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Nikon 16-80mm f/2.8-4.0 DX Review | A Professional Grade Kit Lens?

By Matthew Saville on September 12th 2016

The Nikon 16-80mm f/2.8-4.0 E VR DX is the first modern “kit” lens to hit f/2.8, if I am not mistaken. While being a crop-sensor lens and a variable aperture lens might mean it gets overlooked by some of our readers, others (myself included) may still be interested in a pro-grade lens that offers flagship quality results in a super-compact package.

Announced about 1 year ago, I have been waiting to get my hands on the Nikon 16-80mm f/2.8-4.0 E VR DX ever since the day it hit shelves. In fact it seemed like such a promising lens for even my professional interests, it almost hinted that Nikon was cooking up a D500, the long-awaited professional DX body update.

Well, my prayers were answered recently, and I was able to review the Nikon 16-80mm f/2.8-4.0 E VR DX on the Nikon D500. While my full review of the D500 (focusing on both weddings and landscape photography) is still forthcoming, I thought I would present this brief review of the 16-80 DX for your reading pleasure.

[RELATED: Nikon D5300 Initial Review – An incredible travel dslr!]

 

Nikon 16-80 2.8-4.0 VR DX Review-01

 

04-performance-5-stars

Is it sharp? Yes, very. Wide open, from the center to the rule-of-thirds area, it is professionally sharp through the entire zoom range. In the extreme corners it also is quite decent wide open, and professionally sharp within 2-3 stops.

Nikon 16-80 2.8-4.0 VR DX Review-07

Nikon 16-80 2.8-4.0 VR DX Review-16

Nikon 16-80mm f/2.8-4.0 E VR DX @ 27mm & f/10 – extreme corner 100% crop

 

Nikon 16-80 2.8-4.0 VR DX Review-12

Nikon 16-80 2.8-4.0 VR DX Review-12-2

Nikon 16-80mm f/2.8-4.0 E VR DX @ 16mm, f/10, center, 100% crop

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Nikon 16-80mm f/2.8-4.0 E VR DX @ 16mm, f/10, extreme corner 100% crop

Are images vibrant, contrasty, and all-around awesome? Yes, very. Vignetting isn’t much of a problem at all, distortion is decently low and automatically corrected (along with vignetting) using an automatic Adobe lens profile. Chromatic aberration is present, (certainly far less than any other kit lens I’ve tested), yet also easily removed. Flare isn’t all that bad, and sunstars are half-decent.

Nikon-16-80-Review-Vignetting

What about nightscape shooting, since this is an f/2.8 lens? Is coma and extreme corner image quality decent? Well, I wish it had been a little bit better; I wouldn’t toss my Rokinon 16mm f/2 in favor of this lens, that’s for sure, but if you’re just looking for a walk-around kit lens that doubles as an impressive night photography lens, I’d call it a very good choice. Coma and corner softness only really become a problem in the last few hundred pixels or so of a DX 20-24 megapixel image, which is nothing to sneeze at.

Nikon 16-80 2.8-4.0 VR DX Review-14Nikon 16-80mm, Nikon D500, ISO 3200, 30 sec @ f/2.8
Slik 700DX Tripod, Adobe Lightroom CC Processing for vertical panorama

All in all, the Nikon 16-80mm f/2.8-4.0 has professionally acceptable image quality.

Autofocus and VR Stabilization

How do AF and VR perform? Autofocus is snappy, precise, and consistent, as you ought to expect from a moderately pricey kit lens. VR stabilization is also quite impressive, and at 16mm I was able to hand-hold at least a couple shots at 1/2 sec, a handful at 1/4 sec, and plenty at 1/8 sec. Even at 80mm, I managed to get a handful of sharp shot at 1/8 sec, and one or two at 1/4 sec. Considering that one ought to calculate the “stabilization rule of thumb” starting at the full-frame equivalent focal length, not the actual crop-sensor focal length, I’d say that’s right on the money compared to Nikon’s claim of 4 stops worth of VR.

Again, well done in the performance category, Nikon.

Nikon 16-80 2.8-4.0 VR DX Review-02

Using The Nikon 16-80mm on Full-Frame?

What about using this lens on full-frame? Don’t do it! Serious vignetting (meaning, a completely black circle) hinders you throughout the entire zoom range. (Just in case, like me, you were wondering if this might turn into a ~20-80mm full-frame zoom, which would have been nice. Alas!) Sure, you can use this lens in 1.5x crop mode as much as you want, if you’re in a real pinch.

 

09-features-5-stars

Feature-wise, this is not your grandpa’s kit lens. Most budget kit lenses that come with beginner DSLRs are rife with cost-cutting measures, from a crummy focus ring that is only marginally usable, to sometimes even a plastic lens mount. In this regard, the Nikon 16-80mm f/2.8-4.0 E VR DX actually has more in common with a professional flagship lens than a kit lens. It even has ED and Nano-coating as well as a two-mode VR switch. Oh, and the hood is pretty awesome, too, in fact it’s almost a cinema lens hood, rather boxy looking instead of the flimsy, marginally beneficial petal or circular hoods that come on most kit lenses.

