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16-35mm f/4 vs 17-35mm f/2.8 on D800/e

jonathan newman , Jun 09, 2012; 11:53 a.m.

I'm weighing up a potential move to FF/Nikon this year with a D800/e purhcase and lens wise the main issue for me would be replacing my Canon 10-22mm with something that has a similar range and takes filters, the two obvious options seem to be the 16-35mm f/4 and the 17-35mm f/2.8
I shoot mostly landscapes and specs wise the 16-35mm seems slightly more appealing with the longer range, VR and weather sealing but I do take enough action/shallow DOF shots that the 2.8 appature of the 17-35mm would not be totally useless to me, espeically at the long end.
What I'v found really confusing though is finding comparisons of these two lenses performance, alot of big sites don't cover them both and those that do provide a rather contradictory picture with reguards to sharpness across the frame. Most sources do agree than the 17-35mm is soft in the boarders/corners wide open but really those areas are only going to be an issue for me stopped down to f5.6 or lower. In that appature range some reviews seem to favour the 17-35mm(most obviously photozone) and others the 16-35mm.
Does anyone have expereince of one or both of these lenses on the D800 or the D3x? I'd be grateful to hear about your expereinces with them.


Shun Cheung , Jun 09, 2012; 12:09 p.m.

I only have the 17-35mm/f2.8 AF-S. I have tried that on the D800. Corner sharpness is kind of weak at 17mm, and it does not improve when stopped down. If you can avoid the extreme wide end, it should work well on the D800. I have used that on the D3X as well with similar findings.

Likewise, it is well known that the 16-35mm/f4 AF-S VR is somewhat poor at 16mm, as distortion is quite serious. From 18mm and up, it seems to be much better.

IMO, 20mm is plenty wide for landscape photography on FX/35mm film. However, if you want to use 16mm or 17mm frequently, those lenses can be a problem.

jonathan newman , Jun 09, 2012; 02:01 p.m.

Thanks Shun Cheung, would you say the 17-35mm's weakness at the wide end is limated to the extreme corners? I could probabley live with that but if the sharpness is dropping off greatly say 2/3rds of the way to the boarders even stopped down thats a potential issue to me althoguh as you say the 16-35mm seems to have similar or worse problems.

If I picked up either lens it would really be to use the entire range, alot of what worries me about the 16-35mm is the talk of its weak performance at the long end.

Shun Cheung , Jun 09, 2012; 05:11 p.m.

Jonathan, since the D800 image files are huge, I have to post a crop that itself is going to be very large that you need to view it as a link.

Below is the entire frame scaled down to 700 pixels across, captured with the 17-35mm/f2.8 AF-S at 17mm, f8 on the D800. Obviously I set the whole thing up on a tripod, whose shadow is in the image.

17-35mm/f2.8 AF-S on D800

Shun Cheung , Jun 09, 2012; 05:12 p.m.

Pixel-level crop of the lower left. You can see some purple color fringing in the bright-to-dark transition due to chromatic aberration. Again, the lens is set to 17mm and stopped down to f8 with plenty of depth of field, not wide open.

Robert Coney , Jun 09, 2012; 05:58 p.m.

I was out this weekend in a river canyon with the D800, Nikkor 17-35 f2.8, and nikkor 24-70 f2.8. I am pleased with the 17-35 f2.8. i find it is more the extreme corners where things deteriorate. There is distortion but both photoshop and Capture NX 2 can correct that. 24 mm is commonly as wide as I need except in canyons, so I use the 24-70 more. I find the Zeiss 21 f2.8 to have similar corner performance. The 17-35 zoom reduces the need to change lenses in hostile environments.

douglas ritchie , Jun 09, 2012; 06:12 p.m.

Hi Jonathan,
I had the 17-35 and changed to the 16-35 it is far sharper and better contrast than the 17-35,it also works very well on my D800,I have had a few wonderfully sharp and contrasty 20x30 inch prints from the D800 and the 16-35.

jonathan newman , Jun 10, 2012; 08:23 a.m.

Thanks Shun Chung, that result kind of falls in the middle for me, I can see contrast and resolution are dropping by the bottom of the park sign/bollard on the left but as Robert says its really only in the extreme corner than it looks obviously soft.

How would you say the performance changes though the range? what really stuck out for me in the photozone review was its performance at 21mm(better than the Ziess 21mm and 14-24mm stopped down in terms of resolution according to them), between that and 24mm is probabley my most used range for landscapes.

How would you say the 16-35mm improves on the 17-35mm ritchie? sharper with better contrast at the boarders stopped down? does it hold up aswell at the long end?

Shun Cheung , Jun 10, 2012; 10:03 a.m.

Jonathan, I took samples at that same set up without moving the tripod, and the 17-35mm was set to 17mm, 24m, and 35mm. All the samples are at f8 and f11. I am happy with the 24mm and 35mm results.

As I said earlier, the main issue is at the widest setting. I too mainly shoot landscape at 24mm, and 20mm is quite wide. Therefore, if you can minimize using the 17mm, 18mm range, you should be much happier with the 17-35mm. For 24mm, I also have the 24mm/f3.5 PC-E lens as well as the 14-24mm/f2.8 AF-S zoom. Therefore, I haven't bothered to get the 16-35mm/f4 AF-S VR. Photozone.de has posted some FX samples from the 16-35 and as I said, it is also weak at its widest zoom range. When the 16-35 first came out, I discussed with Bjorn Rorslett, and he feels that Nikon probably should have made it a 18-35mm zoom instead of a 16-35 to match Canon. In other words, similar to the 17-35mm/f2.8, you probably also want to avoid the widest 2mm on the 16-35mm/f4.

Photozone.de's test samples is available for everybody to watch. You might want to take a look at their site.

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