Nikon DX 18-70mm f/3.5-4.5 vs. Nikon DX 16-85mm f/3.5-4.5: Battle of the Versatile Zooms for the Discerning Photographer

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Are you a passionate photographer looking to elevate your craft by choosing the perfect lens for your camera? Join us as we explore an in-depth analysis of two commonly used lenses: the compact 18-70mm and the versatile 16-85mm.

We understand that photographers have diverse needs and preferences, ranging from landscape and architecture to portrait and close-up photography. That’s why we’ve meticulously examined these two lenses, analyzing their strengths and weaknesses in various aspects, including sharpness, bokeh quality, distortion, and more.

In this article, we’ll help you navigate the world of camera lenses and discover the unique benefits each of these lenses can bring to your photography.

Whether you prioritize versatility, portability, or any other specific aspect, our detailed comparison will provide you with valuable insights and guide you in making an informed decision.

So, sit back and immerse yourself in the captivating world of lenses as we explore the Nikon DX 18-70mm f/3.5-4.5 and Nikon DX 16-85mm f/3.5-4.5 offerings and reveal which one could be the perfect companion for your photography journey.


Nikon AF-S DX NIKKOR 18-70mm F3.5-4.5G IF-EDNikon AF-S DX NIKKOR 16-85mm F3.5-5.6G ED VR
Max ApertureF3.5-4.5F3.5-5.6
Aperture TypeVariableVariable
Focal Range (mm)18-7016-85
Max FormatAPS-C / DXAPS-C / DX
Zoom Ratio (X)3.95.3

The Nikon DX 18-70mm f/3.5-4.5 has a maximum aperture of f/3.5-4.5, which provides a wider aperture than the Nikon DX 16-85mm f/3.5-4.5, which has a maximum aperture of f/3.5-5.6. A wider aperture allows more light to enter the camera, which can be beneficial for shooting in low light conditions and creating a shallower depth of field. However, the difference in aperture between these two lenses is not substantial, and both are variable aperture lenses, meaning that the maximum aperture will change as you zoom in or out.

In terms of focal range, the 18-70mm lens covers a range of 18-70mm, while the 16-85mm lens has a slightly wider range of 16-85mm. The 16-85mm lens offers more versatility, especially at the wide end, which can be useful for landscape or architectural photography. Both lenses are designed for APS-C / DX format cameras.

Considering the factors mentioned above, the 16-85mm lens offers a broader focal range and a higher zoom ratio, making it more versatile and suitable for different photography scenarios. The 18-70mm lens has a slightly wider maximum aperture, but the difference is not substantial enough to significantly impact low light performance or depth of field control.

Design and Ease of Use

Nikon AF-S DX NIKKOR 18-70mm F3.5-4.5G IF-EDNikon AF-S DX NIKKOR 16-85mm F3.5-5.6G ED VR
Diameter x Length (mm)⌀73×75.5mm⌀72×85mm
Weight (gr)390485
Filter Thread (mm)6767
Weather SealingNoNo
Zoom MethodRotary (extending)Rotary (extending)
Distance ScaleYesYes
DoF ScaleNoNo
Hood SuppliedYesYes
Hood CodeHB-32HB-39

The Nikon DX 18-70mm f/3.5-4.5 has a diameter of 73mm and a length of 75.5mm, while the Nikon DX 16-85mm f/3.5-4.5 has a diameter of 72mm and a length of 85mm. The 18-70mm lens is more compact, which makes it easier to carry around, store in a camera bag, and handle when swapping lenses. The compact size of the 18-70mm lens can also make you less conspicuous when shooting in situations that require discreetness, such as street or wildlife photography.

In terms of weight, the 18-70mm lens is lighter, weighing 390 grams compared to the 16-85mm lens, which weighs 485 grams. A lighter lens is more comfortable to carry around for extended periods, resulting in less fatigue during long shoots. Additionally, a lighter lens contributes to better balance when mounted on a camera, making it easier to handle and control during shooting.

Both lenses use a rotary (extending) zoom method, which means the lens physically extends when you zoom in or out. This design is generally simpler and potentially lighter, but it can make the lens more cumbersome to handle and more challenging to weather-seal effectively. The extending design may also impact the camera’s balance while zooming, requiring additional effort to maintain stability during shooting.

Considering the factors mentioned above, the 18-70mm lens is superior in terms of portability and handling, thanks to its more compact size and lighter weight. These advantages make the 18-70mm lens a more convenient choice for photographers who prioritize mobility, discreetness, and ease of handling during long shooting sessions.

