Nikon DX 16-80mm f/2.8-4 vs. Nikon DX 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6: In-Depth Comparison for the Discerning Photographer

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Are you in search of a versatile zoom lens for your photography adventures, but find yourself torn between the 16-80mm and 18-55mm options? Fear not, fellow photographer, for you are not alone. These two popular lenses cater to different needs and budgets, making the choice between them a common dilemma in the photography community.

Whether you’re a budding enthusiast looking to expand your kit or a seasoned pro seeking an upgrade, understanding the nuances and trade-offs between these two lenses is crucial. With their distinct focal lengths, apertures, and performance characteristics, each lens offers unique advantages that can impact your creative vision and final results.

In this comparison, we’ll delve into the key features, benefits, and drawbacks of the Nikon DX 16-80mm f/2.8-4 and Nikon DX 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6, addressing various use cases such as landscape, portrait, and low-light photography. By examining factors like image quality, build, and focusing performance, we’ll help you make an informed decision tailored to your specific needs and aspirations.

So, grab a cup of your favorite beverage and join us as we explore the world of possibilities that these two versatile zoom lenses offer.


Nikon AF-S DX NIKKOR 16-80mm F2.8-4E ED VRNikon AF-P DX NIKKOR 18-55mm F3.5-5.6G VR
Max ApertureF2.8-4.0F3.5-5.6
Aperture TypeVariableVariable
Focal Range (mm)16-8018-55
Max FormatAPS-C / DXAPS-C / DX
Zoom Ratio (X)53.1

Comparing the Nikon DX 16-80mm f/2.8-4 and Nikon DX 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6, we can see that the 16-80mm lens has a wider maximum aperture range of f/2.8-4.0, while the 18-55mm lens has a smaller aperture range of f/3.5-5.6.

A wider aperture allows more light to enter the camera, which is beneficial for low light situations and creating a shallower depth of field for subject isolation. However, it may not be as crucial for those shooting in well-lit environments or using a tripod.

The focal range of the 16-80mm lens is broader, covering 16-80mm, whereas the 18-55mm lens only covers 18-55mm. This makes the 16-80mm lens more versatile, allowing for a wider range of compositions and subject distances. In terms of zoom ratio, the 16-80mm lens has a 5.0x zoom, providing more flexibility in framing and composition compared to the 3.1x zoom of the 18-55mm lens. Photographers can find it particularly beneficial to be able to adjust rapidly to altering scenarios or subjects.

The two lenses are created for APS-C/DX format cameras and feature adjustable apertures. This indicates that their maximum aperture shifts as you zoom in or out.

The 16-80mm lens exhibit better overall image quality, improved low light performance, and increased versatility due to its wider aperture range and broader focal length coverage.

Design and Ease of Use

Nikon AF-S DX NIKKOR 16-80mm F2.8-4E ED VRNikon AF-P DX NIKKOR 18-55mm F3.5-5.6G VR
Diameter x Length (mm)⌀80×85.5mm⌀64.5×62.5mm
Weight (gr)480205
Filter Thread (mm)7255
Weather SealingNoNo
Zoom MethodRotary (internal)Rotary (extending)
Distance ScaleYesNo
DoF ScaleNoNo
Hood SuppliedYesNo
Hood CodeHB-75HB-N106

The Nikon DX 16-80mm f/2.8-4 has a larger diameter and is longer, measuring 80×85.5mm, compared to the 18-55mm lens, which measures 64.5×62.5mm. This makes the 16-80mm lens noticeably bulkier. It is also significantly heavier, weighing in at 480 grams, whereas the Nikon DX 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6 weighs only 205 grams. A more compact and lightweight lens, like the 18-55mm, offers benefits in terms of portability, balance, discreetness, storage, and ease of lens swapping.

However, the 16-80mm lens features an internal rotary zoom method, meaning the lens doesn’t change its physical size when you zoom in or out. This design maintains a consistent camera balance and is typically easier to weather-seal, which can be an advantage in certain shooting conditions.

