Lens Sharpness, Contrast and Color
When it comes to lens sharpness, the Nikon Z DX 50-250mm VR behaves similarly to other consumer-grade Nikon 55-200mm telephoto lenses. It is quite good, but not stellar, especially towards its long end. Let’s take a look at the lab results measured by Imatest, from 50mm all the way to 250mm:
At its maximum aperture of f/4.5, the lens behaves very similarly at 50mm as the Z DX 16-50mm VR, with solid overall sharpness. Once stopped down to f/5.6, it gets even sharper in the center of the frame.
Lens sharpness stays strong when zoomed in to 70mm, showing slightly better mid-frame and corner sharpness.
However, once you start getting to the telephoto range, sharpness starts to drop. At 135mm, the lens shows slightly weaker overall performance, with f/5.6 being the sweet spot of the lens.
Things basically go downhill from here. The lens is decent at 200mm, but the sharpness drop is already noticeable, especially in the mid-frame and the extreme corners.
And as expected, the lens is at its worst at 250mm, especially wide open. You will need to stop the lens down to f/8 to get sharper results.
I did not notice any significant issues with focus shift when measuring lens sharpness.
When it comes to contrast and color performance, while it is certainly not at the level of pro-level Nikon lenses, it is quite good for a kit lens. Colors look quite natural and pleasing to my eyes.
Similar to other Z mount lenses, the Nikon Z DX 50-250mm has surprisingly little focus breathing, whether you are shooting at 50mm, or zoomed in all the way to 250mm. This essentially makes the lens quite versatile for both stills (focus stacking), as well as video shooting needs.
Vibration Reduction Performance
As I have already pointed out earlier, the Nikon Z DX 50-250mm VR comes with optical “Vibration Reduction” image stabilization. Per Nikon, the VR mechanism is supposed to provide up to 5 stops of compensation when shooting hand-held, which is basically as good as it gets for Nikon lenses.
When shooting with the Nikon Z50, I rarely relied on the tripod, because I wanted to test how good VR on this lens really is. Almost every image in this review (aside from one image of Dubai cityscape shot at 2.5 seconds) was captured hand-held. Here is an image I shot at 1/4 of a second at 64mm (96mm full-frame equivalent):
This works out to be around 4.5 stops of compensation with the reciprocal rule, which is pretty impressive. It wasn’t easy to get a sharp image though – this one was picked from a batch of 4-5 photos, which were mostly blurry.
When it comes to vignetting, the Nikon Z DX 50-250mm VR is actually quite decent – I expected to see far more of it from a compact kit lens. Take a look at the below chart:
As you can see, there is about a stop of light loss in the extreme edges at 50mm, which gets reduced quite a bit at 70mm. However, it comes back stronger at longer focal lengths starting from 135mm. If you are a Lightroom user, vignetting correction applies automatically upon import, so you don’t have to worry about it.
Here is the worst-case scenario of vignetting at f/5.3, infinity focus, as illustrated by Imatest:
Using filters with telephoto lenses is not a problem – you will not see any darkening issues as a result of thick filter use.
As expected from a telephoto lens, distortion is not a big issue at most focal lengths. Imatest measured 1.87% barrel distortion at 50mm, which switches to pincushion distortion at 100mm and stays that way all the way to 250mm:
However, keep in mind that this is based on an uncorrected RAW file. By default, distortion correction is automatically turned on when mounting this lens on a Nikon Z camera, and you cannot turn it off. So you will never see the barrel or pincushion distortions when composing images in the field. When importing images into software like Lightroom, distortion correction applies automatically to all RAW images, so you will never see any distortion issues in your images when post-processing either.
Lateral chromatic aberration is not bad either for a kit lens, as can be seen from the chart below:
Imatest measured a little over a pixel of lateral CA at 50mm and 70mm, which is reduced significantly at 135mm. However, once you zoom in to longer focal lengths, it comes back pretty strong, especially at 250mm (the weakest focal length of the lens).
Once again, lateral chromatic aberration is not something you will need to worry about when using Lightroom, since lens correction will automatically be enabled.
The bokeh performance of the lens is quite good, but don’t expect anything mind-blowing – after-all, this is a budget telephoto zoom lens. The biggest issue with this lens is its limited maximum aperture of f/4.5 to f/6.3, which is not ideal for good subject separation. Still, if you zoom in with the lens and stand close to your subject, you can get pretty decent results. Background out-of-focus highlights look rather pleasant, although they certainly show defined edges.
If you only have the Z DX 16-50mm and 50-250mm lenses, the latter is going to be the better choice in terms of bokeh performance.
Ghosting and Flare
Although the lens is coated with Nikon’s Super Integrated Coat to reduce ghosting and flare issues, all telephoto lenses don’t cope very well with bright sources of light reaching the front element of the lens. So if you use the lens with the sun directly overhead, you might end up with dull-looking images due to internal reflections and loss of contrast. I wish Nikon included the HB-90A hood with the lens for such situations…
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