Thursday, November 7, 2013

Nikon AF-S DX 18–140mm f/3.5-5.6G ED VR Review

It's been a long standing rule of thumb, but one that still stands true: a quality zoom lens should ideally have no more than a 3:1 ratio of its longest and widest focal lengths. The AF-S DX 18–140mm f/3.5-5.6G ED VR obviously exceeds this, but this type of lens is about balancing convenience against value and performance. The new 18-140mm lens replaces the long serving Nikkor f/3.5-5.6G ED VR AF-S DX lens that was the kit lens on the D90, D7000 and early D7100 units. In fact, it's pretty much a modern version of the 18-135mm f/3.5-5.6 G IF-ED DX kit lens that came packaged with the D80. That was an unusually sharp lens for the it's price range, but it suffered from high degrees of distortion, vignetting and lateral chromatic aberration. In many ways, the 18-105VR was a tamed version of the 18-135; by backing off on the focal length, a slightly better compromise could be made optically. Does the new 18-140mm give back the range of the first extended zoom kit lens while improving on the image quality of the second.

Build Quality

The layout of the control rings is familiar if you've used the previous kit lens. The zoom ring is wide and fat, as the majority of the users of this lens will only rarely use the AF-override feature. The focus ring has better tactile feel than the 18-105VR, and has a slightly more substantial feel in terms of turning resistance. The zoom ring is a bit on the stiff side, which also meant that lens barrel did not creep out of place during use. Overall, the quality of the construction is a step up from the 18-105mm and on par with the Nikon 24-85mm f/3.5-4.5G ED VR. Combining this lens with a D7100 makes for a hefty combination, certainly heavier than what consumers are use to at this segment, and is close to what a D300 rig might weight.

Image Quality

Overall, 18-140mm produces pleasing images. In most aspects, the lens is like the 18-105mm, only extended in range and made to be slightly better. Here's what the range is like with a lens that covers 18mm to 140mm on DX:

Nikon 18-140mm at 18mm, D7100

Nikon 18-140mm at 140mm, D7100

For many people, this range will be enough, as it covers everything from landscapes to court-side sports photography. It's not the sharpest lens out there, but the results wouldn't do too bad with a little bit of unsharp masking in post processing. (Ignore the exposure metering for now, it has nothing to do with the lens. That wall would be tough for many cameras to meter properly with the dark blacks of the lenses and the white of the wall behind it.) Even though these were taken with out of camera JPEG's from a Nikon D7100, you can see that the barrel distortion at the wide end is quite pronounced. There is also a fair amount of pin-cushion distortion at the the longer focal lengths, though this is less of an issue when you are shooting a more natural looking scene, like this:

Nikon 18-140mm at 18mm, D7100

Nikon 18-140mm at 140mm, D7100
Vignetting seems to be better controlled on this lens than the 18-105mm; you can still see it in the corners, but it's too obtrusive in real-life usage. One thing that you won't get a lot of on this lens is shallow depth of field. Unless you are shooting at a subject that is very close to the front of the lens, you are not going to get the background de-focusing that you can get with a faster lens:

Nikon 18-140mm at 24mm, f/3.8

Nikon 18-140mm at 24mm, f/5.6

Nikon 18-140mm at 24mm, f/8

As you can see, if you are shooting at anything from short-middle distances to further, the amount of background bokeh is going to be minimal.


Be careful of the  price bump that this lens causes if you are shopping for a Nikon D5300.  That camera is only available with the 18-55mm or the 18-140mm; there is no option for 18-105mm. (You can buy it body-only and add whatever lens you like, of course, but you won't get as much bang for your buck on the cost of the lens.) The introductory for the D5300 with the more expensive kit lens is $1399 USD, which is almost the same as the D7000 kit when launched. To be honest, this is quite expensive for a mid-range consumer DSLR. The difference in list price between the kit D5200 with the 18-140mm and the 18-105mm currently is $300 USD. Watch out for availability if you are budget conscious, it's in the interest of retailers to stock the more expensive lens and to limit supplies of the older one. Be on the watch for rebates and sales, which will bring the cost of the 18-140mm kits closer to what the 18-105mm kits used to go for.

If you already have the 18-105mm, are using it on a camera like the D7000 or the D5200 and are looking for an upgrade, it's best to go to another lens than the 18-140mm. The new lens is better in every way but the cost of buying this lens at full retail price separate from a kit bundle makes the diifference in image qulaity tough to justify. 

If you are shopping for the D7100, then this is a more appropriate kit lens than the 18-105mm. Unfortunately, this also involves a small price bump as well. However, many D7100 buyers will skip this lens and go straight for the body-only option, but the 18-140mm makes for a good alternative to the 18-200mm for vacations. Due to focus-breathing, the actual object magnification of that lens wasn't that much greater than the 18-135mm when focused at objects at close range. In working practice, you will get essentially the same field of view between the 18-140mm and the 18-200mm when you are focused at short to middle distances.

With thanks to Broadway Camera.


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  3. If you were buying one lens to go with the Nikon d7100, would it be the Nikon 18-140 or the Sigma 17-70 C. I am aware of the different reach and that the Sigma is brighter, I was wondering which you prefer qualitatively/subjectively as an all round general purpose lens.
    Thank you,

    Peter Lynch

    1. I would personally6 choose the 17-70c if I could only have one. The extra reach of the 18-140 is nice, but my own shooting style is to try to get as much bite out of the lenses as possible; the Sigma is a bit more sharper and contrasty. It's also lighter and makes the D7100 more of a walk-around camera.

    2. Thanks for the quick and detailed response, I live in a small town and haven't been able to see the two side by side.

      Peter Lynch