2018 July 16 Update: Added an additional image gallery here.
Kit zoom lenses typically do not get a lot of good press because they usually deliver average performance. But it is a disservice to ourselves to dismiss them totally, as different kit lenses from different manufacturers can produce different results. There is also a good reason why the “kit lens” exists – because it covers an extremely convenient and practically useful focal range that satisfies 80% of what most people need. This real-world review of Nikon’s newest DX kit lens (as of mid-2018) AF-P DX Nikkor 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6G VR (abbreviated AF-P 18-55VR for the rest of this review) might change your mind about the usefulness of a kit lens.
Disclaimer: As usual reviews are based on real-world experience instead of graphs and numbers. You have to go to other sites to find that information.
Compatibility is the greatest problem for the AF-P 18-55VR, so much so that it deserves it own little section in this review. Nikon’s AF-P lenses are only fully compatible with Nikon cameras released in recent years. Note my use of the term “fully compatible” as opposed to just “compatible”. This is because there is “limited compatibility” with some Nikon cameras. To find out the level of compatibility of your Nikon camera body with AF-P lenses, check the information from Nikon’s compatibility support article here.
Build and handling
The AF-P 18-55VR is made to be an affordable kit lens, so the build quality feels plastic. But it is durable plastic and the rings are much smoother than some more expensive third-party lenses I have used in the past. It feels solid enough for everyday use, though it is wise to handle it with a reasonable amount of care. It looks small when collapsed. To use it, you have to un-collapse it by twisting the zoom ring from “lock” to the 18-55mm focal length regions. In this mode it becomes surprisingly long. In fact, it is large for a kit zoom lens!
Moving between 18-55mm actually does not change the length of the lens much – the shortest length is achieved at around the 24mm mark. It definitely looks awkward in this ready-to-shoot mode. Those of you who carry your camera around your neck is going to look ridiculous with this long phallic thing protruding from your chest. If your camera strap is long enough, this will be protruding from your stomach or belt. Imagine that. Nope, not a good idea. Really.
You can always collapse the lens when you are not taking pictures, but that is far from convenient. I carry my camera by my side on a shoulder strap so it does not bother me. My recommendation: Just buy a good shoulder strap and learn to carry your camera from your shoulder. It really is the superior ergonomic way of carrying any image-capture device larger than a compact camera.
This lens does not come with a lens hood. You will have to buy one separately if you need one. You have to be careful though, as different 18-55mm kit zooms may require different lens hoods to fit. It is best to physically test one before purchasing.
The lens is super-light at approximately 205g. So it is convenient to pair it with a light DX camera and carry it around all day taking pictures – as long as you are carrying the combination from your shoulder instead of having it protrude out from your chest. Or stomach. Or groin. 😉
AF is quiet and works fine as expected. I did not test this with fast wildlife or sports, nor do I think it is the correct tool for such uses. You probably need something more expensive to reliably AF and track subjects for those situations.
The lens uses focus-by-wire for manual AF. This works quite well and I feel it is in no way inferior to a physical focus mechanism. However, the focus ring is super-tiny and not convenient to hold, which suggests that the manufacturer does not expect users of this lens to use manual focus often. I agree with this, so no big deal here.
I mentioned in the introduction of this review that the AF-P 18-55VR might change your mind about the performance and usefulness of a kit zoom lens. That should already give a hint of how this lens performs. Obviously it does not have a large aperture to begin with, so it won’t give us any shallow DOF performance to write about. However the level of detail it can extract with the aperture values it can access is excellent. From my experience and memory, there are definitely some other prime lenses which can produce better details at equivalent aperture values. But consider the fact that I am comparing a cheap zoom lens to prime lenses, this speaks a lot to how much detail this cheap kit lens can pull out.
CA control is also good compared against prime lenses. There are some examples where it may have a little more CA when compared to a more expensive prime lens, but there are also examples where CA will show up with a prime lens but is totally invisible with this lens. In summary, great CA performance all around. The image corrections provided by the camera’s built-in JPEG engine and most reputable RAW converters also correct distortion and vignetting sufficiently that they do not pose any problems.
I have not encountered any issues with ghosts and flare, so the performance in this aspect is also very good. There is some light blooming for objects under bright sunlight, but this is an aspect that even die-hard pixel-peepers may not notice. There are lenses that behave better in this aspect and there are lenses which do not. As a general rule, more expensive Nikkor lenses with the nano-crystal coating have this optical imperfection under control. As I just mentioned, many people cannot see this, let alone care about it. I only notice it because I have experience using more expensive lenses. For what it is worth, even the Nikon AF-S 50mm f/1.8G has the same imperfection. Those who are aware of it should just understand that they have to pay for a more expensive lens if they demand even better optical qualities. Personally I actually miss the performance advantages of the nano-crystal coat, but I can live without it for a lens so cheap.
