Now much better is the Nikon 17-55 then the 16-85?

Discussion in 'Nikon' started by andrea_magugliani, Aug 27, 2011.

  1. Hi all,
    I want to invest some money coming from a couple of lucky sells on alamy and getty and I was thinking to upgrade a lens in my kit. I have a NIKON D300, 16-85, 70-300 VR and 85mm 1.8. I do travel photography in developing countries therefore mainly street photography and portraits. I use my 85mm for portraits and I love it, but the lens that I use the most the 16-85 for reasons of focal length.
    The 16-85 is a great lens, it does everything good but... nothing exceptionally. I know I can't get the quality of the 85 on a zoom but at the same time the images are a bit flat and the colors are not as great as I would like them to be.
    So the question is, how much would I earn upgrading the 16-85 with the 17-55 2.8?
    Or perhaps upgrading the 70-300 VR with a 80-200 2.8D? (weight is not an issue)
    Thanks all for the precious advice!
  2. the images are a bit flat and the colors are not as great as I would like them to be.
    If you want vivid colours then a D700 would fit that purpose well. You could then get e.g. 16-35/4 or 24-70/2.8 to do the tasks of the standard or wide angle zoom. The 24-70 is an excellent lens. Since you mainly do travel and portraits FX would fit those applications very well.
    While the 17-55 is a great lens I am not sure if it will give you the kind of improvement you're looking for. It's worth trying (can you test one by borrowing it briefly from a store?) but I would go FX if you want more punch.
  3. Is your issue of "flat colors" really the lens?
  4. Is it possible that the issues you are having are not lens related and perhaps more a result of your picture control settings and/or post processing? And perhaps lighting?
  5. " images are a bit flat and the colors are not as great" - sounds odd, or your expectations are too high.

