Nikon DX 16-85mm f/3.5-5.6 vs. Nikon DX 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6: The Ultimate In-Depth Lens Showdown

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Are you looking to invest in a versatile, high-quality lens for your Nikon DX camera, but struggling to decide between the Nikon DX 16-85mm f/3.5-5.6 and the Nikon DX 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6?

Well, you’re in the right place! As a photographer, it’s crucial to understand the differences between lenses and how they can impact your photography journey across various genres such as landscape, architecture, portraits, and even street photography.

Throughout this thorough analysis, we will explore the fundamental characteristics, advantages, and drawbacks of these two well-known lenses, emphasizing their individual merits and assisting you in making a knowledgeable choice that accommodates your preferences, approach, and financial constraints.

So, grab a cup of coffee, and let’s explore these two exciting options, and uncover which lens will truly elevate your photography game.


Nikon AF-S DX NIKKOR 16-85mm F3.5-5.6G ED VRNikon AF-P DX NIKKOR 18-55mm F3.5-5.6G VR
Max ApertureF3.5-5.6F3.5-5.6
Aperture TypeVariableVariable
Focal Range (mm)16-8518-55
Max FormatAPS-C / DXAPS-C / DX
Zoom Ratio (X)5.33.1

The Nikon DX 16-85mm f/3.5-5.6 lens offers a more extensive focal range (16-85mm) compared to the Nikon DX 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6 (18-55mm). This increased range provides greater versatility, making it suitable for various photography genres such as landscape, architecture, and portraits.

Both lenses have a variable aperture of f/3.5-5.6, which means the maximum aperture changes as you zoom in or out. The zoom ratio of the 16-85mm lens is 5.3x, offering more flexibility compared to the 3.1x zoom ratio of the 18-55mm lens.

In terms of low light performance, both lenses share the same aperture, so there’s no significant difference. However, the 16-85mm lens might be slightly more versatile due to its broader focal range, allowing you to adapt better to different lighting conditions. Both lenses are designed for APS-C / DX format cameras, so they’ll provide similar overall image quality.

While the 18-55mm lens is more affordable and lightweight, the 16-85mm lens offers better versatility and a greater focal range. This can be particularly useful for photographers who need to adapt quickly to changing scenes or subjects. In conclusion, if you prioritize flexibility and a broader focal range, the 16-85mm lens is the superior choice. However, if you value a more budget-friendly option with reduced weight, the 18-55mm lens remains a solid option.

Design and Ease of Use

Nikon AF-S DX NIKKOR 16-85mm F3.5-5.6G ED VRNikon AF-P DX NIKKOR 18-55mm F3.5-5.6G VR
Diameter x Length (mm)⌀72×85mm⌀64.5×62.5mm
Weight (gr)485205
Filter Thread (mm)6755
Weather SealingNoNo
Zoom MethodRotary (extending)Rotary (extending)
Distance ScaleYesNo
DoF ScaleNoNo
Hood SuppliedYesNo
Hood CodeHB-39HB-N106

The Nikon DX 16-85mm f/3.5-5.6 has a diameter of 72mm and a length of 85mm, making it larger than the Nikon DX 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6, which has a diameter of 64.5mm and a length of 62.5mm. The 16-85mm lens is also considerably heavier, weighing 485 grams, while the 18-55mm lens is lighter at 205 grams. Both of these lenses employ a rotary zoom mechanism, which implies that the physical length of the lens extends or contracts when zooming in or out.

A more compact and lightweight lens, such as the 18-55mm, offers better portability, balance, and discreetness, making it an appealing choice for travel, street, or wildlife photography. It also takes up less space in your camera bag and is easier to handle when swapping lenses.

On the other hand, the size and weight of 16-85mm lens could impact the overall balance of your camera setup and make it less convenient for extended periods of shooting.

Lens Mount and Barrel

The Nikon DX 16-85mm f/3.5-5.6 features a high-quality lens mount made of Nikon standard dull chromed brass, with a weather sealing gasket for added protection. Its lens barrel is primarily constructed from durable plastics, offering a sleek and professional finish. The rubberized zoom and focus rings provide excellent grip, and the ergonomic design ensures comfortable handling. Although the barrel extends when zooming, the lens remains compact and well-balanced on various camera bodies.

On the other hand, the Nikon DX 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6 has a plastic barrel and mount, which are lighter and more budget-friendly but may not be as durable as metal. There are eight metal contacts on the mount for interfacing between the lens and camera, but no rubber gasket for weather sealing. The retractable design of the lens barrel reduces its size when not in use, but the physical size changes during zooming.

