Nikon DX 17-55mm f/2.8 vs. Nikon DX 16-85mm f/3.5-5.6: The Ultimate Showdown for the Perfect Lens

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Are you a passionate photographer seeking the perfect lens to elevate your craft? Join us as we take a closer look at two exceptional Nikon DX lenses in a detailed head-to-head comparison: the 17-55mm f/2.8 and the 16-85mm f/3.5-5.6.

These lenses have gained popularity among photographers of various skill levels and interests, from stunning portraits and captivating landscapes to dynamic street photography and awe-inspiring architecture. Understanding the nuances of each lens can make a world of difference in achieving your desired photography goals.

In this article, we’ll compare and contrast the key features, performance, and benefits of each lens to help you make an informed decision tailored to your needs. We’ll discuss aspects such as aperture, build quality, focusing performance, optical stabilization, and image quality.

By the end of this article, you’ll not only have a comprehensive understanding of these two lenses, but you’ll also be equipped to make the best choice to elevate your photography to new heights.

So, buckle up and get ready to explore the world of Nikon DX lenses, and let your photography journey take flight!


Nikon AF-S DX NIKKOR 17-55mm F2.8G IF-EDNikon AF-S DX NIKKOR 16-85mm F3.5-5.6G ED VR
Max ApertureF2.8F3.5-5.6
Aperture TypeFixedVariable
Focal Range (mm)17-5516-85
Max FormatAPS-C / DXAPS-C / DX
Zoom Ratio (X)3.25.3

Comparing the Nikon DX 17-55mm f/2.8 and Nikon DX 16-85mm f/3.5-5.6, the 17-55mm lens offers a fixed aperture of f/2.8, which provides better low light performance and a shallower depth of field for subject isolation. The fixed aperture also ensures consistent image quality and aperture settings across the zoom range.

On the other hand, the 16-85mm lens has a variable aperture of f/3.5-5.6, which changes as you zoom in or out. This lens offers a wider focal range and zoom ratio of 5.3X, making it more versatile for different photography situations. However, the variable aperture may result in reduced low light performance and depth of field control. The lens is generally more affordable and lighter in weight, which can be advantageous for photographers prioritizing budget and portability.

Design and Ease of Use

Nikon AF-S DX NIKKOR 17-55mm F2.8G IF-EDNikon AF-S DX NIKKOR 16-85mm F3.5-5.6G ED VR
Diameter x Length (mm)⌀85.5×110.5mm⌀72×85mm
Weight (gr)755485
Filter Thread (mm)7767
Weather SealingYesNo
Zoom MethodRotary (internal)Rotary (extending)
Distance ScaleYesYes
DoF ScaleNoNo
Hood SuppliedYesYes
Hood CodeHB-31HB-39

The Nikon DX 17-55mm f/2.8 has a diameter of 85.5mm and a length of 110.5mm, making it larger and heavier at 755 grams compared to the Nikon DX 16-85mm f/3.5-5.6, which has a diameter of 72mm and a length of 85mm with a weight of 485 grams.

The smaller and lighter 16-85mm lens offers better portability, balance, discreetness, and storage. However, the 17-55mm lens uses an internal rotary zoom method, which doesn’t change its physical size when zooming and maintains consistent balance during shooting. The 16-85mm lens, on the other hand, uses an extending rotary zoom method, which is simpler and potentially lighter but may affect camera balance while zooming.

In conclusion, the superior lens depends on your priorities and shooting needs. If you value portability, discreetness, and a lighter setup, the 16-85mm lens is a better choice. However, if you prefer a lens with a consistent balance and a more weather-resistant design due to its internal rotary zoom method, the 17-55mm lens would be the superior option.

Lens Mount and Barrel

The Nikon DX 17-55mm f/2.8 features a dull-chromed brass lens mount with paint markings and a rubber ring for sealing out dust and water particles. Its lens barrel is primarily made of metal, with some plastic components, and includes a metal zoom ring and focus ring with rubber covers. Although the lens extends slightly at the extreme ends of the zoom range, it does not have an aperture ring or depth-of-field markings.

