Nikon 16-85mm f/3.5-5.6G ED VR DX AF-S Nikkor: Lens Test

Not quite kit, not quite pro, this Nikkor should make many advanced amateurs happy.

This digital-only, 5.3X, wide-to-medium-tele, general-purpose zoom ($600, street) is an attractive upgrade for Nikon shooters underserved by their entry-level 18-55mm kit lens. No longer a beginner? It offers Vibration Reduction, plus extra reach in both directions, scaling up to 24-127.5mm on most Nikon DSLR bodies. Two extra-low dispersion glass elements rein in the image-softening effect of chromatic aberration (a.k.a. color fringing), and three aspheric elements help tackle linear distortion.

HANDS ON

Slightly bulky for an amateur’s general-purpose lens, this zoom is more than an inch longer and 4 ounces heavier than Canon’s comparable 17-85mm f/4-5.6 IS digital-only zoom ($515, street). At close-focus, the lens (without hood) throws a shadow at all focal lengths when used with a built-in flash. (As subject distances grow, the shadow gradually disappears, first at the long end of the zoom range.)

With a slightly stiff zoom action but well-damped manual focusing, the lens offers fast, accurate, and — thanks to Nikon’s Silent Wave Motor — extremely quiet autofocus. All switches and collars are adequately sized and marked, and the lens feels solidly constructed, almost pro-quality.

IN THE LAB

SQF data showed sharpness and contrast in the Excellent range at all tested focal lengths — not surprising for a Nikkor. In DxO Analyzer 3.0.1 distortion control tests, we found Visible barrel distortion at 16mm (0.49%) and Slight pincushion distortion at 50mm and 85mm (0.20% and 0.19%, respectively). This is a noticeably stronger performance than the Canon, which showed, for example, Very Visible barreling at 17mm (1.25%). (The Nikon’s numbers suggest average distortion control by today’s standards, but 10 years ago, they would have been headline news.)

Light falloff was gone from the corners by f/8 at 16mm, f/5.6 at 50mm, and f/6.3 at 85mm — also an average performance. Maximum magnification ratios at the uniform close-focusing distance of a tight 13.2 inches ranged from 1:14.25 at 16mm to an OK 1:3.8 at 85mm.

In DxO blur tests of the lens’ Vibration Reduction system, three users gained between 2 and 2.5 stops of extra handholdability with VR engaged — not great, but also not surprising as image stabilization is usually most effective at longer focal lengths.

CONCLUSIONS

If you’re an ambitious amateur calling for more optical oomph from your everyday zoom, but you’re not ready to take on the physical and financial burden of high-speed pro glass, Nikon has heard you.

Specifications

16-85mm (16.54-86.42mm tested), f/3.5-5.6 (f/3.34-5.35 tested), 17 elements in 11 groups. Focusing turns 160 degrees clockwise. Zoom ring turns 80 degrees counterclockwise. Focal lengths marked at 16-, 24-, 35-, 50-, 70-, and 85mm.

Diagonal view angle: 83-18 degrees.

Weight: 1.22 lb.

Filter size: 67mm.

Mounts: Nikon AF.

Included: Lenshood, softcase.

Street price: $600.