While the Nikon 16-35mm f/4 VR is a new generation lens in its own class, I will be reviewing it as a lens that is in a way replacing the older 17-35mm f/2.8D AF-S lens that was due for an update. In this review, I will be making direct comparisons between these two lenses, in addition to the Nikon 24-70mm f/2.8G and will do my best to provide a thorough analysis of this lens, along with image samples and comparisons against other Nikon lenses.
1) Lens Specifications
- Ultra wide-angle zoom lens that covers focal lengths from 16mm to 35mm
- Vibration Reduction (VR II) enables sharper pictures while shooting at shutter speeds up to four stops slower than would otherwise be possible
- The adoption of Nano Crystal Coat effectively reduces ghost and flare
- An ultra wide-angle zoom lens that, while offering a wide angle view of 107°, is compatible with 77mm screw-on filters
- Fixed maximum aperture of f/4
- ED glass and aspherical lens elements are utilized for a new optical design that achieves high resolution
- Quiet focusing with built-in Silent Wave Motor (SWM)
- Two focus modes selectable – M/A and M
- Focal length: 16-35mm
- Maximum aperture: f/4
- Minimum aperture: f/22
- Lens construction: 17 elements in 12 groups (with two ED glass and three aspherical lens elements, and Nano Crystal Coat)
- Angle of view: 107° – 63° (83° – 44° with Nikon DX format)
- Closest focusing distance: 0.29 m (1.0 ft.) at a focal length of 16mm or 35mm, 0.28 m (0.9 ft.) at a focal length between 20mm and 28mm
- Maximum reproduction ratio: 0.25x
- No. of diaphragm blades: 9 (rounded)
- Filter/attachment size: 77mm
- Diameter x length (extension from the camera’s lens-mount flange): Approximately 82.5 x 125 mm
- Weight: Approximately 680 g/24.0 oz.
- Supplied accessories: 77mm Snap-on Front Lens Cap LC-77, Rear Lens Cap LF-1, Bayonet Hood HB-23, Flexible Lens Pouch CL-1120
2) Lens handling
Just like all Nikon professional lenses, the new Nikon 16-35mm VR lens is built to last a lifetime. While some parts of the lens are made of plastic, it feels just like the expensive Nikon lenses made of solid metal. It is designed to withstand tough weather and is well-protected on the outside against dust and moisture. It has a total of 17 optical elements within the lens and weighs a total of 680 grams, making it very easy to carry and handle. Compared to the Nikon 17-35mm f/2.8D lens, it is a little longer in size (see the comparison below) and 65 grams lighter in weight. The lens feels very solid in hands and the zoom ring is easy to rotate from 16 to 35mm and vice versa (it goes from 16 to 35mm in a half turn). Just like on the Nikon 17-35mm, the focus ring is conveniently located on the front of the lens, making it easy to reach it with fingers for manual focus. Just like the 17-35mm, the lens does not extend in/out when zooming. The lens comes with the same “HB-23″ lens hood as in 17-35mm.
3) Focus acquisition speed and accuracy
I have tested this lens for a while and took it with me along with the 17-35mm on multiple trips and I found the autofocus performance to be instant and accurate, even in low-light conditions. The lens autofocus system with SWM (Silent Wave Motor) is quiet and very close to the performance of the superb Nikon 24-70mm f/2.8G. My real tests were done in very dim environments and focus was acquired correctly almost 100% of the time on an FX body. Here is a good example of how the lens focuses in an extremely dark environment:
Click here to see the full JPEG version of the shot (80% Quality @ 3,8 MB).
As can be seen from the picture, the lighting conditions were extremely poor – I had to shoot at 1/10th of a second at ISO 3200 to get the right exposure. The lens focused fast and dead-on, wide open at f/4.0.
4) Lens sharpness and contrast
I won’t talk much about lens sharpness – you can see the image samples in the next several pages. One thing I will say, however, is that this lens is one of the sharpest lenses I have ever held in my hands – I was stunned by its performance. This lens performs so well at f/4.0 in the center throughout the zoom range, that you wouldn’t want to shoot it at higher apertures, unless you need to increase the depth of field. Corners on the wide end are a little soft, but still better than on the 17-35mm. Color and contrast are truly amazing and top of the class.
