The 16-35mm is an extremely well-made lens, with a high standard of fit and finish. The outer shell is made from high quality plastics, and according to Nikon, the internal barrel construction uses lightweight magnesium alloy. There's also a degree of weather weather sealing, most obviously a thick rubber seal around the lens mount.
The layout is entirely conventional, with broad zoom and focus rings, and a couple of easily-accessible switches on the side of the barrel to control the focus and stabilization modes. Both zooming and focusing are fully internal (which reinforces the overall impression of solidity), and extemely smooth in operation.
On the camera
The substantial size of the 16-35mm means that it doesn't look at all out of place on the chunky D3X body. Consequently, it rather dwarfs compact entry-level models such as the D3000, and overall it's perhaps most at home on larger cameras such as the D700 and D300. The zoom ring is placed towards the rear of the lens barrel rather close to the camera body, with the focus ring easily distinguished on the larger diameter front section, and the focus and VR mode switches readily accessible on the side of the barrel in between.
One word of warning, though; the sheer size of the lens makes it almost completely incompatible with built-in flash, as even on APS-C bodies it will cast obvious shadows towards the bottom of the frame at focal lengths shorter than 24mm.
Autofocus is via a ring-type ultrasonic AF-S motor, which is fast, positive and near-silent. The built-in motor also means the lens will autofocus on entry-level Nikon bodies which lack an in-body motor (from the D40 through to the D3000).
Lens body elements
The lens uses Nikon's venerable F mount, and communicates with the body electronically via an array of contact pins, while control of the aperture is mechanical using a metal lever.
A rubber seal around the outside of the mount protects against dust and water ingress into the camera.
The filter thread is 77mm, which is the de facto standard for professional lenses, and common across much of Nikon's lineup. It does not rotate on autofocusing, which should please filter users.
The front element moves backwards and forwards within the confines of the lens barrel on zooming.
The petal-type HB-23 hood is supplied as standard, and bayonets firmly onto the front of the lens. It's 36mm deep and reverses for storage.
If this hood looks somehow familiar to owners of the 17-25mm F2.8D, 12-24mm F4G DX and 18-35mm F3.5-4.5D, that's because it's shared with these lenses.
Even with the hood reversed you'll need to find a sizeable space in your bag to carry the 16-35mm around. The hood is 4.25" (108mm) in diameter, and when the lens is packed up and ready to go with both lens caps on, the overall length is the best part of 6" (15cm).
The zoom ring rotates 80 degrees clockwise from 16mm to 35mm, with all movements internal to the barrel. The ribbed rubber grip is 22mm in width, and the zoom action is smooth and precise.
The focus ring is 28mm wide, and rotates 60 degrees clockwise from infinity to 0.28m. It does not rotate during autofocus, and the full-time manual system allows tweaking of the focus when the lens is set to the M/A mode.
Again focus is internal, and the action is smooth, precise and well-damped.
A small distance scale is positioned in front of the focus ring. It has markings in both feet and meters for just three distances aside from infinity. The focus ring travels slightly past the infinity mark, apparently to allow for the effects of ambient temperature variations.
The side of the lens barrel has a familiar pair of switches to control the autofocus and image stabilization systems. They're identical in size and feel, so you can't tell them apart by touch alone.
Reported aperture vs focal length
This lens allows an aperture range from F4 to F22 at all focal lengths.