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Here's a brief look at the Sony NEX 18-200mm F/3.5-6.3 zoom lens.  Scroll down for the main review.

Lens

Box contents

Hood, front and rear caps and a user's manual.  Possibly a flash extender may be included in some kits.

Cost

$900 retail as of 2012

Build quality

Very good.

Additional information

Introduced in 2010.  Has built-in optical image stabilization or OSS, and a focus motor inside similar to SSM, not the cheaper SAM.

Specifications below

 

Optical configuration

17 elements in 12 groups

Angle of view

78°-8° APS-C

Aperture

7 blades, curved

Full frame and APS-C

APS-C only, and will only mount on E body cameras.  With crop factor of 1.5x the coverage equals 27-300mm.

Depth of field and focus scales?

Nothing.

Min. focus distance, image plane to subject @ max reproduction ratio

20.1"  (510mm)

Min. focus distance, end of lens barrel to subject @ max. reproduction ratio

12.35"  (312mm)

Hard stop at infinity focus?

No

Length changes when focusing?

No

Focus ring turns in AF?

No

Filter size

67mm

Filter ring rotates?

No

Distance encoder?

Yes
 

Max magnification

0.35x, or 1:2.85

Min. F/stop

F/22-40

Sony teleconverter compatible?

No

Length changes when zooming?

Yes

Dimensions WxL  (my measurements)

3" x 3.9"   76mm x 99mm.  

Maximum  extended length (my measurements)

6.85"  (174mm)                                             

Weight bare (my scale)

18.5oz  (524g) 


Requisite product shots.

september2010/nex18200ft.jpg
Front element
september2010/nex18200bk.jpg
Backside mount. Notice lens bottom scuff pad in right lower corner of image
september2010/nex518200mm.jpg
NEX 5 with 18-200mm lens and included hood
september2010/nex18200sd.jpg
Fully drawn in
september2010/nex18200sdex.jpg
Fully extended
september2010/18200xray.jpg
X-ray view

 
 
 
The Sony NEX 5 was used for this review. 
 
For a better understanding of terms and methods used in this review, go here.
 

The NEX 18-200mm F/3.5-6.3 is the third lens to be offered in the NEX lineup for 2010, and joins the pancake 16mm, and 18-55mm F/3.5-5.6, also reviewed here.   Also check out the Tamron 18-200mm for NEX, it's different, but just as good and much less expensive.  You should not mistake this lens for the Sony DT 18-200mm F/3.5-6.3, which is lighter, smaller, has a cheaper build quality, slot/screw focusing and no OSS or optical steady shot. 

 

The NEX 18-200mm F/3.5-6.3 (Made in China) is build solidly, has a nice smooth zoom and manual focus action, along with a nearly silent auto-focus motor which is great for keeping focus noise out of movies.  You'll also notice the OSS, or optical steady shot, built into the lens.  Sony and Minolta AF (a-mount) lenses have no image stabilization, instead, Sony uses in-camera body sensor-shift type image stabilization.  Sony claims the use of four aspherical elements and one ED element inside, see the last product shot above.

 

Fit and finish are very good.  The lens appears to be clad in metal, although it does have a two piece plastic extension tube, lower zoom ring and filter ring.  This lens sports a metal mount, a zoom lock switch, and a black scuff pad on the underside.  The color is silver, like stainless steel, with a slightly off-color plastic lower focus zoom ring.  Focus and zoom rings have the typical Sony black rubber close-ribbed design. 

 
The zoom action is smooth and damped properly in my opinion, and holds its position well, so there is no zoom creep unless you like to run with the camera with the lens pointed downward.  If you should encounter zoom creep, simply use the zoom lock button, which works only at the 18mm position.  Focal length index marks come at 18mm, 35mm, 50mm, 70mm, 100mm, and 200mm.  The EXIF data doesn't match those lengths exactly, by that I mean 35mm reads 34mm, 50mm reads 49mm, 70mm reads 69mm, but 18mm, 100mm and 200mm match properly.  This is no big deal, I'm just pointing it out. 
 
