Often it is stated that fixed focal length lenses perform better than zoom lenses. The Nikon 16-35 mm f/4G ED VR II AF-S Nikkor, since the beginning of 2010 for sale, proves this is not an ubiquitous rule. Many people wonder whether there will be lenses good enough for a 36 megapixel camera. This review of the Nikon 16-35 mm in combination with the Nikon D800E shows there are.
The Nikon 16-35 mm has a focal length range from a real wide angle, almost up to standard (35 mm). It is therefore an excellent choice for landscape photography. At 16 mm there is visible vignetting and distortion. Both can be corrected with a standard correction profile in Lightroom, as you can see in the image above. The correction of vignetting can be seen in the left upper corner. In the Nikon D800E review you will find a larger version of this image.
Nikon 16-35mm f/4G ED VR II AF-S, 16mm f/8
Construction and autofocus
This lens is very well built and feels comfortable in use. Auto-focus is fast and reliable. Hunting at low light is no problem with the Nikon 16-35 mm VR II, partly due to the improved sensitivity of the Nikon D800E AF-sensor. Sn advantage over the Nikon 14-24 mm is that the Nikon 16-35 mm can be used in combination with filters.
We tested image stabilization at a focal length of 35 mm. Vibration reduction yields a gain of 1 to 2 stops.
This lens seems much more compact than the Canon 16-35 mm II, but if you put them side by side they are almost equally long. Wide open you might encounter vignetting at all focal length, when using the Nikon 16-35 mm VR II. At a focal length of 16 mm this also counts for aperture 5.6.
Especially at a focal length of 16 mm the Nikon 16-35 mm VR II shows visible distortion. Distortion at 16 mm is one of the very few disadvantages of this lens. Distortion can easily be corrected using Capture NX or Lightroom. At a focal length of more than 21 mm the Nikon 16-35 mm VR II is distortion free.
The sharpness of the Nikon 16-35 mm is superior, even to the Nikon 35 mm 1.4G which we tested last week. But if you consider bokeh, the Nikon 35 mm 1.4G is much better than the Nikon 16-35 mm.
In situations where there are many light points, such as in this picture where the sun reflected by every leaf in the distance acts as a light source, you may observe bokeh rings.
Despite a relative complex design, with 16 lenses in 12 groups, the Nikon 16-35 mm VR II didn't show any ghosting or flare in our pictures taken during the day.
But during the tests at night we did encounter flare. The night picture at the top of this page shows some flare, aperture ring ghosts and a green flash caused by street lights. Move your mouse over the image to the right for another example.
Combined with the Nikon D800E the Nikon 16-35 mm VR II yields very sharp images. The resolution of jpg files taken at a focal length of 16 mm, 21 mm and 24 mm yield sharper images than what you can obtain with a Canon 16-35 mm II zoom lens in combination with a Canon 5D MK2. Relatively, the sharpness of the Nikon 16-35 mm VR II is lowest at 35 mm. Our Imatest measurements show that the resolution in the outer corners at f\4 is less than in the center of the image. But this difference will not be seen with the naked eye.
Using the Nikon D800E we didn't encounter an option to correct for chromatic aberration. And we didn't miss it. Chromatic aberration is low at all focal lengths, which is remarkable for a wide-angle zoom lens.
Conclusion Nikon 16-35mm f/4G ED VR II AF-S review
WYSIWYG score: This table shows the performance of this lens when you store the files in the camera as jpg, with all available in-camera lens corrections applied. This score gives you for this lens/test camera combination: "What you see is what you get".
Very high optical performance
Built in VR
High price and f/4
Distortion at 16 to 21 mm
This Nikon 16-35 mm VR II review, using a Nikon D800E, shows that zoom lenses exist that will beat fixed focal length lenses when you consider optical performance. The Nikon 16-35 mm VR belongs to the best lenses we have tested so far. In our eyes the cons of this lens weigh much less than the pros. Those who can afford a Nikon 16035 mm 4G VR II (and a Nikon D800E) will have a lot of fun from their purchase.