On the other hand, the lens mount of Nikon DX 16-85mm f/3.5-5.6 is made of metal, resembling a standard Nikon dull-chromed brass, and has a weather sealing gasket around its edge. The lens barrel is primarily constructed from high-quality plastics, with rubberized zoom and focus rings for excellent grip and ergonomics. The barrel extends by approximately 42mm when zooming from wide-angle to maximum telephoto, yet remains compact and well-balanced on various camera bodies.

In terms of lens mount and barrel, each lens offers unique advantages. The 17-55mm lens provides a more durable and professional feel due to its metal components, while the 16-85mm lens offers a more portable and budget-friendly option with its plastic construction. However, both lenses have weather sealing features, which is an important consideration for outdoor photography.

Weather Sealing

The Nikon DX 17-55mm f/2.8 features a rubber ring at the lens mount, which helps to seal out particles of dust and drops of water. This provides a degree of weather resistance, allowing professionals to take shots in harsh weather conditions. However, it may not be fully weather-sealed like some other professional lenses on the market.

In contrast, the Nikon DX 16-85mm f/3.5-5.6 has a metal lens mount with a substantial weather sealing gasket around the edge, providing a strong barrier against dust and moisture. Although it provides a degree of weather sealing, it might not deliver the equivalent level of safeguarding compared to lenses that possess more comprehensive sealing capabilities.

Both lenses provide some degree of weather resistance, making them suitable for outdoor photography in various conditions.


The Nikon DX 17-55mm f/2.8 features 2 rings: a focus ring and a zoom ring. The focus ring is slightly wider than the zoom ring and is located about halfway along the barrel, while the zoom ring is closer to the camera. Both rings are designed to be smooth and easy to operate, with a nicely damped tactile experience. The zoom ring is appropriately stiff for the amount of glass inside and is well spread out logarithmically.

The focus ring goes a bit past a quarter turn for focus, which could benefit from a bit more turn for fine-tuning at longer distances. The focus ring is positioned in a way that makes it easy to control precisely, while the zoom ring is slightly thinner and could be a bit difficult to control for those with bigger hands. There is no zoom creep, and the lens has a windowed distance scale but no depth-of-field indicator.

In contrast, the zoom and focus control of the Nikon DX 16-85mm f/3.5-5.6 are operated by two rubber-ribbed rings. The zoom control rotates approximately 90 degrees from the shortest to the longest focal length and provides a sturdy grip with no inclination towards zoom creep.

With a rotation of approximately 130 degrees, the focus control offers ample travel to enable easy manual focusing. The zoom ring rotates smoothly, although it becomes slightly stiffer beyond 50mm. The lens includes a distance scale with a window, but there is no depth-of-field indicator. Despite this, the manual focusing distance is adequate, and the lens does not feature an extension lock switch on its zoom ring.

Comparing the two lenses, the 17-55mm lens offers a more ergonomic design with its wider focus ring, providing more precise control. However, the 16-85mm lens has a better balance of resistance and smoothness for both the focus and zoom rings, offering more control and precision in adjustments. In terms of build quality and durability, both lenses seem to be well-constructed and use high-quality materials.


The Nikon DX 17-55mm f/2.8 features a single slider on the left side of the barrel that selects between M/A (autofocus with manual override) and M (manual only) focusing modes. This simple design provides a straightforward way to switch between autofocus and manual focus, but no other controls are provided on the lens.

On the other hand, the Nikon DX 16-85mm f/3.5-5.6 boasts three switches/buttons. The first one is an AF/MF switch, which enables the activation and deactivation of autofocus while providing the option for manual override. It is labeled as “M/A M,” which stands for autofocus with immediate manual override, allowing the focus ring to be rotated at any time to switch to manual focus mode. The second switch is for activating and deactivating Vibration Reduction with two modes to choose from (IS switch). Finally, there is a switch designated for adjusting the VR (Vibration Reduction) mode sensitivity level, which can be set to either “normal” or “active.” The design of these switches is well thought out and easy to use, making it simple to switch between different modes when necessary. Overall, the switches contribute to the user-friendliness of the lens.

Comparing the two lenses, the 16-85mm lens offers more versatility and convenience with its additional switches for Vibration Reduction and sensitivity level settings. The 17-55mm lens provides a more minimalistic approach with just a single slider for switching between autofocus and manual focus modes.

