Nikon 16-35mm f/4 VR
Nikon 16-35mm f/4 AF-S VR G ED IF N Aspherical (77mm filters, 23.9 oz./678g, 1'/0.29m close focus, about $1,257). enlarge. This site's biggest source of support is when you use these links, especially to it at Adorama, where I got mine, or to it at Amazon, when you get anything, regardless of the country in which you live. Thank you! Ken.
Sample image: California State Capitol Dome, Sacramento. Nikon 16-35 VR set to 16mm, f/4 at 1/15 at ISO 200 on FX hand-held. Full-resolution image.
More Sample Images
Yosemite October 2011
California's North Coast August 2010
California's Central Coast June 2010
Part of the Nikon FX Dream Team
As the world's sharpest ultrawide zoom, it's the best Nikon wide-angle lens ever for most shooting.
For subjects that hold still, shooting this 16-35mm at f/4 with VR hand-held gives much sharper images than shooting a faster lens at a wider aperture, because more is in focus at f/4 than at f/2.8 or f/1.4.
I have no problem shooting this lens hand-held in the darkest light outdoors on digital, and therefore prefer it over the 24mm f/1.4 AF-S G, whose larger apertures get less in focus. With digital, no one really needs f/1.4 except for action, making this 16-35mm perfect for almost everything.
Not for low-light action shots, where VR can't help you. In very dim light with moving subjects, get the 24mm f/1.4 AF-S G instead.
Don't even think about this lens for use on DX. Yes, it works great, but you're throwing away most of the performance for which you paid and carrying way too much weight for what you're getting on DX. For use on DX, use a DX lens like the 18-55mm VR, 16-85mm VR, 17-55mm f/2.8 or 10-24mm are much better ideas.
The Nikon 16-35mm VR is the sharpest ultrawide zoom I've ever used. Under test conditions, it's even slightly sharper than the old king, the beastly Nikon 14-24mm.
This Nikon 16-35mm is so good that there isn't much to write about. It's ultra-sharp, it has no significant light falloff in the corners, distortion is reasonable from 20-35mm, focus and zooming are easy and perfect, and it focuses to within just inches in front of the lens.
The 16-35mm's weakest points are its heinous, but easy-to-correct, distortion at 16mm, and it's giant size; five inches (125mm) long. Nikon's first ultrawide zoom, the 20-35mm f/2.8 AF-D (1993-2001), is a stop faster, built pro-tough (unlike this 16-35mm), and is still smaller and lighter, but the 20-35mm has nowhere near the optical performance of this new 16-35mm f/4.
The 16-35mm VR is also Nikon's widest FX lens ever that works with front-mounted filters. The older 15mm f/3.5, 15mm f/5.6, 14mm f/2.8 AF-D and 13mm f/5.6 had such bulbous fronts that no filter could cover them. The front element of this Nikon 16-35mm lens is tiny by comparison.
This new 16-35mm is a huge step up from the 14-24mm because it's much smaller and lighter, has a much more useful zoom range, takes filters both for protection and for use with RealRaw, and is even a little sharper. There's no question that it's time to sell your 14-24mm and get this smaller, lighter and far more practical 16-35mm instead.
VR isn't a big deal. It only gets a stop or two of improvement for hand-held low-light shots of still subjects, which makes it about even with an f/2.8 lens. I do prefer shooting at f/4 with VR over f/2.8 without VR for depth-of-field, but for low light wide angle shots, nothing today compares with the new Nikon 24mm f/1.4 AF-S.
Compared to the hard-to-get professional 17-35mm f/2.8, this 16-35mm VR is $500 less expensive and otherwise similar in size and weight. This 16-35mm VR is however a little lighter, a little longer, and it's sharper if you're picky.
This 16-35mm f/4 VR just became my top recommendation for an FX ultrawide zoom.
It's a waste to use it on DX, since you're not using most of the lens — just the central part — on DX, but still having to pay for it and carry it around. It works fine on DX, just not an efficient use of the lens or your money. On DX, this is just a slow normal zoom, not a wide-angle lens.
The incompatibilities for older or cheaper film cameras are that:
1.) It won't autofocus with the cheapest AF film cameras like the N55, but if you focus manually, everything else works great. Even if you lose autofocus, these cameras have in-finder focus confirmation dots to help you.
2.) Late 1980s ~ early 1990s AF cameras like the N90s, N70 and F4 will focus just fine, but you'll lose VR. You'll have Program and Shutter-priority modes, but lose Manual and Aperture-priority since you have no way to set the aperture on the camera or on the lens.
