Oh, how my heart warms when Nikon rolls out a new DX lens! Welcome to my smaller-sensor world, NIKKOR AF-S DX 16-80mm f/2.8-4E ED VR! The marketing propaganda from the big brands attempts to drive the masses to full-frame cameras, so it is nice when said big brands make really nice glass for those of us embracing APS-C sensor cameras.
What is the new NIKKOR 16-80mm lens and where does it fit into the DX lens family? That is an easy question to answer. The new lens gives DX users the equivalent of a very versatile and popular 24-120mm equivalent zoom range. In this general focal-length range, you have the long-time DX pro workhorse, the AF-S DX Zoom-NIKKOR 17-55mm f/2.8G IF-ED lens on one end, the popular AF-S DX NIKKOR 16-85mm f/3.5-5.6G ED VR in the middle, and the “kit” AF-S DX NIKKOR 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6G VR lens at the other end. Looking at the price and the specifications, you see that the new NIKKOR 16-80mm lives in between the variable-aperture lenses and the “pro” f/2.8 constant aperture of the NIKKOR 17-55.
Believe it or not, when APS-C sensors were the norm, many professional photographers were excited about the possibility of smaller and lighter APS-C-optimized lenses for their camera systems. When the NIKKOR 17-55 f/2.8 came out, a lot of photographers I knew were a bit surprised that the new DX lens was larger and heavier than the full-frame AF-S Zoom-NIKKOR 17-35mm f/2.8D IF-ED. However, in all fairness, it was smaller and lighter than the enormous AF-S Zoom-NIKKOR 24-70mm f/2.8D ED-IF lens that it was designed to replicate on DX bodies. The promise of smaller and lighter was definitely not fully realized with this large DX lens, until now. This is where the new NIKKOR 16-80mm comes in.
The new NIKKOR 16-80 f/2.8-4 is sculpted from polycarbonate. Its older sibling, the NIKKOR 17-55 f/2.8, is a metal monster of a lens. The new lens’s satin texture makes the plastic body feel solid and keeps it from screaming, “Plastic!” Rub your hands over it, however, and it definitely does not feel like painted metal. Metal lenses are often cool to the touch; plastic just seems to be room temperature all the time. The zoom and focus rings are covered in traditional Nikon rubber with different tread patterns on the rings.
The new lens is the first in the DX line to get the “E” designation for its electronic aperture. For years, Nikon has stayed with the tried-and-true mechanical aperture, but its latest offerings are sporting the electronically controlled diaphragm. The electronic diaphragm gives an exposure accuracy advantage over the traditional mechanical system.
Another first for the DX line (thank you!) is the inclusion of the Nikon Nano Crystal Coat for superior flare and ghosting control. A gold-shadowed “N” on the lens body designates this feature. The front element has a fluorine coating to protect the optics and allow the lens to be cleaned more easily. Add these features to the pro-lens-like 4 ED elements and 3 aspherical elements and you can see that this lens is more than equipped to be the flagship of the DX line.
Protecting the lens from stray light entering is the unique-looking HB-75 lens hood; a combination of a scalloped petal hood and a rectangular hood. It looks pretty cool and appears to be multi-piece, as there is a seam on the bottom near the release button for the bayonet attachment and screws. The release button has also been redesigned and seems very durable and more robust than the buttons in the past. If you are the type of person who likes to lay lenses down on their sides, the rectangular sides of the hood will keep the lens from rolling off the edge of your desk or table.
Other than the lens hood, a new design to me, the lens is pretty straightforward modern NIKKOR with the three standard Nikon switches on the barrel: manual/auto and manual, vibration reduction (VR) on and off, and VR normal and active mode.
If you are familiar with other Nikon wide-to-telephoto and mid-range zooms, you will have a good sense of the size of the new lens. The DX NIKKOR 16-80 is almost identical in size to the AF-S NIKKOR 24-85mm f/3.5-4.5 G ED VR lens and slightly beamier and shorter than the popular AF-S DX NIKKOR 18-200mm f/3.5-5.6 ED VR II lens.