In the box: Sony says it comes with front and rear caps, a hood, and owner's manual.  I believe it should come with a flash extension, but there seems to be a discrepancy at this point.
 
Focusing.  This lens auto-focuses almost silently, but I do hear a dull clicking noise at 18mm when focusing is functioning, but it diminishes as you zoom out; weird.  At the wide end, focusing is good, although it will completely miss occasionally, but that's a camera issue, and will happen with all NEX lenses.  The long end has problems locking focus for some reason, and is even worse in low light.  It seems to want to hunt when the contrast is just a little low in the scene, especially at closer distances.  The AF illuminator is partially blocked by this fat lens at all zoom lengths, which probably doesn't help matters.  The front filter ring doesn't turn when focusing, so your polarizers and grads will work great.  
 
The OSS or optical Steadyshot seems to work well, and slightly better than the SSS or super Steadyshot on the A700 (now called just "Steadyshot").  I base this statement on using the two cameras with similar length lenses, then taking a number of images at 200mm, and seeing which system had the highest number of sharp images.  The NEX-5 and 18-200mm were a little better at producing a sharp image, even taking into account the A700 2mp sensor deficit.  I also like the way you can see the image stabilization at work with OSS, which is in the lens and active with a half press of the shutter button, the A700 sensor-shift type does not start until you press the shutter button fully, so you can't see the effects in the viewfinder.


Lens flare/ghosting.  About average control for a super-zoom by today's standards.  See examples below.

Color fringing (CA).  Below average control at both ends, where you'll see plenty of red and cyan along the sides of the image, at all apertures.  See examples below.     
 
Bokeh.  Somewhat harsh wide open, but looks better a stop down.  Look below for sample crops.
 
Color.   Same as other Sony lenses. 
 
Close up filter.  N/A    
 
Coma.  Really nothing to worry about.  See crops below.
 
Regular filters cause almost no additional light fall-off when the aperture is fully open at either end of the zoom.
 
Filter size is 67mm.  So far, this is the only NEX lens to use 67mm.  If you own the Sony 28-75mm F/2.8 SAM, you can share filters.  
 
Distortion.  You'll notice strong barrel distortion at 18mm, becoming relatively flat around 24mm, then turning to moderate pincushion distortion at 35mm.  The pincushion doesn't seem to get any worse as you zoom to 200mm.  Close focus through infinity focus seems to show about the same amount of distortion at the same focal length.  Check out the cropped samples below.
 
Distortion examples directly below.
 

september2010/nex18200wdis.jpg
18mm, strong barrel distortion
september2010/nex18200tdis.jpg
200mm, moderate pincushion distortion.

 

Aperture/focal length guide.

 

Maximum aperture

          F/3.5

       F/4

       F/4.5

       F/5

       F/5.6

       F/6.3

Range

18mm

18mm - 26mm

27mm - 37mm

38mm - 49mm

49mm - 134mm

140mm - 200mm

 
Focal length numbers carry through between apertures, which is normal.  You may get slightly different numbers if you want to spend all day firing off shots and moving the zoom ring in tiny increments.  I didn't want to do that.
  
 
Bokeh crops next.
 

           18mm F/3.5

             18mm F/5.6

september2010/nex18200bokw35.jpg
september2010/nex18200bokw56.jpg

           200mm F/6.3

             200mm F/8

september2010/nex18200bokt63.jpg
september2010/nex18200t80.jpg

 

Bokeh is somewhat harsh at both ends with a wide open aperture, producing a noticeable ring and point in highlights, that's typical for less expensive zooms.  If you close the aperture one stop, it gets a little smoother.  At closer focusing distances, say less than 5-10' (1.5-3.0m) it's sometimes smooth and good looking at both ends.  Crops are from the center of the image, about 10' to 20' (3m-6m) behind the focus point at close to medium distances, less than 50' or 15m.

 

The full image below shows what you can expect when you shoot close objects with the background farther off, especially zoomed out.  The background blur is pretty smooth here, but most lenses will show a smooth highlight blur in certain situations. 

