GEAR REVIEW- NIKKOR 18-55mm f/3.6-5.6 VRII
Kit lenses are often regarded to be the "bog standard" optic that the manufacturer sells you with the camera, just so you have something to shoot with. This is because of their build quality, aperture range and price. They're cheap and cheerful. However, despite these apparent shortcomings, what is most often overlooked is the optical performance they offer and the latest version is no exception.
This is the 4th incantation of the 18-55mm; the first appearing in 2005 with the Nikon D50. A few optical and mechanical overhauls later, the new lens now sports VR II (claiming 4 stops of hand-held blur/shake reduction) and a collapsible design to reduce space in your bag. The diminutive size and weight of this lens make it an ideal accompaniment to small DSLRs like theD3300.
Build quality is much like the other kit lenses that have come before it. Plastic. Plastic everywhere, but still sturdy enough for its intended purpose. Long gone are the days where Nikon built tank-like lenses and only their more expensive offerings contain metal parts. Still, that lack of robustness is a trade off for a featherweight lens, which on a long excursion shooting is very much welcomed.
Focusing is smooth, precise and well dampened. One thing I dislike in a lens is a sloppy focus barrel. You need a decent amount of resistance to make accurate manual adjustments. The lens cleverly retracts for storage or transportation. While this is a nice space saving feature, you will need to extend it again before use. Although not up to par with professional glass, focus speed is quick enough for most action situations, like children playing etc. The Silent-Wave motor inside the lens is indeed just that. Barely audible, which makes it excellent for being discreet. The size of this lens coupled with the D3300 would make for great street photography gear, as they are intrusive and nowhere near as noticeable as a D4 or D800 with a grip.
Where this lens shines though is in its sharpness. For something that most photographers cannot wait to replace, this is one razor sharp lens for the money. The aspherical front element plays a key role in delivering this sharpness across the frame. The wide end of the zoom range, it's loaded with distortion (most wide angle lenses are). This is no big whoop, as modern DSLRs correct this in-camera. It is also correctable in post processing too. It also appears to be sharper at the long end, which is good news if you plan on doing close up portraits of friends and family. The lens comes with it's own lens hood, to help deal with unwanted flare and it's own pouch. What I was a bit disappointed to see is that no black, rear lens cap is provided. Only the white, push on cap, which doesn't lock into place. A minor grievance but, I do so enjoy a grumble!
All-in-all, I think Nikon can give themselves a pat on the back with regard to this lens. They could have not bothered updating the old version, or just updated it to the newer VR II technology. Instead they decided to be more innovative and created something a bit different. I didn't think I would but, I have to say I really like the fact the lens closes down in the manner it does. While it's not a huge difference in size, if your camera bag is already a tight squeeze, then this feature can only help. Optically this lens performs very well, as does the vibration reduction. So long as you don't require a fast aperture for your photography, don't be in too much of a hurry to poo-poo this lens in favour of a "pro" optic. It may just surprise you yet!