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This comparison or "shootout" review will cover the Sony 18-70mm F/3.5-5.6, Nikon 18-55mm F/3.5-5.6G VR, and the Canon 18-55mm F/3.5-5.6 IS lenses.  If you want to see a more in-depth review, and complete specifications for a particular lens, go to the following:

The cameras used in the review are; the 6.1mp Konica Minolta 5D (for Sony), 6.1mp Nikon D40, and the 6.3mp Canon digital Rebel

 

We'll first look at some product photos, then start off with comparisons of build quality, box contents, distortion, flare/ghosting, color fringing, center crops, corner crops, and finally a macro comparison.  Basically, we'll be going down the list of my normal lens review page.

 

Here are some comparison shots of the lenses.

 

 

october08/sncsdex2.jpg
Sony, Nikon and Canon extended front shot
october08/sncsdex2.jpg
Fully extended, including focus extention
october08/sncsdex2.jpg
Drawn in

 

Let's talk about construction and overall build quality of the lenses.  The Sony is the only lens without a form of image stabilization, though it's in the camera body.  The Sony is also the only one which includes a lens hood in the box, the Canon and Nikon charge you $15-$20 extra.  All three lenses are built primarily of plastic, and have a plastic mount.  The Canon is the lightest and shortest, and seems the cheapest made, that's just my opinion.  The Nikon is the best built, and has a smooth and well dampened zoom ring, that's a fact.  Sony falls in the middle, but lands closer to the Canon.  Each focuses quickly and accurately, and in the case of Nikon and Canon, are very quiet.  The Sony isn't quiet when focusing, as it uses a motor in the camera body to turn screws in the lens for focusing, it does the job though.  When the VR or IS is functioning, it is audible on the Nikon, the Canon is very quiet. 

 

All three lenses retail for about $199, or $100 extra in a kit.  On eBay or legit internet dealers, the Sony can go for between $60-$90, the Nikon about $120-$180, and the Canon for $120-$170. 

 

Next is a focal length, maximum aperture guide for each lens.

 

Sony 18-70mm F/3.5-5.6 

Maximum aperture

F/3.5

F/4

F/4.5

F/5

F/5.6

Range

18mm

20mm-22mm

24mm-28mm

28mm - 30mm

35mm - 70mm

 

Nikon 18-55mm F/3.5-5.6G VR  

Maximum aperture

F/3.5

F/3.8

F/4

F/4.2

F/4.5

F/4.8

F/5

F/5.3

F/5.6

Range

18mm

18mm - 20mm

20mm - 22mm

24mm - 26mm

26mm - 28mm

29mm - 32mm

32mm - 34mm

35mm - 46mm

48mm - 55mm

 

Canon 18-55mm F/3.5-5.6 IS 

Maximum aperture

F/3.5

F/4

F/4.5

F/5

F/5.6

Range

18mm-23mm

24mm-28mm

29mm-37mm

39mm - 46mm

47mm - 55mm

 

It looks like the Canon is the fastest over the entire range, going up to 23mm at F/3.5, and F/4.5 at 37mm, while the other two are nearly 2/3 of a stop slower at the same length.  The Sony is the slowest, hitting F/5.6 at 35mm, but very close to the Nikon.  

 

Distortion samples below.

 

Sony 18-70mm F/3.5-5.6

Aug08/1870brl2.jpg
Moderate to strong barrel distortion. 18mm

Aug08/1870pin2.jpg
Light to moderate pincushion distortion at 70mm.

 
Nikon 18-55mm F/3.5-5.6G VR

october08/nik1855brl.jpg
Moderate to strong barrel distortion. 18mm

october08/nik1855pin.jpg
Light to moderate pincushion distortion at 55mm.

 
Canon 18-55mm F/3.5-5.6 IS

october08/can18brl.jpg
Moderate to strong barrel distortion. 18mm

october08/can55pin.jpg
Light to moderate pincushion distortion at 55mm.

