Nikon 16-85mm f/3.5-5.6 AF-S DX VR Review

by Enche Tjin on January 11, 2010

Nikon 16-85mm is a general purpose lens designed for Nikon DX camera. DX camera is camera that use APS-C size sensor. There are plenty of DX cameras in the market from beginner (D3000, D5000) to advanced (D90, D300s). The focal length is equivalent to 24-127mm. It is capable to take wide landscape or very tall building in one frame without panorama sticthing. It is also long enough for close-up portrait or pulling subject from 20 meters away.


Like other non-kit lens, Nikon 16-85mm has metal mount. The outer shell are made by combination of metal and plastic. It is very sturdy and well made. Nikon 16-85mm comes with a plastic bayonet type lens hood.

Nikon 16-85mm features VR (Vibration Reduction) which stabilized the image sensor to prevent blurring on images due to camera shake. This lens also features AF-S SWM, which ensure fast and silent auto focus.

The lens is almost perfect but I wish it has constant aperture like f/4 or even f/2.8. But I understand it might increase the size and double the price.

Many people might compare this lens to Nikon 18-200mm VR II. Here are some differences:

Nikon 16-85mm vs Nikon 18-200mm

  • Nikon 16-85mm is a bit wider, so it is better for landscape / architecture photography.
  • Nikon 16-85mm is more compact (85mm x 72mm / 3.4 in. x 2.8 in. vs 96.5mm x 77mm / 3.8 in. x 3.0 in.)Nikon 16-85mm delivers more consistent result especially wide open at f/3.5-5.6, however this advantage diminished when you shoot at f/8.
  • Nikon 16-85mm is slightly cheaper. (Approx. 20% cheaper)
  • Nikon 18-200mm has a much longer telephoto end, thus more versatile in various shooting condition.

Based on what I read, the 18-200mm is more popular than 16-85mm because of its zoom power, but professionals might prefer 16-85mm because of its consistent result across focal length and aperture.

Nikon 16-85mm like other Nikon DX lenses is also mountable in Nikon full frame camera. But because it is designed for much smaller image sensor, you will lose 50-60% image resolution.

Overall this is an excellent walk around lens, it delivers consistent high quality result in all focal lens and great for casual and professional use.

Tips: when you use built-in flash with this lens, you need to remove lens hood because it obstructs the light.

Additional tips: The size and weight balance very well when used with Nikon D80 or Nikon D90

Travel and general purpose : ****
Landscape : ****
Portrait/Still Life : ***
Candid/Photojournalism : ***
Sports: **

Image samples taken by Nikon D90 and 16-85mm lens

The wide end of this lens wide enough to frame a very tall building

The wide end of this lens wide enough to frame a very tall building

and long enough to extract details

and long enough to extract details

I like the lens for city scenes, it will work for vacation as well.

I like the lens for city scenes...

and it is excellent for vacation as well

and it is excellent for vacation as well

For full-size picture visit my 16-85mm gallery.

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{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

tim January 13, 2010 at 8:12 am

I struggled to make exactly this decision (16-85mm or 18-200mm?)
The 16-85mm is the lens I bought with my D90. It has other advantages I don’t think you listed over the 18-200mm:
- it distorts less (at wide end where both lenses are at their worst: 18-200mm = 4.1% vs 16-85mm = 2.5% ; sounds like small difference but you really can see it!). Right now this matters because even popular & expensive software like Adobe Lightroom cannot correct distortion (you have to use specialized software like PTLens). If in the future it becomes common for software to offer correction for distortion, then this “pro” goes away IMO.
- small, but some people might care: 16-85mm’s filter size is smaller so filters are cheaper (think $$$ for high quality nikon circular polarizer)
- 16-85mm is sharper, most noticeably at “extreme” borders (MTF50 resolutions at widest @f/3.5: 16-85mm = 1685 vs 18-200mm = 1308; that means the 16-85mm is 28% sharper at extreme borders). Now granted you don’t often care about extreme borders in photos, but if you are taking landscape shots (which you mention as a pro for the 16-85mm above, rightfully so!) then you definitely should care about this. The sharpness of the 16-85mm is also sharper in the center and at regular borders, but not by as much.

References: all data from ––nikkor-aps-c-lens-tests

Again, thank you for your fantastic blog. Keep up the great work, I really enjoy reading it!

Enche Tjin January 13, 2010 at 8:43 am

Thanks for the addition :)

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