I went into this expecting to bash on a poor defenseless kit lens but came away with quite the crush on this offering. The 16-80mm is a great all-around lens for static subjects. It encompasses a 5x zoom range with an equivalent of 24-120mm which covers most subjects except super-wide landscapes and long shots of wildlife or sports.
Need wider than 24mm? Just start stitching.
As far as sharpness goes, the 16-80mm is impressively well balanced throughout its range. What softness does appear is mostly in the corners at the longer focal lengths and wide apertures and improves quickly when stopped down between f/8 – f/11. The 16-80mm’s main weakness is slow autofocus which makes it a poor choice for quick or erratic action. Its other drawbacks (noisy AF, small focus ring, zoom creep) are quite minor and would not deter me from owning this lens. If you shoot lots wide open with lots of specular highlights you may not like the bokeh. For what I like to shoot, landscapes and intimate landscapes (nature details/abstracts) it’s a great choice.
This is a DX lens, hence it won’t work on full-frame bodies unless shot in 1.5x crop mode. DX files are noisier than their full-frame siblings, but then again (at least at the wide end) the 16-80mm is a stop faster than the 24-120mm so you can shoot at lower ISO.
Many early reviews of this lens were critical, saying it was overpriced and not a spectacular performer. Its MSRP is $30 lower than the 24-120mm, which doesn’t get the same criticism, yet in my opinion is the lesser lens (I’ve shot three copies of the 24-120 – all consistently soft in the corners, but Nasim says his 24-120mm is excellent, so the sample variance is surely an issue with that one). Over a grand is a lot to pay for any lens so you should expect a lot in return. The good news is those early negative reviews may have inspired the deep discounts now available when this lens is purchased as part of the D500 + 16-80mm kit. These discounts have been in place for months now and hopefully will persist, but no guarantee.
If we compare both kits, the D500 + 16-80mm versus the similarly priced D750 + 24-120mm, I prefer the former for the nature photography I do. I’d rather have a bit more noise shooting DX, than soft corners that will never be sharp shooting the 24-120. At lower ISOs I think the D500 + 16-80 wins easily. If you shoot in a lot of dim light, then the advantages of the full-frame sensor make sense, but for nature photography, I’d skip the 24-120 kit lens and invest in some primes instead and commit to lugging the whole shebang around. If you shoot quick-paced action then neither kit lens is appropriate. If you’re into portraiture/street photography/events then sharp corners probably aren’t your biggest issue so either lens will do, but if you’re shooting at high ISOs then the D750 + 24-120mm kit gets the edge.
Both kits are on sale as I write this. The Nikon D500 + 16-80mm kit, regularly $3069.95, is now $2569.95 and weighs in at 43.0 oz. The D750 + 24-120mm kit, regularly $3099.95, is now $2399.95 and weighs in at 51.5 oz. Both the D500 and the D750 are terrific camera bodies with the D500 having more pro features (in particular, higher frame rate, bigger buffer and more advanced AF module).
Nikon 16-80mm f/2.8-4E DX VR
- Optical Performance
- Bokeh Quality
- Build Quality
- Focus Speed and Accuracy
- Image Stabilization
Photography Life Overall Rating
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