AF-S Nikkor 16-35mm f/4G ED VR Lens

      Photo Review 8.5

      In summary

      Nikon’s first ultra wide-angle 16-35mm FX-format compatible zoom lens with built-in vibration reduction technology.The AF-S Nikkor 16-35mm f/4G ED VR lens provides a lower-priced (though still expensive) alternative to Nikon’s other wide zoom lenses, which are a full f-stop faster. Designed to meet the performance demands of the company’s FX sensor DSLRs, it is also fully compatible with DX-format cameras and has the distinction of being the first wide-zoom lens to include VR II vibration reduction technology. . . [more]

      Full review


      The AF-S Nikkor 16-35mm f/4G ED VR lens provides a lower-priced (though still expensive) alternative to Nikon’s other wide zoom lenses, which are a full f-stop faster. Designed to meet the performance demands of the company’s FX sensor DSLRs, it is also fully compatible with DX-format cameras and has the distinction of being the first wide-zoom lens to include VR II vibration reduction technology.

      Smaller and lighter than the AF-S Nikkor 14-24mm f/2.8G ED we reviewed in February 2009, it was a comfortable match for the Nikon D3s body we used for our tests and would be usable on Nikon’s D700 and larger DX models like the D300s. On DX bodies it covers a focal length range equivalent to 24-52.5mm.


      The AF-S Nikkor 16-35mm f/4G ED VR lens. (Source: Nikon.)
      The AF-S Nikkor 16-35mm f/4G ED VR shares many characteristics with Canon’s Canon EF 17-40mm f/4L USM wide-angle zoom lens, which was released in May 2003 (but which we haven’t reviewed). Both lenses have dust- and moisture-resistant sealing and provide similar functionality, as shown in the table below.


      AF-S Nikkor 16-35mm f/4G ED VR

      Canon EF 17-40mm f/4L USM

      Picture angle (full frame)

      107 to 63 degrees

      104 to 57 degrees 30 minutes

      Picture angle (APS-C)

      83 to 44 degrees

      74 to 34 degrees (37-64mm equivalent)

      Aperture range

      f/4 to f/22

      f/4 to f/22

      Optical construction

      17 elements/12 groups

      12 elements in 9 groups

      Special elements

      2 ED glass elements, 3 aspherical lenses and Nano Crystal Coat

      3 aspherical elements, Super UD (Ultra-low Dispersion) glass, Super Spectra Coating


      VR II vibration reduction


      Focus drive

      Silent Wave Motor (SWM)

      Ring USM

      Minimum focus

      28 cm

      28 cm

      Maximum magnification



      Diaphragm blades

      9 (rounded)

      7 (rounded)

      Filter size

      77 mm

      77 mm

      Dimensions (Diameter x L)

      82.5 x 125 mm

      83.5 x 96.8mm


      680 grams

      475 grams




      However, the Canon lens is not stabilised, whereas the Nikon alternative is. The addition of the additional stabilisation elements increases the length and weight of the Nikkor lens – and raises its price tag. For these penalties you get up to four f-stops of shutter speed advantage (according to Nikon), which many photographers will find useful when shooting in low light levels.

      Being a G-series lens, this lens has no aperture ring. This means it won’t work on manual focus cameras because there’s no way to set the aperture. However, G lenses are fully compatible with all current AF Nikon camera bodies, including DSLRs.

      The new lens has been totally redesigned and contains 17 elements in 12 groups. It includes two ED (Extra-low Dispersion) glass elements, three aspherical glass elements to minimise distortion and aberration plus Nikon’s Nano Crystal coatings to subdue internal reflections, thereby reducing the risk of flare and ghosting. The diagram below shows the location of the special lens elements.


      Optical diagram showing the position of the exotic glass elements. (Source: Nikon.)
      The lens hood for the AF-S Nikkor 16-35mm f/4G ED VR is designed to meet the requirements of FX sensors, which means it’s a tad small to be fully effective on APS-C sensor DSLRs. However, you can fit a polariser when the lens hood is in place, regardless of the sensor size.
      Build and Handling
      As with most Nikkor lenses, built quality is very good and the new lens boasts a magnesium alloy chassis that’s tough without being overly heavy. This lens also includes weather-resistant sealing, making it suitable for adventurous photo enthusiasts and professional photographers who aren’t driven by aperture speed. It comes with the bayonet-mounted HB-23 lens hood and a soft carrying pouch.

      Without its end caps, the lens measures 125 mm in length (excluding the lens hood) and has a diameter of 82.5 mm. IF (Internal Focusing) focuses images by moving internal elements without changing the length of lens barrel or rotating the front element.

      The focusing ring, which is just under 24 mm wide, lies 30 mm behind the lens hood. In front of it is a recessed distance scale with four settings in metres and feet, ranging from 0.28 metres to infinity. The focusing ring rotates through a quarter of a turn as you scan through this range. Behind the focusing ring on the lens barrel are two slider switches. The top one is the focus mode switch, while the lower one switches the VR II stabilisation on and off.

      The zoom ring, which is approximately 28mm wide, is close to the camera body. Engraved on its trailing edge are marks indicating the 16mm, 20mm, 24mm, 28mm and 35mm focal length settings. These are lined up against a mark on the lens barrel.