Filter Thread

The Nikon DX 17-55mm f/2.8 features a plastic filter thread with a diameter of 77mm. This design ensures the filter thread does not rotate when focusing, making it easy to use with polarizers and graduated filters. The larger diameter of the filter thread provides compatibility with a wider range of filters and may help minimize vignetting and potential image quality degradation caused by stacked filters.

On the other hand, the Nikon DX 16-85mm f/3.5-5.6 has a plastic 67mm filter thread. Like the 17-55mm lens, the front element does not rotate while focusing or zooming, allowing for easy use with polarizers and graduated filters. Impressively, even with a double-stack of filters 11mm thick (excluding rear threads), there is no vignetting.

Comparing the two lenses, both offer non-rotating filter threads made of plastic, making it convenient to use various filters. However, the 17-55mm lens has a larger filter thread diameter of 77mm, which may provide more filter options and help reduce vignetting. The 16-85mm lens features a smaller filter thread diameter of 67mm but showcases its ability to avoid vignetting even with double-stacked filters.

Lens Hood

The Nikon DX 17-55mm f/2.8 comes with a plastic bayonet HB-31 hood included in the box. This deep petal-shaped hood effectively encloses the front element as it extends during zooming, providing excellent protection against extraneous light that may cause flare.

The smooth plastic finish and ergonomic bevel make the hood comfortable to grip. While it can be smoothly rotated and firmly clipped onto the front of the barrel, when mounted reversed for storage or carrying, it adds significant diameter to the lens and is not secure.

In contrast, the Nikon DX 16-85mm f/3.5-5.6 includes a reasonably deep, petal-shaped hood made of lightweight plastic. It does a decent job of reducing extraneous light, preventing flare, and preserving image contrast. The hood fits firmly on the lens, which is essential for optimal performance. Although the lens hood can be rotated smoothly, it is not as effective at blocking stray light at 85mm as it is at wider angles. Overall, it remains a useful accessory for enhancing photo quality.

Comparing the two, the 17-55mm lens hood has a more substantial petal shape and provides superior protection against extraneous light and flare. However, it is less secure when mounted reversed for storage. The 16-85mm lens hood, while not as effective at blocking stray light at longer focal lengths, still offers decent performance and remains securely attached to the lens.

Focusing and Optical Stabilization

Nikon AF-S DX NIKKOR 17-55mm F2.8G IF-EDNikon AF-S DX NIKKOR 16-85mm F3.5-5.6G ED VR
AF MotorSilent Wave MotorSilent Wave Motor
Rotating Front ElementDoes not rotate on focusingDoes not rotate on focusing
Min Focus Distance0.36m0.38m
Max Magnification (X)0.20.22
Full-Time Manual FocusYesYes
Focus MethodInternalInternal

Focusing Performance

The Nikon DX 17-55mm f/2.8 boasts fast and accurate autofocus performance, driven by Nikon’s Silent Wave Motor (SWM) technology. The AF speed is average, but the autofocus accuracy is impeccable at every distance and focal length. In low-light situations, a focusing aid, such as the illuminator found on most flashguns, will help. The initial autofocus acquisition speed is good, enabling the lens to focus accurately in most conditions.

This lens also features manual focus override for instant manual focus, smooth manual focus action, and a nicely damped focus ring. With an internally focusing design, the lens length remains constant regardless of focus and zoom settings, and it does not exhibit focus breathing, which mainly interests cinematographers focusing between two subjects.

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

The manual focusing action is smooth and consistent, and the lens boasts an internally focusing design that maintains a constant length irrespective of the zoom and focus settings. The initial autofocus acquisition speed is satisfactory, taking approximately one second to move from the closest focus to infinity. However, the lens displays significant focus breathing and occasionally produces an audible squeak during focusing.

In conclusion, while both lenses have their merits, the 17-55mm lens offers superior focusing performance with its fast and accurate autofocus, smooth manual focus action, and lack of focus breathing. The 16-85mm lens provides decent autofocus performance and manual focus override but falls short due to its focus breathing and occasional audible squeak during focusing. Therefore, the 17-55mm lens is the better choice in terms of focusing performance.

Optical Stabilization

The Nikon DX 17-55mm f/2.8 does not feature optical stabilization, making it more prone to camera shake, especially when shooting handheld in low-light conditions or recording video. While a fast aperture or the use of a tripod can help mitigate the effects of camera shake, the lack of optical stabilization remains a notable limitation for this lens.

