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Sigma 17-70/2.8-4-OS [vs] Nikon 16-85/3.5-5.6-VR2

hunter wimmer , Feb 19, 2011; 04:11 p.m.

I'm searching for a new main/single lens to pair with my D7000. previously the 24-85/2.8-4 served me well on my D100 (and might actually be the answer

In a lens, I'm looking for versatility without compromising quality. I rarely shoot telephoto past the 85mm mark (DX sensor) and I've rarely wanted a longer lens (and when I do, I might reach for a 70-300), but I have often wanted something wider without too much distortion. I shoot a lot of architecture and "square things", so distortion is a big factor as is a large max aperture for hand-held work and nice subject-ground separation. I also tend to shoot a lot of details, so the macro capabilities of the 24-85 have proven very useful and I've yet to come up against a macro-limitation when using it for close work. Overall clarity is also a concern. I remember shooting with a 10X+ zoom years ago and everything at every length seemed muddy... so i've been drawn to the more modest zooms. I also tend not to change lenses often, so a one-lens solution (with a few others like a 50/1.4 and a tele-zoom for those rare, rare needs ) is a must.

Concerns in order:
1: One lens solution:
... wide-zooms and primes are purposefully not on the list
... I need wider than 24mm (16-18) and something approaching 70-85mm on the long end (50mm is too short)
2: Distortion
... the distortion on the 24-85 isn't bad, but it's terrible on the 18-105
3: Clarity
... my 24-85 seems plenty clear with good contrast
4: Close focusing
... with my 24-85, i've not needed a "real" macro and i shoot enough random close details that a "built-in" macro is handy
So far, in addition to my existing 24-85, I've paired it down to 2 others -- each with pros and cons (and eliminating another -- the 18-105)

// Nikon 18-105: (I'm eliminating this one).
-- I own it (came with the D7000)
-- distortion + vignetting
-- 3.5 base aperture
-- poor built quality
-- VR1

// Nikon 25-85/2.8-4macro pros:
-- I own it
-- 2.8 base aperture
-- Fairly clear (by my estimation)... so this might be a good measure against the other lenses
-- Macro capabilities
-- Nice build quality (by my estimation)... so this might be a good measure against the other lenses
-- 24mm is limiting on the wide side
-- Lack of VR or OS (image stabilization)

// Nikon 16-85/3.5-5.6
-- Wide end flexibility
-- VR2
-- No macro
-- 3.5 base aperture
-- Cost (higher)

// Sigma 17-70/2.8-4-OS
-- Cost (lower)
-- Macro
-- 2.8 base aperture
-- OS
-- 15mm less on the long end
-- Not a nikon-brand lens (does this matter?)

It really seems the decision is between the Sigma 17-70 and the Nikon 16-85... and the Sigma seems to be pulling ahead on paper. Your thoughts appreciated (and thanks for your patience and wisdom).


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Andy L , Feb 19, 2011; 04:25 p.m.

The 16-85 does have slightly less distortion than most kit lenses, but $600+ is too expensive for what it is. I'd go with the Sigma. It's just as good, with better close focus and a more reasonable price tag.

Eric Arnold , Feb 19, 2011; 05:03 p.m.

i would say a big con of the 16-85 is the 5.6 aperture on the long end. there are P&S cameras which are f/2.5 at 112mm! in real-world terms, this effectively limits the 16-85 to daylight use in good light. generally, i would opt for constant 2.8 across the range, so i would also consider the tamron 17-50 and sigma 17-50. to me this is more important than the longer overall range, but YMMV.

i'm afraid, though, there are no easy solutions; any lens in this field will represent a compromise on some level. i assume your main reason for wanting to replace the 24-85 is the wider zoom range. but, and this must, be pointed out, any lens you get is going to leave you with three zooms which overlap focal lengths considerably. so i'm not sure i wouldn't just keep the 24-85, sell the 18-105, and buy an UWA like the 10-20 or 10-24, and maybe the 85/1.8.

John Crowe , Feb 19, 2011; 06:02 p.m.

For the first time I agree with Eric. Keep your current zoom for what you find it excells at, and get another zoom to go alongside it that achieves different purposes. Part of the problem is that any of the generic zooms in the range you are looking at, especially with VR/OS, will likely be poorer performers than the one that you already have.

I would add the Sigma 12-24 (also good for full frame) and the Nikon 18-35mm f3.5-4.5 D ED IF to the list. For those rare occasions when you absolutely need VR you could get that 50/1.4 instead or add a used Nikon 18-55 VR for less than $100 USD.

hunter wimmer , Feb 19, 2011; 06:16 p.m.