On the other hand, the 18-55mm lens has an extending rotary zoom method, making it simpler in design, potentially more affordable, and lighter, but with a changing balance as you zoom and potentially less effective weather sealing.

In conclusion, the choice between these two lenses depends on your priorities and shooting needs. If you value portability, lightweight design, and simplicity, the 18-55mm lens is likely the better choice. However, if you prioritize consistent handling, weather sealing, and a more advanced zoom method, the 16-80mm lens could be the superior option.

Lens Mount and Barrel

The Nikon DX 16-80mm f/2.8-4 boasts a metal lens mount, providing durability and sturdiness, with an added rubber seal around it to prevent dust from entering the camera body. The lens barrel is made of plastic, with rubberized rings for focus and zoom. This lens offers the advantage of not changing its physical size when zooming in or out.

On the other hand, the Nikon DX 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6 features a plastic lens barrel and mount. The plastic construction makes it lighter and more budget-friendly, but less durable than its metal counterpart. This lens has eight metal contacts on the mount, creating an interface between the lens and camera, but it lacks the rubber gasket found in the 16-80mm lens. Its retractable design reduces its size when not in use, although the physical size does change when zooming.

In terms of lens mount and barrel superiority, the 16-80mm lens offers a more durable and sturdy option with its metal mount and rubber seal. This design makes it better suited for photographers who prioritize build quality and dust prevention.

Meanwhile, the 18-55mm lens provides a more portable and budget-friendly alternative with its plastic construction, making it a suitable choice for photographers who value affordability and lighter weight over durability.

Weather Sealing

The Nikon DX 16-80mm f/2.8-4, while not fully weather-sealed, incorporates a rubber gasket around the lens mount to prevent dust from entering the camera body. Furthermore, its front element features a fluorine coating that repels water and simplifies cleaning. This design offers some level of protection against dust and light water splashes, making it a decent option for photographers who occasionally shoot in unpredictable conditions.

In contrast, the Nikon DX 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6 lacks weather sealing entirely. It does not have gaskets at the lens mount, internal seals at the rings and switches, or a fluorine coating on the front element. This lack of protection makes it more vulnerable to dust, moisture, and light water splashes, requiring extra care in inclement weather.

When comparing the weather sealing of these two lenses, the 16-80mm lens offers a clear advantage with its rubber gasket and fluorine coating. While not fully weather-sealed, it provides a higher level of protection than the 18-55mm lens, making it a better choice for photographers who often shoot outdoors or in unpredictable conditions.

In case you mostly take photos indoors or in regulated environments, having weather sealing may not be a crucial consideration, and the 18-55mm lens could suffice. Ultimately, the superior option depends on your specific needs and shooting environments.


The Nikon DX 16-80mm f/2.8-4 boasts 2 rings: a zoom ring at the front and a manual focusing ring at the rear. The zoom ring, with its large rubberized design, offers a slightly heavy movement but a sturdy feel even when fully extended.

The manual focusing ring, though narrow and not aggressively knurled, has a grinding feel and requires a third of a turn from infinity to the minimal focus distance. Locating the manual focusing ring may be a bit challenging, and its rotation isn’t as smooth as one might desire. A modest focus-distance-scale window, marked in both feet and meters, is conveniently located between the zoom and manual-focus rings.

In contrast, the Nikon DX 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6 lens possesses a rubber grip that allows for comfortable handling and a zoom ring with markings for 18mm, 24mm, 35mm, 45mm, and 55mm. This zoom ring rotates smoothly, giving most users a tactile experience.

The focus ring is narrow and located at the front of the barrel, but manual focusing is not this lens’s strong suit. It lacks a windowed distance scale, depth-of-field indicator, and an extension lock switch on the zoom ring.

