For the 2015 CES Nikon prepared an upgrade to its kit telephoto lens, the 55-200. Being a consumer-level lens, this is indeed fitting for the event. But we can’t help but wonder why, there wasn’t anything wrong with the old lens. According to Nikon’d MTF charts the Nikkor 55-200mm VR II has a slightly higher center sharpness with a very small fall-out towards the edges. This somewhat an improvement, although the difference is marginal and the older lens has a slight increase in extreme edges over the newer one.
But not all that glitters is gold and not only sharpness is key in a lens. The fact of the matter is that both these lenses are good performers. They’re reasonably fast, with a slew of advantages. They feature Silent Wave Motor focusing to ensure a buttery smooth focusing action. This feature also makes them score highly in focus accuracy, which is of paramount importance to this category of lenses. The Extra low Dispersion elements in each of the two lenses will help it manage distortion well. One thing the new Nikkor 55-200 VR II has is the SIC – or Super Integrated Coating. We usually don’t like words like super, mega, ultra, because they don’t mean anything specific. But this function actually serves and important function. The new coating is featured in all new Nikon lenses, including the high end ones, like the Nikon 300mm f/4E. Photographers are always saying lenses are the most important purchase, and obviously they mean high end lenses, those are the keepers. But there’s no reason a cheap lens cannot fulfill your needs. With the right coating and elements it should produce a similar image to a very high end lens. In terms of performance it might never be the same, but the first thing you notice about a photograph is it’s micro contrast and colors, which are often the result of the coating.
Another new feature we noticed is a zoom lock button, which helps a lot in daily still image capturing and is almost paramount for video. Jerking the zoom accidentally while shooting a video can make for a disturbing interruption in the flow of said video. With this button you needn’t worry about that.
The overall size is amazingly small, it’s not just the price that makes photographers buy lenses like these. Being able to tuck a telephoto in a pocket is a commodity not easily had. In many situations your gear weight and size will hold you back. The new vibration reduction system promises up to 4 stops of light compensation. With a dark lens like this one (f/5.6 at the far end), you will need that extra bit of steadiness for longer exposure times. In terms of bokeh, or out of focus blur, this lens won’t be the best performer. Just like its older predecessor, it has merely 7 aperture blades, and we don’t expect that they are rounded. This is what makes out of focus shapes appear buttery or more choppy. More blades and rounded design is what gives an image that softer mellow feel, a lower number of blades and primitive design, gives the out of focus areas a harsher look. But this lens isn’t made for the specific purpose to achieve amazing background blur. It’s simply made to get the shot, in a fast time, with a small size and low weight. At just over half a pound, it sure is light. Although the improvements over the predecessor are marginal, we do think if you should choose between one or the other, you should get the Nikkor 55-200 VR II, simply because newer is always better. In this case because of the coating, zoom lock and newer VR mechanism. However if you’re strapped for cash and don’t want to fork out 350$, or can’t get it in a kit package, the old one won’t be a disappointment at all and will still do everything the newer one does.