

  2. Hi Bill,

    Yes, it is really very good for its price, and with the small size you can bring it with you without thinking twice. However, after I tried the 18-200 for a week on a travel I am very tempted to get one of those too. Coupled with a D40x it must be a perfect one-lens solution for travels, the D300 is much heavier.

  3. I found this article very helpful – thanks!

  4. Thanks for the review, PerL.

    Recently, I cross-tested 4 different 55-200 VR’s, and was disappointed at the huge sample variation. One was great from 55 to 105, then the top-left quadrant became progressively fuzzier. Another was very good at the long and short ends, but significantly worse in the middle. The other 2 were mediocre throughout. None was a keeper.

    Having said that, I’m sure there must be many good copies out there, as people are generally pleased with this zoom. I’m not giving up hope yet, and I did like the size, range and handling of the lens,

  5. To emax,

    Yes, maybe sample variation is the reason for the different opinions about the lens. After all it is a low cost lens and tolerances may be less tight.

  6. [...] VR had been available it had been an option.Judging by the performance of the 55-200VR (see my review), the latest consumer tele zooms from Nikon has excellent image [...]

  7. Nice test, great images, cute cat… and your new website : http://dslr-video.com/blogmag/ is really great.

  8. Thankyou, Mas Gaptek!

  9. Hallo; I am impressed with the clarity & sharpness of the Nikkor 55-200 VR lense.
    I am in the process of purchasing a camera (most likely a Nikon D40 or a Nikon 40x) and am looking for an inexpensive lense.
    I studied both, the Nikkor 55-200 VR and the Nikkor 18-55 VR lens in great laenght. I spend many hours on the Internet and printed out stacks of information. However in the low price range that my budget allows, which the above lenses seem to be, I can not find, in all the write-up much mention how much “zooming power” (results of the 18-55 and the 55-200mm) each lense offers. I searched for a comparisson photo or two of a bird on a tree branch say 60 feet off, taken first with a compact (I got a Digi compact Nikon P3 at present) and then with a say D40 or 40X and each time with the first and secon lense I mentioned. Hope that does not sound to complicated. It is just that I don’t want to buy something where I don’t know if I can get what I am after. In one sentence I am looking for a camera combo that is in the price range of $ 600 where I can take a close-up of a small bird , where I can zoom right in.
    If this is not possible price wise, the how does a beginners combo (40x camera plus the 18-55mm VR lense) for now sound. However, what lense would you suggest to buy later on that would allow me to take good, sharp close-up of birds? Forever gratefull for your reply in advance.

  10. I would like to subscribe to your blog.
    I find your test photo’s of great interest. Very informative. Thank you for that. Job well done.

    Gerlinde.

  11. Thanks Gerlinde. I have moved my blog to http://dslr-video.com/blogmag/.
    I only check in here now and then. See the new blog for new material. I might make a subscription option on the blog, I have not looked into how a RSS feed works yet.
    As for the questions: The zoom range of the 18-55 and 55-200VR is if you combine them 11x. Compared to “normal vison”, which most people agrees is like a 50 mm lens on a 35 mm camera, you will get 6x “closer” with the 55-200VR on a D40/x. Getting good close ups of small birds can be very difficult, even with very expensive equipment. The next step after a 55-200VR at a reasonable cost is the 70-300VR. Sigma also have some high power zooms that might be worth looking into. Juts remember that the longer focal length you got, the more important is the stabilization feature.

  12. ioan mezei Says:

    Outstanding review,
    Thanks a lot!!!!

  13. ajay prasad Says:

    as compared to sigma 70-300 which one do u advise???

  14. thank you for your review. I bought nikon 55-200 yesterday, overall its recommended lens with chipper price :)

  15. [...] 70 200 vr nikon bonusphotography.wordpress.com [...]

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