Jan 6, 2012

Nikon 18-55 VR compared to Nikon 18-105 VR

Over the past 2 years, I've had the chance to use and compare these two lenses on my Nikon D40. On the way, I learned a great many things, so I’ll start off with the story.

3 years ago, after buying my Nikon D40, I was delighted at the image quality of the camera and at the same time, a bit frustrated with the standard kit lens, the 18-55mm G-ED II.
My previous camera was a Sony H-1, a big-zoom compact. The image quality was obviously quite poor compared to any DSLR, but the large zoom range, the vibration reduction system and the DSLR like click and scroll control were brilliant.

The kit lens on the Nikon D40 at first frustrated me mostly because of the missing vibration reduction. I had grown so used to it that it felt at first very hard to take sharp pictures. This had mostly to do with the fact that I had gotten sloppy handholding. The limited focal length range was also somewhat hard to get used to. On the plus side, the kit lens was very light and made the D40 very easy to handle. I found the pictures I made with it to be excellent in good light and ok in low light. A very good kit lens, but a shame that it has no VR.
The focal length limitation I could easily live with, but the lack of vibration reduction not so much. Call me lazy, I know, but it makes it much easier to have sharp photos, even in low light. So I started looking at the options:
The Nikon 18-200mm VR 

I had at first decided on this ultimate travel zoom, thinking that while it is expensive, this would be the only lens I would ever need. Things were not so rosy however, when I went to try it at the camera shop. While the size seems to be ok on paper, this lens is very front heavy and it feels completely unbalanced on the D40. Using the camera one handed with this lens on it is out of the question, at least for me. With the 18-200mm out of the running, it was time to look at the alternatives.  
The Nikon 18-55mm VR

The great thing about the 18-55 VR is the size and weight. It is fractionally larger and heavier than the 18-55 kit lens but just barely enough to feel the extra weight. Since the focal length is the same as the kit lens, this felt like a bad deal to me. Of course, the fact that the normal retail price is ridiculously high makes it a doubly bad deal. I thought it would be silly to spend so much money just to have vibration reduction.

The Nikon 18-105mm VR

This Nikkor 18-105 VR is in an interesting middle ground. Price wise, it is much closer to the 18-55 VR than the 18-200 VR. In terms of zoom range, it lies right between them. I found this to be an attractive alternative, it was affordable, doubled the zoom range of my kit lens, and had vibration reduction. After trying it on my D40, I found the size and weight much more reasonable than the 18-200VR. Yes, it is larger and heavier than the kit lens, but not dramatically so. One handed shooting is a bit trickier, but still ok.
At the beginning, I was really happy with the extended zoom range and the vibration reduction. After some months though, some of the shortcomings became obvious.
I’ll start with the most frustrating: The minimum focus distance is far too long on this lens. Sometimes, when you want to take a close up of something, you’ll get near it and the lens will simply refuse to focus because you are too close to your subject. This happens so often that it gets really annoying after a while.
Another niggle: The focus ring has no feel and too much travel. Although you can override the focus at any time, you can’t easily tell in which direction you are shifting the focus because the travel is far too long. Since there is no distance scale or anything, I can’t ever really tell what I am doing. Well, I know I am not the best photographer in the world, yes, but I manage to shoot with manual focus cameras and that works out fine. All of this caused me to practically not ever attempt to adjust the focus manually. Which kind of takes some of the fun away.
The final straw: While I was never dissatisfied with the pictures from the 18-105VR, I was not really satisfied either. For a long time, I couldn’t tell why and it took me a really long time to understand the reason. Some of my pictures with my kit lens the 18-55mm, especially those shot in good light, had an almost magical “pop” to them. They looked really, really good. Not that I am a good photographer, I am just talking about the technical quality. You just looked at them and said “wow”. I realized that none of the images shot with the 18-105 were like this. So I started examining the kit lens pictures more closely. The thing that these pictures had in common was: Kit lens, shot with an aperture of f8 or f11. Hmm, ok I thought, this is kind of obvious, any lens needs to be stopped down a bit to get optimum quality.
So I started looking at the photos from the 18-105, picking out the f8 or f11s. They looked fine, ok, there were no obvious problems. But they did not have that “bite”, that “pop” that something extra that the kit lens pictures had. This is the point at which a better photography site would put up comparison test shots between the two lenses. Since I am lazy and can’t bother to shoot pictures just for testing, I will just say the following: The 18-55mm kit lens spanks the 18-105mm VR in image quality, period. Will you notice the difference? I always thought “Lens sharpness is way overrated, it’s for pixel peepers, normal people can’t see the difference”. Well, even with my lowly 6 megapixel D40, I can tell the difference.
On with the rest of the story:
Armed with this information, I snagged a second hand 18-55mm VR to try out. Within minutes, it made me smile. What I had forgotten was how much fun the D40 is with a light lens on it. While the 18-105 is not enormously large, it still is noticeably heavier. The 18-55 VR, on the other hand makes the D40 handle like a dream. The close focusing distance means you can get much closer to subjects and the maximum magnification for macro shots is larger than the 18-105. The image quality is also much better, I think pretty much same as the kit lens, in other words: very good. All of this makes this lens a lot of fun. On paper, this lens looks awkward and expensive, but on a camera, it feels absolutely wonderful. It’s a case of the whole being more than the sum of its parts.
The conclusion, then:
The Nikon 18-55mm VR
It doesn’t do everything, this one. Zoom range is limited, there is no instant focus override. It is a simple, light, cheap lens with vibration reduction. Doesn’t promise you the world. But it does what it does very well. It is a brilliant little lens.
The Nikon 18-105mm VR
This one promises a bit more. Double the zoom range. Instant focus override. Looks a bit more serious as well. In the end: the niggles take a lot of the fun away from this lens. On paper, this is a much better lens, shame that it doesn’t work as well in the real world.
So, which one am I keeping?
Despite the 18-105 having double the zoom range, I always find myself using the 18-55VR. As I said, it is a lot more fun.
Is that subjective? Yes.
Will my 18-105 be finding a new home soon? Also a yes…
Sigma & Tamron:
You may be wondering why I did not consider the alternatives from Sigma and Tamron. I had looked at the Sigma 18-200mm OS but ultimately decided on the Nikon 18-200. When I changed my mind due to the size / weight, the Sigma was looking similarly large and much more expensive than the Nikon 18-105. The Tamron 18-250mm, unfortunately doesn’t have vibration reduction. Since then, the Tamron has introduced the 18-270 VC which was not available last year. I would quite like to try that one out, although I am pretty sure the size/weight could again be a deal-breaker.