Nikon 16-80 2.8-4.0 VR DX Review-13

Simply put, this lens’ closest siblings are definitely its full-frame focal length equivalents, the Nikon 24-120mm f/4 VR, and, dare I say, even the new 24-70mm f/2.8 VR. It’s that impressive!

 

13-design-4-stars

Finally, I’ve managed to find something that is just barely worth complaining about. Design-wise, It seems like Nikon is bent on using every single possible filter thread size these days. 72mm hasn’t been a common filter thread size in, well actually it’s never been a common filter thread size, ever. (Then again, Nikon also went with 72mm on the new 24mm f/1.8 G. And hey, step-up rings are cheap, and help combat vignetting!)

On a more serious note, the design of a kit lens is always a compromise, and things like the extending telescope style zoom barrel, or the fore-aft flip of the zoom and focus rings have been common for at least a decade now.

Nikon-16-80-BH-image2Image (and loaner lens / camera) courtesy of B&H

In reality, the Nikon 16-80mm f/2.8-4.0 E VR DX is a solidly designed piece of kit. It feels great to use, the zoom and focus ring are smooth and easy, yet not sloppy, and the hood (which I mentioned as a feature) is incredibly well-designed as far as all compact lenses go.

The only other thing I can think of is another pet-peeve of mine, as a run-and-gun adventure photographer: The rear element is a bit too close to being fully exposed for my comfort level, when at 16mm. It is only one millimeter or so away from actually protruding out beyond its single protective tab. (I had hoped that when Nikon switched from mechanical to electronic aperture control, this would’ve allowed them to encircle the whole rear element in a more protective plastic / metal bumper ring instead of the single tab, but alas…)

Nikon 16-80 2.8-4.0 VR DX Review-15

So, if you’re like me and you tend to drop un-capped lenses into your lens pouches / compartments, think twice. Over the course of time you may find that what you thought was a soft comfy lens pouch has actually worn a few faint scratches into your rear element. I know it sounds dumb to say, but cap this lens when not in use.

 

19-quality-5-stars

With quality, I’m back to having nothing to complain about. Again, this doesn’t feel like a kit lens at all, its only commonality with other kit lenses is the fact that its aperture is variable, and that it has a telescoping zoom barrel. Everything else about the lens is professional quality. Even the zoom barrel feels just as snug as the moving zoom barrel of a Nikon 24-70mm f/2.8, or a Nikon 80-400mm, etc.

 

23-value-4-stars

For a lens that has everything going for it, you’d think that value would be an automatic five stars. But no, Nikon managed to give this lens such an incredibly high MSRP that even if they had delivered everything else I wished for, I’d still give it four stars. Heck, in its current state I wish I could give it 3.5 stars for value.

However, there are a couple things to consider. First and foremost, most folks just won’t find themselves paying full MSRP ($1066) for the Nikon 16-80mm f/2.8-4.0 E VR DX. It’s meant to be a kit lens, and paired with a body it is almost always going to have a steep discount. Right now on B&H, the kit with a Nikon D500 and this has a $500 instant rebate, making the lens approximately $570 or so.

At $570, this lens definitely becomes a fantastic choice for any beginner or serious enthusiast who is looking for an all-around lens to cover general shooting. Even a serious pro who wants to avoid lugging around a 5-10 lb full-frame pro kit, might want to pair this lens with an ultralight DSLR like the Nikon D5300 or D5500.

The only problem is, that  right now you can only buy this lens at a $500 discount as part of D500 kit, which is a $2566 investment. The only kit lenses available with the “lesser”, ultra-light beginner Nikon DSLRs are the 18-55 DX and the 18-140 DX.

So, unless you’re also really interested in the D500, (and why wouldn’t you be?) …maybe you can find someone who wants a D500, and offer them $600 if they’ll get the kit and sell you the lens?

Either way, I can’t recommend spending $1066 on a lens that will probably also be regularly discounted by $200-300 when Nikon eventually adds it to their various seasonal rebates that occurr like clockwork.

Nikon 16-80 2.8-4.0 VR DX Review-04

Alternatives To The Nikon 16-80 DX VR

Let’s say, hypothetically, you don’t care about the f/2.8 max aperture, don’t need pro-grade build quality, and are just looking for a portable kit that weighs next-to-nothing and gets the job done at ~f/8 for travel landscapes or something; well, in this case, alternately you can get the new ultra-light Nikon 18-55 AF-P DX VR for under $100. Alternately, the original Nikon 16-85 f/3.5-5.6 DX is a fantastic lens, however its MSRP is usually just under $700, so again you ought to wait for a rebate, or look for it as part of a kit.

Lastly, Sigma and Tamron have a handful of kit lenses that go to 16mm or 17mm, and one or two that even hit f/2.8, however in my experience none of them will offer the incredible sharpness that this Nikon lens offers, nor the autofocus reliability and overall longevity. Still, if you get a screaming deal, go for it.

