18-70 vs 16-85VR - Is VR really necessary at this length?

Discussion in 'Nikon' started by woolly|1, Jul 12, 2009.

  1. I've been looking at 'upgrading' my 18-70 DX to a 16-85VR but apart from a slightly larger range the main point is all about the VR. I've already discarded the 18-200 from the formula due to the 11x range, with so much ground to cover the 18-200 isn't going to satisfy me in terms of distortion. I don't want to do all those corrections post shooting. I'm not a fan of plastic mounts so the 18-105mm is out too. I'm not an anti 18-200, if I was offered one free I would take it...

    My question is whether VR is really required on such a short lens (85mm max). I have no more VR experience than the furthest corners of the local photo dealer, and then only the 18-200 ..... 16-85 is out of stock. So I've seen it working at 200mm and it is impressive but I don't often shoot that long.

    My present body is D200. After much fretting have settled on getting the D300 (or the soon to be announced successor) and not the D700. All my dozen lenses are chosen to fit the DX focal range (they are mostly DX at the short end ) and moving to FX will leave a big gap at the short end.

    I take anything from landscapes through macro, product and candid.
    I think it's a valid question, sometimes lenses have more features than necessary to help sell them..... I have a Sigma 8mm fisheye which makes me laugh when I hear the AF working ..... AF on a fisheye?????
    Any hands-on users please lend me your ears.
  2. The blurring due to camera shake/motion increase as either or both the lens' focal length or the shutter speed selected increase (get longer). So VR in a normal zoom would allow you to shoot at slower shutter speeds without excessive blurring than what's otherwise possible. In practice, its a really nice feature to have.
    Also, I think the 16-85 is a better lens than the 18-70. The 18-70 has really questionable distortion patterns and vignetting at 18mm.
  3. I own both lenses and like both of them a great deal. The VR feature with the 16-85 is very helpful, I wish I had it on my 17-55 2.8. I also think the 16-85 is a sharper lens at all focal lengths. The contrast and color clarity are very similar.
  4. The VR isn't necessary in strong light or if you're atop a tripod, which is to say, most of the time. The rest of the time, it's a welcome feature, even if it doesn't stop subject movement.
  5. If you have to ask or doubt the usefulness of VR on a midrange zoom, you probably don't need it.
    For those of us with occasionally shaky mitts, yup, it helps. I've been missing that 24-120 VR since I sold it awhile back. While I don't often attempt one handed shooting with the D2H, especially with the SB-800 mounted, a VR midrange zoom would have been very helpful last weekend when I was trying to photograph the antics of my friend's border collie. I was tossing a tennis ball with my left hand while trying to snag the pup's mid-air leaping catching. Out of nearly 200 photos only about 20 were free of camera-shake induced motion blur. Since I was using flash it wasn't feasible to use a shutter speed faster than 1/250th, even tho' the D2H and SB-800 can manage faster synch - it doesn't work all that well beyond very close range.
    Ideally, I'd like a two-ring version of the 18-200 VR to eliminate the creep problem.
  6. I haven't missed VR on my 18-70 at all, but do miss it on a 70-300 Sigma without it. I'm using a d40x, and like to use relatively low ISO's, 400 to 800 max.
  7. It's sharper, better built, a bit more range, and VR. But it's over $600 and it's still got consumer grade max apertures. It's an upgrade but not a big one. Aren't there better uses for $600?
  8. Necessary? No.
    Useful? Yes, in some circumstances.
  9. I've used the 16-85mm VR since it was released in 2008, and I've found the VR feature very handy in many situations. When shooting inside the White Tower at the Tower of London last fall, I could hand hold down to 1/15 sec, thanks to VR, zoomed out to 35mm in this photo:
    Nikon D300, ISO 3200, 1/15sec at f5.6 Nikon 16-85mm VR zoom
  10. You can obviously replace the VR by a tripod. So one might argue, that it is not necessary at all. Moreover, it won't help to stop motion blur, of course. But for a travelling amateur like me, it is invaluable.
  11. VR doesn't replace a tripod if you don't have one with you or can't carry one to a specific place. IMHO, VR is useful at any length. I use it from 18 out to 200 on my lens.
    All of the lenses you mentioned, the 18-70, the 16-85, and the 18-200 have similar distortion "issues". There are some extreme spots, but I suspect unless you are shooting architecture you might almost never notice it in "real" photos. The 16-85, according to reviewers, has perhaps more easily correctable distortion, so I'd go there (among other reasons). Also, the difference between 85 and 200 is "crop-able" unless you are printing really huge. I love my 18-200, but today I'd get the 16-85, no question.