Comparing the rings of these two lenses, the 16-80mm lens offers a more robust and versatile design, with its sturdy zoom ring and focus-distance-scale window. However, its manual focusing ring could use some improvement in terms of smoothness and ease of location. The 18-55mm lens has a smooth zoom ring but falls short in manual focusing capabilities and additional features, such as a distance scale and depth-of-field indicator.

In conclusion, the 16-80mm lens has superior rings, offering better ergonomics, control, and additional features compared to the 18-55mm lens.


The Nikon DX 16-80mm f/2.8-4 comes equipped with 3 switches/buttons on the barrel, providing quick and easy access to various settings. The first switch is an AF/MF switch, enabling manual override of autofocus with minimal lag time, regardless of the AF mode in use.

The second switch activates the 4-stop vibration reduction system (IS), while the third one allows for choosing between Normal and Active VR modes. Although these switches are clearly labeled, they are all identical, which may pose a challenge when adjusting settings quickly while looking through the viewfinder.

In contrast, the Nikon DX 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6 features no physical switches or buttons on the barrel, aside from a small lock button for retracting and extending the lens. One needs to access the camera’s menu system to switch between auto and manual focus or turn image stabilization on or off.

To unlock the lens and extend it to the shooting position, you must press the lens release button found on the outer barrel and turn the zoom ring. Collapsing the lens requires holding the button while rotating the zoom ring, which reduces the overall length of the lens by approximately 30mm.

Comparing the two lenses, the 16-80mm lens offers superior switches/buttons for on-the-fly adjustments, granting photographers greater control and flexibility during shooting. The 18-55mm lens relies on the camera’s menu system for crucial adjustments, which may slow down the shooting process and impact user experience.

In conclusion, the 16-80mm lens comes out on top in terms of switches/buttons, allowing for faster and more convenient adjustments while shooting.

Filter Thread

The Nikon DX 16-80mm f/2.8-4 sports a 72mm plastic filter thread, ensuring the front element remains stationary during focusing. This characteristic makes using filters, such as polarizing or ND grad filters, a hassle-free experience. However, this lens is not compatible with larger 77mm filters, but the internal focusing design still makes it user-friendly with filters.

On the other hand, the Nikon DX 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6 comes with a 55mm plastic filter thread, a common size that makes finding filters a breeze. Similar to the 16-80mm lens, the front element of the 18-55mm lens does not rotate during focusing, allowing for convenient use with circular polarizing filters. Zooming causes the front element to rotate, which could create some inconvenience in specific situations when using a polarizer. Nonetheless, the lens remains relatively easy to use with filters.

In terms of filter threads, the 16-80mm lens has a slight edge due to its larger filter thread size and the front element’s non-rotating nature during both focusing and zooming. This makes it more versatile and convenient for photographers who frequently use filters.

Lens Hood

The Nikon DX 16-80mm f/2.8-4 comes with an included squared petal-style lens hood, providing added convenience and protection for the lens. The hood is made of hard plastic with a matte finish, and its ergonomic bevel ensures a comfortable grip when attaching or detaching. The lens hood’s lock button allows for smooth rotation and secure attachment, making it a significant improvement over older twist-on/click hoods that could wear out over time.

Conversely, the Nikon DX 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6 does not include a lens hood in the package. Users must purchase the optional HB-N106 bayonet hood separately. This plastic matte-finished hood has an ergonomic bevel designed to block unwanted light, reducing lens flare and ghosting. The hood can be smoothly rotated, depending on the orientation of the light source, making it a useful accessory for outdoor photography.

In terms of lens hoods, the 16-80mm lens has a clear advantage as it comes with an included hood featuring an improved lock button design, ensuring a secure attachment and convenient use. The 18-55mm lens requires a separate purchase for its lens hood, making it less convenient and user-friendly in comparison.