In conclusion, the 16-85mm lens mount and barrel offer a more durable and professional design with weather sealing and a comfortable grip, making it the superior choice for photographers who prioritize build quality and performance. However, if portability and affordability are more important, the 18-55mm lens may be a suitable option, despite its less robust construction.

Weather Sealing

The Nikon DX 16-85mm f/3.5-5.6 features a sturdy metal lens mount with a substantial weather sealing gasket around the edge, providing a strong barrier against dust and moisture. While it does provide a certain level of weather resistance, it may not offer the same degree of protection as lenses equipped with more comprehensive weather sealing capabilities. This makes it suitable for photographers who frequently shoot in varying outdoor conditions, ensuring durability and consistent performance.

In contrast, the Nikon DX 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6 lacks weather sealing and does not have gaskets at the lens mount or internal seals at the rings, switches, and front of the barrel. As a result, this lens requires extra care when shooting in harsh environments and may not be ideal for photographers who need optimal protection against dust, moisture, and light water splashes.

In conclusion, the 16-85mm lens offers superior weather sealing compared to the 18-55mm lens, making it a more reliable choice for photographers who frequently work in challenging outdoor conditions. However, if you primarily shoot in controlled environments or do not require weather sealing as a priority, the 18-55mm lens may still be a suitable option.


The Nikon DX 16-85mm f/3.5-5.6 features 2 rubber-ribbed rings for zoom and focus control, providing an ergonomic grip and comfortable handling. The zoom control rotates about 90 degrees from the shortest to the longest focal length and is firm, preventing zoom creep.

The focus control rotates about 130 degrees, offering precise manual focusing. However, the zoom ring stiffens slightly beyond 50mm. This lens includes a windowed distance scale, but there is no depth-of-field indicator or extension lock switch on the zoom ring.

On the other hand, the Nikon DX 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6 has a zoom ring with markings for 18mm, 24mm, 35mm, 45mm, and 55mm, featuring a rubber grip for comfort. The zoom ring rotates smoothly, providing a tactile experience suitable for most users.

The narrow focus ring is positioned at the front of the lens barrel, but this lens doesn’t excel at manual focusing. Additionally, the 18-55mm lens is missing a windowed distance scale, depth-of-field indicator, and extension lock switch on its zoom ring.

In conclusion, the 16-85mm lens offers superior ring design with its ergonomic rubber-ribbed rings, precise focus control, and the presence of a windowed distance scale. These features provide a better overall user experience when compared to the 18-55mm lens.


The Nikon DX 16-85mm f/3.5-5.6 boasts 3 well-designed switches/buttons that contribute to its user-friendliness. The first switch activates and deactivates autofocus, with an option for manual override (AF/MF switch). The second switch toggles Vibration Reduction on and off, offering two modes to choose from (IS switch), while the third switch adjusts the VR mode sensitivity level (normal or active). The autofocus switch, labeled “M/A M,” enables instant manual override by simply turning the focus ring.

In contrast, the Nikon DX 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6 has no physical switches or buttons on its barrel, aside from a small lock button for retracting and extending the lens. To switch between auto and manual focus or to engage or disengage image stabilization, users must access the camera’s menu system.

To unlock the lens and extend it to the shooting position, you must press the lens release button located on the outer barrel while rotating the zoom ring. Conversely, to collapse the lens, you must hold down the button while rotating the zoom ring, resulting in a reduction of the lens’s overall length by approximately 30mm.

In conclusion, the 16-85mm lens offers superior switches/buttons compared to the 18-55mm lens, as it provides greater convenience and user-friendly controls. The well-thought-out design of the 16-85mm lens makes it easier to switch between different modes, enhancing the overall shooting experience.

Filter Thread

The Nikon DX 16-85mm f/3.5-5.6 features a 67mm plastic filter thread, ensuring compatibility with various filters. Its front element does not rotate while focusing or zooming, making it easy to use polarizers and graduated filters. With the 16-85mm lens, even when using a double-stack of filters 11mm thick (excluding rear threads), there is no vignetting.

On the other hand, the Nikon DX 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6 has a plastic 55mm filter thread, which is a common size that makes finding filters easy. One advantage of this lens is that its front element does not rotate during focus, making it easy to use circular polarizing filters without any complications. However, the front element does rotate while zooming, which may make using a polarizer a bit cumbersome in certain situations. Nevertheless, the lens is still fairly filter-friendly.

