Highly Recommended awardThe 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.

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

Nikkor DX 16-85mm VR design and build quality

Nikkor DX 16-85mm VR design and build quality

The Nikkor DX 16-85mm VR is pictured below on the left, with the DX 18-105mm VR kit lens and 14-24mm professional ultra-wide angle to its right. Measuring 85mm in length and with a maximum diameter of 72mm, the DX 16-85mm VR is actually a little narrower and shorter than the 89x76mm of the DX 18-105mm VR kit lens, although both are dwarfed by the 14-24mm with its 98mm length and 132mm diameter built-in hood. For reference, the popular DX 18-200mm VR super- zoom measures 97x77mm.

In terms of physical styling and design, the DX 16-85mm VR certainly looks very similar to the DX 18-105mm VR kit lens, although there are several key differences. Most obviously the DX 16-85mm VR features a shorter zoom ring to make room for the focus distance window – a feature you won’t find on any of Nikon’s kit lenses.In terms of weight, the DX 16-85mm VR comes in at 485g, so is a little heavier than the 420g of the DX 18-105mm VR kit lens and a little lighter than the 560g of the DX 18-200mm VR, although again unsurprisingly all fall well below the 970g heft of the 14-24mm. So with a similar size and weight to Nikkor’s latest kit lens, the DX 16-85mm VR won’t feel out of place to most owners.

The manual focusing rings felt similar on the DX 16-85mm VR and DX 18-105mm VR, although the zoom ring on the former was stiffer on our sample despite roughly the same degree of usage. Unlike the plastic mountings on most kit lenses, the DX 16-85mm VR employs a metal fitting and there’s also a rubber ring for environmental sealing.
Ultimately the DX 16-85mm VR felt solid and confident in use, but while aspects like the metal mounting and rubber sealing physically represent a step-up from Nikkor’s kit lenses, don’t expect a difference of night-and-day in your hands as models like the DX 18-105mm VR are also fairly well-built. For a more significant difference in build and handling, you’ll need to go to a pro model like the 14-24mm.

As you zoom-in, the barrel on the DX 16-85mm VR extends in two sections by 42mm. Thanks to the relatively short extension, light internal elements and stiff zoom ring, we didn’t experience any creep with the lens, and it’s unlikely to be an issue in the future. Finally, like most Nikkor lenses, the DX 16-85mm VR is supplied with a lens hood (are you listening Canon?)

Nikkor DX 16-85mm VR with popup flash on D60
DX 16-85mm VR at 16mm (24mm equivalent) DX 16-85mm VR at 20mm (30mm equivalent)

A quick note about using the popup flash with the DX 16-85mm VR. We tried it without a lens hood using the Nikon D60 and found a small shadow was cast by the lens barrel when fully zoomed-out. This gradually becomes less visible as you zoom-in, and by 20mm it’s virtually gone. It’s less of an issue on bodies with higher popup flashes. Many thanks to Ernie Cabbagio who assisted with this test.

Nikkor DX 16-85mm VR optical design notes

The Nikkor DX 16-85mm VR employs 17 elements in 11 groups, with two ED glass elements and three aspherical lenses. The focal ratio is the usual f3.5 when zoomed-out to 16mm and f5.6 when zoomed-into 85mm, and the aperture employs seven rounded blades; in terms of focal ratio and aperture blades, it’s the same as the DX 18-105mm VR kit lens. The closest focusing distance is 38cm throughout the focal range and we have a macro example in our sample images gallery.

Nikkor DX 16-85mm VR focusing

Towards the mounting end of the lens barrel you’ll find a relatively thin manual focusing ring – this is identical in style and position to that on the DX 18-105mm VR kit lens, although here you have the benefit of a focus distance window above it.

A switch on the side of the barrel sets the lens between Manual focus and AF with full-time Manual over-ride – if using the latter, you can grab and turn the focusing ring whenever you wish to make adjustments, or of course half-press the shutter release on the camera body to autofocus.

As an AF-S model, the DX 16-85mm VR features a built-in Silent Wave Motor (SWM) which means it’ll autofocus with any Nikon body including those which do not have built-in focusing motors of their own – such as the D40, D40x and D60 models. Focusing takes place internally and doesn’t rotate the front section nor any controls which is good news for owners of directional filters like polarisers; note the filter thread is the same 67mm diameter as the DX 18-105mm VR kit lens, making both slightly smaller than the 72mm thread of the DX 18-200mm VR.

In our tests, the DX 16-85mm VR’s SWM focusing motor was fractionally quicker than that on the DX 18-105mm VR kit lens, but both were still fairly leisurely in speed, especially when focusing from one end of the range to the other. Both models were pretty quiet while focusing, swapping the audible gearing of older (or cheaper) models for something between a faint hiss and a squeek; if you already own an AF-S DX model, you’ll know what we mean, and you can hear how it sounds for yourself in our video tour.

It should however be noted that like Canon’s USM focusing motors, not all Nikkor SWM systems are equal in noise and speed. Switch to a pro model like the Nikkor 14-24mm f2.8 and you’ll notice the focusing is much faster and quieter still. Either way though we have no real complaints with the DX 16-85mm VR’s focusing, but don’t buy this lens hoping for much faster or quieter performance than models like the DX 18-105mm VR – it’s only fractionally superior in these respects.

Now let’s take a look at the coverage and stabilisation in our Nikkor DX 16-85mm VR features page.

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