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Review – Nikon 16-85 VR

    Ahhhh, the Nikon 16-85 VR, the workhorse of my DX kit! When I was looking for a good multi-purpose mid range zoom, it came down to this lens and the Nikon 18-200 VR. Because I tend to error on the wide side of things, I went with the 16-85. My reasoning was pretty simple. If I am carrying more than 1 lens (which I normally do in my go-lite DX everyday/travel kit), I would just slap on the 70-300 VR II for the occasional telephoto shot. If for some reason I was restricted to 1 lens, well….I figured I was being restricted because of weight and the 16-85 VR II is a bit smaller and lighter. Everyone is different, but for me, I wanted to the 2mm on the wide side. Needless to say, it has served me very well. Here are my findings after a spending some quality time with my trusty companion.

    I bought mine from B&H Photo Video. You can find the lens Nikon 16-85 VRhere.

    Things I Like:

    • Good range: You can compose everything from very tight wide-angle style portraits, to mid range landscapes, to some very reasonable compressed scenes (like the buildings below).
    • Great image quality: I think it is a pretty sharp, contrasty lens, with excellent colors. Again, I’m not a pixel peeper, so your results may vary. That is why I include some photos at the bottom of this page. Alll images were shot with the Nikon 16-85 VRII.
    • Size: This is a great take anywhere/travel lens. It is pretty inconspicous and can easily fit in most camera bags or backpacks. Heck, I have put mine in a Camelbak and went mountain biking with it. A very convenient lens!
    • Build: I think it is built pretty good. It’s not like Nikon’s 2.8 pro series lenses, but it sure built better than the old 70-300 G. I have worked in the rain with it, and it hasn’t missed a beat.
    • VR: VR stands for Vibration Reduction. You can turn it on or off. I turn it off when I am using a tripod. When it is on, it helps you get a better percentage of sharp shots by magically stabilizing the lens. This means you can use your camera in darker conditions without a flash. I don’t know how it works, but if I were to guess, I would bet a gyroscope is involved. Again, that is just a guess….
    • AFS: This is Nikon’s specialized focusing system. Basically, it means it is a pretty quick focusing lens that will work on all Nikon camera bodies because the focusing motor is in the lens. This technology makes it very quiet while focusing as well.
    • This lens, coupled with a telephoto and a nice low light prime, will provide you a very complete digital camera kit.

    Things To Note:

    • Again, this is a purely subjective decision. If you are looking for a good one lens solution, you might consider the 18-200 VR II. I haven’t used it, but I have heard great things about it.
    • This is DX Lens. That means on your DX, cropped sensor camera, the effective focal length is about 24mm-120mm if it were on a standard 35mm film camera.
    • Also, because it is a DX lens, it won’t perform at its best on an FX camera. For a comparable range on your FX camera, you might consider Nikon’s new 24-120mm f/4.
    • Because of its variable aperture, it doesn’t make the best portrait lens. For portraits, you want a larger aperture (smaller f stop number) so you can blur the background to emphasize your subject. You might want to consider pairing it with nice prime lens that has a smaller aperture. Maybe something around a f1.8 or f1.4. If you would like any recommendations, feel free to shoot me an email.

    Here are some of my favorite images that I made with my trusty Nikkor 16-85 VR II.

    On Otter's Wings


  1. Richard (Oldhickory) says:

    Hey Justin.. looking forward to seeing some shots from that trip.

    I’ve got the NIkon D90, the Nikon 10-24mm, and the 16-85mm. The 16-85 was the first one I got because it seemed to be a good compromise and I could only get one at the time. Looks like you’ve put it to good use. I tend to always have my 10-24mm on the camera. I like the wide stuff but I should get that 16-85 out more often. Thinking of getting the 35mm 1.8 for a little bokeh.

    • Thanks Hickory! Yep, I have worked it hard. Now, my wife is in love with it. She is shooting the D5000 with the 16-85 pretty much all the time. As you have seen, coming away with some great images.

      If you have seen my gear page, my main kit used to be the 300, 16-85, and the 35mm 1.8. My tokina covered the wide side. If I were you, and you were wanting bokeh, plus a bit of portrait capabilities…I would look at the 50mm 1.4. It is a bit more expensive though. The 35 1.8 is a very cool lens though. Super light, sharp, and fast. Here are some images I have made with it.