Lens Mount and Barrel

The Nikon DX 18-70mm f/3.5-4.5 features a metal lens mount with a rubber sealing gasket, which is uncommon for lenses in its price range. The metal mount provides durability and a premium feel, while the rubber gasket offers some degree of weather sealing.

The lens barrel of the 18-70mm lens is constructed from high-quality plastics, giving it a lightweight and slightly textured finish that doesn’t easily show marks. However, the barrel extends about an inch and a half at 70mm and rotates slightly during zoom, which may require readjusting filters.

On the other hand, the Nikon DX 16-85mm f/3.5-4.5 has a Nikon standard dull chromed brass metal lens mount, accompanied by a weather sealing gasket for added protection. The lens barrel is also made from high-quality plastics, providing a sleek and professional finish.

Rubberized zoom and focus rings offer excellent grip, ensuring your fingers won’t slip during use. Although the lens barrel extends by approximately 42mm when zooming, it remains compact and well-balanced on various camera bodies.

Both lenses utilize plastic lens barrels, which are more affordable and lighter than metal barrels, but may not be as durable in the long run. Their metal lens mounts provide the necessary strength and durability for repeated use.

Weather Sealing

The Nikon DX 18-70mm f/3.5-4.5 offers weather sealing around the gasket, providing some level of protection against dust and moisture. However, it lacks internal seals at the rings, switches, and front of the barrel, which may limit its overall protection in challenging environments.

In contrast, the Nikon DX 16-85mm f/3.5-4.5 features a metal lens mount with a substantial weather sealing gasket around the edge, creating a strong barrier against dust and moisture. While this lens does offer some weather sealing, it may not provide the same level of protection as lenses with more extensive sealing features.

Weather sealing is an essential aspect of lens design that ensures durability and performance in various weather conditions. Fully weather-sealed lenses offer better protection, durability, and performance in challenging environments, while non-sealed lenses may require extra care in such situations.

Although weather sealing may not be a critical feature for some circumstances, it can be beneficial depending on the shooting conditions and locations. If you frequently shoot outdoor or in unpredictable weather conditions, weather sealing can provide valuable protection for your lens.


The Nikon DX 18-70mm f/3.5-4.5 features both a focus ring and a zoom ring. The focus ring is thin and lacks distinguishing features, while the zoom ring is rubberized and large. The texture on the rings could be improved for better differentiation, but users will likely adjust to it over time.

The zoom ring is quite stiff and not fluid, and the barrel extends a fair amount during zoom, which may require filter readjustments. However, the focus ring is decent and provides a reasonable amount of resistance. The lens has a distance scale but lacks depth-of-field or infrared markings and a hyperfocal point marking.

On the other hand, the Nikon DX 16-85mm f/3.5-4.5 comes with two rubber-ribbed rings for zoom and focus control. The zoom control rotates about 90 degrees from the shortest to longest focal length and is firm, with no zoom creep tendency.

The focus control rotates about 130 degrees and has enough travel for easy manual focusing. The zoom ring turns smoothly but stiffens up a bit beyond 50mm. There is a windowed distance scale but no depth-of-field indicator. The manual focusing distance is sufficient, and there is no extension lock switch on the zoom ring.

Based on these factors, the 16-85mm lens appears to have superior rings in terms of comfort, precision, control, and ergonomics. The rubber-ribbed design provides better grip and handling, and the firm yet smooth rotation allows for precise adjustments.


The Nikon DX 18-70mm f/3.5-4.5 comes with a single Manual Focus button on its left side, which operates in both M/A position (autofocus with manual override) and M position (manual focus only). Apart from this button, the lens does not have any other switches or buttons to offer additional controls.

In contrast, the Nikon DX 16-85mm f/3.5-4.5 is equipped with three switches/buttons for enhanced functionality. One switch allows activating and deactivating autofocus with the option of manual override (AF/MF switch), while another switch enables and disables Vibration Reduction with two modes to choose from (IS switch). The third switch is dedicated to setting the VR mode sensitivity level (normal or active).

The design of these switches is well thought out, making it easy for users to switch between different modes when needed. Furthermore, the AF/MF switch is labeled as “M/A M,” which means autofocus with instant manual override, allowing the focus ring to be turned at any time to switch to manual focus mode. These switches contribute to the lens’s overall user-friendliness.