One of the most surprising and valuable performance trait of the AF-P 18-55VR is its close-focusing capability. The official specifications cite a maximum reproduction ratio of 0.38x and a minimum focus distance of 25mm. That 0.38x reproduction ratio should really make people sit up and take notice. Sigma’s 17-70mm DC Macro only delivers a 0.36x reproduction ratio and they already feel this is sufficient justification to slap a “macro” label on that lens. The AF-P 18-55VC delivers an even greater reproduction ratio! We may still be some ways off from 1X macro, but this already gives us some very impressive close-focusing capability that is very useful.
When using this lens for close-up photography, spherochromatism is more apparent and there is visible image softening. Stopping the aperture down reduces the effect of softening. Spherochromatism will have to be dealt with in post-processing, which could be a bit of a bother for those who are unused to handling this type of visual artifact. But honestly I have few complaints for a cheap zoom lens that can deliver such amazing close-focus capabilities.
The 18-55mm (DX) focal range covers wide-angle to short telephoto, which is sufficient for most users’ needs. The AF-P 18-55VR provides a convenient focal range coverage, VR and portability in an affordable package. It may not be the ideal tool for photography genres such as landscape, architecture, sports, wildlife and portraiture. However it does everything else well. And there is a lot of stuff in “everything else” here, including travel, taking pictures of loved ones, street and documentary photography, food pictures, etc. It is great for circumstances where you need a reasonable DOF to keep the scenery in focus – which is actually a common requirement in travel and many real-life moments. There are times when a shallow DOF is preferred and there are times when a deep DOF is necessary instead. Know your needs well to avoid spending money on heavier, more expansive large-aperture lenses that you may not actually need.
2018 Singapore. Old shop houses from colonial era and new modern condominiums.
Of course, we have to mention the close-focusing capabilities of this lens again. An expensive 50mm f/1.4 (on FX) “walk-around” premium prime lens can’t focus properly on your lunch or dinner unless you are standing far enough away. Meanwhile everyone else with an “inferior” camera phone can easily snap dozens of pictures of a memorable meal with friends and family. The AF-P 18-55VR with its close-focus 0.38x magnification and built-in VR finally gives ILC users their chance to gloat over their phone-camera-using contemporaries. 😛 You can be comfortably seated down and still deliver food imagery superior to your friends’ phone cameras. Other than food photography, there are also a lot of other practical uses for a close-focusing lens during travel, such as taking pictures of fine details, trinkets, objects, etc. It is a great feature for a lightweight do-nearly-everything everyday lens.
Cooking Minced Pork With Onions
Mixed vegetables dish of sliced brocolli, capsicum, beancurd skin and mushrooms.
This lens is not properly sealed against the elements, so I will think twice about bringing it into a jungle, or into a desert, or to a waterfall, or to the Arctic, into the rain, etc. In other words, it is still very usable for 90% of the situations most of us find ourselves in. When the environment becomes challenging, it is probably safer to consider other more weather-resilient options.
The AF-P 18-55VR is a great little lens provided you can get over the compatibility requirements and if you do not need shallow DOF or a weather-resilient build. No other camera brand or lens manufacturer (as of mid-2018) has something similar that delivers such good results at such a good price in something so lightweight. It is actually a great choice for travel photography. Not only do you get a convenient focal range coverage, the close-focusing capabilities also lets you grab great food photos without needing to switch to a macro lens.
Some will prefer the focal range to reach down to 16mm. Personally it does not bother me. Because if 18mm is not enough for me, neither is 16mm. I would rather switch to an ultra-wide-angle zoom when 18mm is not enough. But different people will have different usage preferences.
There will be others who prefer something that can reach beyond 55mm. These people will have to look at other heavier and more expensive options. I too, will not mind if this lens has a longer reach – but I am fine with the balance of focal range convenience, performance, weight and price it manages to achieve. For my own personal use, it zooms far enough as a simple general-purpose do-nearly-everything lens for most of my uses. There may be situations where I really prefer something that has a longer focal reach, but I am happy with the AF-P 18-55VR as it is.
The AF-P 18-55VR has become one of my favourite walk-around DX lens. If you think it satisfies your needs , feel free to get one. And have fun!
An additional gallery of images created with the AF-P 18-55VR can be found here, to further demonstrate the versatility of this lens.