Final Review of Nikon 16-35mm f/4 VR

I shot some comparison shots, to be the final part of my evaluation of my 16-35. I’m keeping it, and the 14-24 is up for sale.

I shot these shots all from the same spot, on the same tripod, using the same D700 body with the same settings (auto WB, Aperture Priority, 0 Exposure Compensation). All images received the same Lightroom sharpening settings of 35 sharpening, 15 detail, 90 masking. All comparison shots are 100% zoom comparisons produced as screenshots of Lightroom.

You can click the images for the full-size versions. Sorry for the long post, but I wanted to show what I’m seeing, which seems to be in stark contrast to what others think of the 16-35.

This is the overall scene that all the test shots are based on:

16-35 vs. 14-24 shot at 16mm f/4:

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16-35 vs. 14-24 shot at 16mm f/11:

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16-35 vs. 14-24 shot at 20mm f/4:

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16-35 vs. 14-24 shot at 20mm f/16:

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16-35 vs. 14-24 shot at 24mm f/4:

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16-35 vs. 24-70 shot at 24mm f/4:

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16-35 vs. 14-24 shot at 24mm f/11:

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lower left:

16-35 vs. 24-70 shot at 24mm f/11:

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16-35 vs. 24-70 shot at 28mm f/4:

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16-35 vs.
24-70 shot at 28mm f/11:

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16-35 vs. 24-70 shot at 35mm f/4:

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16-35 vs. 24-70 shot at 35mm f/11:

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Conclusion:

The 16-35 has some light falloff in the corners when shooting wide open, but not much. The 16-35 is soft in the corners when shooting wide open, but not much. It does have some barrel distortion, more that either the 14-24 or 24-70.

The 16-35 is consistently as sharp if not sharper than both the 14-24 and 24-70 when shooting @ f/8, f/11, and f/16. In some cases, it is sharper in the corners @ f/4 than the 14-24, which is surprising because the 14-24 is stopped down by 1 f-stop and should have sharper corners than if it were wide open.

The 14-24 seems to consistently over-expose a bit, at least by comparison.

I shot a 17-35/2.8 for a bit. I found it to be in the same league as the 24-70 in image quality, weight, and cost. The 16-35 is cheaper and lighter than the 17-35 and image quality is at least as good, so I can’t see buying a 17-35 over a 16-35. If you’ve already got the 17-35, I don’t know if you’d have a reason to switch, unless you think you need VR (I don’t think you do).

In the real world, all are excellent, and no one should feel bad about choosing any of these excellent wide-angle zooms. For me, for landscape shooting, the 14-24 is the worst choice due to a lack of usable filters (there are exceptions, but not many). For other uses, such as night/concert/indoor shooting or architecture, the 14-24 might suit you better. Given the lower cost and weight of the 16-35, it seems to me Nikon has a new “holy trinity” of 16-35, 24-70, 70-200 v2.

P.S. A local pro, about 30 miles from me, also finds this lens to be awesome. Other reviews are whole-heartedly unimpressed by this lens. Could there be a sample variation problem? Tough to say. All I can say is you should seriously consider this lens before paying more for one of the 2.8 lenses.

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This entry was posted in Gear.

23 comments on “Final Review of Nikon 16-35mm f/4 VR

  1. Christine says:

    Very interesting comparison. I was thinking of buying the 14-24 but your review has helped me make my mind up to go for the 16-35. Thanks for putting this helpful review together.

  2. lkunl says:

    Very helpful comparison. Thank very much

  3. Valery says:

    Thank you for your comparison, for your time.By my opinion, it is not full. You did not compare two wide lenses at the shortest focal length, i.e. 14mm and 16mm, what photographers use more often and to what company engineering pay more attention (you cut 14-24mm lens for 2mm or for 6 degree, what makes lens superwide).In your test also not clear how much the light fall in the corners(of course subjectivly in comparison), what is very important for wide lens estimation.By the way, MTF for 14-24mm is much better than for 16-35mm.Thank you, Valery.

