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Nikkor lens comparison 16-85 vs 18-70 vs 18-200 with 12-24

IntegrityPhotos

Deerfield, US
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IntegrityPhotos Registered since 26th Apr 2006
Mon 09-Jun-08 01:29 AM | edited Mon 09-Jun-08 04:51 AM by IntegrityPhotos

With the introduction of the new 16-85 VR lens, I decided to see if it was a worthwhile replacement for my excellent copy of the 18-70 AFS to upgrade my light weight DX kit. (35mm film and FX lenses are well covered.) I was also able to obtain an 18-200 VR from one of my relatives, and with the 12-24 for wide angle benchmarks, I was set to go. Since they have been reviewed extensively elsewhere, I’ll just deal with the particulars of what I found in comparing these particular samples.

From an appearance, build and handling standpoint, I like all of these lenses, and since they’re all AFS, they have quick AF and the ability to override it manually in an instant. Although the 16-85 is smaller and lighter than the 18-200, it’s both heavier and larger than the 18-70, but I found them all to handle quite well. Frankly, there’s not much to differentiate them, except no VR in the 18-70, and the 12-24, which doesn't really need it. With that in mind, I proceeded to the optical comparisons. (I didn’t test for distortions, just resolution and overall image appearance.)

First I set up my test chart as usual, and ran a series of images at 18, 24, 35, 50, 70, and 85 (prox) focal lengths and at f4 to f11 apertures. What became immediately apparent were the similarities between all four lenses, as opposed to major differences. They all have that “Nikon” neutral rendering, with the exception that the 16-85, which shows slightly more contrast and a little more vivid color cast. While the 16-85 performed best in the mid ranges of 35mm and 50mm, the 12-24 and 18-200 were slightly better at the wider focal lengths of 18mm and 24mm respectively. But even though the 16-85 was slightly better at 35mm and 50mm, the 18-70 and 18-200 held their own at these middle ranges, and were better than the 16-85 at 70mm. At 85mm, both the 16-85 and the 18-200 were very good and essentially the same, with the 16-85 resolving just slightly more lines on the Norman Koran Lens Test Charts. However, it was by a very small percentage and shows up mainly in “pixel peeping”.

Since the test charts showed variations depending primarily on focal length, to more clearly differentiate the lenses, I resorted to shooting common objects and scenes around the house, and outside when I could. (It’s been a stormy weekend and although I did get out some, it was mostly for other purposes.) In this generalized shooting, I found the 16-85 to be a very fine lens, with effective VR producing very good resolution. Interestingly though, this sample showed somewhat more exposure variance than the other lenses, with the wide angle focal lengths possibly influenced by the vignetting reported in testing by others, such as Photozone. Surprisingly, the 18-200 exhibited less of this exposure variance, and the 18-70 was very consistent, more in keeping with my 12-24 sample, which is very consistent across the full range. To this end, I shot a series of images of a framed diploma, using a tripod and flash, and cropped a section of it for equivalent image sizes for posting. The following results show the variances I described above. Within each image the top left is the 12-24, the top right the 16-85, the bottom left the 18-70 and the bottom right the 18-200.

Note: In the following sequence of images, the 24mm example from the 18-200 is darker than normal, probably due to the flash not recycling properly. This was not a normal occurrence. Also the 24mm example for the 18-70 lens is blurred slightly, probably due to "user error". It should look more like the 18mm results.

Here are the images:

18mm Comp 12-24_16-85_18-70_18-200

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24mm Comp 12-24_16-85_18-70_18-200
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35mm Comp 16-85_18-70_18-200
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50mm Comp 16-85_18-70_18-200
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70mm Comp 16-85_18-70_18-200
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85mm Comp 16-85_18-200
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So what do I think of replacing my 18-70 AFS with the 16-85 VR? While the VR is a desirable feature, and it does have somewhat better resolution, I find it only marginally better optically overall, with the wide angle lengths of both these lenses not so relevant since I have the 12-24 for that range. One slight disappointment was its uneven exposure across the focal length range, where the 12-24 and the 18-70 shine, and the 18-200 is also better. But this is a minor complaint. On the other hand, I was frankly surprised at how well the 18-200 VR did in comparison optically, with slightly better results at some focal lengths and slightly less at others, but essentially even across the board for all practical purposes. For me, the 18-200 may make a better choice, given my present lens arsenal. But for those looking for this particular range, it's an excellent lens!
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OldPhotos
"If everyone possesses some measure of this intangible quality called creativity, photography is unprecedented as an outlet for its expression." - Ansel Adams

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