In this review we going to be looking at one of those ‘oldies, but goodies’ type of lenses. The Nikon AF-S NIKKOR 16-35mm f/4G ED VR was released back in 2010 as a pro grade wide-angle zoom, with the benefit of vibration reduction (VR) technology. It’s equally capable on both the FX and DX platforms, with an equivalent focal length of 24-52mm on a DX camera.
The main benefit to lenses such as the 16-35mm is that once they are established as a high-quality workhorse, they don’t go out of fashion. Brand-new or 10 years old, they still deliver the goods. Arguably, as higher resolution cameras emerge, more resolution can be pulled from the optics. Therefore, let’s have a closer look at the 16-35mm and see if it can still compete in today’s landscape.
The design of the Nikon AF-S NIKKOR 16-35mm f/4G ED VR will be immediately familiar to existing Nikon users. The prominent gold lettering and thin gold line around the lens barrel stand out from the crowd. The lens was also the first wide-angle zoom to feature vibration reduction and coupled with the AF-S silent-wave focus motor, it was made for ultra-low shutter speeds.
The lens barrel itself is mainly made from high-quality plastics, with weatherproofing to protect against moisture and dust. At the top of the lens sits the 77mm filter thread, with the common distance scale right below. The focus ring comes next, being very easy to reach and turn, with the zoom ring next in line, only needing a half turn to go through the full focal range. There are also two switches on the lens barrel, one for swapping between manual and auto focus and the other for turning VR off and on.
Inside the lens are 17 elements arranged in 12 groups, three of these being aspherical elements, along with two extra-low dispersion elements. A Nano Crystal Coat has also been applied to reduce the effects of ghosting and flaring. There are also nine rounded diaphragm blades, which in theory should produce excellent bokeh effects, if so needed.
Lastly, the lens is supplied with a shallow HB-23 lens hood, which is petal shaped.
The Nikon AF-S NIKKOR 16-35mm f/4G ED VR In Use
It’s immediately apparent that the SWM (Silent Wave Motor) can snap into focus extremely quickly, and is also very quiet. Even in very low light conditions and a mildly increased ISO range means the f/4.0 aperture is no hindrance when the light conditions drop.
Sharpness levels are usually the first interest area with a lens and while the NIKKOR 16-35mm f/4G ED VR is extremely sharp, it does lack in some areas. Edge softness is apparent at 16mm and f/4, but hits its stride when stopped down to f/5.6. In between the focal range at 24mm, the results are broadly the same, with the sharpest images coming in at f/5.6. The same results occur at 35mm, with f/5.6-f/8 being the sweet spot. The 24mm focal length produces the best results at f/4, with a definite tail off at 35mm in the corners.
Although vibration reduction isn’t a necessity on an ultra-wide zoom, Nikon sets the standard here. The 2.5 stops of compensation may be low by today’s standards, but in the field, being able to shoot at shutter speeds of half a second is very beneficial. Handheld shots at night are easy to achieve, making this lens an excellent choice for low-light shooting.
As this lens has a nine-blade diaphragm, it’s worth checking out the bokeh effect, even though it’s not usually the forte of a wide-angle zoom. At f/4 and 35mm, the out of focus areas are pleasing, which means the facility is there if you need it.
As for other lens anomalies, there is clearly evidence of light falloff in the corners when the aperture is set to f/4 at 16mm. The effect gradually reduces when stopping down and by f/8 is virtually non-existent. Any residue can be easily removed in post-processing. Ghosting and flaring are kept well in check, thanks to the Nano Coating, without any streaks of light spoiling the images. Thus, no complaints here.
As expected with a very wide-angle lens, there is barrel distortion at 16mm, but gradually reduces when the lens hits 35mm. A good lens profile in the likes of Lightroom can easily sort out the problems here. Chromatic aberration, although generally low, can be seen the most at 16mm, and becomes virtually non-existent by 35mm.
There is no doubt this lens can produce excellent images. If delivers lots of clarity and detail, especially in the center of the frame and the extra low-light capabilities gained from the VR system means this lens is a great all-rounder.
How Does It Compare?
Nikon has a few lens offerings, which cover similar focal lengths, but also at different price points. The Nikon 14-24mm f/2.8G ED is a more expensive lens and as you would expect is a better performer when wide open. This is true up to f/8, where both lenses display similar results. That means for things like landscape shots, the 16-35mm is a more cost-effective solution if you’re operating the most in the middle of the aperture range.
There are of course third-party offerings from the likes of Tamron and Tokina which provide value for money. However, they don’t have the same quality of optics as the Nikon 16-35mm f/4G ED VR.
|Nikon AF-S NIKKOR 16-35mm f/4G ED VR||Nikon AF-S NIKKOR 14-24mm f/2.8G ED|
|Optics||17 elements/12 groups||14 elements/11 group|
|Diaphragm blades||9 rounded||9 rounded|
Although this lens is a decade old, it still keeps up with its more expensive siblings. Center sharpness is impressive and once stopped down, edges of the frame quickly catch up. The VR system allows extremely low shutter speeds, which extends the scope of the lens above other wide-angle zooms.
The NIKKOR 16-35mm f/4G ED VR may not be the best performer at 35mm, displaying soft edges and noticeable vignetting, but again, stopping down relieves some of the symptoms. Ironing out these problems would have probably put it the price bracket of the 14-24mm f/2.8G, but overall this lens is still a cut above the rest, especially from f/5.6-f/8. If you need a wide-angle zoom with exceptional optical quality, then you should definitely shortlist the Nikon AF-S NIKKOR 16-35mm f/4G ED VR.