Read more about:
Nikon 18-105mm VR Lens.
Nikon D40.


  1. Good info. Still, I am a bit confused. I need a bit extra zoom (like 105 or 125 or 135) but 18-105 IQ is not great compared to 18-55 VR.

    Question remain unanswered, which other (a bit longer zoom) lens will give me 18-55 quality?


  2. I will soon be trying out the Tamron 18-200 as a possible replacement for the 18-105, stay tuned.

  3. It's amazing!! I have made the same observation you did. Conlusion, the same: Nikon 18-55 VR is a "kit" lens just because it sells with the entry level cameras in most stores (also because of its plastic mount). But it is really a good lens, if you can handle distortion at 18mm. All I have in my gear is Nikon 18-55mm and a couple of fine primes.

  4. Very good info - thank you very much.

    I am a complete beginner and I need to decide between two kits: the first 18 - 55 + 55 - 200 both vrs and the second just the 18 - 105.. I'm inclined to go for the first..

  5. Thanks for this, it's exactly the subjective and opinionated advice I was looking for! I'm going to buy the D5100 and now I'm happy that it comes with the 18-55 rather than my alternative of D7000 + 18-105.


  6. "Simply Better Photos"? ..funny how anyone can blog/website assessments on photography gear when their expertise and knowledge base is evidently lacking. To ANYONE looking for objective, factual data for which to base a lens/glass purchase, sweet lord please at least refer to the acknowledged reviewers of the same, notably three of which I posted below. Lens acquisition is critically based on what one is shooting, one's budget and shooting preferences. ANY variable aperture zoom lens is going to have its pecadillos, its a given. In cement. To note, the 18-105 is a better performer than the 18-55. Both have an aspherical element, the 18-105 has an ED low dispersion element, the 18-55 doesnt.

    Refer to the direct comparison from DxOMark, the acnowledged go to site for direct comparisons of camera bodies/lenses- there is no comparison between the 18-55 and 18-105:






    Joe Public, realize that when you read these comments by random folks, however well intended, take it with a grain of salt. Lack of "pop" could be very well a reflection of his photography skills. again, a D-SLR is not "magic"- one can take subpar images as well as outstanding pics.

    1. Hi rrwilliams

      Any advice to my comment below?

      You seem pretty knowledgeable on this topic.

      Thanks so much, it's so confusing when you're clueless!


    2. The reason the 18-55 'seems' a better performer than the 18-105, or 55-200, etc, is because it's easier to get good, consistent results - and that's really the key here. You have to accept compromises, plus you generally have to 'work' a longer telephoto a lot more to get good results, over a wide to standard zoom like the 18-55 - especially hand-held..

      Specifications won't help at all I'm afraid!

  7. I'm so confused now. We'e about to buy our first ever DSLR and have decided on the Nikon D7000. Based on your review I thought I'd go option 1 (18-55mm + 55-200mm) over option 2 (18-105mm). But after reading rrwilliams, I am back to square one.

    Opinions and advice people? We are newbies with no photography experience buying this to capture on impending first child's moments.

    Thank you!

    1. If you're intending to do mostly short range 'out and about' shooting, opt for the two lenses - the 55-200 vr won't seem as good a performer as the 18-55 vr (perceived sharpness) and needs a fair bit of practice to get good results (as do most telephoto lenses approaching 200mm.

      The main thing is decide what you're intending to shoot, then pick the best solution.