    How do you shoot ?, what are camera settings ? how do you post process your pictures ?
    The D300 and your lens are capable of great pictures exposition quality, so first explore what you could change or improve with your settings and processing?
  6. Unfortunately going for FF isn't in my pocket yet. I usually shoot in Aperture priority, AUTO WB, ISO 100 most of the time. I photoshop all my pictures in the best way I can, I don't master PS but I know a bit.
    I definitely agree that a FF camera would add a lot to my shots but for now I'm up to a new lens.
    Does any of you add both the lenses? I also heard good things about the 80-200 2.8, the last one, and I guess that it would be a good improvement from the 70-300 VR that is great in good light but poor in dim light. What do u recommend?
  7. Andrea: I have NO experience with 16-58, but I do with the 17-55 for uses similiar to yours ... you will find the 17-55 2.8 fast, big (esp with hood), heavy, expensive, and FABULOUS ...
  8. The 80-200mm is certainly better quality than the 70-300 VR. However, if you're talking about the AF D (not AF-S D) version, it doesn't have the highly precise silent wave motor, which means that there will be slight play in the focus results which are accentuated by the use of the smaller DX sensor. Therefore I would recommend getting the 1st version of the 70-200 AF-S, or the AF-S version of the 80-200/2.8D, instead. The VR can be very handy in this kind of a lens especially with DX reach, and I think the Mk I of the 70-200 has more beautiful bokeh than its successor (but the latter is sharper at 200mm f/2.8). Buying second hand can be a very practical way of obtaining better quality glass than you can get by buying new! But I would always first see the lens before buying.
    I think for someone doing travel and people photography, the 17-55 would be an improvement in that you can stop subject movement easier on a dark alley if you shoot in those, and generally you can make the backgrounds more smooth and less detailed (cluttered) if you so desire, and this can be very helpful at least in my opinion. I have not used the 16-85 but it tests very well in review sites such as photozone so I cannot say about how it compares with the 17-55 in terms of colours and punch. I always liked the 17-55 and thought it was one of the best lenses to have for a DX camera. Without trying it for your photography style it would be difficult to tell if the improvement is significant enough to justify the cost. If you plan to use DX as your primary camera for 3 or more years then I would say that just getting the f/2.8 aperture and generally beautiful feeling of the people images that the 17-55 is worth the cost. Of course you already have the 85/1.8 with a wide aperture but the 17-55 allows you to get some of that feel to wider angle shots.
    I think the improvement in the telezoom by going from 70-300 to 70-200 mk I would be very significant. But it's a big and heavy lens - that's something you need to take into account when traveling. Very powerful and versatile though. The 17-55 DX is its natural complement in the short end but I'd only buy it if you are sure you won't be getting an FX camera in the short run. You can of course sell it but the interest in this lens has been reduced since some of the user base now use FX.
    Either the 17-55 or 70-200 will allow you both creative options you do not currently have as well as improved in image quality at least subjectively (meaning the control of depth of field and in the telezoom's case quite significant improvement in the clarity of the image). Personally I think 17-55 and 85 would make a great pair and I would not necessarily want to use the long zoom at all, but this is all subjective and a matter of shooting style; if you shoot sporting events or want longer distance shots for other reasons (for the isolation "look") you can ceratinly benefit also from the 70-200. Good luck with making your decision!
  9. I'm sorry, but I disagree that a D700 would add "a lot" to your shots. The D300 is a very capable camera, and I have never found my shots lacking "punch". I feel that the lenses you have should be able to produce punchy shots, but it all depends on the light. Flat light produces flat photographs.
    Can I ask why you are using ISO100? The best IQ is at the base ISO, which is ISO200 on the D300. Saying that, I don't think that is responsible for your images lacking punch.
    I have previously used the 70-300 VR, and it gave me some very nice images, some of which have been published. (I now use the 70-200 VRII, which is in a different class altogether.) I can't help feel that your lack of punch is due to camera settings, or light.
  10. Andrea - Bruce B + 1
    I, too, have a D300. Excellent camera. No desire to go FF.
    I have had exceptional success with the 17 - 55. I also have the 70 - 200 f/2.8 VR1. Both lenses are big, heavy, obvious, but well worth carrying around. I use my 17 - 55 90% of the time. Excellent candids, street, and indoor without flash. The majority of my pics on my web site are from the 17 - 55.
    I can't say whether the lens will increase yours sales dollars, but I suspect you'll end up with more keepers.
    I checked out your web site. Very nice. I think the 17 - 55 would serve you well. There is a gap between 55 and 70 with my lenses, but it has not been a problem. I recently picked up a Sigma 30/1.4 for my 'normal' lens. I'm planning on acquiring a Tokina 11 - 16 f/2.8 for my wide end.
    Good luck,
  11. I believe Andrea has a problem with the colours and "flatness" of the 16-85 compared to the 85mm prime, not with the D300.
    I prefer full frame cameras myself but for your needs a D700, on its own, will add nothing, especially since it is so outdated now and requiring a replacement as fast as the Japanese are able to do it.
    The problem is that spending over $1500 USD for a lens that is only good for crop bodies is a waste, to me. When one starts to spend that kind of money on lenses the upgrade to full frame becomes worthwhile.
    The problem with the long zoom range zooms is trying to maintain image quality throughout the range. So the 17-55/2.8 is likely going to do a better job than your 16-85/5.6 but, as Ilkka has alluded to, using the 24-70/2.8 on a full frame body is the more pallatable option. You do not have a lot of choices and most of them are expensive. I would recommend the 17-35/2.8 but I do not know if that would be too wide for you if you do go to full frame at some point and I do not know if losing the 36-84mm range would also be a problem for you. Is there a particular focal length of the 16-85 that you find yourself using the most? Perhaps you could add another prime lens to go alongside it which would add the image quality you desire.
    I have absolutely no problem recommending a used Nikon 80-200mm f2.8 ED AF-S over the 70-300 VR, but I would be tempted to keep that zoom and simply add a used Nikon 180mm f2.8 ED or 300mm f4 ED to complement it and the 85/1.8. By the way, you say weight is not an issue but one of the reasons I switched from using a 200/2 on a monopod to using an 80-200/2.8 AF-S handheld was physical flexibility as well as zoom flexibility but I must say that handholding the big zoom for even only an hour gets very tiresome! Hopefully that Nikon f4 is on the way.
  12. Andrea: I checked out the work on your site--it is excellent! I don't see any problem whatsoever with the color and contrast of your shots. For what YOU are doing, I think the 16-85mm is the right choice. The extra reach is very useful, allowing you to get up to optimal portrait range without having to change lenses 'on the fly'. If I were going into developing countries, I might invest in an extra body as a backup.
  13. How much better......273%......
  14. I prefer full frame cameras myself but for your needs a D700, on its own, will add nothing,
    Of course it does. Since the D700 has lower noise than a D300, you can increase contrast and saturation while retaining acceptable appearance of colors, tone, and a low level of artifacts in the final processed image. If you try to do the same with a D300 you will get a noisy image. What's more when using full-frame lenses, the extra light bouncing around in the FX lens (i.e. the 85 or the 70-200/300) increases flare and reduces contrast - again making the images have less "pop". When you use the full frame sensor you are not letting extra light in to cause unnecessary havoc on the image.
    requiring a replacement as fast as the Japanese are able to do it.
    There will always be new cameras in the future. IMO a (working) full frame camera will always be more valuable than any (even future) DX camera for the applications mentioned by the OP, since the Nikon portrait primes are all optimized for FX use and also there are many other lenses available which are not quite what you might want on DX (i.e. 24 PC-E is very useful for travel, so are other fast primes). However, there are other ways to go about it; better glass for the existing camera will also help achieve some of the goals that the OP has.
  15. ShunCheung