  12. Clive, For my lenses that do not have VR I use a mono pole when shooting in low light conditions.
  13. The more salient question for me is: "Is VR cost effective at this length, given that it's such a slow lens?" I think $700 is quite a bit to ask.
    I overcame my fear of plastic and happily shoot with my 18-105VR. Save your money for fast lenses. They are really worth it.
  14. Personally I think that if I were to use a lens that ends with a maximum aperture of f/5.6 I would most definitely want VR as the shutter speeds would tend to be quite low in all but the brightest light. There are situations where a short lens with VR is useful; i.e. interior photography in situations where you're a traveler instead of a commissioned photographer. In many public and private buildings that the general public has access to, tripod use is forbidden. The use of wide apertures results in less than ideal depth of field for architectural work and so one solution is to use a lens with VR. The 16-85 gets very high marks in reviews (e.g. see photozone.de) and it would be my choice for this kind of work. Also, not just interiors but narrow streets in the shade ... you probably can take advantage of the VR in such situations. The only issue is that people, if present in the pictures, are probably not going to be quite sharp if they move about. However, the same movement blur is present in pictures taken on tripods at similar speeds. I imagine that the 16-85 is close to an ideal lens for travel photography when people are on the main subjects. A prime or primes like the 35/1.8, 60/2.8, 105/2.8 to take portraits and close-ups with would complement the zoom nicely. I don't think the 16-85 is particularly suitable for candids - you need something faster for that.
  15. I don't have any objection to considering a 3rd party lens if it has the similar range, ability and better aperture. Sigma has HSM for example ...
    As mentioned above the main reservation I have with the 16-85 is the poor aperture, f3.5 @ 16mm very quickly gives way to the the smaller end of it's 'f' range. I have assumed Nikon see VR as a way to cut costs by replacing large expensive lens elements with it. This to me is a big hurdle to overcome in my considering an 'upgrade'.
    One other concern is longevity. My 135/2.8 ais is still going flawlessly after 30 years ... can the same be expected of a lens with so much non-glass action going on inside?
    16-85 isn't exactly a cheap lens but I'd happily pay more for a pro lens that didn't look like a flowerpot on the front of the body .... by comparison with todays lenses that 135/2.8 is TINY.
  16. 30 year old 135/2.8
  17. Clive, the 16-85 with it's VR (VERY useful) is pretty unique. There isn't a good third-party alternative.
    Small light VR standard zoom with a wide to short tele range? It's killer.
  18. The 17-55/2.8G AF-S DX is an excellent alternative to the 16-85, with narrower FL range but more robust build (non-extending front as you focus or zoom) and faster maximum aperture. The 16-85 is a lens for a different purpose. Personally I think f/2.8 rank at the top of the pile for versatility and I was always very fond of the 17-55 while I used DX.
    I don't think all modern lenses last as well as the fixed focal length manual focus lenses simply because there is so much more mechanical and electrical functionality built in. It's not an apples-to-apples comparison. If you want the functionality (zoom, VR, AF-S, compact lens considering the range) you have to accept the possibly shorter life as a trade-off. Or you can continue to use manual focus primes. I use a bit of both.
  19. I think f/2.8 rank at the top of the pile for versatility
    Ups, I meant f/2.8 zooms. I mostly use primes nowadays but for general purpose applications as long as you're willing to carry them the f/2.8 zooms are hard to beat.
  20. Think of VR as a tripod substitute or those times you don't bring your tripod. As such I've found the VR great even at 18mm. An alternative is a Tamron 17-50 f/2.8, Sigma 18-50 f/2.8 Macro, or Tokina 16-50 f/2.8. All are excellent lenses. The Tamron, which I have, and the Sigma are much less expensive than the 16-85 VR and the Tokina is about the same as the 16-85 VR. If you can get over your fear of plastic lens mounts you could get both the Nikon 18-105 VR and Nikon 35mm f/1.8 DX for a little less than the 16-85 VR alone.
  21. I own this lens (16-85) for about a month and a half and I say it's a brilliant lens.
    Sharp for its range, distortion easily fixed with PS or any other program, sits perfect on my D90.
    As for VR I say it's worth the extra money.
    Even when you shoot at 16mm or there about in a night club and without a flash, then you'll say thanks for having it:)
  22. VR is really amazing. I had the 18-200 and although I didn't like the image quality, the VR was incredible. Hand held shooting still subjects it will amaze you how slow of a shutter speed will still get a blurr free photo.
  23. ShunCheung

