A standard zoom is ideal for walkabout photography, and the compact Nikon 16-85mm
f/3.5-5.6G AF-S DX ED VR II weighs less than 500g, so is an ideal travel companion, and our best on test.
Despite its small, lightweight design, build quality feels great and luxuries include fast, deadly accurate ring-type ultrasonic autofocus, as well as a brilliant dual-mode optical stabiliser. It also has the biggest zoom range in the group. Most importantly, image quality is superb.
One thing the lens lacks is a relatively fast, constant maximum aperture of f/2.8. However, the f/2.8 lenses on test have less zoom range, lacking the telephoto reach of their slower rivals. By using the longer focal length of 85mm, you can still get a similarly tight depth of field at f/5.6.
And if you need faster shutter speeds, there's a lot to be said for increasing the ISO setting in current Nikon cameras (which deliver excellent image quality at high sensitivities) rather than having to use a larger f/2.8 aperture.
The Nikon 16-85mm is fairly affordable, but if you want a DX-format lens on a tighter budget, the Sigma 17-70mm is great. We're not so impressed with the even cheaper Tamron 17-50mm. It lacks sharpness away from the frame centre and often seems to cause metering errors.
The best-value f/2.8 for DX cameras is the Sigma 17-50mm, with its four-stop stabiliser.
For FX cameras, there aren't any optically stabilised standard zooms, but the Sigma 24-70mm is the best buy. It costs less than half the price of the Nikon 24-70mm. The DX-format Nikon 17-55mm f/2.8 also lacks stabilisation. Unless you need bombproof build, the Nikon f/2.8 lenses are fairly poor value for money.