  4. Kevin says:

    Thank you for your feedback. Yes, I’m not a professional lens reviewer, just trying to help.I cannot compare 14mm to 16mm, they are not the same thing. The 16-35 doesn’t go out to 14mm. If you like, I could show you how much light falloff and dullness the 14-24 had at 14mm f/2.8, which was a lot, but I wouldn’t have anything to compare it against.I tried to show the light fall in the corners. The 16mm f/4 comparison shows it, for example. I included many corner comparisons, to show the difference (if any) in light falloff and sharpness in the corners.The <a href="http://imaging.nikon.com/products/imaging/lineup/lens/af/zoom/af-s_zoom14-24mmf_28g/index.htm“ rel=”nofollow”>MTF <a href="http://imaging.nikon.com/products/imaging/lineup/lens/af/zoom/af-s_nikkor16-35mmf_4d_ed_vr/index.htm“ rel=”nofollow”>charts I’ve seen show the 16-35 is sharper at 16mm than the 14-24 is at 14mm, except in the extreme corners. As a matter of fact, at 16mm the 16-35 sharpness practically goes off the chart as you approach the corners, before it falls off. I’m not sure which MTF charts you are referring to, but the Nikon charts show the 16-35 to be every bit sharper than the 14-24 in sharpness, except for the extreme corners. In my comparisons, there were times the 14-24 was sharper, but there were just as many times that the 16-35 was sharper, especially approaching the corners at 20mm and the center at 24mm f/11. I’m skeptical of MTF chart accuracy, so I had to test them for myself. I wanted to be sure that the corners were acceptable for me before deciding which to keep. To me, the times where the 16-35 is a bit softer are much less noticeable than the times where the 14-24 is much softer.Every lens behaves differently on every camera. The only way to know for sure if a lens will work for you is to try it on your camera. Many people get emotionally attached to their gear, and I’m no different. When the 16-35 was announced, I laughed. “VR? What a joke. I’ll never sell my 14-24.” I said. I even considered keeping both, because the 16-35 was nice but I love my 14-24. However once I saw these images and saw how well the 16-35 performed, I decided I was comfortable with selling the 14-24 and getting the 70-200 instead. They’re just tools.

  5. Lord Beau says:

    I can well understand that you prefer the 16-35mm VR to the 14-24 particularly with the luxury of VR. Your samples back up your theory.I think you are right that sample variation is wide. I have had two copies of the 16-35mm VR. The first was very blurred towards the right side and the next, though better, was not sharp enough for a lens of this price.When the dust has settled, I’ll try another copy after seeing your tests!

  6. Kevin says:

    Rather than churning through copy after copy, <a href="http://www.lensrentals.com/news/2010.03.06/this-lens-is-soft-and-other-facts“ rel=”nofollow”>consider camera body variations.

  7. Alan says:

    Well I ordered mine yesterday,,,Your review confirmed a couple of other reviews Thanks for taking the time do these, much appreciated…Alan

  8. Andrew says:

    Kevin,thank you so much !I know it took an effort to do all of this and I think you did an excellent job. Your photos – center / border are very helpful and speak for themselves.Keep doing this , you are good at this!

  9. Chris says:

    Thanks Kevin.Good real-life look at how the 16-35 performs and clear descriptions. Has confirmed my decision to purchase this lens. Barrel distortion is not a big concern for intended mostly landscape use!

  10. objectivity says:

    thanks for the objective test and posting conclusive results.this is by far the most objective test conducted whereby the two lenses are compared, like with like.:)May I ask if my needs are for architectural photography,between the 16-35mm and 14-24mm,which would be the lenses that you would think is more suitable for the job?thanks.

  11. Kevin says:

    Neither is free from distortion, but the 14-24 has less distortion, is wider, and 1 stop faster. I would definitely pick the 14-24.

  12. objectivity says:

    thanks for your advice regarding the question that I asked you.+thanks again for placing this test between 16-35mm vs 14-24mm test online.