In conclusion, the 16-85mm lens offers superior switches/buttons compared to the 18-70mm lens. Its well-designed switches for autofocus, Vibration Reduction, and VR sensitivity level provide enhanced control and ease of use, making it a more versatile and user-friendly option for photographers.

Filter Thread

The Nikon DX 18-70mm f/3.5-4.5 features a 67mm filter thread size, constructed from high-quality plastics. Its front element does not rotate during focusing, owing to the lens’s internal focusing mechanism, which makes it easy to use with graduated and polarizing filters. However, the 67mm diameter can make filters quite pricey, especially circular polarizers, and may require users to purchase step-up rings to use with larger filter sizes.

On the other hand, the Nikon DX 16-85mm f/3.5-4.5 also has a 67mm filter thread, made from plastic. The front element remains stationary while focusing or zooming, ensuring easy compatibility with polarizers and graduated filters. Additionally, there is no vignetting, even with a double-stack of filters 11mm thick (excluding rear threads).

In conclusion, both lenses have similar filter threads, making it a tie in this regard. Both lenses feature a 67mm filter thread size and are made from plastic, with non-rotating front elements that simplify the use of polarizing and graduated filters.

Lens Hood

The Nikon DX 18-70mm f/3.5-4.5 comes with a petal-shaped hood that is included as part of the standard package. It does a good job of shielding the front element from extraneous light that may cause flare or loss of contrast, but it’s not perfect.

The hood, typically made of plastic, has a butterfly style bayonet mount that can be reversed onto the lens for carrying. Although it is quite shallow and doesn’t provide significant shading for the front element, it’s better than having no hood at all. The hood can rotate slightly during zoom, which means you may need to readjust filters.

In contrast, the Nikon DX 16-85mm f/3.5-4.5 includes a reasonably deep, petal-shaped hood made of lightweight plastic material. It effectively reduces extraneous light and prevents flare and loss of contrast in images.

The hood fits firmly on the lens and can be rotated smoothly, but it is not as effective at blocking stray light at 85mm as it is at wider angles. Nevertheless, the lens hood is a useful accessory that can improve the quality of your photos.

Focusing and Optical Stabilization

Nikon AF-S DX NIKKOR 18-70mm F3.5-4.5G 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 Distance0.38m0.38m
Max Magnification (X)0.160.22
Full-Time Manual FocusYesYes
Focus MethodInternalInternal

Focusing Performance

The Nikon DX 18-70mm f/3.5-4.5 offers excellent autofocus performance, thanks to its silent wave motor. The focusing speed is quick, and the initial autofocus acquisition is efficient. In bright light situations, the lens performs exceptionally well, while in low-light situations, it may lag slightly, particularly at the telephoto end due to the maximum aperture of f/4.5 at 70mm.

However, it is still capable of decent performance indoors under reasonable lighting. The lens features manual focus override, a smooth manual focus action, and an internally focusing design that keeps the length constant regardless of focus and zoom settings. Focus breathing is not a significant concern with this lens, maintaining consistent performance across various shooting situations.

In comparison, the Nikon DX 16-85mm f/3.5-4.5 features an AF-S motor that results in fast and near-silent autofocus operations, though only at an average speed, producing a quiet whirring sound. The ultrasonic motor allows for manual focus override, and the manual focus action is smooth.

Like the 18-70mm lens, it has an internally focusing design. The lens’s initial autofocus acquisition speed is reasonable, taking around a second to slew from closest focus to infinity. However, the lens displays a lot of focus breathing and occasionally produces an audible squeak during focusing.

In conclusion, the 18-70mm lens has superior focusing performance compared to the 16-85mm lens. While both lenses offer fast and silent focusing, the 18-70mm lens excels in bright light situations and provides more consistent performance across various shooting scenarios. Additionally, focus breathing is not a significant concern for the 18-70mm lens, unlike the 16-85mm lens, which exhibits more focus breathing and occasional audible squeaking during focusing.

Optical Stabilization

The Nikon DX 18-70mm f/3.5-4.5 lacks optical stabilization, making it crucial for users to employ proper camera-holding techniques and, if necessary, utilize a tripod or other support to avoid camera shake at slower shutter speeds, especially at longer focal lengths.

