Why choose the Nikkor 16-35mm f4 VR?
When I upgraded to a full frame Camera my Nikkor 12-24mm f4 was no longer going to be my 'prime' lens for landscape photography. As a DX designated lens I would be losing some of the full frame image area making the camera change pointless. So after a fantastic time with the Nikkor 12-24mm lens it was time to find its replacement.
Nikon 14-24mm anyone?
I looked at the mighty Nikon 14-24mm but for landscape photographers at the time it usefulness was severely curtailed by having no filtration system available - due to the size and shape of the lens elements. Although its performance is rated as superb by many, the filter issue took away this option as the sensible choice.
With Landscape photographs you do have the option to take more than one image at differing exposures and blend them together to capture the scenes overall contrast and exposure latitude. However I prefer to do as much in camera as possible.
Note: Now Lee Filters have produced a filter system specifically for the Nikkor 14-24mm lens. It is not cheap and this will add to the overall cost of owning the lens.
Not long before I set about choosing my replacement wide angle lens Nikon released the Nikkor 16-35 f4 VR. As usual I read numerous articles on the lens and it seemed to have stellar performance with the only drawback some distortion at the wide end. It was a professional grade lens, cheaper than the Nikkor 14-24mm and with the ability to be able to use my Lee Filters (It has Nikon's professional standard 77mm filter thread). I did look at other manufacturers lenses, but to beat this lens for sharpness I would really need to be changing to a prime lens but I wanted to keep the zoom capability, so in the end I plumped for the 16-35mm Nikkor.
Sharpness and Distortion
I have now been using the lens for some time. It IS a sharp lens and from this perspective it is as good if not better than the Nikkor 12-24mm lens. Ken Rockwell describes this lens as "the world's sharpest ultra-wide zoom." My gripe would be with the distortion. At wide angles (probably less than around 20-24mm) distortion is noticeable and if you have any buildings in your shot then be aware you will be using your Photoshop skills later on to correct it.
The distortion puts a little bit of a dampener on an otherwise great lens. I had read about the issue prior to purchase and so I can only accept this is the overall ability of the lens. As with most things it is a compromise.
However, if you have professional levels of technique you will be impressed by the sharpness and contrast of this lens. Build quality is very good and it has been out in the weather where the weather sealing worked perfectly.
Size wise, the lens is not small and is fairly heavy but that is to be expected from a professional grade lens.
Although the lens has VR capability I have rarely used it as most of my images are mounted on a sturdy tripod. It could be useful for handheld snapshots in low light but that is not what my photography is about.
Overall I would thoroughly recommend this lens although please bear in mind there is some distortion at the wide end of the range. I have been really pleased with it and it has been fitted to my Nikon D3 for 90% of the time!