 
Real bokeh shot.
 

september2010/nx200mmbokf8.jpg
200mm, F/8 full image

 
Coma crops next.
 

           18mm F/3.5

             18mm F/5.6

september2010/nex18200cma18f35.jpg
september2010/nex18200cma18f56.jpg

 

Coma is not of concern with this lens at any aperture or focal length.  

 

 
Flare and ghosting.
 

           18mm F/5.6 sun out of image

             36mm F/5.6 sun out of image

september2010/nex18200gstb.jpg
september2010/nex18200gstd.jpg

           18mm F/5.6

             64mm F/5.6

september2010/nex18200gstf.jpg
september2010/64mmf56gst.jpg

           18mm F/5.6 rings when sun is centered

             18mm F/5.6 sun out of image

september2010/nex18200gsta.jpg
september2010/nex18200gstc.jpg

 

When you wave the camera around in the sun, funny things show up, this is very noticeable in cameras with live-view.   At the bottom, I see some circles when you point the lens at the sun at the wide end, that's a bit weird, as this usually happens with older designed lenses.  Why would you point the lens directly into the sun you ask?  Well, sunset shots would be one good example, everyone does that right?  I also see some magenta flare when the sun is at the edge of the image at a certain point, again, noticeable and reproducible when using live-view.  There is some flare and ghosting when the sun is out of the image at all focal lengths.  The supplied hood will take care of some of it, but using your hand to block the sun is the most effective method.  It's easy to see this type of stuff by keeping an eye on the LCD, and checking your shots.  The NEX 18-200mm lens is not quite as good at eliminating ghosting as the 18-55mm NEX lens.

 

The NEX 18-200mm is about average at flare and ghosting control.  I'm showing the issues above just to let you know what might happen if you wave the camera around and take pictures with the sun or very bright light near, or inside the image.

 

 
Light fall-off.

Light fall-off or corner shading is very light at both ends, and really isn't a cause for concern in terms of the actual amount, however, I do notice a somewhat hard transition of light fall-off at the long end, which produces a round circle inside the image. Oddly, this is about the most noticeable type of fall-off I've seen yet.  It's not as noticeable when viewed at larger sizes where you can't see the whole image without moving your eyes around.  A work-around is to shoot at F/8 or smaller when near the long end of the zoom.  Regular filters cause little to no additional light fall-off at either end, even with a wide open aperture.  

           18mm F/3.5

             18mm F/5.6

september2010/nex18200vigw35.jpg
september2010/nex18200vigw56.jpg

           200mm F/6.3

             200mm F/8

september2010/nex18200vigt63.jpg
september2010/nex18200vigt80.jpg

 
Examples showing light fall-off with a hard transition.
 

           200mm F/6.3

             200mm F/8

september2010/200f63nex.jpg
september2010/200f80nex.jpg

 
You'll notice what I was talking about above if you sit back a ways from your computer screen and look at the left image.  Wide open at F/6.3, 200mm, the light fall-off pattern forms the image of a circle, but starts to dissipate about a stop down.  The gray crops above really do translate to actual use in this case, although the two images directly above were produced specifically to highlight this issue. 
 
 
Center sharpness.

Below are crops from the image centers at 18mm.

         F/3.5

          F/5.6

september2010/nx18200wctrf35.jpg
september2010/nx18200wctrf56.jpg

         F/8

          F/11

september2010/nx18200wctrf80.jpg
september2010/nx18200wctrf11.jpg

 
Center sharpness is a little soft with the lens wide open.  Stopping down to F/5.6 sharpens up the image quite nicely.  I think F/5.6-8 is probably the optimal aperture in the centers at this focal length.  Diffraction causes softening at F/11.  
 
 
Below, crops from the 18mm mid-section.
 