On the other hand, the Nikon DX 16-85mm f/3.5-4.5 features second-generation optical stabilization (VR II), allowing for up to 4 stops slower shutter speeds than recommended by the rule of thumb. The VR II system has two modes, normal and active, with the latter being more sensitive to camera movement. The VR system proves effective in low light situations, helping to maintain sharper still shots and smoother video footage. Additionally, it operates silently.

In conclusion, the 16-85mm lens offers superior optical stabilization compared to the 18-70mm lens. While the 18-70mm lens lacks this feature, the 16-85mm lens boasts a VR II system that effectively combats camera shake, resulting in sharper images and smoother video footage in various shooting scenarios. This makes the 16-85mm lens a more versatile and reliable option, especially when shooting handheld or in low-light conditions.

Image Quality

Nikon AF-S DX NIKKOR 18-70mm F3.5-4.5G IF-EDNikon AF-S DX NIKKOR 16-85mm F3.5-5.6G ED VR
Special Elements3x ED glass elements and 1x aspherical lens element2x ED glass elements and 3x aspherical lens elements
Diaphragm Blades77
Circular ApertureYesYes


The Nikon DX 18-70mm f/3.5-4.5 exhibits well-controlled chromatic aberration throughout its focal length range, with only minimal visible issues in high contrast regions towards the edges of the frame at either end of the zoom.

In contrast, the Nikon DX 16-85mm f/3.5-4.5 performs exceptionally well in terms of chromatic aberration, with excellent control throughout the zoom range. At its worst, only around 5/100ths of a percent of frame height of chromatic aberration is seen at the telephoto end (85mm), and it’s almost non-existent between 24mm and 70mm.

Additionally, coma and spherical aberration are well-controlled, thanks to the incorporation of three aspherical lens elements designed to eliminate these types of lens distortion. However, some field curvature in the extreme corners and a bit of focus shift when stopping down (residual spherical aberrations) may be noticeable at 16mm.

In conclusion, the 16-85mm lens demonstrates superior aberration control compared to the 18-70mm lens. While both lenses perform well in managing chromatic aberration, the 16-85mm lens surpasses the 18-70mm lens in effectively controlling coma and spherical aberration. This superior aberration control in the 16-85mm lens results in higher image quality and clarity, making it the more desirable choice of the two lenses.


The Nikon DX 18-70mm f/3.5-4.5 delivers excellent sharpness performance, with center sharpness being outstanding even at maximum aperture. The clarity improves towards the edges of the frame as the lens is stopped down, with peak quality across the frame achieved between f/5.6 and f/8 at all focal lengths. The sharpness remains very good even at f/3.5 or f/4.5 at the tele end, and the lens is incredibly sharp when stopped down to f/8.

On the other hand, the Nikon DX 16-85mm f/3.5-4.5 is consistently praised for its sharpness, with superb results even at maximum aperture and in the center of the frame. Sharpness is even across the frame, with slight variations only when shooting special test subjects at full aperture and enlarging images to considerable sizes.

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

In conclusion, both lenses exhibit remarkable sharpness across their respective focal length ranges, making them suitable choices for various photography scenarios. However, the 16-85mm lens demonstrates a more consistent sharpness from the center to the edges of the frame, which could be especially beneficial for wide-angle photography applications. Thus, the 16-85mm lens holds a slight edge over the 18-70mm lens in terms of overall sharpness.

Bokeh Quality

The Nikon DX 18-70mm f/3.5-4.5 produces bokeh that is generally unremarkable and not particularly smooth. The out-of-focus areas can appear somewhat busy and exhibit an onion-skinned pattern. While the bokeh may not be exceptionally pleasing or beautiful, it is fairly typical for a lens in this category and price range.

On the other hand, the Nikon DX 16-85mm f/3.5-4.5 delivers mixed results when it comes to bokeh quality. At 85mm f/5.6, the bokeh is acceptable for both highlights and general blur, but it’s not particularly special. However, when moving towards 50mm f/5, the blur can be quite busy with shape shadows and outlining effect around highlights, almost similar to a mirror lens. The bokeh is rather underdeveloped in conventional scenes due to the rather slow maximum aperture and is rather harsh at 50mm.

In conclusion, neither lens excels in bokeh quality. However, the 16-85mm lens offers slightly better bokeh performance at the telephoto end (85mm), making it a marginally better choice if bokeh quality is a factor in your decision.


The Nikon DX 18-70mm f/3.5-4.5 is fairly resistant to flare and ghosting, even when shooting into the light. The supplied hood does an excellent job of shielding the front element from extraneous light that may cause flare or loss of contrast.

