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Nikkor AF-S DX 16-85mm f/3.5-5.6G ED VR Gordon Laing, April 2009

Nikkor DX 16-85mm VR verdict

The Nikkor DX 16-85mm VR is another quality general-purpose zoom for owners of DX-format Nikon bodies. It delivers a useful 24-128mm equivalent range covering most day-to-day situations, while including effective Vibration Reduction to counteract camera shake.

The lens feels solid and confident in use, with a metal mounting and rubber sealing taking it beyond kit models. Focusing is fairly quick and quiet and there’s a window showing distance markings.

In our tests, the Nikkor DX 16-85mm VR performed well, delivering good results across its optical range with minimal issues towards the extremes. There’s a small amount of softening in the corners, but it’s not bad by any means, and coloured fringing is kept low; what little there is also cleans-up nicely in Nikon’s Capture NX software or in JPEGs from bodies with in-camera correction like the D90.

Like most wide-angle lenses, there’s noticeable barrel distortion when zoomed-out, but it’s no worse than the majority of Nikkor general-purpose DX zooms, and remember it’s also zooming wider. Distortion when zoomed-in was kept lower than most DX zooms. Vignetting and light fall-off performance was also respectable with minimal darkening in the corners, especially when zoomed-in. All these tests were performed with RAW files converted without lens corrections to see exactly what was going on behind the scenes – for the full report, check out our results pages.

So far so good. The DX 16-85mm VR performs well physically and optically, while delivering a useful range with effective stabilisation. In fact there’s little to fault it on beyond the inevitable desire for the tougher build, brighter apertures and quicker focusing of much more expensive professional models. As such the Nikkor DX 16-85mm VR is easy to recommend as a general-purpose lens for owners of DX-format Nikon bodies, but there’s one major problem – or in fact several to be precise.

The big issue facing the DX 16-85mm VR is the actual Nikkor lens catalogue itself: Nikon now offers an unusually wide range of general-purpose lenses for its DX-format bodies, including several highly respectable kit lenses. As such a new general-purpose lens like this needs to stand out from the crowd, and while the DX 16-85mm VR is undoubtedly very good, there may not be sufficiently compelling reasons to either upgrade to it from a kit lens or choose it over an alternative model. So before wrapping-up, how does it compare?

Compared to Nikkor DX 18-55mm VR


We’ll start with the Nikkor DX 18-55mm VR, the kit lens supplied with Nikon’s entry-level DSLRs like the D60. Nikon’s done a great job with this model which delivers surprisingly good quality and features for the money. It’s a budget lens, but offers decent quality along with SWM focusing and Vibration Reduction.

In its favour, the DX 16-85mm VR zooms both wider and longer, while boasting a metal lens mount with rubber sealing, the choice of Normal or Active VR, a focus distance window and an end element which doesn’t rotate while focusing.

These are all good reasons to go for the DX 16-85mm VR if you’re thinking of upgrading from the DX 18-55mm VR kit lens, but if you’re happy with 27mm coverage at the wide-end, the DX 18-200mm VR super-zoom may ultimately be a more compelling upgrade, or you could simply complement the kit lens with the excellent DX 55-200mm VR telephoto zoom. See our Nikkor DX 18-55mm VR and Nikkor DX 55-200mm VR reviews for more details.

Compared to Nikkor DX 18-70mm

The DX 18-70mm earned a reputation as the general-purpose lens for discerning Nikon owners who didn’t want to stretch to models like the DX 17-55mm f2.8. With decent optics, a metal lens mount, focus distance window and non-rotating front section at an affordable price it was a great choice and an ideal partner for the 70-300mm telephoto zoom. The DX 16-85mm VR is arguably the successor to this lens, aimed at those who want a step-up from a kit lens, but who are happy to also carry a longer telephoto zoom where necessary.

The DX 16-85mm VR features most of what’s good about the DX 18-70mm, but additionally features a wider and longer range along with Vibration Reduction, although the focal ratio when zoomed-in is a little darker. The enhancements remain worthy though, but there’s still the matter of it costing roughly twice the price. Existing owners of the DX 18-70mm could justify an upgrade if they really want 24mm coverage and VR, but if you can live without them and are still after a quality twin lens kit, the DX 18-70mm could be a bargain while stocks last. We compared its build and optical quality in our Nikkor general-purpose lens group test.

Compared to Nikkor DX 18-135mm

The DX 18-135mm was launched with the Nikon D80 body as its standard kit zoom, and it continues to boast one of the longest ranges of any kit lens. It may not zoom as wide as the DX 16-85mm VR, but it does zoom considerably closer – in fact over half as close again – giving it much greater flexibility in the telephoto stakes. It doesn’t however sport VR, which can be a problem at those longer focal lengths.

In its favour, the DX 16-85mm VR zooms wider and features VR, while additionally sporting a metal lens mount with rubber sealing and a focus distance window. It’s a classier lens, but the shorter focal length is a hard one to swallow if you’re looking to upgrade from the DX 18-135mm.

It also costs around half the price of the DX 16-85mm VR, making it a possibility for DX-format owners who want a budget general-purpose lens with a decent range. We compared its build and optical quality in our Nikkor general-purpose lens group test.

Compared to Nikkor DX 18-105mm VR

The Nikkor DX 18-105mm VR was launched with the Nikon D90 as its standard kit lens, and while it loses 30mm at the telephoto end to the DX 18-135mm (above), it now crucially offers VR to combat camera-shake. That’s a trade most people would be happy to make, and it still has a longer focal length than the DX 16-85mm VR.