    ShunCheung Administrator

    Like Les, I too took a look at Andrea's web site:
    The images there look fine with nice colors, but of course I don't know which camera and lens were used in each case. Compared to the 16-85 DX, the 17-55mm/f2.8 DX is more tuned for event photography and seems to be optimized for subjects around 5 meters away. Clearly f2.8 has a big advantage over f5.6 for indoor, dim light situations. As I mentioned recently, even though you don't necessarily shoot at f2.8, having f2.8 gives you better AF and more options.
    However, I don't think you'll get better colors by switching to the 17-55mm/f2.8 AF-S DX. Obviously you'll also lose zoom range.
    Maybe the OP can post a sample or two on those "flat" images that lack vivid colors.
  16. Andrea,
    As Elliot has mentioned "Picture Controls" in your menu options has the capacity to increase the contrast and saturation of your images to very high levels.
    I too have the Nikon 16-85mm and recently borrowed a Nikon 17-55mm to access it's greater focus ability in conjunction with my new Nikon D7000. My opinion is that focusing performance was vastly improved in all lighting with the 17-55mm f2.8, and corner to corner sharpness is better than the Nikon 16-85mm throughout the 17-55mm range. Center sharpness is about the same with both lenses, especially in the mid range. I noticed no differences between these lenses as far as the rendition of contrast and saturation of colors.
  17. I have a D300 & Nikon 17-55mm f2.8, and have owned a Nikon 85mm f1.8D (and did use it on D300 for very short time.) Some thoughts. My Nikon 70-200mm f2.8 VR is a far better lens than the 85mm f1.8D when it comes to image quality. It's not a contest. Your photos are "flat?" Buy CS5 or even PS Elements and take some classes. I can guarantee you the problem is not the lenses, unless you shoot into the sun a lot and have flare issues. (Especially on the 85mm!!!) Over the years I've come to think that the single most important thing about photography is learning how to see and use light. This includes becomming proficient with off-camera flash. What flash are you using? What modifiers? I really doubt you'd see much improvement from a lens change, and am even more certain you won't see any difference at all if you buy a D700. I didn't, anyway. We like to think that by simply buying new "stuff" our photos will get better, somehow. It's easier to change gear than to learn new things and change ourselves. I think the way for you to go is to learn software, and even more important learn how to use Light.
    Kent in SD
  18. I usually shoot in Aperture priority, AUTO WB, ISO 100 most of the time
    The D300's native ISO is 200. Shooting at ISO 100 is a negative trade-off, albeit a slight one. The D300 files, shot at native ISO and exposed well, are very malleable. While I agree with much of the advice above, I do think that it's hard to assess what the original comment means without seeing examples.
  19. The photo of baba is fantastic. All the qualities ihavecome to expect from myd300 great tonality with almost 3d
    excellent color intensity and separation
  20. Hi Andrea,