5) Vibration Reduction – VR II
As I have pointed out before, the Nikon 16-35mm VR is Nikon’s (and World’s) first ultra wide-angle lens with a vibration reduction (VR) technology. Back in the old days, it did not make much sense to put VR into ultra wide lenses, because vibration is not as big of an issue on short focal lengths compared to long/telephoto focal lengths. Plus, it was expensive to add VR on professional lenses, due to the already complex lens optics and design. By adding VR to an ultra wide-angle lens, Nikon is setting a new standard in lens technology and we will be soon seeing many other manufacturers add this very useful feature to their line of ultra wide lenses as well. VR proved itself effective on consumer “wide to tele” lenses such as Nikon 18-200mm VR and it was just a matter of time until Nikon started adding VR to its professional line.
The new vibration reduction system (VR II) on the Nikon 16-35mm f/4.0 VR is truly amazing. I have never been able to produce a sharp hand-held shot at 1/2 of a second on a wide-angle lens and I was able to get quite a few good shots even at a shutter speed of 1 second @ 16mm! Zooming in to 35mm makes it a little difficult, but even then I was able to get good results at 1/4 – 1/8th of a second. Take a look at this shot:
Unbelievable! Tack sharp at 1/3th of a second hand-held! Good luck trying the same on the Nikon 17-35mm!
Click here to get the full JPEG (80% Quality @ 1 MB). The new vibration reduction system really works and you can get some magical shots with this lens. Yes, wedding and event photographers will absolutely love this lens!
Just like many other ultra wide-angle lenses, this lens is not really designed to yield beautiful bokeh, due to its small maximum aperture and large depth of field. After doing a couple of test shots at 35mm f/4.0, I was actually pleasantly surprised by the quality of bokeh this lens is able to produce on the long end. Check out this image shot wide open at 35mm:
Not bad at all – bokeh looks round and pleasant to look at.
There is a heavy amount of vignetting present when shooting wide open (f/4.0) at 16mm, as seen below. Stopping down the lens to f/8.0 almost completely gets rid of it:
Much less vignetting visible at 24mm:
And at 35mm, it is almost gone:
The vignetting issues can be quickly corrected in Adobe Photoshop or Lightroom, so it is not a big problem.
8) Ghosting and Flare
Ghosting and flare are not an issue for this lens. I shot against bright light sources on multiple occasions and did not see any harsh flares or ghosting. Although both 16-35mm f/4.0 VR and 17-35mm f/2.8D share the same hood, one thing for sure – the “N” (Nano-Coating) glass inside the lens definitely helps, making it a good candidate to shoot against the sun.
Here is an extreme example of shooting directly at the sun:
One of the things I noticed immediately, was the amount of distortion on the wide end of the lens. This is not unexpected, because we are dealing with a very short focal length that is prone to distortion, but it is definitely a lot more noticeable than on the Nikon 17-35mm at 17mm. Barrel distortion at 16mm goes away at 24mm and slightly comes back as pincushion distortion towards 35mm. When you use this lens for architectural work and for photographing textures and patterns, you can fix the distortion in Photoshop very easily by using the Lens Correction filter. At 16mm, values between +5 and +8 seemed to work pretty well for me.
Let’s now move on to the good stuff – Sharpness tests. Select the next page below.
