The Nikon 55-200mm and the 70-300mm are great lenses for sports photography or landscape work. On an APS-C sensor camera, they provide the 35mm equivalent magnification of 300mm on the 55-200mm lens, and a whopping 450mm on the 70-300mm lens. The 55-200mm lens was developed for APS-C sensor size cameras such as the D60, D80, D90 and D200. The edge effect distortions have been very well-controlled in this design. The 70-300mm lens was designed for full frame sensors used on cameras such as the D3X. It can also be used on an APS-C sensor camera where only the center portion of the lens is used, resulting in much smaller edge effects such as vignetting and chromatic aberration.
The build quality of the 70-300mm lens is superior to that of the 55-200mm lens. The 55-200mm lens has Nikon's basic plastic construction and also has a plastic mounting ring. Only time will tell how durable this ring is. The 70-300mm lens has gone through several iterations over the years. Although it also has the basic plastic construction of all of Nikon's semi-professional lenses, the mounting ring is made of metal. Given the high quality of the optics, it is not surprising that a better quality mounting ring was used.
Chromatic aberration appears in photographs as an off color halo along edges of portions of the image, with high contrast such as a black to white transition. It can be minimized during the conversion to JPEG in the camera, or when using either Nikon's or Adobe's camera raw conversion. On the 55-200mm lens, it is well controlled. Chromatic aberration is moderate at zoom levels from 55 to 135, and increases slightly as the lens approaches 200mm. On the 70-300mm lens, the chromatic aberration is moderate, and also increases as the zoom level increases. The aberration found on the 55-200mm lens appears to be slightly less than that found on the 70-300mm lens.
Based on results from test labs such as photozone.de, the distortion on both lenses starts out as a barrel distortion at the wider angle end of the zoom, changes to a pincushion fairly rapidly, reaches a peak around the center of the zoom range, and then decreases as the zoom is increased. The amount of image distortion on the 70-300mm lens is significantly less then that found on the 55-200mm lens.
The addition of vibration reduction (VR) systems in Nikon lenses improved the quality of the photographs that could be made. With the newer generation of VR, the shutter speed can be lowered by two to four stops without impacting the quality of the image. Both the 55-200mm and the 70-300mm lenses include a VR system.
On a typical lens, less light will be passed through the lens on the edges than is passed through in the center. This vignetting will cause the corners of the image to be significantly darker than the center. The amount of vignetting appearing in a photograph is a function of the aperture setting. It will be less at an aperture setting of f/16, where only the center of the lens is used, than it will be at a setting of f/5 which uses much more of the lens area. Based on the testing performed by photozone.de, the vignetting is very well controlled on both of these lenses. However, it is much better on the 70-300mm lens than it is on the 55-200mm lens.
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