      Both rings have ridged rubber coatings to provide a secure grip. The ridges on the zoom ring are noticeably wider than those on the zoom ring and have two notches cut into each ridge for added grip security. The zoom ring moves through a quarter of a turn between the 16mm and 35mm positions. (The f/4 maximum aperture is maintained throughout this range.)
      Thanks to the quiet operation of both the VR II system and Silent Wave Motor autofocusing system, the lens operates almost silently. Like other high-quality Nikkor lenses, two focus modes are supported: M/A (autofocus with manual override) and M (manual). No zoom lock is provided – and none is required.

      We found no tendency for the lens to extend when the camera was carried with the lens pointing downward and no unwanted changes in focal length as focus was adjusted. The markings on the lens barrel were also spot-on for each of the focal length settings.

      The review lens turned in an impressive performance in Photo Review’s Imatest tests, which showed consistently high resolution throughout the aperture and focal length range. The highest resolution figures came from the 28mm focal length, while the 16mm focal length gave the lowest figures, which were relatively low from f/4 to f/5, after which they rose to just below the figures for the other focal length settings.

      An outstanding feature of this lens is its flatness of field across its focal length and aperture ranges. Edge softening was minimal at all focal lengths and the losses in resolution due to diffraction from f/16 on were also small enough to be negligible. The graph below shows the results of our Imatest tests.


      Lateral chromatic aberration was consistently negligible through the test lens’s aperture and focal length ranges. In fact, at no time did we record a value of more than 0.027% of distance to corner – and the overwhelming majority of CA values were less than 0.01% of distance to corner in our Imatest tests. (0.04% of distance to corner marks the border between ‘negligible’ and ‘low’ CA.) No coloured fringing was observed in test shots taken in contrasty outdoor lighting.

      Barrel distortion was very noticeable at 16mm but gone by 20mm. Very slight pincushion distortion was found at 35mm but it probably wouldn’t trouble the majority of potential users. Examples are shown below.


      Barrel distortion at 16mm.


      Pincushion distortion at 35mm.

      Vignetting (edge and corner darkening) could be seen in open-aperture shots at all focal length settings. However, it wasn’t very obvious and was easily resolved by closing the aperture down a stop or two. Examples are shown below.


      Wide-aperture vignetting at 16mm.


      Wide-aperture vignetting at 20mm.


      Wide-aperture vignetting at 28mm.


      Wide-aperture vignetting at 35mm.

      Backlit subjects were handled very well, with no loss of contrast due to veiling flare and little tendency to produce diffraction artefacts. The image stabiliser enabled us to use shutter speeds as slow as 1/5 second with the 35mm focal length and obtain sharp images for more than 80% of shots. This comes close to confirming Nikon’s claim of four f-stops of shutter speed advantage.

      The close focusing limit of 28 cm makes this lens relatively unsuitable for close-up work and the wide angles of view aren’t ideal for portraiture – unless you’re shooting largish groups. And, even then, you’d need to watch out for unwanted distortions. This lens is much better suited to landscape and architectural photography and even photojournalism, where the stabilisation could be very handy.

      Buy this lens if:
      – You want an ultra-wide zoom lens for landscape or architectural photography.
      – You require professional performance and build quality at an affordable price.
      – You want high resolution at all focal lengths, along with good flatness of field.
      – You’d like built-in image stabilisation.
      – You’d like a lens that requires no readjustment when you fit polarisers and graduated filters.
      Don’t buy this lens if:
      – You need close focusing and macro capabilities.
      – You need a general-purpose lens that can handle a wide range of subject types.

      (based on JPEG files from the Nikon D3s)




      16mm focal length, ISO 100 (Lo 1), 1/200 second at f/14.


      20mm focal length, ISO 100 (Lo 1), 1/200 second at f/14.


      24mm focal length, ISO 100 (Lo 1), 1/200 second at f/14.


      28mm focal length, ISO 100 (Lo 1), 1/200 second at f/14.


      35mm focal length, ISO 100 (Lo 1), 1/200 second at f/14.


      Stabilisation test; 35mm focal length, ISO 800, 1/5 second at f/4.


      Backlighting; 20mm focal length, ISO 200, 1/320 second at f/16.


      16mm focal length, ISO 100 (Lo 1), 1/200 second at f/14.


      16mm focal length, ISO 100 (Lo 1), 1/320 second at f/9.


      16mm focal length, ISO 200, 1/125 second at f/11.


      16mm focal length, ISO 200, 1/1250 second at f/7.1.


      35mm focal length, ISO 200, 1/1250 second at f/7.1.


      35mm focal length, ISO 200, 1/500 second at f/7.1.
      (Additional sample images will be posted with the review of the Nikon D3s, which will appear on this website shortly.)




      Picture angle: 107 to 63 degrees with FX format; 83 to 44 degrees with DX format
      Maximum aperture: f/4
      Minimum aperture: f/22
      Lens construction: 17 elements/12 groups (2 ED glass elements, 3 aspherical lenses and Nano Crystal Coat)
      Lens mount: Nikon AF
      Diaphragm Blades: 9 (rounded)
      Focus drive: Silent Wave Motor (SWM)
      Minimum focus: 28 cm
      Maximum magnification: 0.25x
      Filter size: 77 mm
      Dimensions (Diameter x L): 82.5 x 125 mm
      Weight: 680 grams





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