However, if the light source is directly in the picture, there may be some contrast reduction or ghosting, which is typical of virtually all modern zooms. It’s important to watch where you place the horizon in the frame or take care of it in post-processing. Flare performance is quite good except when directed into the sun.

In comparison, the Nikon DX 16-85mm f/3.5-4.5 is fairly resistant to flare, with only very strong light sources in the frame causing any issues. A reasonably deep petal-shaped lens hood comes supplied with the lens, which does a reasonable job of keeping extraneous light from causing flare and loss of contrast in images.

However, when shooting against bright lights, the lens may show some flaring artifacts and a loss of contrast, especially when zoomed in. So, while the lens generally performs well in terms of flare resistance, it is still important to be mindful of shooting conditions to avoid unwanted flaring and loss of contrast.

In conclusion, both lenses show a fairly good resistance to flare and ghosting, with the 18-70mm lens slightly outperforming the 16-85mm lens. The 18-70mm lens has an edge in terms of handling flare and maintaining contrast, particularly with the effective lens hood. However, it’s essential to be cautious with both lenses in challenging lighting conditions to minimize flare and ghosting artifacts.


The Nikon DX 18-70mm f/3.5-4.5 suffers from noticeable vignetting at 18mm, especially when used wide open. However, stopping down to f/8 or beyond can greatly reduce the issue, and post-processing software can also easily remove it. The amount of vignetting varies at different focal lengths, with 50mm being the best and 18mm being the worst. Some users have reported using a polarization filter exacerbating the issue.

On the other hand, the Nikon DX 16-85mm f/3.5-4.5 shows some vignetting, particularly when used wide open at 16mm. However, this issue is not uncommon in wide-angle lenses and can be corrected in post-processing software. At other focal lengths and smaller apertures, vignetting is well-controlled, with only a slight darkening of the corners.

In conclusion, both lenses exhibit vignetting, particularly at their widest focal lengths. However, the 16-85mm lens appears to have better control over vignetting at different focal lengths and smaller apertures, making it the superior choice in this aspect. It’s important to remember that vignetting can be reduced by stopping down the aperture or corrected using post-processing software. Additionally, some photographers may appreciate a certain level of vignetting for its artistic effect or to draw attention to the center of the image.


The Nikon DX 18-70mm f/3.5-4.5 exhibits some distortion, particularly at the wide end (18mm) where barrel distortion is present, measuring at 4.22% according to Imatest. However, the distortion is uniform across the frame, making it relatively easy to correct in post-processing software. At 70mm, the lens shows a much lower level of distortion, with only 0.484% pincushion distortion, which is much less noticeable.

In contrast, the Nikon DX 16-85mm f/3.5-4.5 exhibits some level of distortion, particularly in the form of barrel distortion at wider focal lengths and pincushion distortion at longer focal lengths. However, the distortion is not extreme and can be corrected in post-processing software. Additionally, the level of distortion is relatively low compared to other similar zoom lenses. Overall, while distortion is present in the lens, it is not a significant issue and can be managed effectively.

In conclusion, both lenses show some distortion, with the 18-70mm lens having more pronounced barrel distortion at the wide end, while the 16-85mm lens has a relatively low level of distortion throughout its zoom range. The 16-85mm lens can be considered superior in terms of distortion control, as it offers better performance across its entire focal length range compared to the 18-70mm lens. However, both lenses’ distortions can be effectively managed and corrected using post-processing software.

Final Verdict

Taking into account all the factors and conclusions mentioned above, the Nikon DX 16-85mm f/3.5-4.5 emerges as a more versatile and well-rounded choice for various photography scenarios due to its broader focal range, higher zoom ratio, superior optical stabilization, and better control over aberrations, vignetting, and distortion. However, the Nikon DX 18-70mm f/3.5-4.5 holds advantages in portability, handling, and focusing performance, making it a suitable option for photographers who prioritize mobility and ease of use.

While neither lens excels in bokeh quality, the 16-85mm lens offers slightly better performance at the telephoto end. Both lenses demonstrate remarkable sharpness and fairly good resistance to flare and ghosting.

It is essential to consider your specific photography needs and preferences when choosing between these two lenses, as each offers its unique strengths and weaknesses.

Ultimately, the 16-85mm lens would be the better choice for those seeking a more versatile and well-rounded option, while the 18-70mm lens may appeal to photographers valuing portability and ease of handling.

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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