Conversely, the Nikon DX 16-85mm f/3.5-5.6 features second-generation optical stabilization (VR II), which permits the use of shutter speeds that are up to 4 stops slower than the rule of thumb suggests. The VR II system offers 2 modes—normal and active—with the latter being more sensitive to camera movement. This optical stabilization is particularly effective in low-light situations, helping to produce sharper still shots and smoother video footage. Additionally, the VR system operates without generating any audible noise.

In conclusion, the 16-85mm lens is superior in terms of optical stabilization, providing a significant advantage in low-light conditions and when shooting handheld or recording video. The 17-55mm lens, without optical stabilization, may require additional measures, such as using a tripod or a faster aperture, to counteract the effects of camera shake. Thus, if optical stabilization is a priority, the 16-85mm lens is the better choice.

Image Quality

Nikon AF-S DX NIKKOR 17-55mm F2.8G IF-EDNikon AF-S DX NIKKOR 16-85mm F3.5-5.6G ED VR
Special Elements3x ED glass elements and 3x aspherical lens elements2x ED glass elements and 3x aspherical lens elements
Diaphragm Blades97
Circular ApertureYesYes


The Nikon DX 17-55mm f/2.8 demonstrates chromatic aberration throughout its zoom range, with fringing up to 1.5 pixels wide towards the edges when stopped down beyond f/16. This could become noticeable in large prints featuring high contrast near the edges.

Although it performs adequately in controlling coma, with sagittal coma flare being difficult to detect, its control over spherical aberration is somewhat limited. The lens exhibits issues related to field curvature at 17mm and slightly lower border sharpness at 24mm @ f/2.8 and 55mm.

In contrast, the Nikon DX 16-85mm f/3.5-5.6 performs remarkably well in terms of chromatic aberration control throughout its zoom range. At its worst, it exhibits only around 5/100ths of a percent of frame height of chromatic aberration at the telephoto end (85mm), while it’s almost non-existent between 24mm and 70mm.

Coma and spherical aberration are effectively managed, thanks to the three aspherical lens elements designed to minimize these types of lens distortion. Nevertheless, there might be some field curvature in the extreme corners, and a little focus shift can occur when stopping down (residual spherical aberrations), which could be noticeable at 16mm.

In conclusion, the 16-85mm lens offers superior aberration control compared to the 17-55mm lens. Its excellent management of chromatic aberration, coma, and spherical aberration results in higher overall image quality. While the 17-55mm lens performs decently, its aberration control is not as impressive as that of the 16-85mm lens.


The Nikon DX 17-55mm f/2.8 is known for delivering sharp images, featuring outstanding center sharpness and good levels towards the edges of the frame. Peak clarity across the frame is achieved between f/5.6 and f/8 for most focal lengths, while at 55mm, peak quality is realized at f/5.6.

The lens exhibits exceptional sharpness wide open to mid-aperture, with great color and contrast, and it locks into focus quickly. Its performance is top-notch at all apertures and throughout the DX image, with only slightly less contrast in the far corners at f/2.8. The lens is sharp on DX, and there is little diffraction softness even at f/22.

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

Typically, corner sharpness is good overall, 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 optimum aperture for peak performance varies depending on the focal length, but typically f/5.6 or f/8 provides the sharpest results.

In conclusion, both lenses offer impressive sharpness; however, the 16-85mm lens stands out for its consistent sharpness across the frame and excellent results at various apertures. If sharpness is a priority in your photography needs, the 16-85mm lens would be the superior choice.

Bokeh Quality

The Nikon DX 17-55mm f/2.8 offers reasonably good bokeh quality. Although it might not be the best among its competitors, it delivers satisfactory results for most situations, especially considering the lens design and its primary purposes. The bokeh is generally smooth and more pleasing towards the telephoto end of the zoom range. However, there might be some minor issues with highlight rendition at certain focal lengths and apertures.

Conversely, the bokeh quality of the Nikon DX 16-85mm f/3.5-5.6 can be somewhat inconsistent. While the bokeh at 85mm f/5.6 is acceptable for both highlights and general blur, it is not exceptionally remarkable. As the focal length moves closer to 50mm f/5, the blur can become rather busy, with shape shadows and outlining effects around highlights that are reminiscent of a mirror lens. The bokeh can appear underdeveloped in conventional scenes, primarily due to the relatively slow maximum aperture, and at 50mm, it can seem harsh.