    ShunCheung Administrator

    To Clive, since you alaready have the 18-70mm AF-S, do you often shoot hand held at 1/30 to 1/60 sec indoors? If so, do you lose a lot of images due to camera shake? That should tell you whether VR will help.
    As Lex points out, if you are unaware of this being an issue, the chance is that you don't need VR.
    In my case, the only lens I need VR is the 70-200mm/f2.8 zoom. VR is very helpful hand holding a tele. Otherwise, I rarely feel that I need VR on my 28-70mm/f2.8 or 17-55mm/f2.8 DX.
    Essentially, VR is most helpful to:
    • Long teles
    • Consumers who use mid-range zooms (such as 16-85) without proper support, including shaky hands, poor hand holding technique
  24. It is worth noting that many tourist sites will not allow tripods or monopods to be used on the premesis. This is where the 16-85mm VR comes in handy. At the Tower of London, you're generally in a long line of people following an arrow course, and you would stop the entire line if you went to set up a tripod. I had just enough time to stop and take a photo without blocking too many people. I agree that a tripod is always the best way to get good slow exposures, but while traveling this is not always possible.
    I had the Nikon 18-70mm a few years ago and it was a great travel lens, lightweight, good zoom range, and sharp enough. But I had times when I wanted to zoom out to 70mm and shoot in dim light, say at 1/30 second, and I didn't have much time because the person I was walking with didn't want to stop every minute for a photo. So I was shooting rather quickly and the results showed some camera shake. VR would solve that problem for me. Note I am *not* a pro photographer so a heavy f2.8 zoom lens is not in my budget or something I would want to lug around. The D300 is heavy enough for me.


