Review of the AF-S Nikkor 16-35mm Lens

Review of the AF-S Nikkor 16-35mm Lens

Wide angle lenses are favorites for real estate, landscape, and underwater photographers. The AF-S Nikkor 16-35mm proves to be versatile in wide angle focal lengths with a maximum aperture of 4.0 allowing consistent illumination. Curious how it would perform below the surface, it tagged along in a recent shoot. 

Although I am a firm believer in "do not fix what is not broken," there is always room to improve on what is already working. For many years I have been shooting with an older crop sensor underwater. I started underwater photography using this crop sensor more out of fear of damaging my full frame. However, when I moved into the Ikelite housing for my Nikon D810 I still kept the crop sensor as it worked perfect for how I was shooting. Of course, the major issue with a crop sensor on a full frame is the corner vignetting in each image forcing me to zoom in or crop in post. While it was not a major issue, I was still curious about testing out a full frame lens underwater. 


Many reviews were for landscape or interiors so I tested it underwater. I found the edges were not as sharp which in fact followed the same reviews for land. However, for underwater portrait work, this does not become an issue as the slightly un-sharp edges are not a problem. Usually, that is the backdrop or the clients dress so this was not of concern for the type of work that was being done. I can see this being an issue with underwater wildlife photographers who are shooting a full frame of busy backgrounds compared to the plain backdrops in my own sessions. I kept this image just to show how the back scatter did not affect the sharpness on the models face. 

A birthmark on this second model's arm was always difficult to keep sharp in the crop lens creating more of a dirty look rather than the distinctive marking that was her own. With the same focal length of 16 (a zoom for the crop, but the widest for the full frame) shows the edges more clearly on the right. Of course, I wish it had been shot on the same backdrop due to a bit more light from the lighter backdrop, the right still shows a clearer edge around the markings. 

Attachments for Underwater 

I knew the lens would need a special attachment for my Ikelite housing due to the longer body. For an eight inch, dome you will need the extension port body. 

Image courtesy of BH photo

I realized the hard way that you will also need a special tool to release your port body that is already on your dome. The morning of my first shoot with the lens I was unable to release the original extension with grip alone. A strap wrench  can be found at BH photo, Ikelite, or even a local hardware store. Use the tool to tighten down the new port body even after you used your own grip (you will thank me for not flooding your housing as I attempted to). 

Image courtesy of BH photo


While the lens itself is only 1.50 lb compared to the 12-24 at 1.02 lb, the additional length of the port extension creates a bit more front heavy weight. It may not seem much on land but once in the already unstable environment underwater, that small additional length up front can cause more movement. Learning how to control your buoyancy is important underwater but in this case, it will also be a helpful factor in stabilizing your camera. 

What I Liked

  • Little distortion even at 16mm
  • Extremely sharp on subject 
  • Clear shots even when back scatter was presented
  • Ability to get closer to subject to reduce the water in-between without the introduction of the corner vignettes from a crop

What I Didn't Like 

  • Longer lens creating more front weighted issues
  • The need for additional attachments (only applies to underwater photographers) 
  • Outer edges a bit un-sharp (again only an issue for underwater wildlife photographers or land photographers) 

In all, I truly liked the lens in terms of clarity and sharpness. The price is just under $1200 but there are plenty of refurbished or used options as well. Renting before purchasing is always my recommendation to make sure you are working with a lens that fits your type of photography. 

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Deleted Account's picture

I like my 16-35 overall but I wish they'd update it and/or make an f/2.8 version. It's one of those lenses that works okay but never makes you smile.

Jennifer Tallerico's picture

It sure is! No special housing needed for this one

michaeljin's picture

This was pretty much my trash real estate photography lens for a very long time.


Interesting, I tried this in a camera shop and it looked great. But I was wary of the F/4, which is rather expensive for not a very wide aperture. I agree with another comment, why not a f/2.8? I took a 12-24 f/2.8 full frame to Iceland and I wasn't in love with it. Very bulky and the domed glass is very wide but too much distortion. Like the flat (or nearly flat) 16-35mm better.
One point of clarification. The review said shooting at 16mm on the 16-35 meant the 12-24 crop lens was zoomed in. The crop lenses mm range are a misnomer, they are magnified 1.5X, effectively making this an 18-36 mm lens. Looking at the left picture you can see the crop lens is zoomed in further than the 16-35 mm lens if the shots were taken from the same exact distance. But it remains true a crop lens is 1.5X magnified. In Iceland, my brother-in-law had his 24mm crop lens and I had him look through my 24mm FX lens & he was surprised how much wider mine was.