 

Distortion is very similar among all lenses here.  Pincushion at the end of the zoom is nothing to be concerned with in the least.  The Barrel distortion at 18mm is fairly strong on all lenses, though I think the easiest to correct in photo editing software would be the Nikon, as the barrel distortion is bowed across the image evenly, not strong in the middle and flattening out at the ends like the Sony and Canon.  All were flat around 24mm-28mm.

 

Light fall-off.

 

Sony 18-70mm 

    18mm @ F/3.5

  18mm @ F/5.6

october08/187035w2.jpg

october08/187056w2.jpg

 

Nikon 18-55mm VR 

    18mm @ F/3.5

  18mm @ F/5.6

october08/nik1855lf35.jpg

october08/nik1855lf56a.jpg

 

Canon 18-55mm IS

    18mm @ F/3.5

  18mm @ F/5.6

october08/ckit1835lf.jpg

october08/ckit1856lf.jpg

 

There isn't much difference here, if I must choose a winner I'd probably pick The Canon, which has no noticeable dark corners at F/5.6.  At the long end on each lens, there is virtually nothing to report, so I didn't post any shots.  None of this shows up in real pictures.

 

Flare and ghosting control.

 

october08/sonfl94ba.jpg
Sony
october08/nikfl73b.jpg
Nikon
october08/cafl76b.jpg
Canon

 

The Sony is the clear winner here, with virtually no ghosting anywhere in the image.  The Nikon has an orange and green blob, the Canon, a rather large green blob.  All were taken at 18mm, F/5.6.  Take note; things can go crazy when you point a lens at the sun and wave it around, each focal length and aperture change can cause different problems, or eliminate problems.  The images above are meant be a guide as to how each lens handles this particular situation.   

 

Color fringing is about the same on all three lenses, mostly magenta/green along the sides of the image, and the most noticeable at wide angle.  Stopping down the aperture will not lessen the severity of this type of color fringing.  It doesn't show up at normal viewing sizes.

 

Bokeh, or background blur is similar with all three, neutral at best. 

 

Let's check out the centers at 18mm. 

 

Sony 18-70mm

 

    18mm @ F/3.5

  18mm @ F/5.6

october08/s18mm35ctr.jpg

october08/s18mm56ctr.jpg

 

Nikon 18-55mm VR

 

    18mm @ F/3.5

  18mm @ F/5.6

october08/n18mm35ctr.jpg

october08/n18mm56ctr.jpg

 

Canon 18-55mm IS

 

    18mm @ F/3.5

  18mm @ F/5.6

october08/c18mm35ctr.jpg

october08/c18mm56ctr.jpg

 

It looks as though the Nikon is sharpest in the center at F/3.5, the Sony and Canon about the same.  At F/5.6 it's a different story, this time the Canon looks very sharp, the Sony and Nikon can't seem to pull the same detail. 

 

Centers at 55mm next.

 

Sony 18-70mm

 

    55mm @ F/5.6

  55mm @ F/8

october08/s56tl.jpg

october08/s80tl.jpg

 

Nikon 18-55mm VR

 

    55mm @ F/5.6

  55mm @ F/8

october08/n56tel.jpg

october08/n80tel.jpg

 

Canon 18-55mm IS

 

    55mm @ F/5.6

  55mm @ F/8

october08/c56tel.jpg

october08/c80tel.jpg

 

Canon and Nikon are about even here, though I think Nikon uses a little more sharpening by default in the D40.  The Sony just can't match the other two at 55mm, where the F/5.6 image is quite soft, though it sharpens up at F/8, and a little more at F/11, not shown.  I didn't use the full 70mm on the Sony because I wanted the shots to match, but the 70mm images respond the same as the 55mm.  Note; Sony EXIF data reads 50mm, there is no 55mm available, it jumps to 60mm.

 

Corner samples at 18mm below. 