         F/3.5

          F/5.6

september2010/nx18200wmidf35.jpg
september2010/nx18200wmidf56.jpg

         F/8

          F/11

september2010/nx18200wmidf80.jpg
september2010/nx18200wmidf11.jpg

 

At the mid-section, F/3.5 is soft, but closing the aperture a stop or two sharpens the image to nearly meet the center sharpness levels.  Again, diffraction sets in at F/11.

 

Below are the corners at 18mm.

 

         F/3.5

          F/5.6

september2010/nx18200wcorf35.jpg
september2010/nx18200wcorf56.jpg

         F/8

          F/11

september2010/nx18200wcorf80.jpg
september2010/nx18200wcorf11.jpg

 
Some light fall-off is visible in the corners when the crops are presented like this, that's why they're a little darker than the mid and center crops.  The corners look pretty darn sharp, and about as good as the other areas, that's good news.  You can see the color fringing visible in the corner crops, but that's better viewed in the dedicated crops below.
 
Lateral color fringing at 18mm, and 200mm.
 

september2010/18f56nexw.jpg
18mm, F/5.6 extreme left side at middle of image
september2010/200f80next.jpg
200mm, F/8 extreme right side at middle of image

 
Here's the rather strong color fringing I was talking about at the top of the page.  The top image crop was taken from the extreme left side at 18mm, F/5.6.  Magenta and cyan are visible around the rocks and vegetation.  The bottom crop is from the right side at 200mm, F/8 and shows strong color fringing on both sides of the wall anchor.
 
 
Center sharpness at 200mm.

Below are some boring (and unfortunately now standard) stamp crops taken indoors to reduce the chance of heat shimmer, haze and other issues that come from trying to test shoot a subject at long distances.  The distance in this section is 27' 3" or 8.3m from the end of the lens barrel to the stamp.  That's about the same distance as you might be from a bird or (head shot) people pictures.  It's more valuable, and replicates real life better than a close focus Imatest type shot in my opinion.
 

         F/6.3

          F/8

september2010/nex18200tctrf63.jpg
september2010/nex18200tctrf80.jpg

         F/11

          F/16

september2010/nex18200tctrf11.jpg
september2010/nex18200tctrf16.jpg

 
Center sharpness at full telephoto is a little soft at F/6.3, but closing the aperture to F/8 makes a noticeable improvement.  Stopping down past F/11 causes softness due to diffraction, except at close focus, where F/16 produced the best shot, although just barely.  See macro shot.
 
 
Below, crops from the 200mm mid-section.
 

         F/6.3

          F/8

september2010/nex18200tmidf63.jpg
september2010/nex18200tmidf80.jpg

         F/11

          F/16

september2010/nex18200tmidf11.jpg
september2010/nex18200tmidf16.jpg

 

At the mid-section, F/6.3 is blurry, but stopping down to F/11 really improves the shot.

 

Below are the corners at 200mm.

 

         F/6.3

          F/8

september2010/nex18200tcorf63.jpg
september2010/nex18200tcorf80.jpg

         F/11

          F/16

september2010/nex18200tcorf11.jpg
september2010/nex18200tcorf16.jpg

 
The extreme corners are soft, with low contrast, and need about two stops (F/11) to sharpen them up.   Also notice the color fringing (CA) at this focal length in the corners.  This type of CA doesn't go away by stopping down.  All crops in each set have the same exposure values.
 
 
 
Let's check out the macro capabilities of this lens.

Below, check out the 100% cropped portion of the full image.  The sample shot was taken with the NEX 5 14.2MP camera.  The subject is a standard US stamp, 0.87"x 1.0" or 22mm x 25mm.  Also, note the macro shot was taken as close to the subject as focusing allowed; in this case a somewhat short 12.35" (312mm), measured from the front of the lens barrel to the subject.  
 
This lens has a large reproduction size of 0.35x, unfortunately the large size is wasted as there is a very noticeable lack of contrast at full telephoto, where the macro shot is largest.  I would consider this macro shot poor for an $800 lens.  At close focus, F/16 was the sharpest, but there was little difference between F/8-16.  Don't try to compare this shot with other lens macro shots that were taken with the A700, as this NEX system shot was taken with a higher pixel count sensor.   As a side note; the "1996" on the bottom left of the stamp measures a mere 1mm wide.
 

september2010/nex18200mmac13a.jpg
As close as you can get. F/16. click for larger image

 

 

Comparisons with the Sony 70-200mm F/2.8 G lens @200mm.