    This photo was taken at 1/40th sec at f5.6 at 65mm (Nikon D80 at ISO 1600 JPG Basic straight from camera (I have the RAW files but don't have them posted online for forums) with the 18-70mm. It looks good to me but it was pointed out by someone on the forum at the time that it is not sharp. So everyone has different standards. This was a quick grab shot I took while walking. If I had had more time I could have slowed down and taken this more carefully. The 12x18 inch print I made at Costco from this image looks very good to me.
  25. Dave brings up a great point.
    Another solution for all you folks is that you can buy a walking stick (which they generally will allow in many of those places) with a secret threaded monopod head on top. I think Leki makes them.
    After getting my VR lens, I gave my monopod away though. I absolutely didn't need it with the VR.
  26. I had this lens for a year and found that I did not like the range of apertures. 5.6 on the long end does not seem that much worse than 4.5 on the long end, but in practice it felt like this lens was always at around 5.6 wide open except at 16mm.
    I ended up selling it and going back to my 18-70.
  27. I have a few VR lenses - do I consider VR necessary for me - No, but then I have rather stable hands.
    I have the 18-70DX which I use on my IR (Infrared) converted camera, but there are times I feel it's not wide enough nor long enough. So I am debating picking up a 16-85 to use with that camera. But - do I want to or not...... I can't decide.
    As for the necessity of VR....
    I am here going to offer a shot taken with the 24-70mm f/2.8 handheld at 1/25s at a f/8. I have hand held shots at even longer exposures hand held. But - only you know if you need it or not.
  28. Peter, the walking stick idea is a very good one. I will look into this! I shot with a monopod most of the time when I was shooting with a Rolleiflex. It was a great way to get good exposures and felt really natural. I used an old Bolex monopod that my uncle had and it worked great. I still have it. But VR is the ultimate solution. It's yet to fail me. At 16mm I reckon I can hand hold down to 1/4 of a second.
  29. Dave,
    Here it is at REI.
  30. Wow, it's expensive! I'll have to wait for the half-price sale :)
    Thanks for the link.
  31. To Shun ...
    I almost never shoot indoors other than macro/product subjects. When I do I use the SB-800 off camera. Generally I haven't found the need for anything to replace the 18-70 for blur avoidance, only sharpness. My 35-70/2.8afd wee's all over it for sharpness! Just look at the 135mm photo above.
    The 16-85 gives a better range and/but comes with VR which is what I'm questioning. Have I been missing something all these years? Essentially I am trying to find a wider focal range without sacrificing sharpness and additional unnecessary cost/complication. I have shyed away from plastic mounts as a matter of course (as opposed to any anecdotal bad reports) and if the 18-105 was steel I would take a closer look at it. The 18-200 may suit KR down to the ground but I wouldn't be happy with the distortion ... apparently he is.
    I live at present in Houston ..... definately no lack of light. In fact I recently extended my range of ND filters on that basis.
    The holy grail is the 10-150/2.8 AFS FX which is as sharp as my 50/1.8, is distortion free, auto-shifts to VR past 75mm and is no bigger than the micro 60 .... all for $500.
    Anyway, back from LaLa-land....
    "Essentially, VR is most helpful to:...." You echo my feelings precisely. I don't see why VR is added to lenses of this (short) length except for people who can't hold steadily anymore.
    To Dave ...
    I also would say the steps shot was a little soft. On the other hand looking at your numbers it was a fantastic result if handheld. Admirable exposure too ... just right, even down to the lights. Was that the D300?
    To Lex ...
    So long as the 16-85 is sharp VR is something I can live without. If only it was available without VR. If you switch it off does it have a detrimental effect on the image?
    Ahh, if only that 24-120 had been wider.... and sharp
    To Peter ...
