Nikon AF-S DX 16-85mm f3.5 – 5.6G ED VR lens review

05-29-2014_Nikon 16-85 lens-019

I bought this lens approximately 3-3,5 years ago. It acted as my main and only lens for years until recently I started investing into photo gear once again and purchased a 35mm prime lens. To make an informed decision I managed to try out the kit lens, read countless reviews day and night and listened to several YouTube photography gurus. Especially Jared Polin made a big impression on me, he suggested buying better lenses than the standard kit lens. My choice in the end fell on the Nikkor AF-S DX 16-85mm f3.5 – 5.6G ED VR lens that was an ideal high-quality walk-around lens for my D90 with a moderate enough price tag.

05-29-2014_Nikon 16-85 lens-045

Nikkor AF-S DX 16-85mm f3.5 – 5.6G ED VR Specs:

Announced: Jan 29, 2008
Format: APS-C/DX
Focal length: 16-85mm
Max. aperture: f3.5 – f5.6
Min. aperture: f22.0 – f36.0
Min. focus distance :  14.96 in. (0.38 m)
Special elements and coatings: 3 aspherical lens elements and 2 ED glass elements
VR: Yes
Materials: Plastic barrel, metal mount
Approx. Dimensions (Diameter x Length): 2.8 in. (72 mm) x 3.4 in. (85 mm)
Weight: 485 g / 17.1 oz

Distance scale: Yes
DoF scale: Yes
Filter thread: 67 mm
Hood: Yes, HB-39

Main features and my findings:

  • Dx lens

It works on crop DSLRs only. With Fx it switches the camera over to crop mode. It is a pity because I will not be able to keep it when I decide to switch to full frame!

  • A wide focal range of 16 to 85mm (equivalent to 24 – 127.5mm on 35 mm FX body)

This is one of its major assets. It covers a wider range than the kit lens. It can easily act as a portrait lens with its 50-85 mm side and I love to use it on the wider end for landscape, building interior/exterior and group shots.  It saved me in countless situations when I had no space to back up and still compose my picture with everything included. You can squeeze an admirable amount of space into your photos.

16 to 85_01


16 to 85_02


  • Variable aperture of f3.5 – f5.6

One of the two disadvantages. 5.6 can be limiting in low-light situations. However it is the same as in the kit lens and nowadays you can work wonders in post-processing. A fixed f4.0 would have been definitely better, but beggars no choosers!

05-29-2014_Nikon 16-85 lens-038

  • Vibration Reduction II

It has the newer generation (II) vibration reduction in it. It’s awesome! Nikon states that it gives the ability to shoot at shutter speeds up to four stops slower than would otherwise be possible, thereby minimizing image blur caused by camera shake. I can totally see that. On certain days I can be Shaky McShakerson but I can manage sharp pictures at 1/30 and decent success with lower, up to 1/10. I haven’t realized how much I depended on the vibration reduction until I started using primes that lack any kind of VR. It also has a normal and an active mode, where “normal” is for everyday shooting and “active” compensates image blur caused when shooting from a moving vehicle, or some other unstable position (Nikon official website).

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  • Rounded seven-blade diaphragm opening makes out-of-focus elements appear more natural

Bokeh is overall good to okay. Sometimes it’s nice and soft, sometimes it can get a little bit busy depending on the background or foreground.


Foreground bokeh


Background bokeh


Nice and buttery


Bokeh balls stay mostly round

  • 0.38 m/1.3 ft. closest focus distance throughout the entire zoom range

I could get macro like results with this lens, not 1:1 ratio but good enough thanks to the closest focus distance and the 85mm maximum focal length (no cropping in the samples). Definitely better than some prime lenses like the 35mm f1.8 or the 50mm f1.4.

Macro like_01

Macro like_02

  • Good built quality

The built quality was tested in a very unfortunate accident a year and a half ago. Camera and lens nose-dived from a table AND SURVIVED!!! It had a hit at the zoom rig and at the mount too. Results: a slight dent on the zoom ring manifesting in minor sticking as you get closer the 85mm end and nothing, niente, nada at the rear. The people at the repair store told me that I was lucky the mount was metal otherwise I would have collected my lens in pieces from the ground. Thanks for small miracles and good manufacturing! Added benefit: rubber ring for environmental sealing. Awesome in the desert! (I actually tested that in Syria a few years back.)

05-29-2014_Nikon 16-85 lens-053

Stored upside down in a bag there’s no lens creep (mine started only after The Fall) so there shouldn’t be any issue with that either. The lens in the hand has a good feel to it, the zoom ring moves smoothly, the button’s layout is adequate, nothing special there. When focusing the barrel on the DX 16-85mm VR extends in two sections by 42mm (rotary (extending) zoom method). It can be inconvenient at times but you get used to it real quick. Though investing in a UV filter is advisable, it should protect the front glass just fine from any mishaps.

05-29-2014_Nikon 16-85 lens-029 05-29-2014_Nikon 16-85 lens-028

  • Three a-spherical lens elements minimize various types of lens aberrations, distortions and center to edge sharpness

Long range zoom lenses tend to suffer from bad distortions but this lens makes an acceptable job.


Be aware of people on the edges, they can get slightly out of proportion and distorted.

It shows a barrel distortion at 16mm but there are much worse out there and moving forward reviews mention a pincushion distortion that I actually never noticed. These are natural phenomena so I was never too bothered by a little present in my photos.

  •  Well-controlled lens flare 

Shooting into the sun reveals some flares but again it is not too bad. If you don’t like it then don’t shoot into the sun.

Lens Flare_01

I actually like it and think sometimes it adds to the picture.

Lens Flare_02

  • Two ED (Extra-low Dispersion) glass elements that minimize chromatic aberrations while providing higher resolution and superior contrast

I never found any chromatic aberrations while shooting with it. I didn’t even know how bothering those can be until I tried some other lenses… Blessed ignorance! That’s what I call it.

  • No to little vignetting in the corners

Vignetting at the 16mm end is negligible while on the 85mm end you can get some in certain shooting situations. It’s definitely not too bad and nowadays they are easy to correct in editing programs like Adobe Lightroom, Photoshop and Aperture. I had to leave the sample photos without editing to show the effect.


Basically nothing on the 16mm end.


At 85mm slightly noticeable light fall-off that vanishes with post-precessing and vignette correction.

  • Weight approx. 485 g / 17.1 oz

The second disadvantage in my book: it is heavier than the kit lens. I do think however that it is a good trade for a wider range, better build and overall good image quality.



All in all this is a very well-rounded lens. It is said to be one of the best standard zooms available for Nikon crop cameras. It is definitely a better performer than the basic kit lens in every sense. I never had any complaints. I’m keeping it around until it’s time to switch for Fx.

Other photos:

05-29-2014_Nikon 16-85 lens-008 05-29-2014_Nikon 16-85 lens-048  05-29-2014_Nikon 16-85 lens-055

See you soon!


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