 

NEX 18-200mm center, F/8

Sony 70-200mm center, F/8

september2010/nex18200tctrf80.jpg
september2010/s70200ctrf8a.jpg

NEX 18-200mm center, F/8 contrast and sharpness added

Sony 70-200mm center, F/8, same image as above

september2010/nex18200tctrf80a.jpg
september2010/s70200ctrf8a.jpg

NEX 18-200mm corner, F/11 no adjustments

Sony 70-200mm corner, F/11

september2010/nex18200tcorf11.jpg
september2010/s70200corf8a.jpg

 

The crops above were taken at 200mm, at a distance of 27' 3" or 8.3m from the end of the lens barrel to the stamp.  Obviously, this isn't a fair test between lenses, but it does show the lack of contrast of the 18-200mm at the end of the zoom.  As you can see, the actual resolution is pretty good on the NEX super zoom, but the edge transitions, or acutance is not so great as compared to the expensive Sony G lens.  In the left column of the second row, I've added a heavy amount of contrast and sharpness to the NEX crop to try and make it look more like the Sony G crop.  It does look better, but if you look carefully at the bell highlights details, and text "Twenty first class stamps" you'll see the NEX lens still can't produce the same sharp delineation as the Sony G lens.  The corner crops are worlds apart.  Of course the Sony 70-200mm G lens was made for a full frame sensor or 35mm film, and the small APS-C sensor is only using the central area of the lens, that's why there's a huge difference between the corner crops, but I said it wasn't a fair test.  There's a little moire visible in the stamp UPC lines of the Sony G, but that's not really a lens issue.

 

The Sony 70-200mm was tested using the A700, and has a sensor count deficit of 2mp, that's why the stamp looks smaller in those crops.  All crops have the same exposure values.

 

 

 

Now for the conclusion.

 

The Sony NEX 18-200mm F/3.5-6.3 OSS lens is fairly expensive, but provides a very useful focal range, making it super convenient.  Does the lens do a good enough job to warrant the $900 price tag?  Read on.

 

The big NEX E-mount super-zoom lens turned in a decent review over-all.  Oddly, the most notable characteristic is probably the build quality and feel, it's very nice, and much more so than the typical Sony alpha branded lenses.  The next most notable feature is the actual resolution, it's pretty high, especially at the short end, with the whole image exhibiting good contrast at F/5.6-8.  Unfortunately, as you zoom out, the contrast erodes rapidly, and you're left with the typical super-zoom (slightly washed out) look.  There are some other areas where the lens could do better, like the macro shot; poor for an $800 lens, and color fringing, which is too much, but typical for a super-zoom.      

 

Thoughts on actual use; The Sony NEX 18-200mm F/3.5-6.3 is a fairly large lens, and as such, seems very awkward on the diminutive NEX-5.  Whenever I grip the camera hard with my right hand, while using my left for manual focusing or zooming, I find myself inadvertently pushing buttons on the right side of the camera, either the movie button or the control wheel.  The camera is just too darn small!  Unfortunately, that's reality with a heavy lens on a tiny camera with a tiny hand grip.  Another complaint is the less than stellar focusing on the long end, especially close-up.  Sometimes it won't focus at all, but will allow the shutter to actuate, resulting in a wasted picture.  One thought might be since the lens lacks contrast on the long end, the contrast detection focusing system simply doesn't have enough contrast to work with, who knows.

 

I'd highly recommend this lens when used for video, in which case you won't notice the soft images at the long end, because HD video is only good for a max of about 2mp, at high compression.

 

Dont' forget to check out the review of the Tamron (NEX) 18-200mm Di III VC, which is smaller, lighter and less expensive than the Sony 18-200mm NEX.