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Nikon 18-200mm
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Nikon 18 - 200mm

Nikon 18-200mm. (enlarge)

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How to get one

Blur Elimination (Vibration Reduction or VR)

VR adds immensely to the real-world sharpness I get on a daily basis. I shoot almost entirely hand-held. There's no way I could get anything hand-held at 1/30 at 200 mm with such a light lens without VR.

VR magically compensates for natural hand jiggling. It can't compensate for subject motion. It also can help get great panning shots if you are good at matching subject motion with your pan.

With VR I can shoot at 1/30 at 200 mm and almost always get perfect sharpness. If I'm concentrating even 1/15 is almost always perfect at 200 mm, even viewed at 100%. Forget 1/8 at 200 mm. You can get away with slower speeds at smaller magnifications and print sizes.

Nikon claims the 18 - 200 has a new VR system with two modes. The Normal Mode compensates for random camera shake and includes panning and tripod detection. The Active Mode compensates for continuous vibration when shooting from a moving vehicle. I've always loved the VR in my 80 - 400 and this is a newer, smarter system.

I've always had hands of iron. With VR 1/8 of a second gives great results at 18 mm. 1/2 second is blurry. I can even get away at 1/8 out to about 100 mm!

Ruby's Laguna Beach

Ruby's Diner, 07 January, 2006.

D200 auto-everything, auto ISO at 1600, 35 mm, 1/20 second at f/4.2, VR hand held. Full frame horizontally. I cropped a little dead space from the top and bottom. D200 was set to JPG Large Basic.

Ruby's

100% crop from above center, no further sharpening. This is a 6.5x enlargement from above.

Not only is this sharp at 1/20, so were the other five shots I made just to be sure! Shot below is sharpened with my standard treatment for web images (150% at 0.3 radius). These two are saved in CS2's Save For Web at 80% quality, top overall image at 40%. It's easy to read "Ruby's" off the gumball machine with more distortion coming from the window glass than my hands shaking.

Ruby's

Sorry not to have great art examples for you. This is an initial grab shot while my wife went in to check the menu. What impresses me is that these all were perfectly sharp and all made on my D200's full auto everything setting. Note also the complete lack of flare and ghosts.

Acoustical Noise in VR Mode

The VR system is supposed to make a little noise while it's working. This is normal. You won't hear it shooting sports outdoors, and you will hear it if you're in a quiet place and listen for it.This is how it works: there are internal optics connected to speaker coils moving to counteract the motion of the lens.

Shooting From Moving Vehicles

It works! My wife hates this because now I can grab shots as she's driving. Select "Active" instead of "Normal" on the lens' lowest switch, and of course have VR ON.

Car window glass is rarely flat, ensuring fuzzy images. Shoot through open widows or from a convertible.

I am able to get consistently sharp shots at 105 mm at 1/125 second from a moving car of pretty much anything at which I pointed it on my D200. I was astounded; I really couldn't see things through the finder well because of the vibration. Try it sometime. When most of my images wound up being sharp I again have to compliment the chefs at Nikon.

You will need some skill in tracking motion if shooting to the side. If things are whizzing past you will have to develop a slight talent for keeping them centered in the finder.

How to Use VR

I leave it on all the time. Leave it at NORMAL. If you're shooting from a vehicle set it to ACTIVE.

For normal shots you can use ACTIVE, too.

For panned shots you need to use NORMAL. ACTIVE won't compensate well for the pan.

Nikon confuses us all in their manual by telling us that the VR doesn't activate if you press an AF-ON button on your camera. What happens if you press your camera's AF-ON button is that the meter turns on and the lens focuses, but VR doesn't wake up. As soon as you press the shutter VR does turn on. I would suggest if you want VR to be effective that you should use a half press of the shutter button instead because VR needs a second or so to stabilize.

AF-ON seems only to be helpful if you want to save a little battery power, but it that's the case you ought to use the manual focus ring.

I need to test to see if the AF-ON button is working like the second VR mode of other lenses where VR was locking on and working perfectly, but saving power by not stabilizing before the shutter was released. Nikon doesn't tell us, but I will.

For you engineers I'll explain Nikon's meaningless graph about the VR modes ACTIVE and NORMAL. It's meaningless because they chose ambiguous labels. The axes of their graph should be labeled amplitude (x) and frequency (y). Now you can see that VR doesn't correct low frequencies (slow pans) in ACTIVE mode, but ACTIVE mode in exchange allows the VR system to handle wilder vibrations than the NORMAL mode at high frequencies. This is why you need to use NORMAL for slow shutter speed pans: ACTIVE mode doesn't compensate at the rate at which most pans are made.

You can see this by making some very slow pans in each of the modes while looking through the finder with VR running. In NORMAL mode the lens tries to compensate even your slow drifts off the subject, while in ACTIVE mode it doesn't try to correct your slow drifts. Slow drifts are lower frequencies than faster hand vibrations.

Turning ON and OFF: Caging the Nikon 18-200mm

The VR system uses vibrating glass elements inside the lens to compensate for external vibration.

When you turn off the camera or take off the lens it's important that those moving elements are locked down. Otherwise they can flop all over and make a lot of rattling when the camera is turned off or after the Nikon 18-200mm is taken off the camera.

The camera and lens automatically lock these down when you turn off the camera or VR stops when you take your finger off the shutter.

The VR system may not lock itself properly if you pull the lens off the camera (or pull out the battery) while VR is running. If you do this and your lens makes funny rattles just put the lens back on the camera, turn it on, activate VR with the shutter and give it a second to turn off. Now it's OK to turn off the camera and take off the Nikon 18-200mm.

Tripods and Monopods

Turn VR OFF on a tripod. Even if you forget it seems to be fine. If the camera is stable VR may add vibration attempting to correct vibration which isn't there.

Leave VR ON on a monopod. It will correct for the usual vibration on a monopod.

Measurements at 85mm

By "sharp shots" I mean perfect tripod-equivalant shrpness when viewed at 100%, as shot on a D300 by me. For most uses, one can use much slower speeds.

% Sharp Shots
1
1/2
1/4
1/8
1/15
1/30
1/60
1/125
1/250
85mm
0
8
26
29
100
100

 

 

More: See examples from Italy here.

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