    I like the observation that the difference between 200mm and 85mm is something to be obtained by cropping. Good point to remember for resisting the urge to stretch the zoom range in your lens of desire. I guess with VR at that FL end the image sharpness will handle it.
    Just a general question beyond my original post - do you have to wait for VR to 'lock in' before pulling the trigger?
  32. Clive,
    You don't have to wait long at all with VR II. Turning it off does not degrade your image at all. I find VR useful at short ranges, not because I'm unsteady, but because I have, as Dave Lee mentions, gotten hand-held images I can use at REALLY low shutter speeds, like 1/8 and 1/4, which would be impossible with no VR.
    Your observations are pretty good. EXCEPT, that I defy you to see a problem with the distortion in the 18-200 in real world photography (other than architectural photography of course, for which it is totally unsuitable).
    I've had to correct that distortion in no images that I recall that I've shot with my lens in 3 years (although I can see it if I shoot really boring square test shots). The 16-85 has distortion, too. You'll probably not have to correct that hardly ever as well.
  33. VR is not necessary at 85 mm, but f5.6 is pretty darn slow at that focal length.
  34. Clive, thank you for your comments, the stairs image was taken with the D80, which could handle low contrast scenes like this one with aplomb. In high contrast scenes, however, it wasn't so great (tended to blow out highlights).
  35. To Peter ...
    That sounds like good news to me. I suppose I'll have to stop snapping that brick wall now
  36. Ilkka, when I first tested my new 16-85mm VR, I could immediately see the improvements over the 18-70mm, which I also liked very much. I sold the 18-70mm and haven't missed it since. While I am sure I would like the 17-55mm f2.8, I would miss the VR, and the extra zoom range the 16-85mm VR offers. I'll take VR and a slower aperture for hand held use. For pro use, the f2.8 constant aperture is a must, however.
  37. In my opinion, is the extra money worth it just for JUST VR? NO. At least not for me. I would use the money for a D 300. Its ability to shoot at higher ISOs w/o much noticable noise vs the D 200 is remarkable. I own both bodies and I still use the 18-70 (non VR) lens on both of them. The only VR lens I own is the 70-200 f 2.8 and given its weight, VR does come in handy when shooting hand held.
    Joe Smith
  38. I would probably like the 16-85 just as Dave stated. I would also like the extra 2mm on the wide. However it is 3X the cost of the 18-70 and it is never discounted much for a used copy.
    Used 18-70's can be had for well under $200. I also agree with Joseph, that the extra stop gained with the D300's iso, negates the need for VR (at times.)
    This also makes me wonder.... How slow can everyone hand hold? I can still do 1/15 on the long end of the 18-70, on a good day.
    (I don't always have good days ; )
  39. Another lens in this focal range is the Tamron 17-50 2.8. It has a build quality similar to Nikon's consumer lenses but image quality not far off from the 17-55. My D90 is superb at ISO 400 and being able to open up to 2.8 really makes VR not all that important. BTW although it's not AFS the Tamron focuses very quick. A bit off topic I know But the image quality never fails to impress me.
  40. Just to add - ACTIVE mode VR is also something I've found useful in the past (shooting from a moving/vibrating platform).
  41. Remember the old inverse-of-focal-length rule? That rule, combined with knowledge of how human subjects move, can help you calculate the circumstances where VR is or isn't useful.
    You have to figure in the crop factor with the inverse-of-focal-length rule. So, 16-85 becomes 24-127 equivalent, calling for shutter speeds of 1/25 to 1/125 without VR. Allowing 3 stops for the VR yields 1/3 to 1/15.
    Experience tells us that human subjects require at least 1/30 to 1/60 (much higher for sports). So, the slowest VR-enabled speeds of 1/3 to 1/15 are too slow to stop human motion. VR would help a little at 85mm, allowing the use of 1/60 instead of 1/125. For the most part, VR on a lens like that is for inanimate subjects. But, it can work wonders on them!
  42. k c

