Review: Nikkor 16-85 f/3.5-5.6

This is a wide-angle-to-normal zoom lens that is ideal for street and general walk around photography especially if you keep a longer lens, such as the 70-300 as a possibility. If you already own the 18-55 or 18-70 lens you may wish to spend your money on something else. This lens is different in some ways but generally it is the same family as those two lenses. This lens is meant to be a replacement for the 24-120 on a digital body and does a good job.

Full lens designation: Nikkor AF-S DX VR 16-85 f/3,5-5,6G ED-IF


This lens uses the Nikon silent autofocus motor so it works on all digital bodies, even those without focussing motor built in. It has low-dispersion glass and internal focusing meaning there is no rotating of the front lens (great if you use polarizer).


The lens have a very obvious barrel distortion at 16 mm which is normal for this wide angles, but I was surprised how much more distortion it had compared to the 18-200 mm lens or the old trusty 18-70 kit lens that used to be delivered with many cameras in the past. The distortion is kind of fun and can be used in interesting ways but when shooting straight lines such as buildings you have to be careful how you point the camera or it looks like the buildings are leaning back (or forth).

This type of distortion is not difficult to correct in photoshop, GIMP or some other editing software but I feel it is a little more than what I had expected at these focal lengths. Once zoomed out to 25 mm and beyond the distortion is much more normal and actually becomes more of a pincushion distortion than a barrel type.

Vibration Reduction

The Vibration Reduction (VR-II) works great. I hardly ever think of it any more but it is there and I have done some serious long exposure time shots hand held with it and there is never a problem. Turn it off when you use it on a tripod however, it can sometimes act really weird when you have a tripod fixed camera and happen to forget to turn VR off.


The sharpness of this lens is good in the middle and average in the corners. It is however better than the 18-200 in almost all comparable focal settings and I have to give it a pretty decent rating because of this. I always considered the 18-200 very soft and the 18-70 is good but this lens is even better. The sharpest setting for this lens are apetures centered around f/8. Fully open it gets a little soft in the corners but stay remarkably sharp in the center. It is also extremely sharp on the smaller apertures, up to f/20 or so it is still really good and this is unexpectedly well performed by a lens in this cost range!

Sharpness is better than the famous 18-70 and much better than the 18-200 lens which is well known to be quite soft at any aperture outside its sweet spot around f/8-f/11. If you are looking for sharpness then this is your lens.


This lens have a easily seen vignetting. Fully open at f/3,5 and focal length of 16 mm the corners are at leas one full EV darker than the center section of the lens. When stopped down 1 stop it is much better alright and two stops down it is not noticeable any more. The vignetting is worst at 16 mm and becomes better the further along to 85 mm you zoom. I guess this is the price to pay for the excellent sharpness of this piece of glass.

Chromatic aberration, flaring and ghosting

I have not seen any problems with this, I would say it is better than average.

Build quality and feel

Excellent. It feels like the much more expensive pro lenses would. The zoom will not ”creep” like the 18-200 would do and all movements are nice and smooth and precise.

The lens takes 67Ø filters so this is fairly standard and the same thread diameter as the 70-300 which is a gread second lens to this one. I still favour the 18-200/3.5-5.6 lens because of less distortion as a walk-around lens but the added wide angle of 16 mm is great sometimes.

Positive sides:

  • Light
  • Very sharp for a zoom, comparable to a prime in some aspects!
  • Same filter diameter as the 70-300 which is a great companion lens
  • You get VR with it!

Negative sides:

  • Vignetting is strong when fully open on the widest angles
  • It’s not a really cheap lens
  • The distortion could be better actually, compared with the 18-200 or the 18-70 it is much more pronounced at the wide angles.