In conclusion, both lenses have their advantages in terms of filter thread. The 16-85mm lens offers a larger filter thread size and no rotation during zooming or focusing, providing a more convenient experience when using filters like polarizers and graduated filters.

The 18-55mm lens, with its smaller and more common filter thread size, is also easy to use with filters, but the rotating front element during zooming might be a minor inconvenience.

Lens Hood

The Nikon DX 16-85mm f/3.5-5.6 comes with a reasonably deep, petal-shaped lens hood in the package. This lightweight plastic hood does a good job of reducing extraneous light and preventing flare and loss of contrast in images. It fits firmly on the lens, allowing for smooth rotation. However, at 85mm, it is not as effective at blocking stray light as it is at wider angles. Overall, the lens hood is a helpful accessory that can enhance your photo quality.

In contrast, the Nikon DX 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6 does not include a lens hood in the box/package. The optional HB-N106 bayonet hood must be purchased separately. Crafted from matte-finished plastic, this lens hood is designed to fit securely onto the lens, effectively preventing unwanted light from entering and reducing instances of lens flare and ghosting.

It can also be smoothly rotated to adjust the direction of the hood, depending on the orientation of the light source. The lens hood is a valuable accessory for outdoor photography, improving image quality by reducing the effects of lens flare and ghosting.

In conclusion, the 16-85mm lens has a superior lens hood offering, as it is included in the package and provides effective light reduction at wider angles. The 18-55mm lens requires an additional purchase to obtain a lens hood, but still offers a useful accessory for outdoor photography.

Focusing and Optical Stabilization

Nikon AF-S DX NIKKOR 16-85mm F3.5-5.6G 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 Distance0.38m0.25m
Max Magnification (X)0.220.38
Full-Time Manual FocusYesYes
Focus MethodInternalInternal

Focusing Performance

The Nikon DX 16-85mm f/3.5-5.6 boasts an AF-S motor, resulting in fast and near-silent autofocus (AF) operations. Although the autofocus motor works accurately, its speed is average, producing a quiet whirring sound. The ultrasonic motor enables manual focus override by turning the focus ring at any time.

With a smooth manual focus action, the lens features an internally focusing design, maintaining a constant length regardless of focus and zoom settings. Its initial autofocus acquisition speed is reasonable, taking around a second to move from the closest focus to infinity. However, the lens exhibits significant focus breathing and occasionally produces an audible squeak during focusing.

In contrast, the Nikon DX 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6 boasts a fast and almost silent autofocus system, which makes it particularly suitable for shooting videos without distracting noise. The lens offers a smooth and responsive focusing experience, with an approximate 30% improvement in focus speed compared to previous models. This lens performs consistently well in low-light conditions and can achieve accurate focus.

With the AF-P version, you can easily switch between autofocus and manual focus modes, as it offers instant manual focus override, providing a seamless user experience. Also, the lens provides a smooth manual focus action and boasts an internally focusing design, which ensures that the lens maintains a consistent length, regardless of changes to the focus or zoom settings. Furthermore, the lens exhibits minimal focus breathing, making it well-suited for a variety of photography and videography applications.

In conclusion, the 18-55mm lens offers superior focusing performance, with its quick and near-silent autofocus system, faster focus speed, and minimal focus breathing. This makes it a versatile option for a range of photography and videography situations. While the 16-85mm lens provides reliable autofocus and manual focus override capabilities, its average focus speed and noticeable focus breathing make it less ideal compared to the 18-55mm lens.

Optical Stabilization

The Nikon DX 16-85mm f/3.5-5.6 lens comes equipped with second-generation optical stabilization technology (VR II), enabling the use of shutter speeds that are up to 4 stops slower than what is recommended by the rule of thumb. This VR II system features two modes – normal and active – with the latter being more responsive to camera movement. The VR system proves effective in low-light situations, enhancing still shot sharpness and video smoothness. Additionally, the VR system operates silently.

On the other hand, the Nikon DX 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6 boasts 4-stop optical image stabilization, effectively reducing camera shake for sharper photos, even at slower shutter speeds. The VR technology works well, enabling shooting at shutter speeds as slow as 1/5 second with acceptable sharpness in field tests. The VR system operates silently and offers only one mode of stabilization, yet remains effective in a variety of shooting conditions. It’s important to note that the actual results for shutter speeds may vary depending on the photographer’s shooting technique and the conditions in which they are shooting.

In conclusion, both lenses provide effective optical stabilization, delivering sharper images and smoother videos in various conditions. While the 16-85mm lens offers 2 VR modes for better adaptability, the 18-55mm lens achieves similar results with a single, versatile stabilization mode.