3.) You're really pushing it with the oldest AF cameras like the N2020, N6006 and N8008. You'll have no AF, confused exposure modes, and no VR. Manual focus is fine, along with electronic focus indications.
4.) Since it has no aperture ring, it's just about useless with manual focus film cameras.
See Nikon Lens Compatibility for details with your camera. Read down the "AF-S, AF-I," "G" and "VR" columns for this lens. You'll get the least of all the features displayed in all columns, since "G" (gelding) is a handicap which removes features.
Nikon 16-35mm VR. enlarge.
Nikon 16-35mm Alphabet Soup. enlarge.
Nikon AF-S NIKKOR 16-35mm f/4G ED VR N.
Nano Crystal Coat (N): Magic anti-reflection coating that has a variable index of refraction that's far more effective than multicoating.
AF-S and SWM: Silent Wave Autofocus Motor.
VR: Vibration Reduction.
ED: Magic ED Glass.
G: Gelded for cost-reduction and removing compatibility with older cameras.
IF: Internal focusing; nothing moves externally as focused.
Aspherical (ASPH): Specially curved glass to give even sharper pictures.
∅77: 77mm filter thread.
17 elements in 12 groups.
Two are of magic ED glass.
Three are aspherical.
Nano Crystal Coat is used on at least one surface, so ghosting should be minimal to nonexistent.
Focal LengthActual focal length: 16-35mm.
Equivalent on on FX and RealRaw: 16-35mm.
Equivalent on small-format DX: 24-50mm.
Angle of View
107° - 63° on FX and RealRaw.
83° - 44° on small-format DX.
Nikon 16-35mm VR at f/22. enlarge.
9 rounded blades.
Stops down to f/22.
Does not move or rotate.
1 foot (0.29m), specified, from the image plane. I measure about 11" (280mm).
The image plane is at the back of your camera. You can focus much closer to the front of the lens.
Close focus is 11 or 12 inches from the image plane, however, the 16-35mm is five inches (125mm) long and your camera is typically 2 inches (50mm) deep, this means that close focus is just a few inches in front of your lens!
I can focus up to just 4 inches (100mm) from the front of the lens. If I used the included lens hood, there would be even less space between that hood and the closest subject on which I could focus.
Maximum Reproduction Ratio
Hard Infinity Focus Stop?
Infra-Red Focus Index
Vibration Reduction (VR)
Trade name "VR II."
Marked on lens: "VR."
Claimed improvement: "up to 4 stops."
Actual improvement: one or two stops.
HB-23 plastic bayonet hood, included.
CL-1120 pouch, included.
A tube sock works better.
3.25" diameter x 4.92" extension from flange.
82.5 mm diameter x 125 mm extension from flange.
23.912 oz. (677.9g), measured.
24.0 oz. (680g), rated.
Front and rear caps (LC-77 and LF-1)
HB-23 plastic bayonet hood.
Nikon Product Number
Japan, at least the early sample seen here.
Nikon sometimes moves production to Thailand (18-200mm) or China (50mm) as a lens gets older.
09 February 2010.
Since March 2010.
$1,257, April 2014.
$957, February 2014.
$1,140, August -November 2011.
$1,109, November 2010.
$1,110, August 2010.
$1,160, July 2010.
$1,200, June 2010.
$1,250, April 2010.
$1,260, March 2010.
Top holds a cardboard insert with the hood and lens pouch.
Bottom 2/3 of box holds lens between two white foam holders.
Paperwork slid in along the side.
Box, Nikon 16-35mm VR. enlarge.
Performance is superb.
Focus is always fast and sure.
Typical for Nikon, every shot is right-on.
There are no surprises here.
It's trivial to go from auto to manual focus: just grab the focus ring for manual, and tap the shutter again to get back to auto.
The focus ring only turns if you turn it.
M/A - M Switch
Nikon goofed. This switch should be labeled "A - M."
The "M/A" position means autofocus. It's called "M/A" because you also can focus manually simply by grabbing the focus ring in this position.
Paint over the extra M if you're easily confused.
Focus holds while zooming.
The sample of lens I use is well enough constructed that you can zoom after focusing, and it stays in focus.
It doesn't drift as zoomed.
With a lens this wide and slow, almost nothing is out of focus.
If you can get a background out of focus, bokeh (the softness of the out-of-focus area) is excellent. Backgrounds never distract.
Distortion (curving of straight lines) is heinous at 16mm.
