Nikon 16-35mm lens review

A review of the Nikon 16-35mm F4 full frame lens for underwater photography
By Scott Gietler

The Nikon 16-35mm F4 lens was never my first choice for a lens. In fact, for years I resisted using a rectilinear lens underwater, opting for the extremes of a fisheye lens or a macro lens. However, a trip to the Galapagos Islands called for a different beast, and I finally pulled the trigger and purchased a serious wide-angle zoom lens. Would I be happy with my decision?

My first dive with this lens was aweful. I wasn't use to such a large dome, by setup was positively buoyant, and I could barely take a shot. The dome port will require between 60mm and 80mm of extension. I always felt like I was floating up. It was a complete mess. I had started to regret my decision.

After removing my BTS buoyancy floats, and positioning my rig under my chest, after 2 more dives I learned how to control the setup during the dive. Surge? No problem. Heavy current? No problem. Hammerheads and fish flying by at the speed of light? No problem. I was getting this setup dialed in. The trick was keeping my rig in tight against my body under by chest, and keeping the dome port rotated down slightly. After a few dives it became very natural.

With my floats gone, my setup was now neutrally buoyant. But more importantly, I realized that this lens focused fast. And accurate. In fact, it focused real fast. I was hard pressed to find a shot that I took that was out of focus.

Audio commentary by Scott Gietler on the Nikon 16-35mm lens



Here's some observations that I made about the Nikon 16-35mm lens:

Nikon 16-35mm lens review - fast & accurate auto-focus

For myself, this was the most important feature of this lens - the ability to get my subjects in focus over, and over, and over again.

Nikon 16-35mm lens review for underwater photography

Not ultra-wide - but wide enough

Whether it is a 12 foot Mola mola, or a giant school of scalloped hammerheads swimming overhead, the Nikon 16-35mm is there to help you capture the shot. For the bigger animals, simply zoom out to 16mm, point, and shoot.

Nikon 16-35mm lens review

Hammerheads - Nikon 16-35mm review

Capable of selfies

The Nikon 16-35mm lens is more than wide enough to produce a nice selfie, for example with a marine iguana, if you happen to come across one underwater.

Marine Iguana selfie Galapagos

Nikon 16-35mm lens - Almost a macro lens

The Nikon 16-35mm lens has incredible sharpness, and when combined with the 36 megapixel Nikon D810, the ability to crop can produce photos that can almost rival what you would get with a macro lens. Check out these 100% crops of photos.

Here are the original full-size photos:


Nikon 16-35mm - the perfect big animal lens

Rays, sharks, fish, dolphins, even slow moving tortoises - the Nikon 16-35mm can do it all.

In Summary

The Nikon 16-35mm F4 lens is a large, expensive lens - and it is worth every penny imho. The rig is huge, but you can quickly get accustomed to it, and you will not feel limited underwater in the least bit. In fact, having a neutrally buoyant rig made it feel almost effortless to move around underwater.

The autofocus is fast and accurate - light years better than using a fisheye lens. Can I repeat that? I love the auto-focus on my Nikon 16-35mm lens. That is what makes it the perfect big animal lens imho. I use AF-C autofocus, not AF-S mode, on my D810 so that I can always take the shot when I want. If you haven't used AF-C mode before, it will take a little practise getting used to, as it will take a shot even if the image is out of focus.

Last but least, it is incredibly sharp. So sharp, that you can crop the hell out of a photo and come out with a great looking macro photo, without needing a macro lens.

Gear Questions & Galapagos Questions

So there you have it, those are my thoughts on the Nikon 16-35mm lens. -Who wants one? Email me with questions about the lens, about which Nikon body to buy (D500? D810?), feedback on this article, info on our epic upcoming 2017 / 2018 Galapagos charters, or just a quick hello at


Scott Gietler is the owner of Bluewater Photo, Bluewater Travel, and the Underwater Photography Guide. Bluewater Photo, based in Culver City, CA is one of the world’s largest and most prestigious underwater camera stores, serving many thousands of customers each year, where nothing is more important than customer service. The Underwater Photography Guide is the world’s first website to feature free tutorials on underwater photography, and has become the most trafficked resource on underwater photography worldwide. Bluewater Travel is a full-service dive travel wholesaler sending groups and individuals on the world’s best dive vacations. 

Scott is also an avid diver, underwater photographer, and budding marine biologist, having created the online guide to the underwater flora and fauna of Southern California. He is the past vice-president of the Los Angeles Underwater Photographic Society, has volunteered extensively at the Santa Monica aquarium, and is the creator of the Ocean Art underwater photo competition, one of the largest underwater international photo competitions ever held in terms of value of prizes. He lives in California with his wife, newborn girl and scuba-diving, photo taking 4 year old son.

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