      I am really enjoying your work.

      Take care,


      • Richard (Oldhickory) says:

        Hey Justin… you mentioned the 50mm 1.4, but with my D90 won’t that give me the equivalent of 75mm because of the crop factor? I was thinking the 35mm, even though it’s a little slower would be closer to 50mm. But maybe I’m thinking about it wrong. Whether it’s necessarily 50mm or not maybe isn’t so important. The faster speed and lower light capabilities would give better results? I know the bokeh is better on the 50. And if I can finagle a full frame camera (thinking of the D700), then I’d be set with the 50mm.

        Am I making sense?? LOL

        Thanks for any input,


        • You are totally making sense. I mentioned the 50mm 1.4 for 2 reasons. 1) You already nailed it. If you are moving to FX, it is a very nice lens to have. 2) If you are looking for a good portrait lens it is perfect for the DX format. As you noted, 50mm with the crop factor is 75mm, which to me is a great focal length for portraits. However, if you aren’t shooting many portraits it might be a bit long. If you are planning a move to FX, try to get the lens used. That way you don’t lose any money when you have to sell it. Hopefully that made sense.

  2. Throw my two cents in here… If you want to save a few bucks, go with the 50mm 1.8D.. That lens is actuallry cheaper than the 35mm 1.8 (which I own) and will do a slightly better job at dropping the background which the 35mm doesn’t do super well anyway… Focal length and distance to subject are both factors that play into brokeh and usually easier to acheive with a longer ranged lens…

    Great review here on the 16-85, I just got mine a week ago and love it by the way…

    • Jon, you made a great point here. Focal length is a key factor with bokeh. I haven’t shot the 1.8, but I have the 85 1.8 and love it. Thanks for the input!

  3. Al Noorbee says:

    Justin, thanks for your Nikon 16-85 vr review as I am considering to purchase one. I am still a newbee in digital camera. Now I am looking for strong reasons to choose Nikon 16-85 over Nikon 18-200. I was even already in a camera store to purchase the Nikon 18-200 when another customer recommended the other one. After looking at your great pictures, I feel more confident to go back to the store to buy the Nikon 16-85. Is there any difference between Nikon 16-85 VR and VR II?

    • Howdy Al!

      That is a tough question for me to Answer. I have never shot the 18-200. I have heard good things about it, but I have also heard that it was a touch soft at the long end of the range. I have nothing to base that claim on, so take it for what it is. As for my decision, I normally shoot wider angles rather than longer focal lengths so the 16-85 won out there. Also, I had a 70-300 at the time so I felt I had the longer focal lengths covered if I was willing to change lenses. Also, it was a bit smaller than the 18-200. It was a very personal decision and will be different for everyone.

      As for the difference between the 18-200 VR I and II, from my understanding they only added a zoom lock so the lens wouldn’t creep. Don’t quote me on that, but I think that was all. I think I might have miss documented the 16-85, it appears it is only a VR I. It came our around the same time the II technology was released, but I guess they still called it a VR I. I will have to go back and correct the labeling.

      I’m not sure if that helps, but feel free to respond with any other questions.

      Good luck!


      • Al Noorbee says:

        Thanks for your quick response, Justin. You are right, the Nikon 18-200 VR II is the same lense with the predecessor with the addition of zoom lock to avoid lense creep. What I just learned about Nikon 18-200 is that the chromatic aberration is a bit annoying as experienced by the lense owners. Of course the long zoom range is really impressive. I have to choose between lense sharpness of Nikon 16-85 and long zoom range of Nikon 18-200. I hope I can get longer zoom with the Nikon 55-200 (some people say the performance is great in spite of the low price). Thanks again …

  4. I travel the world shooting photos for my Fly Fishing Dreams Calendar and I cannot express how much I love my 16-85 lens. I also travel with a Tokina 11-16. The sharpness of these lenses makes it hard to ever put on the 18-200 ever again.