Focusing and Optical Stabilization

Nikon AF-S DX NIKKOR 16-80mm F2.8-4E ED VRNikon AF-P DX NIKKOR 18-55mm F3.5-5.6G VR
AF MotorSilent Wave MotorStepper motor
Rotating Front ElementDoes not rotate on focusingYes
Min Focus Distance0.35m0.25m
Max Magnification (X)0.220.38
Full-Time Manual FocusYesYes
Focus MethodInternalInternal

Focusing Performance

The Nikon DX 16-80mm f/2.8-4 boasts impressive autofocus performance, featuring quick and accurate focusing that is relatively quiet, making it suitable for both photography and video applications. Its fast focusing speed allows it to focus from close distances to infinity in seconds.

The lens performs well in low-light situations and supports manual focus override, allowing for fine-tuning of focus even when autofocus is engaged. Its internally focusing design ensures a constant length regardless of focus and zoom settings, making it convenient for photographers using various filters or accessories. The minimal focus breathing is a plus for both videographers and photographers who require consistent framing during focus adjustments.

Unlike the previous lens, the Nikon DX 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6 boasts a quick and almost silent autofocus system, making it ideal for video shooting without any distracting noise. This lens also focuses smoothly and responsively, with an estimated 30% faster focus speed than older models.

It performs reliably in low-light situations and provides instant manual focus override with the AF-P version. Thanks to its internally focusing design, this lens retains a constant length irrespective of the focus and zoom settings, and the minimal focus breathing makes the lens suitable for diverse photography and videography applications.

While both lenses demonstrate strong focusing performance, the 16-80mm lens has a slight edge due to its faster focusing speed, superior low-light performance, and the availability of manual focus override. This lens is well-suited for various shooting situations, delivering high-quality autofocus performance that caters to photographers and videographers alike.

Optical Stabilization

The Nikon DX 16-80mm f/2.8-4 features a Vibration Reduction (VR) system with 4 stops of compensation, allowing you to capture sharp images at slower shutter speeds. It has two modes: Normal and Active, with Active being more suited for shooting from a moving platform. With the VR enabled, sharp shots can be achieved at 1/3 of a second at 16mm and 1/4 of a second at 80mm, even with some hand movement. However, stabilization performance may vary based on individual shooting conditions and photographer steadiness.

In contrast, the Nikon DX 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6 offers 4-stop optical image stabilization, effectively reducing camera shake and enabling sharper photos at slower shutter speeds. In practical trials, it was feasible to capture adequately sharp images with shutter speeds as sluggish as 1/5 second. The lens’s vibration reduction (VR) system is noiseless, with only one mode of stabilization, but it works effectively in a variety of shooting scenarios. However, the actual results may differ based on the photographer’s shooting technique and conditions.

Optical stabilization is not always essential for wide-angle photography but can be beneficial in certain situations, such as low-light conditions, handheld shooting, or when recording video. Both lenses offer optical stabilization, but the 16-80mm lens provides more flexibility with two stabilization modes compared to the 18-55mm lens, which only has a single mode.

In conclusion, the 16-80mm lens has a superior optical stabilization system with 4 stops of compensation and two stabilization modes, making it the better choice for photographers who prioritize stability and sharpness in various shooting conditions.

Image Quality

Nikon AF-S DX NIKKOR 16-80mm F2.8-4E ED VRNikon AF-P DX NIKKOR 18-55mm F3.5-5.6G VR
Special Elements4 ED and 3 aspherical elements. Nano Crystal Coat.Two aspherical elements + super integrated coating
Diaphragm Blades77
Circular ApertureYesYes


The Nikon DX 16-80mm f/2.8-4 demonstrates impressive control over chromatic aberration, with only minor fringing at 16mm that can be easily corrected in-camera or during post-processing. Spherochromatism, a more advanced form of chromatic aberration, is absent in this lens.

Coma is also well-managed, with only a slight amount visible at specific settings, which disappears when the lens is stopped down. Spherical aberration occurs at the extreme end of the lens’s focusing distance, leading to some contrast loss and requiring post-processing for high-impact images.