In fact, the Nikon 16-35mm f/4 VR, when set to 16mm, is the most distorting lens I have every used, short of a deliberate fisheye. The distortion goes away at other zoom settings.
Thankfully the distortion is simple and very easy to correct in Photoshop's lens distortion filter, so no big deal.
This distortion is usually completely invisible. If you're the sort of Poindexter who spends more time trolling the Internet looking for flaws than shooting, this lens will keep you busy whining for some time.
Here's how invisible it usually is:
Since no lines run parallel to the edges of the frame and are close to the edges, there's nothing distorted.
OC Swap Meet at 16mm. bigger.
In this shot of a fence, few if any of the lines are parallel to, or near, the edges, so again, distortion is largely invisible.
If I shoot something with a straight line parallel and near an edge, it can look as bad as this:
Cage Nest at 16mm. bigger.
See the curving of the line along the top and the crack in the stick-on vinyl tiles below? That's how the distortion looks, worst case.
Plug +8 into Photoshop's lens distortion filter, and bingo, problem goes away:
Cage Nest at 16mm. bigger.
Not bad at all, considering it's shot wide-open at f/4.
Plug these figures into Photoshop's lens distortion filter to correct the distortion. These aren't facts or specifications, they are the results of my research.
© 2010 KenRockwell.com
* Some waviness remains.
Here are snaps of the horizon at Corallina Cove, 18 June 2010, 3PM, on FX full-frame:
Here are brick walls for you Poindexters, also shot on full-frame. I moved away as I zoomed-in to keep the bricks about the same size, and shot this freehand as the wife and baby kept on moving at the swap meet:
Nikon 16-35mm VR. enlarge.
Ergonomics are excellent, except that it's too long (5" or 125mm) and too heavy.
It's so long that it's always banging into things. I need to treat this lens as if it's a telephoto.
Falloff is negligible. It's invisible, even at its worst, in actual photography.
I can greatly exaggerate it by shooting flat fields and then reproducing them here against another flat field, and falloff is still minor.
The filter ring never moves or rotates.
There is no problem with vignetting, even with a thick rotating filter like a grad.
On FX, you're only almost starting to get the tiniest bit of vignetting with a rotating 7mm-thick (excluding male threads) filter at 16mm.
If you stack a colored filter and a rotating filter, like an 85C and a grad for a total thickness of 12mm (excluding male threads), you'll get vignetting on FX at 21mm or shorter. Shoot from 22mm through 35mm and you're fine.
Don't use polarizers at the wide end. You won't get vignetting, but you will get weird bands across the sky caused by the sky's varying angles of polarization. This is a fact of nature that is exaggerated by a wide lens and a polarizer.
If you use a polarizer, keep it at the 35mm end of the zoom range.
Bigger flashes should cause no problem, and built-in flashes should be worse.
Used indoors, I get swell coverage with the SB-400. Even though I'd get light falloff is shooting directly at walls, I don't do that. When I shoot with a wide lens indoors, the walls, floor and ceiling are much closer to me at the sides of the image, and the light falloff from the flash thus corrects itself.
I couldn't get any flare or ghosts shooting into the sun. Nikon has this down, even if I used a Hoya Super HMC filter over the lens.
There are no lateral color fringes on the D3, which would correct them if the lens had any.
Rockwell's watch on FX. This would be even tighter on a DX camera.
It gets to one-quarter life-size, on-sensor, which is this close on FX.
It's a wide lens, which is funny because its making my watch look bigger (closer) and my wrists look smaller (father away).
Nikon 16-35mm VR. enlarge.
I'm not reading this off the internet; I'm looking at all of these lenses sitting right here in front of me.
Nikon has claimed that the 16-35mm has a magnesium alloy barrel, but Nikon's PR is either mistaken, or referring to the interior, not exterior, barrel.
Either I have a special one-of-a-kind collectable plastic version, or they all have plastic exteriors.
The interior is a different matter, and there seems to be plenty of metal inside, but not on the outside. You folks shooting outdoors in Norway should appreciate this.
My only whine about plastic is that the markings eventually wear off. Plastic weighs less than metal, so plastic on the outside is good. Plastic bounces when dropped; it doesn't stay bent and bung up the action. Filter threads are better in metal (they are plastic on the 16-35mm), but otherwise, plastic outer cases are fine in my book.
Good lenses, like manual-focus lenses, have only one barrel, but AF lenses have inner and outer barrels. The outside of a modern AF lens is just a dust jacket and rarely structural.
