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Nikon 18-200mm. (enlarge)
The performance of my Nikon 18-200mm is more than the sum of its parts. It's sharp, contrasty, focuses almost instantly, gets rid of hand vibration with VR and zooms with ease. What's more impressive when you own one is how well this all works together.
It's unlike any of the dozens of other lenses I've owned. There's nothing that gets in your way. No need to change lenses. No balky zooming. No clumsy macro range lockout switches. No slow focusing. No practical close focus limit. No need to move a switch to focus manually. Manual focus is never too fast or slow at zoom extremes. It just works! Nikon's been making Nikkor lenses for over 70 years and Europeans have been at it for over 400 years. This is the first lens I've ever used that does all this as it should.
My D200 is a very picky high resolution camera. It can uncover optical flaws in lenses that look great on other cameras. My 18 - 200 works brilliantly on it. I never expected this, but my Nikon 18-200mm is sharp at every setting! In some deliberate witch-hunt situations I might be able to see some slight difference between my Nikon 18-200mm and my exotic f/2.8 AF-s zooms, but this isn't enough to gamble missing a shot while changing lenses or having to haul them all around anymore. In regular shooting I see no difference.
The huge range of the Nikon 18-200mm has sped up my work and allowed me to get even more and better photos in less time. That's far more important than the test chart tests over which hobbiests worry. It's far more important to get the image in the first place than miss it because I was fiddling with changing lenses. If I have the time to set up a tripod I shoot on 4x5" film instead of piddling with digital.
The 18 - 200 works just as brilliantly on a D2X, D70, D50, D1X or whatever digital camera you have. I just happen to use the D200 most of the time. For the same money I would much rather have this Nikon 18-200mm and a D50 than some other lens on a more expensive camera.
The only bad thing is it's backordered. Don't be swayed if dealers throw out scare stories to attempt to sell you something they have in stock. Your dealer only makes money when he's selling, not backordering. Sadly Nikon seems backordered for months, and scare stories surface in every industry when something popular can't be built fast enough. There is no Canon or any other equivalent.
The Nikon 18-200mm is the perfect lens for people who only get to take one lens. Most people will never need anything more. It's the "desert island" lens, and the perfect lens to grab when you have no idea what you're going to see. Personally I love wide angles and use my 12 - 24 mm often, too.
I have yet to find any flaws optically or mechanically other than the expected distortion which is easy to correct in Photoshop CS2. It's sharp even close-up and wide-open. This is better than most other lenses which I have to stop down.