In conclusion, while neither lens is specifically known for its bokeh quality, the 17-55mm lens has a slight edge over the 16-85mm lens in this aspect. The 17-55mm lens offers smoother bokeh and is more pleasing towards the telephoto end, making it the superior choice for bokeh quality.


The Nikon DX 17-55mm f/2.8 is prone to flare in most backlight situations, and there may be some visible contrast degradation and ghosting when the light source is directly in the picture. However, the supplied lens hood does an excellent job of keeping light from hitting the front element in most situations, and the use of thin glass UV filters, such as the Hoya Super Pro1 series, can help reduce flare and UV rays. It’s important to adjust your shooting angle and use good filters to minimize flare.

In contrast, the Nikon DX 16-85mm f/3.5-5.6 is quite resistant to flare, with only very intense light sources in the frame causing any significant problems. The lens comes equipped with a reasonably deep petal-shaped lens hood, which does an adequate job of preventing extraneous light from causing flare and loss of contrast in images.

Nonetheless, shooting against bright lights may produce some flaring artifacts and a decrease in contrast, particularly when zoomed in, despite the lens’s general proficiency in resisting flare. Hence, it is essential to be mindful of the shooting environment to avoid unwanted flaring and loss of contrast.

In conclusion, the 16-85mm lens is superior when it comes to flare and ghosting resistance compared to the 17-55mm lens. Although both lenses can benefit from using lens hoods and quality filters, the 16-85mm lens demonstrates better overall performance in handling flare and maintaining contrast in challenging lighting situations.


The Nikon DX 17-55mm f/2.8 exhibits well-controlled vignetting characteristics. On digital bodies, light falloff is effectively managed throughout the focal range. Some users don’t mind vignetting and may even use it creatively to enhance their shots.

Conversely, the Nikon DX 16-85mm f/3.5-5.6 exhibits some vignetting, primarily when used wide open at 16mm. However, this is a common issue in wide-angle lenses and can be corrected in post-processing software. At other focal lengths and smaller apertures, vignetting is well-managed, with only a slight darkening of the corners.

In conclusion, the 17-55mm lens offers superior vignetting control compared to the 16-85mm lens. While both lenses can be adjusted to minimize vignetting through aperture changes and post-processing, the 17-55mm lens demonstrates better overall performance in managing light falloff across the entire focal range.


The Nikon DX 17-55mm f/2.8 exhibits some distortion at both ends of the zoom range, with barrel distortion at 17mm and pincushion distortion at 55mm. However, the distortion pattern is uniform across the frame, which makes it relatively easy to correct using image editing software. The distortion is also low in amount and not as obvious as in some other Nikkor designs. While distortion may not be a big issue for some photographers, it would require correction for architecture photography.

In contrast, the Nikon DX 16-85mm f/3.5-5.6 displays a certain amount of distortion, notably in the form of barrel distortion at wider focal lengths and pincushion distortion at longer focal lengths. Nonetheless, the level of distortion is not excessive and can be corrected using post-processing software. Moreover, when compared to other similar zoom lenses, the level of distortion is relatively low. Consequently, while distortion is present in the lens, it is not a major concern and can be effectively managed.

In conclusion, both lenses exhibit distortion, but the 17-55mm lens has a more uniform pattern, making it easier to correct in post-processing. The 16-85mm lens has a relatively low level of distortion compared to similar zoom lenses.

Final Verdict

After evaluating the Nikon DX 17-55mm f/2.8 and Nikon DX 16-85mm f/3.5-5.6 lenses, it is clear that each lens has its strengths and weaknesses.

The 17-55mm lens excels in focusing performance, bokeh quality, vignetting control, and overall build quality. On the other hand, the 16-85mm lens offers superior optical stabilization, aberration control, sharpness, flare/ghosting resistance, and a more versatile focal range.

If you prioritize low light performance, shallow depth of field, better focusing, and smoother bokeh, the 17-55mm lens would be a better choice. However, if you value versatility, optical stabilization, and better overall image quality in terms of sharpness and aberration control, the 16-85mm lens is the superior option.

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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