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I was researching a bit on Nikon 16-35mm f/4 lens. Both Nikon USA and India websites are silent about the build material of the lens barrel. There are a class of people, who either out of "frustration" or "satisfaction" of purchasing the lens, are inflating the fact using hyperbolic jargons, e.g. weather resistant, professional grade optics, solid build etc. Unfortunately these seems to be subjective and not backed by any official data.

Weather-resistance: Nikon is vague about weather-proofing. All it does is to slip-off the follwing while trying to convince its potential customer how wonderful this piece of glass is.

With an excellent build quality, Nano Crystal Coat to minimize internal reflections while reducing ghost and flare and dust and moisture sealing, the AF-S NIKKOR 16-35mm f/4G ED VR is ready to tackle your next assignment.

I hope a minor mention of moisture sealing is not tantamount to a lens being weather sealed.

Build material: No information is there in official docs which I could find out. A third-party review says,

The outer barrel is made of magnesium alloy...

I wonder what exactly is a pro-quality lens. Nikon doesn't mark its products as consumer or pro-grade. Is it only a commerial hype by over-satisfied or dis-satisfied souls? What are the features beyond focal length and aperture that makes a lens suited for profssional use with higher price tags?

Some of the documented factors that crosses my mind are:

  • ED glass
  • Nano crystal coating to reduce ghosting and flare
  • Aspherical lens element to reduce chromatic aberration
  • M/A, Auto-focus with manual override
  • Count of lens elements

Some of the undocumented/unofficial/subjective factors those I find people to hold different views (worse is, they contradict diametrically) on:

  • Sharpness
  • Contrast
  • Build material
  • Weather resistance
  • Vignetting
  • Chromatic aberrations

I'm keen to know what aspects define the line between consumer and professional grade products in Nikon line of lenses.

EDIT:

To put in some more information, I want to refer to this article where he has classified the lens in four categories. As per his definition, a professional grade lens is,

Professional – high-end, constant aperture full-frame lenses (between f/1.4 and f/2.8) with superb optics, metal barrel / mount, advanced optical design with top coating technologies, fast autofocus motor and weather resistance. Prices typically start in the $1500 range, but can be lower depending on age and other factors. Examples: Nikon 70-200mm f/2.8G VR II, Canon 24-70mm f/2.8L II

What I find very subjective are a few exaggerations:

  • Superb optics (What is that?)
  • Advance optical design (What the ...?)
  • Weather resistance (As per any standard? Who doesn't the company claim so? Do an 18-55 and a 14-24 differ as far as weather resistance is concerned? Or is it just a fuss around a costly lens?)
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One reason "professional grade" is hard to define is because it's going to get manufacturer's in trouble by setting unreasonable expectations. It's easy, for example, to say that a metal bodied lens is more durable than a plastic composite... but that's not strictly true. The metal body will show dings; the plastic composite won't. The metal body will transmit vibrations easily; the plastic composite will dampen them. Fiber-reinforced plastic composites are often chosen over metals for various construction now, too. Is metal really better?

I hope a minor mention of moisture sealing is not tantamount to a lens being weather sealed.

This is one that always gets me: what is your expectation of what "weather sealing" should provide? IP51 (dust protection and water drips)? IP65 (dust tight and water jets)? You need only refer to the IP code to see that these are actually somewhat vague about the level of protection, and figuring out how to classify the environment in which you're working is an essential part of understanding what your requirements are.

Stepping up to IP67 or 68 for typical waterproofness is going to be extremely difficult. Think about a lens extending for focus or zoom and the need for full-on sealing in that area. Don't forget the lens mount, too... and you need a camera to meet those same requirements, too. These requirements are what gave way to systems like the Nikonos and Nikon 1 AW1.

What are the features beyond focal length and aperture that makes a lens suited for profssional use with higher price tags?

Why are you looking beyond focal length and aperture? There's some overlap in current lens focal length options, such as the 18-55 and 17-55, 80-200 and 70-200 (and another 70-200), for example. Amongst these options, aperture is the thing that separates them.

There is nothing to consider further. If you need a medium-range telephoto zoom lens you can choose from the three options I noted above. If weight is the priority, you choose the 80-200 and accept the slow aperture. If a fast aperture is the priority you choose the 70-200 2.8. There's no consideration for buying a 70-200 2.8 "basic" or 70-200 2.8 "weather sealed." That's not an option. There's no reason to consider it.

