Nikon 18-55mm Lens Review

By Scott Gietler

Nikon 18-55mm Lens Review

By Scott Gietler



If you love photographing fish and marine life like I do, it can be frustrating trying to photograph a medium-size fish when you are always diving with an ultra-wide fisheye lens, or a macro lens.



I looked into purchasing the Sigma 17-70mm lens, but I would need the lens, a new port extension, and a zoom ring - now we are potentially over $700, and my new lens budget is almost empty.


So I picked up a Nikon 18-55mm F3.5-5.6G ED II lens (not the VR version) for under $100, and a Hoya +2 diopter. I was quite pleased with the results! 


Underwater setup that I tested


I used the lens with my Nikon D300 behind my Sea & Sea 8-inch dome port with no extension ring. It also fits behind a compact dome port + 20mm extension ring. I used the zoom ring for my tokina 10-17mm fisheye lens, which is actually the zoom ring for the canon 16-35mm F2.8 lens. It was a little large, but putting a strip of velcro over the 18-55mm lens allowed the zoom ring to fit on snugly. Since the lens has an auto-focus motor built in, it will auto-focus with any Nikon dSLR camera.


nikon 18-55mm example photo

I found creative underwater photography, like zooming and panning, was easier to test using a mid-range zoom lens. F11, 1/3rd shutter speed, 34mm


Lens Magnification Ratio


I tested the magnification ratio at 55mm at slightly better than 3:1. With the hoya +2 diopter, I got almost 2:1 magnification, just as good as the Sigma 17-70mm! Of course I loose some magnification behind a dome port, but that will be true of any mid-range lens (I recommend using all mid-range lenses behind a dome port).


Close-focusing distance


The lens does not have a great close-focus distance, but it is not bad either. Without the diopter, at 55mm it was 5 inches from the end of the lens, 9 inches from the back of the lens. The +2 diopter improved that to 3 1/2 inches working distance, and 7 1/2 inches from the back of the lens.


Auto-focus speed


Underwater, the lens focused fairly fast, even in dimly-lighted conditions. When using a diopter, the lens sometimes couldn't focus on items very far away, because the virtual image in front of the dome port was just out of range of the lens. 


Sample Nikon 18-55mm sharpness & underwater photos


I was pleasantly surprised with the sharpness of my photos. Although not as sharp as say, my nikon 60mm macro lens, sharpness was more than acceptable to me. Lighting the photos was much easier than lighting with my tokina 10-17mm fisheye on, and it was easy to shoot at small apertures like F10 or F14.


According to sharpness tests at Photodo, the sweet spot for the 18-55mm lens is F8-F11 at 18mm, F11-F16 at 35mm, and F14-F18 at 55mm. MTF results at the sweet spots actually looked better than the Sigma 17-70mm at 18mm and 35mm, and comparable at 55mm at F16, although the Nikon 18-55mm does not do well at 55mm from F5.6 to F8.


I suspect if I had shot with a smaller dome port, without a diopter, at wider apertures my results would not be as good, but I haven't confirmed this.


nikon 18-55mm underwater photo

Sea fans, F14 at 18mm, using side-lighting and back-lighting.


nikon 18-55mm underwater photo

Bat stars, F13, at 31mm focal length


starfish underwater photo with nikon 18-55mm lens

Starfish, F20 at 55mm


Nikon 18-55mm Conclusions


This kit lens is a good mid-range choice for people who want an inexpensive addition to their arsenal for underwater photography, especially if they have been shooting mostly wide-angle and macro. For marine life photos, this range is ideal because you can frame skittish fish perfectly.


Stopped down, this lens performs well, which is easy to do if you are lighting your subject with strobes. If you need to shoot ambient light shots wide-open underwater, you might be better off with a different mid-range lens. If you are photographing fish, you can also use your macro lens behind a dome port.


Further Reading



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