  13. nadeem says:

    Many thanks for the comparison. Simply brilliant !!!I have used the 14-24mm, 20-35mm and 16-35mm. I am not a professional photographer and hence my comparisons are very amateurish. I fid the 16-35mm exceptional which has added advantages (although the 14-24mm is an absolute great lens in a league of its own -I agree with Kevin that 14-24mm has less distortion) of much less weight (defined by degree of carryability), filter attachment and a longer ‘long’ end (35mm compared to 24mm). The last 3 factors are very important for me as the 16-35mm is my staple lens on the D700 and it was a no brainer for me to keep the 16-35mm. The price of course helps too (4th factor). Auto focus is amazing.The 20-35mm in 2010, in comparison to the current Nikors is a waste of time. I can however imagine that 20-35 in 1999 or 2001 was a very good choice and may be would have been my choice in those years.VR works. My camera technique is awful. Normally even 1/60 is a push for me. With VR II, I am now taking pin sharp pictures at 1/8 and 1/10. I have even taken an odd sharp picture at 1/3 shutter speed.Please, do more lens comparisons like the 70-200mm VR1 and VR2. If you do compare the 16-35mm with 17-35mm please also do comment on the speed / exactness of autofocus (terribly important in my amateur lazy hands)Kindest regards.Afzal(16-35mm owner after ditching the 14-24mm and 20-35mm)PS: someone commented on trying lenses on different bodies. True. That is the only way or ‘proper’ way to define ‘actual’ superiority.

  14. Geoff says:

    Thanks for this post and review, I have been considering both the 14-24mm and the 16-35mm VR and I am tending towards the 16-35mm, mainly due to the filter situation. I will be using it for landscape mostly.

  15. maljo says:

    Accurate focus is essential in testing lens sharpness.Many are using liveview these days to focus preciselywhen testing lenses.How did you focus the lenses?

  16. Kevin says:

    I used the single center focus point and auto-focused before each shot. I focused on the high-contrast edge of the trailer.Given that the higher f-stop shots will have a very deep depth of field, and the lower f-stop shots will have a somewhat shallow depth of field, I doubt accurate focus is absolutely crucial for this. Important, yes, but being a few inches off, no.

  17. Albert says:

    Hi Kevin, I am currently using a D300 with a 18-200mm as a general lens. Besides, I also have a 70-200mm f/2.8 VRII, 50mm f/1.4 and 105mm f/2.8 VR. I am thinking of replacing the 18-200mm. Since I already have that 3 other lenses, I do not wish to get anything that has a big range in focal length. Also, I do not wish to invest on a DX lens as I am thinking of upgrading to FX in future. Do you think that the new 16-35mm will be a good choice to replace my 18-200mm? How’s the picture quality when used on a D300? Any comments when used on a D300? Do you have any photo taken with 16-35mm on a D300? Hope to hear from you soon, thank you.

  18. Kevin says:

    I’m sure the 16-35 would be an excellent choice for use on the D300. I haven’t tried it myself, though.

  19. Nate says:

    I’m debating between a new 16-35 or a used 17-35, same price range between the two. I mainly shoot landscapes but want to start shooting some events with a single aperture zoom instead of my 50mm prime. I dont want a 24-70 since the focal range is odd on a DX camera. Would you suggest the 16-35 for a DX camera as the lens that can go from landscapes to wide event shooting or would the 17-35 be a better fit? I am getting conflicting information about how well the VR2 really mitigates the benefit of F/2.8 on the 17-35. Thanks! Great review!

  20. kevwil says:

    I would recommend the 16-35. The VR offsets the f/2.8 aperture of the 17-35 and then some, and the 16-35 is sharper and cheaper.I’ve never shot the 17-55/2.8 DX but perhaps it would be worth considering as well.