If you're looking at the 16-35 f4 because you want a wide angle zoom then there are a few other options available, to you, too: 17-35 f2.8 (older, faster aperture, though not quite as wide) and 18-35 f3.5-4.5 (even less wide, variable aperture, and slower at the long end). The 17-35 is a previous generation top-of-the line option. The 16-35 and 18-35 are both current, and of them the 16-35 is clearly the "professional" option with Nano crystal coat, heavier weight, and plenty of reviews to show it's optically better. There is no "more professional" option, and because nothing exists there's no need to define it.

  • "What are the features beyond focal length and aperture that makes a lens suited for professional use with higher price tags?" - when I wrote it, 70-200 and 80-200 were there in my mind; because, as you say, the only difference is the max. aperture. – Holmes.Sherlock Jul 5 '16 at 3:18
  • "There is no "more professional" option", I guess you intentionally "missed" 14-24, right? – Holmes.Sherlock Jul 5 '16 at 3:21
  • @Holmes.Sherlock What, in your mind, makes the 14-24 more "Professional" than the 16-35, 17-35, or 18-35? – Michael C Jul 5 '16 at 4:26
  • The max. aperture and min. focal length. By the by, you listed down all UWA zooms except one, so mostly I mentioned for the sake of completeness. – Holmes.Sherlock Jul 5 '16 at 4:29
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    You ask, "What exactly “professional-grade” means in Nikon line of lenses?" Then, by your own comment, you define "professional grade" as the "widest lens", both in terms of angle of view and aperture. – Michael C Jul 5 '16 at 4:35
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The major manufacturers do not mark lenses as "pro" or "non pro" and they probably have a good reason for that.

There are very good professionals that use cheaper "amateur grade" equipment because their back can't handle heavy expensive lenses anymore. There are professional photographers for whom top of the line lenses with latest features are not economically justifiable. And there are professionals that need to have the most expensive stuff on the planet because that's expected by their clients.

So it is hard to find some common denominator that would determine what a "pro" lens is, perhaps except the need for reliability. There are features that make lenses better or worse, but not specific to professionals vs. non-professionals.

  • How does one reliably get informed about factors like build material etc., if those are omitted in official docs? I am not sure whether I should trust the third party review on magnesium made outer barrel of 16-35. Those are important aspects to justify a purchase, aren't they? – Holmes.Sherlock Jul 4 '16 at 23:26
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    Professional reviews, user reviews, manufacturer materials, asking owners in forums - if the lens has good rating even after years in production, it is probably all right. Even handling the lens in your own hands will tell you if it is flimsy. Btw. I would not judge a lens based on barrel material being metal. Leica and Zeiss lenses are made of metal, but if you put them in your bag unprotected, they scratch each other. If you drop them, the metal will bend and you are done with shooting. Modern plastic materials can withstand more abuse and are lighter.n@Holmes.Sherlock – MirekE Jul 5 '16 at 0:02
  • It could be argued that Canon, with their "L" designation for their top of the line lenses, does designate some lenses as meeting a higher minimum standard than their lower cost lenses. As the manufacturer who sells more interchangeable camera lenses than any other I think they would be considered a "major manufacturer." – Michael C Jul 5 '16 at 4:32
  • @MichaelClark They certainly mark the better lenses and it crossed my mind when I was writing the original response. The L designation apparently originally meant lenses with low dispersion glass, some Canon sources say L is for luxury. I am not aware of any mention from Canon that they mean "pro". And there are some lenses with the green ring not designated L and manufactured to the same standards. And some really good APS lenses without the L designation.... – MirekE Jul 5 '16 at 4:51
  • Regardless of what it meant in the early usage of the "L" designation, it now seems to be based mainly on durability and weather resistance as much as anything else. Those are two things that Canon has always emphasized in their professional camera body lines, and those are two things that are supremely important to most working professionals, even more than minor differences in optical quality. – Michael C Jul 5 '16 at 4:55
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What exactly “professional-grade” means in Nikon line of lenses?

It means nothing. It means nothing because Nikon doesn't designate certain lenses as "professional grade" and other lenses as "non-professional grade". Anyone outside of Nikon who uses such terms is doing so based on their own arbitrary definition, not on a definition of "professional grade" produced by Nikon.

  • That's what my initial point was. Anybody who's crawling lens reviews on Internet for an hour or so are sure to come across these buzzwords every now and then, mostly in context of the costlier pieces of glasses. I wanted to cross-check what all are "those" invisible factors those make a lens professional and are beyond my little knowledge. That's it. – Holmes.Sherlock Jul 5 '16 at 4:45
  • I have made an edit to my question. Please have a look. – Holmes.Sherlock Jul 5 '16 at 4:53
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    The writer of your additional source is not affiliated in any way with Nikon. Further, he qualifies the categories as being somewhat arbitrary in the early part of the article itself. "This is obviously a subjective categorization..." – Michael C Jul 5 '16 at 5:27

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