Face Off: Nikkor 18-55mm vs Nikkor 18-70mm

The 18-55mm vs the 18-70mm
The 18-55mm vs the 18-70mm

I was poking around on kenrockwell.com the other day. Rockwell is equally liked and despised by the web community. Some cite him as example, while others tag him with appellations like Krockwell. I know he likes it that way, or he would be less inclined to contradict himself from one article to the next. Despite his inclination to be dramatic, he knows some stuff.

I was looking at his lens reviews when I came across one for a lens with which I have rather a lot of experience, the AF-S Nikkor 18-70mm f/3.5-4.5G. I’ve had one of these in my pro bag for several months after the Nikon D70, which was in use by our reporters, died. I use this lens in a very general role, as my standard wide angle, and find that most of what I shoot with it is at the 18mm setting.

From KenRockwell.com: “This is a serious lens, not a “kit lens” or a cheap replacement for a lens cap sold as part of a kit as with most other cameras. The fast f/3.5~4.5 speed should be your clue; the cheapies are all f/3.5~5.6. The 18-55 is a cheapie, but good.”

The “cheapie” he mentions, the 18-55mm, is the lens I see most – by a lot – in the field and in my classes. Nikon, Canon and others have made this lens the more-or-less universal normal lens for digital, and with good reason: it is cheap, lightweight, and mostly easy to use. While it is true that for the cost and weight, it’s a good lens, it’s got a couple of big drawbacks…

  • It has almost no focus ring for manual focus. You have to grip a sliver at the front of the lens, which is hard to find unless you stop and look for it.
  • At 55mm, its maximum aperture is f/5.6, which is not only limiting when shooting in low light, it makes for a very dark viewfinder.
  • It looks stupid and/or amateurish. I know this last one is pure vanity, but I own the fact that I like to look like I know what I’m doing.

The 18-70mm, on the other hand, has an actual focusing ring, is at about f/4 at the 55mm setting, and, by virtue of its bigger filter and hood, looks like a real lens.

R. E. used this lens on a hiking trip we took three years ago, and liked the results.

Both lenses are decently sharp, but I give the edge to the 18-70mm, which is sharp at all focal lengths and all apertures. This lens is hovering in the $125 range on Ebay as I write this. If you’ve already got an 18-55mm, keep shooting with it, but if you are in need of something in this range and see a bargain on the 18-70mm, grab it. It’s a good piece of glass.

Either of these lenses do the job, but in my experience, the 18-70mm has the edge.
Either of these lenses do the job, but in my experience, the 18-70mm has the edge.


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