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Asking me which lens is my favorite is somewhat akin to asking me which one of my two children I love the most. The simple answer is, “the one that will get me the shot I want!” I will also tell you, it depends on the subject I’m shooting. If I’m photographing a portrait, I’m more likely to choose my 85mm f/1.4. But primarily, I am a landscape photographer, so as I look back at some of my favorite images, I will say that most have been made using my AF Nikkor 16-35mm f/4G ED.
As I have grown as a photographer, I must admit I have become more and more enamored with the ultra-wide angle point of view. I enjoy seeing things in that perspective, and using the wide angle to emphasize foreground objects. I do also own the 14-24mm f/2.8 lens, but one thing sets the 16-35mm apart for me – that is the ease with which filters can be used. More on that in a bit.
As a landscape photographer, I love using the perspective of an ultra-wide angle lens to be able to distort perspective and emphasize foreground objects. I often find that 24mm just isn’t wide enough to do what I’d like. Also, the 2x zoom to 35mm adds some nice versatility on the wide angle end of things. I can go from ultra-wide at 16mm to moderately wide at 35mm, without needing to change lenses to my mid-range zoom. This provides me with a little more flexibility than the 14-24mm.
While that lens can go just a bit wider, there are several trade-offs that make the 16-35mm more appealing. In addition, I find the lens to be tack sharp throughout the range, with very little if any chromatic aberration (color fringing that can happen in high contrast areas). While the maximum aperture of f/4 may give some photographers pause (believing that f/2.8 is a necessity) I find that more often than not, I am shooting this lens while mounted on a tripod, and stopped down for maximum depth of field. Being able to shoot at f/2.8 just isn’t a requirement for me. Keep in mind, I am using this lens on a Nikon D810. If you are using a DX body, the lens’ coverage won’t be as wide.
As a landscape photographer, the ability to use filters is no small consideration. While I have filters for my 14-24mm lens, they are quite large. If I’m trying to travel light, I can’t always fit them in the bag, and those filters only fit the 14-24mm. My 100mm filter kit fits all of my lenses except for the 14-24mm, so it’s more economical in terms of space if I only carry that one kit and use my 16-35mm as my ultra-wide option when a filter is needed. The 16-35mm takes a 77mm sized filter for screw ins, or 77mm mounting ring if I’m using my drop-in filters. That matches most of my other lenses, making it convenient in terms of compatibility with accessories.
While it’s not typically deemed necessary in an ultra-wide angle lens, the inclusion of VR, or vibration reduction (sometimes also called image stabilization) is a nice plus for this lens. Other lens makers have also begun including it in their competitors in this range. As I said, I am generally on a tripod when shooting with this lens, but there are times when hand-holding is necessary. Having the option of turning on the VR to give me some extra help in steadying the camera, gives me a great sense of reassurance that my images will be sharp. This is of particular importance when standing on a bridge, which can vibrate due to cars on the roadway, or when photographing in a place where tripods aren’t allowed.
For me, it’s all about the image. Size and weight are a distant second. Is the lens sharp? Yes. Is the field of view what I want? Yes. Can I use it with my filters to achieve my final image? Yes. It is the positive answers to those three questions that make this lens my favorite for photographing landscapes. Come back and talk to me about my favorite portrait lens another time.