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Photography and Art

Review: Nikkor 16-85mm DX VR lens - 31 August 2010

Introduction

No matter how many lenses you have in your kit bag it is always worth having a good quality standard zoom lens. A lens that you can happily use to cover general shooting conditions for every activities. Nikon's 16-85mm f/3.5-5.6G ED VR AF-S DX Nikkor (to give its full title) is one such lens.

The Nikkor 16-85mm VR offers a 5.3x zoom range to produce the equivalent of a 24-127.5mm zoom lens. Image stabilisation is provided by the second generation Vibration Reduction (VRII) technology as employed in other lenses such as the 18-200mm VR and the 70-300mm VR Nikkor lenses. Nikon's Silent Wave Motor (SWM) is employed for autofocusing. At a weight of 485g it will balance nicely on many of the the DX compatible DSLRs.

The external design of the lens is in keeping with other Nikkor lenses to aid familiarity to the user. The manual focus ring is towards the back and the wider zoom ring is towards the front of the lens. On the side of the lens are three switches. The first switch determines whether the lens is set for autofocus or manual focus. The middle switch is used to activate the image stabilisation feature.  The last switch is used to adjust a mode of operation of the VR (more about this later).

The 16-85mm VR was tested on a Nikon D80 body. Although it has been replaced by the D90 with it's higher resolution sensor, it is still a camera that is very capable and in use by many photographers. The 16-85mm VR lens seemed to be quite at home on the D80. It balanced nicely and handling was comfortable. It was good to see that focus distance was provided through as small window showing the focused distance in both metres and feet. Focusing is handled internally which meant that any filters attached to the lens do not rotate. The lenses has a filter thread for 67mm filters.

Image Stabilisation

Image stabilisation has become one of the key features of the modern camera. Although it cannot entirely replace a tripod it does permit low light shooting in environments what might not be practical for a tripod.

Nikon's Vibration Reduction technology works by having a group of lenses that move horizontally or vertically to compensate for the movement detected by a sensor in the lens. The system employed in the 16-85mm lens is an improvement on the original to provide greater image stabilisation with improved response times.

The VR system will automatically detect if the lens is being panned and adjust sensitively so that only movement in the vertical plain is compensated for. The lens may be mainly used in the Normal more for everyday use but when shooting from a moving vehicle or perhaps a rather wobbly boat the Active mode should be employed.

The VR mode can be left enabled apart from when the camera is being stabilised by a tripod.

Autofocus

The 16-85mm VR lens employs the SWM technolgy to provide quiet and reliable autofocusing. An added benefit of SWM is that the lens can be manual focused with need to actively switch the lens or the camera body to manual focusing mode.

The SWM helps to ensure precise focusing whether dealing with static or moving subjects.

Performance

With the 24-128mm approximate equivalent zoom range the lens seemed suited as to tackling a range of subjects. This is the kind of lens that can live on a camera body most of the time.

The AF speed on the D80 body seemed no faster than the 18-200mm VR lens on the same body. The 16-85mm VR lens sample tested here gave a quiet squeak with autofocusing. The squeak is only noticeable under quiet conditions but certainly when outside it cannot be heard.

The lens aperture value increases with the focal length as follows:

  • 16mm (24mm): f/3.5
  • 20mm (30mm): f/4
  • 30mm (45mm): f4.5
  • 40mm (60mm): f/5
  • 62mm (93mm): f/5.6

At 16mm (24mm equivalent) with the widest aperture of f/3.5 some light falloff was noticed in the corners but this was only really obvious when shooting something of near constant tone like a blue or grey sky.

Contrast seems decent enough to make even overcast days reproduce well. It certainly won't match the kind of contrast provided by the typical prime lens but it is consistent with decent quality zoom lenses of a similar zoom range.

Flare seemed can be considered acceptable for a lens in this price bracket. Signs of flare is evident with strong sun light in the frame or just out of view. 

Chromatic Aberation was not evident in the sample photographs. Images were processed using Capture NX (ver 1.35) and this may of automatically removed any existing CA from the RAW files.

Used on a D80 body, it was found that when the internal flash was used to provide illumination and the lens set at 16mm, the shadow of the lens barrel was just visible at the bottom of the image. Zooming the lens to 18mm and above resolved this issue.

The 16-85mm VR lens could be termed a workhorse lens. It handles subjects in a competent manner. Although images can be resolved a little soft in the corners the lens is of sufficient optical quality to be used with the aperture wide open without fear of significant image degradation.

Compared to the 18-200mm f/3.5-5.6G VR DX lens, the 16-65mm VR offers improved and more consistent image quality at all focal lengths. The difference in image quality is not huge but significant and in many ways goes to show how well designed the 18-200mm VR lens is for its zoom range. The 16-85mm VR has the advantage in that it appears to have no serious flaws. It's a lens you can attach to your camera and get on with the job of taking photos without consciously having to worry technical issues.

The 16mm wide end offers a significant advantage over 18mm (as with the 18-200mm VR lens) when it comes to taking interior shots, capturing dramatic landscapes or even close-ups. The 85mm (128mm) end does not offer significant telephoto capabilities but it is good enough for many purposes including taking portraits.

The initial autofocusing speed could of been faster (on the D80) but then a lens of this zoom range is not aimed at the sports photographer. However, like the 18-200mm VR, when operating in continuous AF mode AF tracking works well.

The 16-85mm VR DX lens is definitely a lens to pack in the kit bag and makes a suitable lens to partner the Nikkor 70-300mm VR lens.EA

 

Specification

 

Focal Length 16-85mm
Maximum Aperture f/3.5-5.6
Minimum Aperture f/22-36
Lens Construction 17 elements in 11 groups (with 2 ED glass elements and three aspherical lenses)
Picture Angle 83º - 18º50'
Closest Focus Distance 0.38m / 1.3ft (throughout zoom range)
Maximum Reproduction Ratio 1/4.6
No. of Diaphragm Blades 7 (circular)
Filter Size 67mm
Dimensions Approx. 72 x 85mm / 2.8 x 3.4 inches
Weight Approx. 485g / 17.1oz

 

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