stillshooter's reviews

  • Nikon 16-80mm f/2.8-4E ED VR DX AF-S Nikkor

    8 out of 10 points and recommended
    Clearly sharper than the older 16-85mm DX lens, even when stopped down less; increased brightness means more "keepers" in difficult light; in-camera processing effectively removes distortion in JPEGs; no heavier than 16-85 lens
    Overpriced; stiff zoom ring; bokeh somewhat jittery (but to be expected in this type of lens); coma can be a problem

    I recently had a chance to rent Nikon's 16-80mm DX lens for several days, specifically to see whether it was worth upgrading from the old 16-85mm DX lens which I've used for a couple of years. The testing procedure was simple - I shot plenty of London landmarks and other spots familiar to me, most of which I had already photographed with my lens.

    The more considered reviews I've seen of the 16-80mm lens usually conclude that it clearly outperforms its older sibling, but is also overpriced for the improvement you get. Frankly, that is pretty much what I found too, and yet, I was more impressed with the 16-80 lens than I expected to be. It is often obviously sharper than the 16-85, across most of the frame, and it achieves that even at wider apertures - so if the 16-85 lens performs best at f/8 for a certain focal length, the 16-80 is likely to at least match it at f/5.6 or f/6.3. The additional light was far more useful than I expected when shooting handheld indoors and at night, giving me far fewer flawed shots. Distortion is bound to be there for this zoom range, but isn't an issue if you shoot JPEGs with distortion control turned on. Zooms tend to be weaker at the telephoto end of their range, although I didn't see a significant drop in performance with this lens.

    Occasionally the lens didn't perform so well with daytime landscapes, but I think that's down to small inaccuracies in Nikon's AF, which I also get with the 16-85 lens when shooting stuff at infinity. That aside, the 16-80 lens does have other shortcomings, some shared with its older sibling. For starters, the bokeh has a jittery, double-edged quality, although the 16-80 lens is smoother. Coma is sometimes visible with both lenses; for example if shooting a cityscape at night, lights atop buildings will be somewhat smeared away from the frame centre. Also, the copy of the lens I rented had a surprisingly stiff zoom ring despite being apparently in mint condition, which made me wonder if this was typical or not.

    With 24-megapixel DX sensors now the default, the older 16-85mm design can barely keep up. That in itself makes the 16-80mm lens almost an essential buy if this versatile zoom range is what you want; it still falls short of really doing justice to the sensor and won't outperform a good prime lens, but it can deliver some surprisingly good results. At 2018 prices, however, it still looks expensive for what it is, and in my view Nikon ought to discontinue the 16-85mm lens and bring the price of the 16-80 down by at least a third. If that doesn't happen, the 16-80 is still eminently worthwhile if you can grab a cashback deal or find it secondhand - which is what I'm hoping to do eventually.

    reviewed April 14th, 2018