Some technical junk:
- White Balance: Auto, changed to “Custom”: 3500 Temp, +19 Tint in Lightroom
- ISO: 200
- EXIF information is preserved in the images
- Lens was mounted on Nikon D700 FX Camera and Gitzo tripod
- Focusing was performed through Live-View Contrast Detect. After each successful focus acquisition, focus was switched to manual to prevent camera refocusing
- Mirror Lock-Up mode with Exposure Delay set to “On” and remote cable release to completely eliminate camera shake
- VR on the Nikon 16-35mm was set to “Off” position
- Long exposure NR: Off
- Image Format: RAW
- Lightroom settings: Default settings, but exposure had to be slightly adjusted (-.20 to +.033) to make sure that all images have the same brightness
- Lightroom export: sRGB JPEG Quality 80
- Testing was performed at f/4.0, f/5.6, f/8.0 and f/11.0 apertures
- Nothing was moved during testing
10) Sharpness Test – Nikon 16-35mm @ 16mm Center Frame
This lens performs INCREDIBLY well on all apertures @ 16mm in the center of the frame. I tried to compare the images and could not spot any difference.
11) Sharpness Test – Nikon 16-35mm @ 16mm Corner Frame
Far corners look a little soft at f/4.0 and there is visible vignetting, but it gets better at f/5.6 and beyond.
12) Sharpness Test – Nikon 16-35mm @ 24mm Center Frame
Again, the center of the frame is super sharp all the way from f/4.0 to f/11.0!
13) Sharpness Test – Nikon 16-35mm @ 24mm Corner Frame
The corners look very good at 24mm, even at the far end with a slight amount of vignetting at f/4.0.
14) Sharpness Test – Nikon 16-35mm @ 35mm Center Frame
This is getting boring! Center frame @ 35mm is as sharp as the other focal lengths throughout the aperture range.
15) Sharpness Test – Nikon 16-35mm @ 35mm Corner Frame
The first image at f/4.0 was a little dark due to vignetting, so I had to increase the exposure by +0.5 to match it with other images. Sharpness-wise, all images are the same and I cannot see any difference between them.
Compared to Nikon 17-35mm f/2.8D
16) Nikon 16-35mm f/4.0G VR vs Nikon 17-35mm f/2.8D MTF
The MTF data charts from the Nikon 16-35mm f/4G and the older Nikon 17-35mm f/2.8 suggest that the new Nikon 16-35mm has more contrast on both wide and telephoto side. The same is also true for sharpness and better handling of chromatic aberrations.
Nikon 16-35mm f/4.0 MTF:
Nikon 17-35mm f/2.8 MTF:
Now let’s see how the lenses compared in my tests. Here is the center of the image at 17mm f/4.0:
The image on the left is Nikon 16-35mm VR and the image on the right is Nikon 17-35mm. The lenses start out almost identical in terms of performance at 17mm in the center. However, the situation is quite different in the corners, especially towards 35mm – that’s where the 16-35mm rips 17-35mm apart:
Wow, what a great performance by the Nikon 16-35mm VR! At large apertures, the Nikon 16-35mm is clearly better, both in contrast and sharpness. By f/8.0 and onwards the lenses perform about the same across the frame.
Compared to Nikon 24-70mm f/2.8G
17) Nikon 16-35mm f/4.0G VR vs Nikon 24-70mm f/2.8G
I decided to run another test comparison with a legendary lens – the Nikon 24-70mm f/2.8G, my favorite lens for landscape photography. I decided to test both lenses at 24mm and 35mm – the focal lengths I use the most for landscapes.
The lenses both perform extremely well in the center frame, so there is no point to provide sample images. Let’s see how the lenses compare at 24mm in the corners:
As you can see, the 16-35mm is sharper wide open than the 24-70mm stopped down to f/4.0.
And here is 35mm corner:
Corners are still sharper on the Nikon 16-35mm at 35mm.
Compared to Canon 17-40mm f/4.0
18) Nikon 16-35mm f/4.0G VR vs Canon 17-40mm f/4.0
I will be honest – doing a comparison between the Nikon 16-35mm f/4.0 and the Canon 17-40mm f/4.0 was somewhat painful. First of all, the DSLR bodies that I was using did not have the same megapixel count (Nikon D300 is 12 Mp and Canon 50D is 15 Mp) and crop factor (Nikon D300 is 1.5x and Canon 50D is 1.6x). Achieving the same field of view and having similarly sized 100% crops for accurate testing and comparison was difficult and I had to move my setup back and forth to get to a similar size. Even then, I was not able to get the results I wanted in the corners, so I will be focusing more on center performance rather than corners.