 

33-overall-score-4.5-stars

Final Verdict

Aside from Nikon’s wild-goose-chase of kit lens pricing and seasonal rebates, the Nikon 16-80mm f/2.8-4.0 E VR DX is a no-brainer for anyone looking to get a lightweight walk-around lens to pair with any DX body, from ultralight beginner bodies like the Nikon D3300 or Nikon D5500, to serious semi-pro and flagship bodies like the Nikon D7200 or Nikon D500 even.

I say this as a full-time pro who regularly uses high-end lenses like the 24-70 2.8 and 70-200 2.8. There are plenty of times when I just don’t want to lug those massive beasts around, so it’s nice to have a lightweight lens that doesn’t compromise on the image quality and overall reliability that I’m used to with those pro grade lenses. In this arena, the 16-80 is truly the best lens money can buy.

Nikon 16-80 2.8-4.0 VR DX Review-03

Again, it is a shame that this lens isn’t available with a huge discount as a kit on something like the D5500, or even the D7200, but I sincerely hope that folks will not be hindered by this game of cat-and-mouse. If you can find this lens at a fair price, it will be worth the effort.

If you have any questions or comments, as always please feel free to write them below!

Take care, and happy clicking,

Matthew Saville is a full-time wedding photographer at Lin & Jirsa Photography, and a senior editor & writer at SLR Lounge.

Follow his personal wilderness adventures: Astro-Landscapes.com

See some of his latest wedding photography featured on: LinandJirsa.com

Q&A Discussions

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  1. Tommy Martin

    I just bought one of these. I’ve tried a few nikon zooms over the years but never been happy with with the image quality from any of the standard kit zooms. This is not in that class, at all. This is a remarkable lens. The 17-55mm f2.8 has been my workhorse for few years. I’ve been testing it for the last few days on my D7200 and the 16-80mm is looking very much like it’s going to be replacing my tried and trusted 17-55mm.

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  2. Peter Protim

    Hi, great review, Just curious to know about the quality of bokeh of this lens, Is it a good choice for casual portrait photography?

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  3. Mike Mendoza

    Thanks for the great review. I have been looking at this lens on and off (online) and have been curious about it. If I can find a deal I might have to pick on up!

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  4. Eddie Clark

    I’m a full-time working pro, and I dumped my D4 and 24-70 for the D500 and this 16-80 combo. I shoot a lot of action (mtn biking) and frequently am riding and climbing many miles (all day) with not just this kit but many other lenses too, so the weight savings is a huge benefit. Before settling on this lens I shot many other lenses on the D500: the Sigma 18-35 f1.8 Art lens which is wonderful but heavy and not weather sealed making it a deal breaker for me since I shoot in all weather conditions. The older Nikon 17-55 DX f2.8 was noticeably slower to focus and didn’t resolve fine detail as well, and is bigger and heavier- overall a dated useless lens on today’s higher resolving sensors like that of the D500. I even extensively shot my go-to Nikon 24-70 f2.8 and found it didn’t resolve detail as well as this 16-80 on the D500, and it’s significantly heavier and larger without as large a zoom range, so I sold it. I’ve shot over 10,000 photos with this combination in some pretty terrible conditions, and the lens works just as good now as when it was brand new. It was missed in the review but worth noting that if you use a 72>77mm step-up ring you will not be able to also use the lens hood. For the D500, this is really the only lens worth considering for a mid-zoom.

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    • Matthew Saville

      That is fantastic news, Eddie! Thanks so much for commenting, I appreciate your sharing this story.

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  5. James Hale

    *click* It’s been added to MY wish list!

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  6. adam sanford

    Nice review, Matthew. A few thoughts:

    1) Lovely shots, but there is little that is ‘pro’ about a 5x zoom with a variable max aperture. The 5x in particular is a non-starter for me as you are leaving sharpness on the table for reach. However sharp the lens may be, it would be sharper yet with a narrower zoom multiplier.

    2) Can we see some crops at non-landscape apertures?

    3) Doesn’t Nikon have a 17-55 f/2.8? Is it any better?

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    • Matthew Saville

      1.) I didn’t feel like I was “leaving sharpness on the table” at all, in exchange for reach. As Eddie mentioned, even the older generation 17-55 and 24-70 2.8’s don’t resolve as well as this new 16-80 does. It’s just that incredibly sharp.

      2.) I’ll try and dig up some 2.8 / 4.0 crops for you. I’ve been told to tone it down with all the super geeky crops once or twice, but I shouldn’t have omitted that. I’ll see if I can find a center + corner crop at 2.8 for you.

      3.) See my comment above. I shot with the 17-55 for years on 6-12 megapixel DX bodies, and it was great for those, but I don’t think the edges would be nearly as sharp as this lens, let alone the corners, at 20-24 megapixels on today’s current DX bodies.

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  7. Sean Goebel

    Do you not consider the Nikon 17-55 f/2.8 a modern lens? It gets no mention in this article.

    Also, no wide-open corner crops? You say the coma is bad but don’t provide examples? Come on!

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  8. Alexander McKenna

    Well written article! You are quiet on point with everything. Really is a great kit lens. I don’t know if price is quiet justifiable yet. But certainly one of the best kit lenses on the market.

    BTW Fuji was the first to do a 2.8 kits lens with the 18-55 2.8-4 I believe. May have been one other.

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