If you want your gear built like a tank, shoot the D3X, the 17-35mm f/2.8 AF-S, the 24-70mm f/2.8 AFS, the 50mm f/1.2 AI-s and the 70-200mm f/2.8 VR II. The less expensive gear is made of plastic because it weighs less and saves money. If you want tough, Nikon still delivers in its pro gear.
The outside is entirely plastic. It's exterior isn't professional metal, like the 17-35mm f/2.8 AF-S and 24-70mm AF-S. It is solid plastic; I have no complaints, and plastic is a blessing in freezing weather.
Plastic; rubber covered.
Internals and zoom cams
Embossed and planed metal.
Laser engraved onto bottom rear of barrel, near mount.
US versions delineated by
"US" prefix to serial number.
Rain seal at mount
Noises When Shaken
Moderate klunking from the optics wiggling around.
None observed; a tough lens albeit with a plastic skin.
To my pleasant surprise, this Nikon 16-35mm VR is the sharpest wide zoom I've ever used, from anyone. It is sharper than the former world standard, the old 14-24mm AFS from 2007.
If you're counting pixels, this new 16-35mm VR is significantly sharper on digital than any of the older 18-35mm, 20-35mm f/2.8 or 17-35mm f/2.8 AF-S. The improvement over the 14-24mm is subtle; the 14-24mm is also a very sharp lens.
Somehow, Nikon has found the secret sauce to be able to design and manufacture the world's first two ultra-wide zooms, the 14-24mm and this 16-35mm, that are actually sharp over the entire image area at every setting.
When looking at the original file for the snap above, recognize that depth-of field at f/4 and the camera's noise reduction at ISO 1,100 is what's limiting sharpness, not the lens. My D3, just like a drunk driver, focused on the pole in the middle, so most of the background isn't in focus.
The top and bottom left corners of the original file might look a little softer at 100%, but remember that these parts of the subject are closer and not in focus at f/4 as shot. Don't let the huge depth of field at f/4 and 16mm make you expect that everything is in focus, even at huge enlargements.
Except for the 14-24mm, there is no other Nikon ultrawide lens that can make images this sharp and contrasty wide-open, all the way out to the corners.
The worst I can say is that the far corners in FX get slightly less contrasty at f/4 compared to other apertures, but even that is minor. Even at f/4, it's as sharp as it can get.
If you're just taking great pictures, the sharpness difference doesn't matter, and you should be guided by size, weight and price, at which point, the 18-35mm is about as good at half the price with half the weight.
Since this new 16-35mm f/4 VR is slightly sharper than the huge 14-24mm f/2.8, it's tIme to sell the 14-24mm and buy the 16-35mm f/4, and pocket the difference before used values of the 14-24mm fall.
With its 9-bladed diaphragm, this 16-35mm makes subtly magnificent 18-pointed sunstars on bright points of light.
Since it's using rounded instead of straight blades it's usually very subtle.
The 16-35mm actually stops down its diaphragm at f/4 at 16mm, so if you look at this original file, you can see the stars on some of the brightest points of light, even at f/4.
The Nikon 16-35mm is pretty tough.
Nothing moves externally.
The optics slide around inside the outer barrel as zoomed. If you take a hit on the front of the lens barrel, the impact is transmitted through the barrel around the delicate internal parts.
With a filter on the front, I don't know that it sucks in much air as zoomed, so it ought to stay relatively clean inside as the years progress.
Vibration Reduction (VR or Image stabilization) top
Turn VR off in daylight, since it increases shutter delay.
Read Why IS Is Important to understand more about what these ratings mean.
Percent perfectly sharp shots, Nikon D3 with VR OFF
Percent perfectly sharp shots, Nikon D3 with VR ON
Let's chart the slowest speed at which I get 50% of my shots perfectly sharp at each focal length, and with that, we can calculate how many stops we gain with VR.
"Real Stops Improvement" are how many extra stops I got, IS ON compared to IS OFF.
"Marketing Stops Improvement" isn't comparing the speed I can use from IS OFF to IS ON, but instead comparing the speed one can use with IS ON to the old-wives-tale speed of 1/focal length. That's called Lying with Statistics.
It's easy to get sharp shots at 1/4 to 1/2 second at every focal length with VR ON, but then again, I get the same results at 1/5 - 1/15 with no VR.
The benefit of VR is only visible between 1/8 and 1 second, which is very useful for dim light. In dim light, getting an average of 1-2/3 stops of VR benefit in exchange for 1 stop lost compared to an f/2.8 lens is a winner for still subjects, since not only am I 2/3 stop ahead, the smaller aperture gives more depth-of-field as well.
