Best zoom lens upgrade for Nikon DSLRs: 8 tested

Nikon 16-85mm f/3.5-5.6G AF-S DX ED VR II - £420/$650

There are plenty of high-end features packed into this travel-friendly zoom. The ring-type ultrasonic autofocus is fast, practically silent and comes complete with full-time manual override.

The VR II optical stabiliser is similarly top notch, offering a four-stop advantage as well as boasting an 'Active' mode that's ideal for shooting from vibrating platforms or when you've got the shivers.

Build quality isn't a match for the pro Nikon lenses on test but the lens is still pretty tough and beautifully put together, feeling much more of a quality item than Nikon's kit zooms. The only drawback is that the maximum aperture of f/5.6 at the long end of the zoom range is two stops slower than for some of the lenses on test. And f/5.6 at 85mm still gives scope for minimising depth of field.

The 16-85mm acquits itself well in the lab and is a joy to use. The VR system is superb and image quality is impressively sharp, even at the largest apertures, making the f/5.6 at 85mm all the more usable. Contrast is excellent and the lens gives superb results in practically any shooting conditions.

Sharpness test

Best zoom lens upgrade for Nikon DSLRs: 8 tested

Lab data isn't spectacular at 85mm, but real-world results are pin-sharp corner to corner.

Lab test at f/8
Sharpness at wide angle: 2359
Sharpness at mid range: 2318
Sharpness at telephoto: 2076

Fringing test

Best zoom lens upgrade for Nikon DSLRs: 8 tested

At 16mm there's only slight colour fringing, which essentially disappears at longer focal lengths.

Lab test at f/8
Fringing at wide angle: 0.71
Fringing at mid range: 0.13
Fringing at telephoto: 0.16

Distortion test

Best zoom lens upgrade for Nikon DSLRs: 8 tested

Distortion is only really noticeable at 16mm, but even here it's very uniform and easy to correct when editing.

Lab test at f/8
Distortion at wide angle: -3.43
Distortion at mid range: 1.21
Distortion at telephoto: 1.18

Image quality verdict

Best zoom lens upgrade for Nikon DSLRs: 8 tested

With great sharpness and contrast, helped by highly effective optical stabilisation, this is a brilliant lens for handheld photography.

Read the full Nikon 16-85mm f/3.5-5.6G AF-S DX ED VR II review