Monday, March 24, 2008

16-85mm f3.5-5.6 VR

"Not another kit lens" was what I thought when I first heard about this lens. But it is almost exactly what I was asking for, a 16 - 85 VR DX lens, a direct DX equivalent for the 24-120mm. What I was definitely hoping for was something like a f2.8-4, or maybe a f3.5-4.5. With an aperture of f3.5 - 5.6, it was on the 'they missed it list' for me.

But that aside, I decided to give it a go, prejudices aside. Here's what I've found.

One of my favourite consumer lenses was the 24-85mm f2.8 - 4, along with the 17-80mm. 16mm is exactly what the doctor ordered on the wide end. Take the 18-70 and tweak it just a touch.


This lens was used on the D300. I'll say from the outset now, this is a very fine handling lens. It feels more comfortable on the camera than does the 18-200mm VR which I consider the best walk around on the market. But he 18-200mm is heavier, not by much, but for perfect handling ,the 16-85mm is it. It's light but feels really right and quite soild, like the 18-70mm did.

The zoom ring was a little stiff, but this is no bad thing. The 18-200mm lens had a tendency to zoom creep. The 16-85 doesn't. So you can feel confident that if you're shooting up or down, the zoom will stay put.


The VR operation on this lens is very quite and smooth. On the other Nikkor lenses like the 70-200mm, you can really feel it working. You can hardly hear or feel the whirling sound on this one though. It's And it's quite effective too.

I was shooting at 85mm at 1/10th sec and was pretty happy. My hands gave up the ghost with VR off at about 1/30th, so if I had to squeeze a bit more out of it, I knew I could.


Some people may have read that I thought initial focusing on the D300 wasn't as fast as I hoped. I realise that because of my shooting style, I wasn't using the cross sensors in the middle all the time and I just never realized this was slowing me down. There is a marked difference in the initial focus speed depending on whether you're using the X AF sensors of the other ones, at least in low light.

However, using any of the 15 points yielded fast, accurate results. Very fast actually. This lens rarely hunted, 'if' using the cross sensors on the D300. I tried focusing in various lighting situations around the house. Although the below doesn't say a whole bunch, it says a little. The metering was telling me the following (at ISO 200):

kitchen: 1/5 sec at 5.6 Bedroom 1: 4 sec at 5.6 Bedroom 2: 10 sec at 5.6 (yes , it's very dark).

Point this lens at an edge and it focused on it. Other lenses were much slower and hunted for focus more often using the same 'walk-around-the house' test.

The focusing on this lens is faster than the 50mm 1.8 AF (as expected), and it's faster than the 70-300mm AF-S. It looks to me to be a new and improved AF-S and perfectly matched to the new AF in the D300, in my most humble opinion. :)


There is some light fall off at the wide end up to about the 20mm mark I think. There are much better reviews for the actual technical numbers than mine. It is something you'll have to keep an eye on.

There is distortion at both ends. Another area you should be conscious of if shooting horizons, but otherwise acceptable for this type of lens. Of course, that can be corrected in post. If shooting jpegs and you want little/no distortion, shoot at about 18mm.

Corner sharpness appeared very good. In fact, this is a super sharp lens. I consider the 17-55mm f2.8 Nikkor and Tamron 17-50mm f2.8 as wonderfully sharp lenses. I can say that this lenses is probably their equal. I do need to do more testing here though, but I liked what I saw. Again, I'm talking real world here, not just some numbers.

The out of focus areas in the background were ok, but I have seen better. Flare wasn't an issue. I tested the lens both directly into the sun and off to the sides at 16mm, 24mm, 50mm and 85mm. It handled all of that very well. Flare just was not a problem at all with the tests I did.

For versatility, you can't beat the 18-200 VR.But if you don't mind taking a two lens kit, the 16-85 and the 70-300 VR should probably be in your bag.