Jan 23, 2010

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

This lens is considered by many to be a potential upgrade from the 18-105mm VR that comes in the Nikon D90 kit. On paper, it has several advantages:
  • Better build quality with metal lens mount (18-105 has a plastic mount)
  • Second generation VR technology
  • Slightly wider field of view (2mm doesn't sound like much, but it's actually 7 more degrees in your field of view)

However, you give up some reach on the tele end, and the 16-85 costs almost twice as much as the 18-105 (the incremental cost is even more if you consider that the 18-105 costs about $200 in the D90 kit, and if you already have the 18-105 you'll have to sell it on eBay or Craigslist). Expectations for image quality from the 16-85 run high given its price, and the lens is generally well reviewed. However, I did an informal test of the 16-85 against the 18-105 over their common range and found that the 16-85 was sharper from edge to edge at close focus distances (less than 30 feet) on the wide end. However, for shots at 85mm with focus distances greater than 30 feet, the 18-105 was noticeably sharper. My informal test shots were taken at the same aperture and shutter speed in outdoor lighting conditions. At 100% crop, it was easy to identify the 18-105's shots based on the center of the frame, and things worsened at the edges. This was really surprising to me and not at all what I expected, but I ended up returning the 16-85. The relatively high price of this lens could've been justified based on its features, but I was unwilling to spend more money for lesser image quality. Ultimately, if the wider angle is what you're after, you'd be better served by buying the Nikon 12-24 f/4, which can be had for about $500 on the used market.

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