Zoom Ring, Nikon 16-35mm.
Zooming is perfect.
The focal lengths have perfect semi-logarithmic spacing, and the ring feels great. This means it's easy to select the perfect setting.
The zoom cams appear to be metal.
Focus doesn't shift as zoomed. It stays as set.
Nikon Ultrawide Zooms Compared 08 March 2010
Sharpness Comparison to all other 18mm lenses 11 August 2010
Sharpness Comparison to all other 20mm lenses September 2010
Sharpness Comparison to all other 24mm lenses August 2010
Nikon 17-55mm DX vs. 16-35mm VR
One must read my words precisely. The 16-35 really is the world's sharpest ultrawide zoom, but as you need to know, "ultrawide" and "zoom" are each weasel words that exclude other lenses from the comparison. If you remove the word "ultrawide," the world's sharpest zoom is the Canon 70-200mm f/4 L IS. If you remove "zoom" but leave in "ultrawide," the world's sharpest ultrawide lens for 24x36mm format is the LEICA ELMARIT-M 21mm f/2.8 ASPH. If you remove the word "zoom" and "ultrawide" the LEICA APO-SUMMICRON-M 90mm f/2 ASPH is the world's sharpest 24x 36mm format lens. Of course large-format (4x5") lenses are even sharper. As everyone in marketing, but few members of the public know, weasel words are everything. The worst is when car companies claim a car is the best "in its class," and never bother to tell you that they defined their own class which only includes cars worse than theirs.
In this case, the 17-55mm is not an ultrawide, and it's as sharp as the 16-35mm on DX cameras. Sharpness isn't the issue here. Ultrawide zooms are the most difficult lenses to make, and therefore they are softer in the corners than any other photographic lens.
When used on DX, these expensive full-frame ultrawides simply become midrange zooms. On DX, we need to compare these to other DX midrange zooms. When we compare full-frame ultrawides to DX midrange lenses, the full-frame ultrawides are much bigger, heavier and more expensive because they have to cover a larger format, and they have more restricted zoom ranges. They aren't any sharper, in fact, they probably are less sharp than the dedicated DX lenses.
I never, ever suggest using full-frame wide lenses on DX cameras. This is why Nikon invented DX lenses: for better optical, size, weight and price performance on the smaller formats.
Bottom, Nikon 16-35 VR.
If you shoot FX, or RealRaw on a modern camera, get one of these 16-35mm lenses today.
Turn VR off in daylight, since it increases shutter delay.
If distortion bothers you, avoid the 16mm setting, or simply correct it in Photoshop.
Skip this 16-35mm for DX; the 18-55mm VR DX does pretty much the same thing for a lot less money, size and weight. The 10-24mm DX also does the same thing, but better, also for less money, on DX. For use on DX, the 18-55mm VR, 16-85mm VR, 17-55mm f/2.8 or 10-24mm are much better ideas. Yes, this 16-35mm is the world's sharpest ultrawide zoom, but the other DX zooms are juat as sharp. Ultrawide is used as a weasel word; ultrawide lenses are never as sharp as normal lenses, and on DX, the 16-35 is merely a normal zoom.
If you already own the professional 17-35mm f/2.8, don't get too excited about this 16-35mm. This 16-35mm is sharper and lighter weight, but built to an amateur level mechanically and a stop slower. It's a toss-up.
If you're a cheapskate and/or appreciate professional build quality, the 20-35mm f/2.8 AF-D does the same thing, with smaller size, less weight and it's built to professional levels. The 20-35mm skips the alphabet BS convenience features like VR, AFS and stupid-wide 16mm to deliver pro-quality optics in a pro-built lens for half the price (used).
This said, for most of us reading this, this 16-35mm is the sharpest and best-handling ultrawide zoom ever made. Get the 17-55mm f/2.8 if you need solid metal or f/2.8, otherwise, I'm going to grab this 16-35mm long before I'd use the heavier 17-35mm again.
The huge 14-24mm is a special-purpose lens. I don't suggest it for general use; I suggest this 16-35mm.
I never use the hood.
If I was working in nasty, dirty areas, I'd forget the cap, and use an uncoated 77mm Tiffen UV filter instead. Uncoated filters are much easier to clean, but more prone to ghosting.
For color slides like Velvia 50, I use a 77mm Nikon A2 or 77mm Hoya HMC 81A outdoors.
Nikon, Japan's product information.
Nikon, Japan's press release.Nikon USA's product flyer.
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