In its favour, the DX 16-85mm VR zooms wider, while additionally sporting a metal lens mount with rubber sealing and a focus distance window. In our tests it also performed slightly better optically, although it certainly wasn’t the difference between night and day.

Again if you already own the DX 18-105mm VR and are looking to upgrade, you’ll lose out a little at the telephoto end when switching to the DX 16-85mm VR, so the question is how much do you want that 24mm equivalent coverage? As for those who own neither, the DX 18-105mm VR offers a decent range with stabilisation at around half the price of the DX 16-85mm VR, so is another good choice for those on a budget who don’t need 24mm coverage. See the design and results pages in this review for more details.

Compared to Nikkor DX 18-200mm VR

The Nikkor DX 18-200mm VR is one of the most popular lenses for owners of Nikon DX-format bodies, and for very good reason: it delivers a highly compelling combination of a long zoom range, Vibration Reduction and good optical and build quality. This single lens could fulfil most of your requirements without the inconvenience of carrying multiple lenses and the risk of dust when you change them. Like the DX 16-85mm VR, it additionally features a metal lens mount and focus distance window, but of course the big difference is having a maximum focal length that’s two and a third times longer.

In its favour the DX 16-85mm VR zooms wider and is both smaller and lighter; it also enjoys slightly better optical quality, but again it's not the difference of night and day. Depending on where you shop, the DX 16-85mm VR may also be available a little cheaper, but again not by a huge margin. So minor differences in quality, price, size and weight aside, it really boils down to whether zooming out to 24mm is more important to you than zooming-into 200mm. Most would happily accept the slightly less wide 27mm coverage of the DX 18-200mm VR and revel in its considerably longer reach for roughly the same money.

But of course that’s assuming you’re after a single lens solution – some may prefer a shorter range lens to complement a telephoto zoom like the 70-300mm or 80-400mm, for which the DX 16-85mm VR would be ideal. But there’s no denying the draw of the Nikkor super-zoom which continues to make it the most popular choice for DX body owners looking for a new general-purpose lens – see our Nikkor DX 18-200mm VR review for more details.

Nikkor DX 16-85mm VR final verdict

As we said at the start of this page, the Nikkor DX 16-85mm VR is a quality general-purpose lens which delivers a useful range with decent optical and build quality, along with Vibration Reduction to combat camera-shake. In other lens catalogues, it would be a no-brainer for anyone looking to upgrade a kit lens or equip a new body with a quality option from day-one. But not all lens catalogues share Nikon’s wide array of general-purpose options for DX-bodies.

There are two main problems facing the DX 16-85mm VR: first is the simple fact Nikon’s current kit lenses are already pretty good so there’s less urgency to upgrade them, and secondly there’s the highly compelling DX 18-200mm VR available for only a little extra.

Tackling the first point, there’s little in the way of features offered by the DX 16-85mm VR that’s not already available on the current kit lenses. They already feature VR and SWM focusing and share the same f3.5-5.6 focal ratio, and while the build and optical quality are a step-up on the DX 16-85mm VR, it’s certainly not the difference of night and day, especially when compared against the DX 18-105mm VR. Sure there’s bigger differences when comparing the DX 18-55mm VR which has a rotating front section for instance, but how many owners of this or the DX 18-105mm VR really curse the absence of a metal lens mount or a focus distance window? More crucially if you own the DX 18-105mm VR or the earlier DX 18-135mm, it’s a bitter-sweet experience upgrading to a general-purpose lens which doesn’t zoom as close.

Moving onto the second point, the Nikkor DX 18-200mm VR is a tough rival costing only a little more, but boasting a much longer optical zoom range. If the DX 16-85mm VR were cheaper or significantly better, it would be a different story, but it’s uncomfortably priced at a similar point, and most would find an extra 115mm on the telephoto end more useful than an extra 2mm at the wide end.

So it ultimately boils down to how much you want or need 24mm equivalent coverage at the wide-end of your general-purpose lens. While it may only be 3mm wider in equivalent coverage to the wealth of Nikkor DX lenses which start at 18mm, it really does make a big difference. You can capture comfortably larger fields-of-view and enjoy perspective effects which aren’t as dramatic at even slightly longer focal lengths. As mentioned above, the range is also an ideal match for a twin-lens kit which includes either the 70-300mm or 80-400mm models.

The counter-argument though is you could always enjoy 24mm coverage as part of an ultra-wide zoom range instead, or really go for broke with the 10.5mm fisheye. There’s certainly no lack of options for owners of DX-format bodies and you can view and compare the whole range in our Nikkor lens catalogue.

The bottom line is if you’re looking for a quality general-purpose DX-format lens which zooms-out to an equivalent of 24mm, then the DX 16-85mm VR is the model to go for and easily comes Recommended. It misses out on our Highly Recommended award though due to a lack of really compelling advantages beyond existing models and the fact you can buy the DX 18-200mm VR for only a little extra. As such our advice is to think very carefully about what you really need from your general-purpose lens and how it might fit into a kit now and in the future. Feel free to discuss your options in the Nikon section of the Cameralabs forum.

Good points

Flexible range with 24mm wide-angle.
Effective Vibration Reduction.
Relatively quick and quiet SWM focusing.
Metal lens mount with rubber sealing.

Bad points
Telephoto shorter than some kit zooms.
Barrel shadow at 16mm with popup flash.
DX 18-200mm VR available at similar price.
Reports of undesirable bokeh around 50mm.


(relative to DX kit lenses)

Build quality:
Optical quality:


21 / 25
21 / 25
21 / 25
19 / 25


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All words, images, videos and layout, copyright 2005-2017 Gordon Laing. May not be used without permission.

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