In contrast, the Nikon DX 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6 exhibits a controlled level of lateral chromatic aberration, particularly in the corners and center of the frame, displaying a noticeable improvement compared to its predecessor, the AF-S VR II version. Despite this, some purple and yellow chromatic aberrations may be noticeable in the corners of the frame, although they can be effortlessly rectified in-camera or using software.

Although both lenses exhibit chromatic aberration, the 16-80mm lens have a slight advantage due to its overall superior aberration management, resulting in higher-quality images with less need for post-processing corrections.


The Nikon DX 16-80mm f/2.8-4 delivers outstanding sharpness at most zoom settings, with exceptional center sharpness stealing the show. Corner sharpness, however, can be somewhat compromised at wider focal lengths and wide open apertures but improves dramatically when stopped down to around f/5.6-8. The sharpest aperture varies slightly depending on the focal length, usually falling between f/5.6-8.

On the other hand, the Nikon DX 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6 exhibits commendable sharpness throughout its focal range, with center sharpness being particularly noteworthy, especially when stopped down to f/8 or f/11. Typically, corner sharpness is somewhat soft, especially at wide-open apertures, but it substantially improves when you stop down.

For this lens, the optimal aperture for sharpness is typically around f/8 to f/11, varying depending on the focal length. When shooting at 18mm, the lens delivers remarkable sharpness even at wide-open apertures, while at 55mm, it maintains sharpness across the frame. Stopping down enhances both sharpness and contrast, and at focal lengths such as 35mm, the lens becomes adequately sharp for a range of applications.

In conclusion, both lenses exhibit impressive sharpness performance. However, the 16-80mm lens takes the lead with its superior sharpness across most zoom settings and remarkable center sharpness. While the 18-55mm lens puts up a strong fight, the 16-80mm lens emerges as the sharper option, making it a more desirable choice for capturing crisp, detailed images.

Bokeh Quality

The Nikon DX 16-80mm f/2.8-4 produces bokeh of varying quality depending on the settings used. At 80mm and near the minimum focusing distance, the bokeh is smooth and pleasing, making it suitable for photographing flowers and small subjects.

However, at other focal lengths and apertures, the out-of-focus quality is not as smooth or appealing, and can even exhibit hard edges or onion bokeh. The bokeh quality is fair at 16mm, neutral at 80mm, and typical of many-element zoom lenses, with background highlights turning into strongly edged circles.

To achieve the softest backgrounds, it is recommended to zoom to the longest focal length, get as close as possible to the subject, and shoot at the largest aperture. Overall, the bokeh produced by this lens is not Nikon’s finest.

In contrast, the bokeh produced by the Nikon DX 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6 is subjective in quality, with highlights appearing as septagonal shapes with some outlines. While not necessarily providing a smooth and silky bokeh effect, it is possible to capture shallow-depth-of-field photos by zooming in to 55mm and shooting objects at the closest possible distance of 25 cm. The quality of bokeh this lens creates is generally considered satisfactory.

In conclusion, neither lens is particularly renowned for its bokeh quality. However, the 16-80mm lens does offer a more pleasing bokeh when used at 80mm and close to the minimum focusing distance, making it the better choice between the two for situations where a more appealing out-of-focus background is desired.


The Nikon DX 16-80mm f/2.8-4 exhibits noticeable flare when pointed near the sun, but this can be easily mitigated by using the included hood. Ghosting is visible when shooting into the sun; however, it is not significant and can be minimized by shading the lens with a hand, helping to maintain image quality.

In contrast, the Nikon DX 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6 demonstrates very controlled ghosting and flare, thanks to the Super Integrated Coating applied to reduce these optical issues. Impressively, even when shooting directly into the sun, the lens manages to handle the bright light without any significant loss of micro-contrast. However, it is worth noting that when there are bright highlights in the background, they may take on a circular shape, and outlining can be common.