The lens fit great in my hand, and felt solid at its size. You can wrap your hand around most of the lens, but it isn’t so small that you use only your fingertips to hold it. Its front filter is 72mm.
Yes! It is light! It checks in at just over a pound, at 1.1 lb. The NIKKOR 17-55 has another half pound on the new lens; weighing 1.66 lb. That half pound is definitely noticeable when the lens is in the bag or being carried around attached to the camera. Nikon advertises this lens as the “World’s lightest 5x zoom with an f/2.8-4 maximum aperture.”
The NIKKOR 16-80mm has a mechanical tactility familiar to many current Nikon lenses. The zoom ring has a nice tight feel to it, but it seems to grab harder around somewhere between 24mm and 35mm, making the entire travel from 16mm to 80mm seem not completely smooth. A great feature of the zoom ring is the internal gearing that allows you to cruise coast-to-coast through the zoom range with a quarter of a turn of the ring—great for quickly composing action shots or getting quickly zoomed in for a telephoto grab. The lens gets longer by about 1/3 when extended to 80mm.
|16mm, f/2.8, 1/8 sec., HANDHELD||16mm, f/2.8, 1/15 sec., HANDHELD|
Internal-focus NIKKORs used to get an “IF” designation, but I suppose that is so much the norm now that the internally focusing NIKKOR 16-80 does not get to add acronyms to its designation. A turn of about half the focus ring’s circle gets you from the minimum focus distance of 1.15' to infinity. The focus ring will keep spinning past the close focus soft stop and the infinity mark, but at a different torque, to indicate that you have passed the stops. The ring feels OK but, as with almost every autofocus lens on the planet, it is missing that old-school delicious feel of turning helicoids.
What can you say about the shooting experience with a versatile mid-range zoom lens that makes for an interesting review? If you know the answer, definitely let me know!
The new NIKKOR 16-80 lens was a pleasure to take out into the field, especially because of its portability factor. Half a pound might sound like only 8 ounces, but my D300 and this lens felt much smaller, lighter, and overall more portable than the D300 with my daily driver 17-55mm lens attached to it.
A daytime trip to the Red Hook area of Brooklyn begged for me to return under the cover of darkness. Empty commercial/industrial streets abound and, better yet, they are relatively quiet when compared with other areas of New York City. I love the feel of the off-the-beaten path streets in the dark, especially the way the street lamps create surreal and soft lighting on the garage doors, trees, pot-holed pavement, and cracked sidewalks.
The images illustrating this article are not corrected for distortion, and you can see that the lens does have some alternating pincushion and barrel distortion as you zoom through the wider angles. The distortion was easily eliminated in post processing, but I left it in here to illustrate the optical properties of the lens. As far as other post-processing adjustments, I tweaked the white balance and made minor corrections for color and exposure, but the images have not, in any way, been extensively modified.
To test the lens’s 4-stop-advantage VR system, I shot off-tripod in some challenging nighttime conditions. I was able to get workable images down to 1/8-second shutter speeds—a very nice performance! VR has come a long way since it was first introduced, and it keeps getting better. Tripod manufacturers beware!
Finishing my hands-on review on Friday, September 11, I took advantage of the Tribute in Light near the site of the fallen World Trade Center buildings that gave the New York City skyline a distinctive look for several nights. The lights, an installation of 88 searchlights that throws two beams of lights into the night sky, resemble the Twin Towers and serve to honor those who lost their lives on that day.
When compared to the DX NIKKOR 17-55, this new lens gives you expanded reach, a lightweight and smaller frame, the latest coatings and electronics, and cost savings. All of this comes at the expense of one stop of light in the telephoto ranges over the f/2.8 lens. The DX NIKKOR 17-55 f/2.8 has a great reputation and is a fantastic lens. It has been my mainstay lens for years, but the portability of the new DX NIKKOR 16-80 f/2.8-4, its expanded range, vibration reduction, and the latest bells and whistles might indicate that the DX torch has been passed to this newcomer to the Nikon line.