Image Quality

Nikon AF-S DX NIKKOR 16-85mm F3.5-5.6G ED VRNikon AF-P DX NIKKOR 18-55mm F3.5-5.6G VR
Special Elements2x ED glass elements and 3x aspherical lens elementsTwo aspherical elements + super integrated coating
Diaphragm Blades77
Circular ApertureYesYes


When it comes to chromatic aberration, the Nikon DX 16-85mm f/3.5-5.6 lens delivers exceptional performance, maintaining excellent control across the entire zoom range. At its worst, chromatic aberration is only around 5/100ths of a percent of frame height at the telephoto end (85mm), and it is virtually non-existent between 24mm and 70mm.

Coma and spherical aberration are well-controlled, thanks to 3 aspherical lens elements designed to eliminate these types of lens distortion. It’s worth noting that there may be some field curvature in the extreme corners and a slight focus shift when stopping down (due to residual spherical aberrations) at 16mm.

On the other hand, the Nikon DX 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6 lens displays a controlled amount of lateral chromatic aberration, particularly in the corners and center of the frame, showcasing a significant improvement over the AF-S VR II version. Nonetheless, some instances of purple and yellow chromatic aberration may be noticeable in the corners of the frame, although they can be conveniently corrected either in-camera or with software.

When it comes to corner sharpness, the Nikon DX 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6 lens delivers generally good results, with some slight softness when used wide open at 16mm or 85mm. However, stopping down to f/5.6 or f/8 results in excellent sharpness across the entire frame. The sharpest aperture varies depending on the focal length, but generally, f/5.6 or f/8 provides peak performance.

In conclusion, both lenses demonstrate impressive control over chromatic aberration. The 16-85mm lens offers better overall control across the zoom range, while the 18-55mm lens shows a marked improvement over its predecessor. While neither lens is entirely free from aberrations, the 16-85mm lens appears to be superior in terms of aberration control.


The Nikon DX 16-85mm f/3.5-5.6 is consistently praised for its sharpness, delivering excellent results even at maximum aperture and in the center of the frame. Sharpness is even across the frame, with only slight variations when shooting special test subjects at full aperture and enlarging images to significant sizes.

Corner sharpness is generally good, with some slight softness when used wide open at 16mm or 85mm. However, stopping down to f/5.6 or f/8 results in excellent sharpness across the frame. The sharpest aperture varies depending on the focal length, but f/5.6 or f/8 generally provides peak performance.

On the other hand, the Nikon DX 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6 exhibits good sharpness, particularly in the center, throughout its focal range. Center sharpness is very impressive, especially when stopped down to f/8 or f/11.

The corner sharpness of the Nikon DX 16-85mm f/3.5-5.6 lens is generally a bit softer, particularly when used at wide open apertures, but it significantly improves when stopping down. The sharpest aperture usually falls around f/8 to f/11, although this may vary depending on the specific focal length being used. At 18mm, the lens delivers super-sharp results when used wide open, while at 55mm, it remains sharp across the entire frame. Stopping down the lens typically results in improved sharpness and contrast, and at focal lengths like 35mm, the lens becomes sharp enough for various applications.

In conclusion, both lenses deliver impressive sharpness, with the 16-85mm lens offering consistent performance across the frame and throughout the zoom range. The 18-55mm lens also provides good sharpness, with excellent center performance and improved corner sharpness when stopped down. While both lenses perform well, the 16-85mm lens appears to be superior in terms of overall sharpness.

Bokeh Quality

The bokeh quality of the Nikon DX 16-85mm f/3.5-5.6 lens is a bit mixed, with some variability in results. At 85mm f/5.6, the bokeh is acceptable for both highlights and general blur, but it is not particularly noteworthy or impressive. However, as you move towards 50mm f/5, the bokeh can become quite busy, with visible shape shadows and outlining effects around highlights that may not be visually appealing. The bokeh is rather underdeveloped in conventional scenes due to the relatively slow maximum aperture, and it is notably harsh at 50mm.

Conversely, the Nikon DX 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6 lens produces bokeh that is subjective in terms of quality, with highlights rendered as septagonal shapes but with some noticeable outlines. Although it is not known for having a particularly smooth and silky bokeh, the Nikon DX 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6 lens can still achieve shallow depth-of-field photos when zoomed in to 55mm and shooting objects at the closest possible distance of 25 cm. The quality of bokeh this lens produces is considered acceptable, but not exceptional.