In conclusion, the 18-55mm lens outperforms the 16-80mm lens when it comes to flare and ghosting control, providing clearer and more consistent image quality even in challenging lighting conditions. The Super Integrated Coating on the 18-55mm lens effectively reduces optical issues, making it the superior choice between the two lenses for minimizing flare and ghosting.


The Nikon DX 16-80mm f/2.8-4 exhibits noticeable vignetting in the corners when shooting wide open, especially at 16mm and f/2.8. However, it can be improved dramatically by stopping down the lens by 1 or 2 stops, and at f/4 and beyond, vignetting is well controlled. Applying a lens correction profile, either in-camera or in post-production, can easily correct the vignetting but may slightly reduce the resolution. Overall, vignetting is an issue that can be managed with some adjustments.

However, the Nikon DX 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6 lens does exhibit some vignetting, especially at its widest aperture of f/3.5 and the widest focal length of 18mm, resulting in darker corners by approximately 2.5EV. Stopping down to f/5.6 and beyond significantly reduces the darkening effect. Vignetting is also apparent at mid-range focal lengths, around 35mm, but it is least visible at 55mm. Although this lens displays some level of vignetting, it is not a significant concern and can be easily corrected using post-processing software.

In conclusion, both lenses exhibit vignetting to some extent, but the 18-55mm lens has a slight advantage as its vignetting is less prominent and becomes minimal at the longer focal length of 55mm. By stopping down the aperture and using post-processing software, vignetting can be effectively managed in both lenses.


The Nikon DX 16-80mm f/2.8-4 exhibits both barrel and pincushion distortion at different focal lengths. Barrel distortion is more noticeable at 16mm, while pincushion distortion becomes moderate at longer focal lengths.

Both types of distortion can be easily corrected in post-processing with supported software like Adobe Lightroom or in-camera if using Nikon’s in-body distortion correction. However, if you are shooting subjects with critical straight lines, such as buildings or ocean horizons, you will need to correct for the distortion to avoid any noticeable bending of the lines.

On the other hand, the Nikon DX 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6 lens exhibits differing degrees of distortion at different focal lengths. At 18mm, there is apparent barrel distortion, which can be corrected through in-camera correction or software. By 35mm, distortion is nearly eradicated and remains absent until 55mm, where minor pincushion distortion might be noticeable but is not generally a problem in most shooting scenarios. In general, distortion can be easily corrected using software or in-camera correction and does not have a significant impact on the overall performance of the lens.

In conclusion, both lenses exhibit some distortion at their respective focal lengths, but the 18-55mm lens outperforms the 16-80mm lens in terms of distortion control.

Final Verdict

Taking into account all the factors and conclusions made, the choice between the Nikon DX 16-80mm f/2.8-4 and Nikon DX 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6 ultimately depends on your personal preferences, budget, and photography needs.

The 16-80mm lens offers better overall image quality, improved low light performance, increased versatility, faster focusing speed, better optical stabilization and superior build quality. It has a more appealing bokeh at specific settings, and it is slightly sharper across most zoom settings. This lens is better suited for photographers who prioritize versatility, durability, and image quality, and who are willing to invest more in their gear.

On the other hand, the 18-55mm lens provides a more budget-friendly option with a lightweight and portable design. It outperforms the 16-80mm lens in terms of flare/ghosting control, vignetting management, and distortion control. This lens is an ideal choice for photographers who value affordability, portability, and simplicity, without compromising too much on image quality.

In summary, if you are willing to invest more and prioritize image quality, versatility, and build quality, the 16-80mm lens is the better option. However, if budget and portability are your main concerns, the 18-55mm lens will serve you well, delivering satisfactory performance in various shooting situations.

Meet the Author

Wei Mao

Wei was a cruise photographer who worked at Disney Cruise Line. He is a lucky traveler who has been to more than 20 countries with his camera while working on an around-the-world cruise. Photography has changed his view of the world forever. Now he wants more people to benefit from photography through his blog.

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