 

Sony 18-70mm

 

    18mm @ F/3.5

  18mm @ F/5.6

october08/scn35w.jpg

october08/scn56w.jpg

 

Nikon 18-55mm VR

 

    18mm @ F/3.5

  18mm @ F/5.6

october08/ncn35w.jpg

october08/ncn56w.jpg

 

Canon 18-55mm IS

 

    18mm @ F/3.5

  18mm @ F/5.6

october08/ccn35w.jpg

october08/ccn56w.jpg

 

The Nikon and Sony performed the same in the corners at 18mm, neither one sharpened up much at F/5.6.  The Canon is a clear winner, and looks plenty sharp at F/5.6.  There are exposure differences among the three sets, but all were taken in full sun, the clouds in the background are off in the distance.   

 

Corners at 55mm next.

 

Sony 18-70mm

 

    55mm @ F/5.6

  55mm @ F/8

october08/scn56tl.jpg

october08/scn80tl.jpg

 

Nikon 18-55mm VR

 

    55mm @ F/5.6

  55mm @ F/8

october08/ncn56tl.jpg

october08/ncn80tl.jpg

 

Canon 18-55mm IS

 

    55mm @ F/5.6

  55mm @ F/8

october08/ccn56tl.jpg

october08/ccn80tlb.jpg

 

Other than the exposure and color differences, they all seem moderately sharp at 55mm.  Stopping down doesn't make much difference.  Don't worry about the tree branches, the wind was blowing.

 

Let's check out some maximum magnification shots.

 

october08/kmmac46b.jpg
Sony 18-70mm F/3.5-5.6 at F/11 0.25x
october08/nik1855mac53ab.jpg
Nikon DX 18-55mm F/3.5-5.6G VR at F/8 0.31x
october08/can1855mac812ab.jpg
Canon 18-55mm F/3.5-5.6 IS at F/8 0.34x

 

Above are the macro shots, for the full image, go to the review page for each lens.  Each shot has a slightly different magnification, so they aren't all exactly the same, look under the image for size and aperture used.

 

The Canon looks the sharpest, but it's also the largest, the Nikon is a little smaller, but maybe not quite as sharp.  The Sony has an even smaller magnification, and looks a little soft, but I think it's as sharp as the Nikon, it just doesn't pick up the tiny details as it can't get as close.  I had to stop down the Sony to F/11, the Nikon and Canon were best at F/8. 

 

Conclusion.

 

I'm going to pick a winner, and I'm sure I'll make some enemies, just keep the following in mind; most of the bad stuff above doesn't show up in regular pictures, and isn't really noticeable unless enlarged to 100% on a computer screen, that's the ugly problem with digital, it's too easy to pick apart the lens, and the image itself.  But, there must be a winner and a loser, read on.

 

In a nut-shell, I liked the Canon, it had the best overall optical quality and is the fastest as you move up the zoom, if you're a low light shooter.  The Nikon is the best built, and image quality is very close to the Canon.  The Sony turned in a good performance, but needed an extra stop or two to sharpen up at the long end, and didn't seem to lock focus quite as fast as the others, it's also noisy when focusing, since it doesn't have a silent wave type focusing motor.  The Sony seems a little outdated compared to the other two quiet, precise lenses, so listen up Sony.  The Canon and Nikon tested here are third generation lenses, now I think it's time for Sony to redesign its bargain kit lens.  You could argue the Sony will cost about half of the Canon and Nikon in used condition, but they offer a form of image stabilization, and silent focusing.  So really, it's not a bargain in my opinion.

 

Canon.  Great image quality, fast and accurate focusing, well designed and silent IS.  Great macro.  Build quality is the cheapest, judging by overall feel, and suffers from a too quick and loose zoom action.

 

Nikon.  Very good image quality, but ghosting can be strong at 18mm, depending on aperture.  Fast and accurate focusing.  Build quality easily the best, could sell for double the price.  Sharp macro, but not as sharp as the old "II" model.  VR clicking can be annoying as it cycles on and off. 

 

Sony.   Flare and ghosting well controlled.  Longer zoom range, but soft at maximum aperture on the long end, requires one or two stops down for sharp photos, a must when shooting macros.  Everything else is just average.