Nikkor AF-S 16—35mm f/4G ED VR: A New Way of Seeing


Nikkor AF-S 16—35mm f/4G ED VR

Nikkor AF-S 16—35mm f/4G ED VR

If we were to tell you that your wide angle lens is now optically stabilised, will you change the way you make pictures with it? Raj Lalwani tests the Nikkor 16–35mm AF-S f/4G ED VR to find out.

The first day I used the Nikkor AF-S 16–35mm f/4G ED VR, I finished my shoot and was spending time at a café, when I bumped into a photographer I knew. He looked at the lens, showed interest, but the moment he realised that it is not an f/2.8 lens, his face fell.
That is actually a common reaction. Many of us associate only f/2.8 lenses to be truly ‘professional’. However, with this lens, Nikon has ventured into the world of f/4 zoom lenses for the first time. This is something that Canon has been doing for quite some time, and it is actually an advantage. For those who do not need f/2.8, an f/4 lens means a significant reduction in size, weight and cost.

I did not miss the f/2.8 capability at all. After all, Nikon’s full frame DSLRs deliver extraordinary quality at high ISO settings, and I found this lens easily adequate, even while shooting dark alleys and candlelit restaurants.
Another reason why I could easily shoot in low light is the fact that this is the world’s first wide angle lens to feature optical stabilisation. Without VR, it is possible to shoot at 1/15sec while using the wide end of such a lens. The 4-stop VR advantage meant that I could actually shoot exposures of 1sec handheld! This is unprecedented… I cannot think of doing the same with any lens on a DSLR.
So imagine handheld photos of sharp backgrounds with blurs passing by, or a panned shot of someone moving really slowly, with an ultrawide perspective. Besides being ideally suited for all-round street photography, the Nikkor 16–35mm f/4 VR opens new doors. The focal length is also well suited for landscape photography 16mm on a full frame camera is extremely wide, and this lens is actually a better option than the more expensive 14-24mm because it accepts filters.

Like most lenses of this type, it allows instant focus override. The focusing ring is smooth, and it barely takes a slight turn to go from the minimum focusing distance to infinity. The 16—35mm has a distance scale, but I was quite disappointed to see that it does not have a depth-of-field scale. Nikon must take a leaf from the book of manufacturers like Carl Zeiss, who do not make any such compromises in their highend lenses.

Whether I was shooting along with the BP-POY finalists in the streets of Mumbai, making environmental portraits of my family members or getting into the crowds and using the ultrawide capabilities to shoot a baaraat, the lens delivered tack sharp images, even at the widest aperture. The centre-to-edge definition improves further at f/5.6 and f/8. In fact, it can produce perfectly sharp results until f/16, at which point diffraction starts making the photos appear softer.
Fringing is absent and vignetting is superbly controlled, both of which are factors that usually plague ultrawide lenses. Barrel distortion is visible at 16mm, but it is of a simple nature and can easily be corrected in software.

Should you buy this expensive lens (Rs. 86,905) over seemingly similar options like the Nikkor 18-35mm f/3.5-5.6 or Tokina 17-35mm f/4, both of which are less than half the price? If you are a D700 user, you may want to ask yourself if you really need the VR and if it will liberate your personal shooting style. If not, the Nikkor 18-35mm may well suffice.
But if you want a set of optics that will do justice to the sensors of future cameras, including the 36MP D800 that has just been announced, the 16–35mm f/4 VR should be on your wishlist. The optics of the Nikkor 14-24mm f/2.8 may be legendary, but this lens actually matches it. The ability to use filters and VR are the icing on the cake.
In a section of the magazine where we extensively talk about photographic equipment, I would like to reaffirm that equipment is only a means to an end. But then, sometimes, there are certain cameras and lenses that change the way we make pictures. They bring alive new possibilities and sometimes, help us see the world in a new way. The Nikkor 16–35mm is one such lens, and for that alone, it is highly recommended.

The focal length and quick AF make this set of optics ideal for street photography. Exposure: 1/100sec at f/16 (ISO 1600). Photograph/Raj Lalwani

The focal length and quick AF make this set of optics ideal for street photography. Exposure: 1/100sec at f/16 (ISO 1600). Photograph/Raj Lalwani

Final Ratings
16mm, good zoom range, VR, lacks wide a aperture of f/2.8

Excellent optics, quick AF

Build Quality
Solid construction but lightweight

Focus override, no DOF scale

Warranty & Support
Two year warranty, Six master service centres

Value For Money: 3.5/5 stars

Who Should Buy It?
Professional street, travel and landscape photographers.

The lens’ quality is superb and the addition of VR to a wide angle set of optics throws up innovative opportunities.


Tags: Raj Lalwani, Street Photography, Wide-angle lens, Lens review, march 2012, Nikkor 16-35mm AF-S f/4G ED VR