In conclusion, neither the 16-85mm nor the 18-55mm lens stands out for their bokeh quality, as both deliver average results. Since standard zoom lenses are generally designed for capturing broader scenes, bokeh quality is not typically a primary concern. However, if bokeh quality is essential for your photography needs, you might want to consider other lenses specifically designed for this purpose.


The Nikon DX 16-85mm f/3.5-5.6 lens displays a fair amount of resistance to flare, with only very strong light sources within the frame causing any issues. Additionally, the lens comes equipped with a reasonably deep petal-shaped hood, which effectively helps to prevent extraneous light from causing flare and a loss of contrast in images.

It’s worth noting that when shooting against bright lights, the Nikon DX 16-85mm f/3.5-5.6 lens may display some flaring artifacts and a reduction in contrast, particularly when zoomed in. Therefore, while the lens generally performs well in terms of flare resistance, it’s still important to be mindful of shooting conditions to avoid any undesired flaring or loss of contrast.

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

In conclusion, both lenses perform relatively well in terms of flare and ghosting resistance, but the 18-55mm lens has a slight edge due to its Super Integrated Coating. This coating allows the lens to handle challenging lighting conditions better than the 16-85mm lens.


When shooting with the Nikon DX 16-85mm f/3.5-5.6 lens at its widest aperture of 16mm, some vignetting may be noticeable, but this is a known challenge with many wide-angle lenses. Luckily, this can be easily remedied using post-processing software. As you move to other focal lengths and use smaller apertures, the vignetting becomes more controlled and any darkening of the corners is minimal.

When using the lens at its maximum aperture of f/3.5 and the widest focal length of 18mm, you may notice vignetting in the form of darker corners, which can be up to 2.5EV darker than the center of the frame. However, stopping down the aperture to f/5.6 or higher can significantly reduce this effect and produce more even lighting across the frame.

At around the mid-range focal length of 35mm, some vignetting may still be visible when using the Nikon DX 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6 lens. However, at the longest focal length of 55mm, this effect is least visible. Overall, although some degree of vignetting can be observed with this lens, it is not a significant issue and can be corrected with ease using post-processing software.

In conclusion, both lenses demonstrate some vignetting, with the 16-85mm lens displaying better control over vignetting at various focal lengths and apertures.

Remember that, if necessary, vignetting can be corrected in post-processing or by adjusting the aperture.


When shooting with the Nikon DX 16-85mm f/3.5-5.6 lens at wider focal lengths, some barrel distortion may be noticeable, while pincushion distortion may be more apparent at longer focal lengths. Despite this, the level of distortion is not excessive and can be easily corrected using post-processing software.

Compared to other similar zoom lenses, the level of distortion in the Nikon DX 16-85mm f/3.5-5.6 lens is relatively low. While some distortion is still present, it is not a major concern and can be effectively managed.

The level of distortion in the Nikon DX 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6 lens varies at different focal lengths. At the wider focal length of 18mm, some noticeable barrel distortion may be present, which can be corrected either through in-camera correction or post-processing software. As the focal length of the Nikon DX 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6 lens increases towards 35mm, the level of distortion decreases significantly, and distortion remains absent until the longer focal length of 55mm, where slight pincushion distortion may be noticeable but does not typically impact shots in most scenarios. Overall, the distortion can be corrected using either in-camera correction or post-processing software, and it does not significantly detract from the overall performance of the lens.

In conclusion, both lenses display some distortion, with the 16-85mm lens showing relatively low distortion levels compared to other similar zoom lenses. The 18-55mm lens, on the other hand, has variable distortion levels depending on the focal length.

While neither lens is perfect in terms of distortion, the 16-85mm lens is slightly superior in this aspect, as its distortion is consistently manageable across various focal lengths.

Final Verdict

After considering all the aspects, it is clear that the Nikon DX 16-85mm f/3.5-5.6 offers better versatility, consistent performance, and superior build quality compared to the Nikon DX 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6. Its broader focal range, better control over vignetting, and lower distortion levels make it a more appealing option for photographers who prioritize flexibility and performance.

However, the 18-55mm lens should not be overlooked. It is more affordable, lightweight, and offers excellent focusing performance and flare resistance. This lens is a suitable option for those who value budget-friendliness, portability, and do not require the more extensive focal range provided by the 16-85mm lens.

In conclusion, if budget is not a primary concern and you prioritize versatility, overall performance, and build quality, the 16-85mm lens is the superior choice. However, if you are seeking a more budget-friendly, lightweight, and still reliable option, the 18-55mm lens remains a solid choice.

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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