Thanks for the early/quick insight.
Eric: Good point about the 16-85's aperture -- thus the interest in the Sigma (with the 2.8-4.0). FWIW, I've not been disappointed with the 25-85's aperture range (2.8-4.0), so the Sigma might be the best bet -- and with the OS would still be better than the 24-85 (and let me keep the "macro" function)... I'd just compromise the 15mm on the long end.

The main reason for replacing the 24-85 is indeed the want for a wider zoom in a more "one-lens-solution" package, however 4 lenses is simply too many for me to carry around and realistically swap/use. Honestly, the need for a wide angle less than 16 or 17 is minimal for me. It seems with the 17-70 and a tele-zoom (70-300), i might have all of my needs covered in 2 lenses.

If someone made a low-distortion 2.8-constant 17/18-70/85 at any price, I'd be game... but it seems with the 2.8s i'm either giving up the wide end (Nikon 24-70/2.8) or the long end (sigma 17-50/2.8).
Andrew: Fortunately, the cost of the 16-85 isn't as much of an issue as the compromises I might make with it (lack of "macro" and higher base aperture). The only thing it seems I'm gaining with the Nikon lens is the name, 1mm on the wide side and 15mm on the long side...

Eric Arnold , Feb 19, 2011; 07:11 p.m.

It seems with the 17-70 and a tele-zoom (70-300), i might have all of my needs covered in 2 lenses.

if you dont need to go wider than 17 or shoot in extreme low-light, that might indeed be the case. i'd still want at least one sub-2.8 prime for available light, but i dont see the need for three overlapping zooms, especially if none of them is a constant 2.8.

If someone made a low-distortion 2.8-constant 17/18-70/85 at any price, I'd be game...

well, there's the rub,isn't it? many years ago, there was a tamron 28-105/2.8 which produced inconsistent results. but a similar lens for FX, and maybe a DX variant which started at 18, with OS/VR/VC, would have immediate usefulness.

Steven P , Feb 20, 2011; 08:46 a.m.

>>If someone made a low-distortion 2.8-constant 17/18-70/85 at any price, I'd be game...

If it had VR or it's equivalent, it would be the size of a coffee can. I like the 16-85, which I use mostly at it's wide setting. 24mm was my favorite focal length on 35mm. For many, the f5.6 @ 85 is marginally worthless, but for the photography that I like, it works fine.

I also generally prefer Nikon glass, as their lenses built their reputation more so than their camera bodies. (Yes, a 3rd party lens or two may reside in my "go to" bag.)

Richard Snow , Feb 20, 2011; 10:07 a.m.


One of the reasons you see such little distortion with the 24-85 is that is meant to fill a 35mm frame. Shooting on DX you are using the "best" and least distorting part of the glass - the center. If you shoot it on film or FX you will likely notice the distortion around the edges a bit more.
Unfortunately, to get anything wider than 24mm in a non-DX Zoom, you will be limiting yourself to lenses that cost several thousands of dollars and only go to 35mm on the long end.

The answer: Compromise.

Any 16/17/18 - 70/85mm DX lens is going to have distortion. The question is: how much distortion can you handle, and how easy is the distortion to fix in post?

How much distortion you can handle is up to you, but nearly all (simple) lens distortion is now very easily fixed in post via Nikon and/or Adobe software.

If you are looking for a one-lens solution, get the 16-85mm f/3.5-5.6 The f/5.6 on the long end should not worry you if you are shooting mainly landscapes and architecture. For hand holding, it may become an issue, but the VR is quite good and should allow you to shoot at 1/30 - 1/60 sec @ 85mm with little to no hand shake noticeable. I don't own this lens, so if I'm wrong on this, someone with more experience with this lens should correct me.

If you don't mind having two lenses, keep your 24-85 and get the 12-24 f/4 or 10-24 f/3.5-4.5.

Hope this helps

hunter wimmer , Feb 20, 2011; 11:33 a.m.

Thanks, all: I definitely appreciate the wisdom. Some interesting points ala "coffee can" (of a 17-85/2.8VR) and "sweet spot" (of the 24-85).

Presently, I'm leaning towards the Sigma for the maco functionality and wider aperture -- it seems to spec out better than my current 24-85 in tests on photozone. I'd give up 15mm on the long end, but again, "compromise" seems to be the word here.

Am I nuts? (Sigma over Nikon)

(I'm also intrigued by Sigma's 50/1.4, but that's another post... ;) ...)

Andy L , Feb 20, 2011; 11:54 a.m.

No, you're not nuts. I've used both lenses (we're talking about the Sigma 17-70 and the Nikon 16-85, right?) and they're equally good. I have 13x19 prints of shots I took with the previous (non-VR) version of the Sigma and they came out very nicely. I did eventually sell that lens because it overlapped another lens I have but I tried the new version and it's just as good, and I'd be seriously thinking about buying it myself if I weren't also seriously thinking about moving to FX whenever Nikon gets around to releasing the D700 successor.

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