    k c

    I think most of the replies are about VR, while Clive seems to be more concerned about 16-85's sharpness, distortion and the focal range (although he questions about VR's usefulness).

    Clive, probably you can make your choice easier if you narrow down the features you want. As a travel photographer (and lazy enough to not switch between lenses), I'd definitely go for a 16-85 VR if I'm in your situation. But if you need a faster, sharp lens and don't mind switching between lenses, you'd be better off with a faster standard zoom with a rather shorter focal range. Sigma's 18-50 f2.8 (approx $420) and Tamron's 17-50 f2.8 (approx $500) can be good alternatives for a much pricier Nikkor 17-55 AFS f2.8. Having a more dedicated wider zoom (10 ~ 35mm range) as an addition to your 35-70mm could be a solution too.

    I would rather see the VR feature in 16-85mm as a really good bonus to a slow and very sharp lens with a good focal range (although VR pushes up the lens price a bit).
  43. To Kay...
    Thanks for reading the OP. To give a fuller overview of my options I have ...
    8mm/3.5 hsm ($300 of peculiar fun. For that money how couldn't you?)
    12-24mm/4 atx (doubles as a hammer)
    18-70mm afs (subject of mail - came with D70 kit)
    35mm/2 afd (didn't have any oil = collectors item :)
    50mm/1.8 afd (too cheap, too sharp not to have)
    50mm/1.2 ais (shear joy of ownership)
    35-70mm/2.8 afd (super sharp, engineered quality)
    70-210mm/4-5.6 afd (was going to sell but after reading the reviews changed my mind)
    85mm/1.8 afd (bought it before the other 85mm. Sharp)
    85mm/1.4 ais (I stand this next to the 50mm/1.2 with the caps off - that's better than US tv)
    90mm/2.8 sp (better than the 105/micro plus EXCELLENT bokeh)
    105mm/2.8 afd (it was calling me from the shelf couldn't resist it)
    135mm/2.8 ai (small, cheap and sharp enough to put on bellows for fun. Quality build & finish)
    & longer lenses not relevant to this thread.
    As you can see I have no gaps in my FLs (unless my next body is D700 .... which it won't be) and my OP is about whether the 16-85 is sharper than the 18-70, whether the VR is useful at this range.
    I, like many people, would like to carry less baggage if at all possible but not at the cost of image quality - eg for me, using a 18-200. With the greatest respect to those who love it I am a bit picky about these things and will always be subconsciously looking for the flaws. Just like the scratch on your new car that is unobtrusive .... YOU know it's there. For me, taking a photo with substandard equipment is worse than leaving the camera at home.
    Ok, the 16-85 is slow but I have enough primes to substitute if I specifically want tighter DOF at the longer end. DOF at the shorter end is a non-issue. Lens speed looks like it will be offset of by VR (I am assured by most responders here) and the next body will sort out shutter speed using higher ISO settings. That just leaves sharpness and cost. Cost is something I always take a multi year view on when it comes to lenses .... an extra two or three hundred devided by say 120 months becomes a non-issue again, whereas a lens will never get sharper even if I keep it for life. As mine has cruelly shown me, bodies come and go!
    I think I'll be getting this one for two reasons. Longer range and a first foray into the brave world of VR. Hell, I can always sell it again........
    Thanks all.
  44. Clive:
    You will not regret the decission.
  45. Clive, it's an impressive lens. I've tested it against some Nikon primes, and it is tough to tell the difference. Enjoy it!
  46. jbm


    16-85 VR is an astoundingly good performer even if the apertures are not fast. I did a commercial shoot with it for a cycling team and the results were almost as sharp as my 50mm prime when I pixel peeped.
    Then I dropped it...once...and it has not been the same despite numerous trips back to Nikon.
    I also have that 135/2.8 which is really great. But it's fixed and can't AF, so it's a deal breaker for a lot of things.
  47. To Jay...
    The 135/2.8 is such a sweet lens ... it's small, sharp, fast and simple. Will still be going long after I'm in the ground. Unless I drop it !!
    It's almost better because it has almost NO monetary value. Like every shot is a free gift.
    Has to be used in a calm environment though.
  48. As mine has cruelly shown me, bodies come and go!​
    If that ain't the truth. :) Thanks for the laugh, need it today.
  49. k c

    k c

    Whoa~ now I wonder why you need another lens to your massive collection. Just kidding. :D Show us how it works for you later.
  50. ShunCheung

    ShunCheung Administrator

    I see lots of gaps in Clive's lens collection:
    • There is no 70-200mm/f2.8
    • There is no 300mm/f2.8
    • There is no 200-400mm/f4
    • There is no 600mm/f4
    and it goes on and on.
  51. Hi Shun,
    I did say I don't often shoot long ..... or I thought I did. I have the 2 ring 80-200mm/2.8 afd but use it only occasionally since prising it from the packing. Haven't found the need to use a '300mm' lens, but if you don't have it you won't find that out. Perhaps because there's no surfers here :)
    Seriously, the only reason is that it's a bit of a lump to drag around, and in the street I might as well be carrying a megafone for staying under the radar. Or not!
    There can't be many teles as smooth looking in the image and tack sharp (there I go again - Somebody Stop Me!!) - a true classic.
    If charged with NAS then I plead guilty M'lud! Doesn't make me a bad person though .... Some people collect stamps, at least I can use my collection ... They can't send letters. heh heh heh. :)
    Now if I could just find a nice affordable 24mm shift lens for all these skyscrapers .....
    Did I mention the Schneider Kreutznach and two EL Nikkor enlarger lenses for the bellows? HELP!
    To Kay ...
    There is no 'need' in my lens requirement, nobody needs that lot. The word is FUN :) Have it!
  52. I love my 18-70mm.

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