    I have both the 16-85 and the 17-55. The 16-85 is a very, very good lens for pretty much everything except fast
    moving subjects (where f/2.8 and the faster focusing come into play), low light (where f/2.8 gives you better shooting
    options), bokeh out towards 55mm, and durability (17-55 is built extremely well). I don't think you will see a ton of improvement with respect to image quality. I think the color rendering on the 17-55 is slightly warmer, but it's not significant.

    Both of these lenses are super sharp even at the wider apertures and are gems on a DX camera. I had the 16-85 first
    and thought about selling it when I bought the 17-55, but decided to keep the 16-85 because it's easier to lug around
    on vacation, has a better walk-around range, and gives me a lens with VR (for those rare instances where I may want
    a little more depth of field and need to shoot slow).

    The main reason I bought the 17-55 was for events, concerts, and sports shooting that I'm trying to get involved in,
    and the 16-85 just can't touch the 17-55 on focusing speed and f/2.8. If fast focusing, a wider aperture, and better
    build quality are what you are looking for, the 17-55 will give it to you, and on my D300s, it's a combination made in
    heaven. But image quality will not improve noticeably in my opinion.

    As far as the telephoto goes, my 70-200 f/2.8 VR smokes my 70-300 variable aperture VR lens in every's not even fair. I can't comment on an 80-200. But the 70-300 is my vacation companion to the 16-85.
  21. I notice a very visible difference between the 17-55 and several other lenses, especially of the kit/super-zoom variety, used near those focal lengths. The 17-55 is warmer, and distinctly contrastier (unless it's getting a face full of direct sun - it's not impervious to flare).
  22. Kent Staubus Kent in SD

    I think the way for you to go is to learn software, and even more important learn how to use Light.​
    Kent, have you visited Andrea's web site? I have, and I see numerous examples of wonderful use of Light. Perhaps Andrea prefers the use of reflectors for fill light, rather than flash. Given the environments in which he travels, reflectors certainly could be more appropriate.
    Buy CS5 or even PS Elements and take some classes.​
    Kent, how do you come up with such a blanket statement? I see no evidence that Andrea is lacking in computer or Photoshop skills.
    We like to think that by simply buying new "stuff" our photos will get better, somehow.​
    If Andrea wishes to contemplate the acquisition of a new lens, then why derail the idea in such a manor?
    My Nikon 70-200mm f2.8 VR is a far better lens than the 85mm f1.8D when it comes to image quality. It's not a contest.​
    Kent, why did you sell your 85mm f1.8D? Could you not have taken a class instead? I own the 85mm f1.8D, and enjoy its output on my D80. Any of us can benefit from a good class. but shooting with a new lens that we enjoy and have confidence in may at times be just the ticket.
  23. I would like to thank you all for taking time to share with me experience and thoughts. To sum up:
    1) I will follow the advice that many of you gave me and I will start using ISO200 instead of ISO100 on my D300, the camera with which I take all my pictures (on the website at least).
    2) Looking to the pictures on my website I realized that 90% of the shots are taken between 40mm and 85mm. This is a very important point as the extra 30mm of the 16-85 are in this case is very fundamental.
    3) I don't use a flash, I like natural light also because in some countries you don't want people to notice you and a flash is the last thing you want. I love my 85mm because it allows me to use natural lighting and I love the bokeh of it that is probably what I miss on the 16-85.
    4) The BOKEH, that's what the 16-85 misses. It is very poor especially between 50 and 85mm that is where I make portraits. For example the following shot, I would have liked a more 3D effect with a better fuzzy background.
    5) I agree that photoshop is important but you know what, my best shots never need any retouch and I am talking about the shots taken with the 85mm. An example:
    Conclusions: Thanks to your comment and recommendation I cleared my mind and I think that the best option for me is a 70-200 2.8 VRI. Good focal length for my use and good bokeh. Furthermore is a lens that I can use on FF in the future if I decide to make the step.
    Do you agree or there is something that I am missing?
    Btw, do you know any website or shop in NY where I can buy second hand? (I bought once on B&H and I was satisfied, there the 70-200 is 1500USD with 9 grade)
  24. Andrea, I have to agree with Les, and others here - your shots have clarity and 'punch', however that is defined. I like your work, and your dedication to technique shows. I would just continue to do what you are doing, I can't see how a 17-55 vs 16-85 will strengthen your work. My main lens is the lowly 18-105, and I just try to work around it's limitations.
  25. I use the 16-85 all the time as my main lens. I want my files to be 'flat' because I do not want the camera (D300) to make the colour decisions for me. I can do that in PS. I do not want my base files to be overly manipulated. That is how my camera is set up.
    that being said, I find that my files are still better than most armatures.
    I never worked with the 2.8 but I do not miss it. they are/have Narrow DoF, heavy expensive. I prefer the 16-85.
    I even like the 18-55 VR on my D3100 walk around. It is a beautiful light setup. Only problem is the slower operating speed.
  26. ShunCheung

