Nikkor AF-S 16-85mm f/3-5-5.6G ED VR DX - Review / Test Report
Lens Reviews - Nikon / Nikkor (APS-C)
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Review by Klaus Schroiff, published March 2008

Special thanks to Markus Stamm for providing the lens!


During the film era Nikon offered several (full format) 24-XXXmm zoom lenses such as the AF-S 24-120mm VR or the AF 24-85mm f/2.8-4 but they were shy to release an equivalent DX format lens for today's APS-C DSLRs ... till now. The Nikkor AF-S 16-85mm f/3.5-5.6G ED VR II DX was announced at the PMA 2008 and ever since it is the center of interest in the various discussion forums out there. It fills the gap between the entry level lenses a la Nikkor AF-S 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6G VR and the high end (although not all that great) AF-S 17-55mm f/2.8G ED. Obviously it gives up speed in favor of coverage (5.3x zoom ratio) which is surely a smart compromise cost-wise. Nikon decided to "compensate" the slow speed by implementing a VR II (2nd generation vibration reduction). The field-of-view is equivalent to 24-128mm on the classic full format so in terms of range it's a highly attractive all-round lens. Combined with a rather moderate pricing of around 600€/US$ it seems to be a no-brainer for serious amateurs and prosumers.

The build quality of the lens is decent - the outer body is made of plastic whereas the inner tubes as well as the sealed mount are made of metal. The zoom action is quite stiff whereas the small focus ring operates pretty smooth. The AF-S 16-85mm is a G-type lens so it doesn't feature a dedicated aperture ring anymore (selected solely on the camera). As you can see above the lens uses a duo-cam design to extend towards the long end of the zoom range. Adding the supplied petal-type hood almost doubles the total length of the lens. The good news is that the mechanism does not wobble - at least not in its new condition straight out-of-the-box. Nonetheless I do have some reservations regarding the long term reliability and quality of such a construction approach - more so because the optical design circles around a VR mechanism. Thanks to an IF (Internal focusing) design the front does not rotate so using a polarizer is no problem.

One key selling feature is naturally the 2nd generation VR (Vibration Reduction). The camera motion is detected by 2 gyro sensors which measure the angle and speed of the shake. This information is used to shift a lens group off the optical axis (nothing else but a forced decentering) to counteract this motion. The result is a significant improvement of "handholdability" under extreme conditions. Nikon claims a potential equivalent to 4 f-stops although I would only sign a 3 f-stop "gain" in field conditions. The lens offers two VR modes - a "normal" mode for most situations inc. static scenes, object tracking as well as monopod-based shots whereas the 2nd "active" mode is meant to compensate more pronounced vibrations (e.g. shooting from a moving vehicle). The VR should be switched off when using the lens on a tripod.

The lens features a silent-wave (ultrasonic) AF motor resulting in fast and near silent AF operations. The AF accuracy is generally fine although it deteriorates somewhat towards the wide-end of the zoom range.

Equiv. focal length24-127.5 mm (full format equivalent)
Equiv. aperturef/5.3-f/8.4 (full format equivalent, in terms of depth-of-field)
Optical construction17 elements in 11 groups inc. 3x aspherical and 2x ED elements
Number of aperture blades7 (rounded)
min. focus distance0.38 m (max. magnification ratio 1:4.6)
Dimensions72 x 85 mm
Weight485 g
Filter size67 mm (non-rotating)
HoodNikon HB-39, snap-on type, petal-shaped
Other featuresSilent wave AF motor. VR II equiv. to a gain of 4 f-stops. Normal and Active VR mode.

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