  5. Vinicio Morales says:

    Hi…This may be off the topic, but: I would like to know your view on the AF-S Nikkor 300mm f/4D IF-ED vs the AF-S VR Zoom-Nikkor 70-300mm f/4.5-5.6G IF-ED. Is there enough of a difference to justify the additional size, weight, and money? Thanks in advance…

    • Howdy! Sorry for the delay, I just saw this. That is a tough question to answer, because they are really do different animals. What are you planning on photographing? The 300 F4 is big and heavy…it really doesn’t qualify as a walk around lens if that is you intent. If you are planning on photographing sports, or something like that…then the 300 F4 is a good choice. However, for walk around, landscape, the occasional portrait work, etc…I would choose the 70-300.

  6. Tony Arroyo says:

    Hi Justin,
    Just bought a Nikkor 16-85, selling my Tamron 18-270, the Tamron is a nice lens but I can see the diffrence in sharpness between these 2 lenses, I have a couple more days left before I can exchange the 16-85 for another lens. My question is should I swap the 16-85 for the Tamron 24-70 2.8 VR? I like the 16-85, but a mate of mine (advanced enthusiast photographer) believes I should swap to the 24-70. Also I use a D7000.

    Thanks & Regards,

    Tony A

    • Howdy!

      That’s a tough one for me because I have never shot the the Tamron. I have heard good things about it though. Personally, I like lighter lenses for what I do. However, I do own a 24-70 Nikon and it stays on my FX sensor cameras about 80% of the time. I think it is a great focal length for landscape and portrait work. Sorry, I can’t be much more help here. I will say that all the images on the site this week were shot with an old 18-200 that I purchased for $350. I shot an entire week in the desert with it and just loved it. I will post a full review of it tonight. Sorry I can’t be any more help Tony, good luck with your decision! Justin

  7. Lindsay says:

    Hi Justin – just came across your site tonight. I have been fretting over trading my D300 for a D7100 and rationalising my lenses a little. After weeks of agony, and passing up a D7100 offered to me a few days ago, I’ve decided that lenses are more important than cameras! I already have a 70-300 VR (and it’s neat) so I’m planning to trade in my Tamron 19-35mm and Nikon 24-120mm VR in favour of a Nikon 16-85mm. That all appears to add up to your thinking, and I’ll be a two-lens photographer – apart from a 50mm 1.8 and a Tamron 90mm macro. Makes sense? And the D300 lives on – who said it was worn out?

  8. Most of your shots are in HDR? isn’t it???

  9. Rajat Chauhan says:

    Must say, i’m impressed with your work and the views presented.

    I’m amateur and starting to read a bit. My main photo object is my 1 year young son and i carry my D7100 most of the time when he’s around. In mall, beach, house etc . Please help me decide between the following lenses:

    – nikon 18-200 VRII vs 16-85VR

    – nikon 50mm 1.8G vs 50mm 1.4G

    i cant reach to 24-120 or 24-70 levels due to cost and am doubtful on the issues with Sigmas or Tamron’s so would prefers something with reliability, less issues and not hugely expensive.

    Thanks a ton.

    • Hmm…it’s tough to spend other people’s money, but here are my thoughts.

      1) I’d get the 18-200 over the 16-85. No question about it!

      2) Hmmm….I had the 50 1.4 and just sold it because I didn’t use it much. You might consider the 28 1.8 for a bit wider feel. If you are stuck on the 50, I have heard good things about the 1.8 but I’ve never shot it.

      Hope that helps and thanks for stopping by!


  10. Winn Wharton says:

    Hi Justin. I love the 9th photo/third from the bottom, of a bridge(?) Would you mind telling what and where that is?

  11. Hi, I’m buying my first DSLR for travel photography and I don’t know if I should go for the 16-85 or the 18-200. Could you post an edit with two new shots? One at its wide end and one at its tele end? (Just like you did with the 18-200)
    Thanks, great review!

  12. hi Justin. great work. very clean and sharp. loving the colors too. beautiful. I see one of iron shore in there. its pretty tightly cropped but really looks like where I live. Cayman islands?


  1. […] lens, the Nikon 16-85 VR II. If you are looking for a great all around DX lens, check out my review here. Some of my favorite photos from this lens are […]

  2. […] (These videos are not for the weak of heart) 1 – Camera: Nikon D5000 1 – Lens Nikon: 16-85 VR 100 – Seconds of time lapse footage 3,000 – Images used to produce the time lapse […]

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