    ShunCheung Administrator

    Andrea, initially your complaints were:
    the images are a bit flat and the colors are not as great as I would like them to be.​
    "Flat" can mean several different things, but a lot of us thought you were talking about the lack of colors originally.
    However, it looks like you have now shifted to bokeh and depth of field issues. The 16-85mm DX is f5.6 on the 85mm end. If you want really shallow depth of field, that is definitely not the right lens.
  27. Christopher--
    I had no posted examples to go on, so I reply with what I had. As for the reason I avoided suggesting Andrea buy a lens, the reason is I honestly doubt it would solve her stated problem. I've come to think that too often we reach for new gear to "cure" the shortcommings of our images, when really the shortcommings are from our own lack. I suppose buying new stuff is expected on a gear oriented board, but the result is we have all likely ended up spending thousands of dollars and found it didn't help us. Thus, I have become more hesitant to suggest people spend their money unless I'm convinced it will help their specific situation. As for the Nikon 85mm f1.8D, I used that lens for several years on Nikon N90s and F100. When I began shooting D80 and D300 I found the lens did not perform well for me at all. In fact, I'd charecterize it as the worst Nikon lens I've ever owned. I did not use it as a portrait lens though, more as a general outdoor photography lens, often in challenging light. It flared often (even with lens hood,) and the level of CA from it was totally unacceptable. No doubt it performs well in a studio, but I don't have a studio. Below is an example. If the goal is more shallow DoF, then yes a lens change would be in order, but that wasn't stated in any post before I made mine. My suggestion for a travel lens with shallow DoF would be the Tamron 17-50mm f2.8, as it's fairly small, as well as sharp. If I were to buy an 85mm f1.4, it would be the Sigma, which is terrific on digital. I have no need for one though, and I don't buy things I have no specific "job" in mind for.
    Kent in SD
  28. Kent -- Andrea listed his web site address in his original post. Check it out, as I think you will enjoy it.
  29. I have the 80-200 2.8D (nonVR) and the 70-300 D (nonVR)
    I like them both for different reasons. The 70-300 I take when I travel because that 80-200 does get heavy fast. Plus, as big as it is it grabs a lot of attention when I use it! The 70-200 may be even bigger.
    One thing to think about is how far away are you when you take pictures? With my 80-200 I have to be at least 6 feet away (almost 2 meters). The 70-300 about 5 feet.
    My usual travel lens is my 18-35 but I'm usually taking landscape pictures not portraits.
  30. Thanks Shoshana for the hint. Kent the picture that you post is really awkward, I agree that the 85 has tons of flare at night but that's the only weakness of an otherwise great lens.
    I'm reading a lot about 80-200 and 70-200, from what I read the vr on the 70-200 and the extra 10mm are the big difference.

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