The image on the left is Nikon 16-35mm and the image on the right is Canon 17-35mm. Both were shot in RAW with no post-processing in Lightroom besides adjusting white balance.
Let’s take a look at the far corners @ 17mm f/4.0 (Left: Nikon 16-35mm, Right: Canon 17-40mm):
The Nikon 16-35mm clearly has both sharper image and better contrast in the corners.
Let’s now take a look at the center @ 17mm f/4.0 where I was able to match the view:
As can be clearly seen, Nikon 16-35mm f/4.0 VR is significantly sharper than Canon 17-40mm f/4.0. When compared at f/8.0 both lenses are very similar in terms of sharpness and contrast. Now let’s see the performance @ 24mm f/4.0:
Again, Nikon 16-35mm is the clear winner, delivering more sharpness wide open.
The final test is both lenses at 35mm:
As expected, there is no change – the Nikon 16-35mm f/4.0 is sharper than Canon 17-40mm f/4.0 @ f/4.0 across all focal lengths.
I did not bother uploading the images at other apertures, because both lenses perform very similarly at f/5.6 and higher and at f/8.0 there is practically no difference between them. The above test is to show that the Nikon 16-35mm is sharper than its counterpart Canon 17-40mm when shot wide open both in the center and in the corners.
Summary and Image Samples
Can I call this lens a breakthrough? Absolutely! As you can see from the sharpness comparison tests, the Nikon 16-35mm f/4.0 VR beats both the legendary Nikon 17-35mm f/2.8D and my favorite Nikon 24-70mm f/2.8G, especially in the corners. The 17-35mm and the 24-70mm lenses have been known as some of the best Nikon zoom lenses ever produced and the new lightweight Nikon 16-35mm f/4.0 VR proved to be better than both wide open at f/4.0. As can be seen from my Nikon 14-24mm f/2.8G Review, the Nikon 16-35mm is as sharp in the center and only weaker in the corners.
After weeks of testing the Nikon 16-35mm VR, I am very impressed with its performance and contrast. I do not see a reason to buy the more expensive Nikon 17-35mm f/2.8D anymore. Another big plus to the Nikon 16-35mm is Vibration Reduction, which truly does help when you shoot hand-held in dim environments. I took this lens for a real challenge and shot in very dark corners of Denver and VR worked beautifully, allowing me to shoot at extremely slow shutter speeds of 1/10th of a second and slower – something I have never been able to do with the 17-35mm or the 24-70mm lenses.
The lens is not without problems though. Although center sharpness is superb at all focal lengths and apertures, the corners are soft at 16mm f/4.0 on FX. Corners get a little better at smaller apertures and zooming in to 24mm+ yields much better results. Heavy distortion and vignetting are also a tad annoying, although they can be easily fixed in Photoshop. I bet this lens would have been twice the price if it did not have these issues. After shooting thousands of images with this lens, I am still very happy with the results and the above problems are barely noticeable in the field. If you are looking for a lens with a longer range to complement the Nikon 16-35mm, I highly recommend to look into the Nikon 24-120mm f/4.0 VR lens, which has very similar characteristics at an affordable price.
20) Where to buy and availability
B&H is currently selling the Nikon 16-35mm f/4.0G ED VR lens and has it in stock. The Nikon 17-35mm f/2.8 sells for approximately $1,800, Nikon 24-70mm f/2.8 is $1,900 and the Nikon 14-24mm f/2.8 is $2,000, which makes the Nikon 16-35mm f/4 VR the cheapest of the group, priced at $1,259 (as of 11/13/2012).
21) More image samples
Here are some sample images that I have captured during my last trip to Utah:
Click here to download the full version of the file in JPEG format (4.5 Mb).
Click here to download the full version of the file in JPEG format (5.2 Mb).
Click here to download the full version of the file in JPEG format (4.9 Mb).
All Images Copyright © Nasim Mansurov, All Rights Reserved. Copying or reproduction is not permitted without written permission from the author.