    2. I have the D7000 and have an 18-70 (without vr), a Tamron 70-300 (with vr) which ia excellent and I would highly recommend, and a 10-24 which is brilliant. I'm about to swap the 18-70 for an 18-55 vr because although this leaves a gap between 55 and 70, having the vr makes it worth it! As for the 18-105 vr which I was going to buy, after looking at lots of comparisons on review sites and friends images, I'm more than happy with the results of the 18-55. Despite going on about all these lenses, its still all about a good eye and then your ability to get that image that you've seen into the camera. I've swapped, bought and sold lenses a number of times until I have a range of lenses that will allow me to capture nature pics, portraits and 'artistic' shots as well as I'm able. What you need will be dependent on what you intend to do with your camera but I've sold my work and won competitions so I think that you may be happy with the lenses mentioned. Btw, you may also want the Nikon 35mm 1.8 prime lens.

  8. please go here, play with it.


  9. http://www.the-digital-picture.com/Reviews/ISO-12233-Sample-Crops.aspx?Lens=662&Camera=614&Sample=0&FLI=2&API=1&LensComp=665&CameraComp=614&SampleComp=0&FLIComp=2&APIComp=1

    i think it's pretty obvious that the 18-105 has MUCH better IQ, but you can compare for yourselves ;)

    1. Maybe, but the 18-55 vr will give consitently sharper results, especially at the wide end - this is simply the size/weight physics of the lens hand held!

  10. Interesting article. I have just packed my Sigma 18-200mm OS HSM away and my Nikkor 105mm F2.8 D and my Tamron 70-300mm away and fallen in love with my 18-55mm VR lens all over again! The light feel of the camera and much higher hit rate with this lens makes it a winner for me! Photography is art, in the end, it's how the lens makes you feel when you're out there taking photos.

  11. My experience with the 18-55vr vs 18-105vr is the opposite of yours. After several thousand shots with each lens as well as a test I find the images from my 18-105 are closer in detail and color to my prime lenses (35 1.8G and 50 1.8G) than the 18-55. By the way, I've used two of each lens on different cameras. The 18-105 gives much more reach giving you 70mm zoom (105-35) vs 20mm for the 18-55 (55-35). That's 3.5 X more zoom. And at 55mm it offers over 1/2 more f/stop than the smaller lens. Bokeh is another factor in favor of the longer lens.
    When I'm using just one lens it's my 18-105vr.

  12. I have the original 18-55(non VR) and the 18-105VR. I can't say that I notice any real difference on tripod mounted shots, except the 18-105VR seems about 1/3 stop brighter with the same exposure. Of course, the VR makes a big difference at 105mm handheld. On my D40x the 18-55 feels better. On my D80, they both balance well. If you already have the 18-55vr, then I would say just get the 55-200vr and carry both. But if there can be only one, the 18-105VR is a great choice.

  13. A lot of the differences in opinion we see here I think comes down to variations in build quality with either of these lenses. Unfortunately QC may not be the best with these 'budget' lenses.

    I had the 18-55 and was pleased with it, but wanted a bit more reach and better optics. Got a 18-105, ran some tests (I put sheets of paper on the wall with small print, put camera on tripod and test all various focal lengths/aperture combinations by examining images at 100%). Well that 18-105 looked pretty bad compared to the 18-55 for most focal lengths and I returned the lens.

    Months later, being frustrated needing more reach, I decided to pick up another 18-105. This time a refurbished one. It was much cheaper and I suspected perhaps the first one I got was bad due to QC issues. The refurbished one, should "in theory" have gone through some actual QC instead of coming off the manufacturing line and into a box.

    Well...guess what. Did my testing procedure again, and this time the 18-105 showed good results and I now use it for 90% of my photos.

    So...build quality may be a bit sketchy for these cheaper optics. You may or may not get a good copy, so it is worth doing some tests. BTW...I still use the 18-55, its a great value, good optics overall, small and light. It also creates nice wide angle macro shots due to its close focusing distance.

  14. What nonsense. I have both the 18-55 VR and the 18-105 VR and the 18-105 is superior in every aspect: sharpness, contrast, "pop", edge definition, vibrancy. Video on my D3200 with the 18-105 is way way better. Go and get the 18-105 VR. It is a far superior lens. John Harrington

  15. The reason why I like Nikon 18-105mm f/3.3-5.4 lens personally is that this lens provides a useful focal range accompanied with image stabilisation mechanism that too with consistently sharp images, and is moderately priced (though I am not a big fan of Zoom lenses because of distortion). For people on budget and seeking a versatile focal range, this lens is a no brainer choice specially when its available for such a low price as a kit lens. If you wish you can read more at http://pixelarge.com/nikkor-nikon-18-105mm-f3-3-5-4-ed-vr-review/ about this lens.

  16. Yes, I'm talking here about DSLR cameras (more about point and shoot below). Spend less money in the body that has the features you are looking for, and spend the rest of your money in good lenses. A very good expensive camera with cheap lenses will deliver low quality photos; revert the order and you have a great combination.

    nikon d7000 best lenses