  21. Jay says:

    Thank you for the thorough review.I’m feeling torn between purchasing the 14-24 or 16-35 to accompany my D700. Your experience is contrary to most reviews. Many have stated that on a sub-frame body the sharpness doesn’t hold up as well as other standard testing attributes not being stellar apart from full frame. Yes, I shoot a D700, but that’s not to say that a D7000 as a backup, or for more reach, isn’t in my future.The additional wide angle would be nice on the 14-24, but the approach back closer to a normal focal length in one lens might be nicer with the 16-35.I just learned a few days ago how nicely the front element of the 14-24 retracts at 24mm. This alleviated my fears of protecting that element. I’ve had a CP filter for years and only used it a handful of times. I feel that I’m proficient with it, just not prone to use it. That variable eliminated for me, I am not concerned about the need to have another $75 UV filter on there for protection.Where I begin to lean further toward the 14-24 is when I consider that vignetting and barrel distorion correction on the 16-35 does affect sharpness in the areas it is correcting, Namely the places the 16-35 bettered the 14-24. Is it significant? I don’t know. I’m just weighing pros and cons. After reading that the 16-35 focuses beautifully at or near infinity, but appears softer or weaker when focusing on nearby foreground elements I feel once more looking closer at the 14-24. A super WA shot without something of interest in the foreground feels like less of a photo to me. Now, I’ve seen gorgeous landscapes without foreground elements, but my style tends to include them. The trees in your photos are close, but I’m speaking of 2-3 feet away.Do you have any thoughts or examples about focusing on near objects with either or both lenses, Kevin?Thank you again for the great review and real world examples.

  22. kevwil says:

    Hi Jay,My #1 reason for switching wide-angle lenses was filters. Trying to use filters with the 14-24 is a very expensive and frustrating proposition. I wanted to get a Singh-Ray Vari-ND filter but the 14-24 has no filter threads. Once I was considering another lens, image quality (sharpness, color, contrast, and flare control) was something that I wanted to have at least very close to the 14-24, if not better that. Maybe I just got lucky there, but my copy of the 16-35 exceeded my copy of the 14-24.Every combination of lens and body (the specific copy of each, not the design in general) is unique and will have varying levels of compatibility. Variances in mass-produced products such as these is normal. One person may have excellent results with a lens/body combo that another person gets horrible results from. I may have had a worse-than-usual match between my D700 and 14-24, and a better-than-usual match between my D700 and 16-35. So, the switch worked for me.Vignetting and barrel distortion were of no concern for me. I don’t usually shoot landscapes with the lens wide open, and vignetting usually goes away by f/8 or so. I actually add vignetting to my images quite often. The slight barrel distortion in the 16-35 is very difficult to detect in the field unless there are strong lines like telephone poles (something I try to avoid). Lightroom can also correct for distortion automatically. Your situation and experience will likely not match mine, but for me, those are non-issues.I can’t speak to the near-focus issue, because I wasn’t concentrating on that last year and I switched about 7 months ago to a Canon 5D mk II and 24mm TS-E for control of my focal plane. I plan to get all four TS-E lenses, but it will take a long time to save that many pennies. If you’re having depth of field issues, you can try a Photoshop blending technique. Shoot at the lens’s sharpest aperture (likely f/8-f/11 for a slow lens, f/4-f/8 for a fast one). Shoot one image when focussing on the foreground object, and another image when focussed on the background. Open both images as layers in Photoshop and use the Auto-Merge Layers tool. If there are strong elements in the middle depths, you may need to shoot one at that focal distance as well.To wrap up, if you expect to use filters on a 14-24, you might want to research that a bit further. If you’re shooting a crop-sensor body, the added width of the 14-24 would be quite attractive, but I’d rather shoot with the Sigma 10-20/3.5 for really wide angles anyway. Perhaps the Samyang 14mm? Other than that, the differences between the 14-24 and 16-35 are small or irrelevant (VR?) and I’d just pick the cheaper one. :)Thanks for reading my blog!

  23. Pete says:

    I have the 16-35, 14-24 and the old 20-35. The 20-35 I have is a bit of a freak in that it is an outstanding performer on the Two D800’s I use. The 14-24 is pretty good, no complaints. The 16-35 takes it to another level however and is easily the better from about f5.6 onwards where the 14-24 seems a marginally better at the large apertures. Bear in mind, I use capture nx for the initial part of my workflow and that does make a massive difference as opposed to using anything else.
    Camera raw does not seem to live that well with Nikon Nef files from the D800 and can depict some lenses as less than sharp. A 16-35 Nef processed in Capture NX2 is a completely different animal to a Nef processed in Camera raw. In my experience so far, I would go as far as to say that if I were to use Photoshop Camera Raw only, I would be less than happy with a few of my lenses.

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