Review: AF-S NIKKOR 24-120mm f/4G ED VR

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I switched to Nikon over a year ago. As I completely changed camera systems I had to purchase an entirely new set of lenses. My first two lenses were Nikon’s 24-120mm and 70-200mm f/4 pair that cover the standard wide angle to telephoto range. I’ve been really impressed with both, especially the 24-120mm. I really like this lens, and want to quickly explain why with some photos. If you are looking for a more detailed technical review, check out any of the following:

Quick Comparison

This lens was included as a kit lens with my D750, which discounted it by a significant amount: about 73%. When I considered buying my camera refurbished I still considered this lens because it offers a very usable zoom range, a fixed aperture, and image stabilization. It is similar to Canon’s 24 – 105mm L lens included with many of its high-end kits.

Nikon offers several different lenses that provide some or all of the range of the 24 – 120mm, each with a different prices point and feature set to meet different needs. I’ve summarized the different Nikon-branded options below based on reviews from other sites.

The least expensive lens is the 24-85mm VR. It includes a silent wave motor and vibration reduction but has the second shortest range and a variable aperture. The range of its aperture is a nice compromise – at f/3.5 it’s faster than the 24-120 and at f/4.5 it isn’t too much slower. This lens is reasonably sharp across its range but exhibits significant distortion at wide angles. Step up to the 28-300mm for 3.5x the range with the same silent wave motor and vibration reduction. This lens also has a variable aperture that starts at f/3.5 and ends ⅔ of a stop slower than the 24-85 at f/5.6. The VR makes up for this to a degree but is also more necessary at longer focal lengths. The 28-300mm loses a tiny bit of the wide end compared with the 24-85 but makes up for it on the long end. It is reasonably sharp but starts losing resolving power at the long end.

The 24-120mm costs a little bit more than the 28-300mm and provides much higher image quality across the frame at the expense of long range zoom. It includes a silent wave motor, VR, and a constant aperture of f/4 across the zoom range. This gives it an extra stop of speed over the 28-300mm and also allows for improved background blur. It exhibits similar distortion to the 28-300mm. At the top end the 24-70mm costs 60% more but provides the best image quality of any lens in this range. It provides a 1-2 stop advantage over any of the other lenses, but does not include vibration reduction. It also has the shortest range of the bunch.

What I Think

The AF-S 24-120mm VR is well regarded, surprisingly so in some reviews. It’s very sharp, nearing the quality of the 70-200mm f/2.8 VR at some focal lengths. I frequently shoot with it wide open and am surprised at how sharp the images are.

  • Autofocus is fast and accurate, but not quite as fast as my 70-200mm f/4
  • It feels pretty beefy for a shorter lens, but it doesn’t weigh as much as the 70-200mm. It’s mostly plastic but feels pretty rugged.
  • The VR works as well as it does on the 70-200mm
  • I am very impressed with the sharpness of this lens. I have a Canon 24-105mm L lens which is supposed to be super sharp but has had major quality control issues. Certain copies just don’t perform. I purchased one refurbished and didn’t use it enough to notice that it didn’t measure up until after the 90 day warranty expired. This experience left me with low expectations for Nikon’s version but I have been more than pleasantly surprised.
  • Using this on a full frame camera gives me a slightly wider angle than I could get on my Canon, even with an 17mm crop lens (equivalent to 27mm). The 120mm upper range provides enough extra magnification that I need to switch to my 70-200mm less often. This beats the 88mm focal length equivalent of my Canon 17-55mm by a significant margin.
  • Ken Rockwell believes this lens is obsolete because of the slightly cheaper but far longer 28-300mm. His reasoning is that the 28-300mm provides similar image quality at f/8, which is the aperture at which “most” images are taken. While I’ve been exploring narrower apertures I still take a significant number of images wide open for subject isolation and need a lens that is sharp across its aperture range. I’ve also had an ultra zoom before and the images just lacked contrast. I’d have to try a 28-300mm for a bit to really know but I’m skeptical that I’d replace the 24-120.
  • Overall I’m super pleased with this lens. Even with the addition of primes to my collection I still use this for people shots when I need the versatility of zoom. I also use it for a lot of landscapes even though I also have an ultra wide 15-30mm.

Images

The best way for me to review a lens is to show the kinds of images I can take with it. Below are images taken at various apertures that I’ve been really impressed with. Click for higher resolution versions.

1/125 sec @ f/4 ISO 800 120mm
1/125 sec @ f/4 ISO 800 120mm
1/800 @ f/11 ISO 250 75mm
1/800 @ f/11 ISO 250 75mm
1/125 @ f/11 ISO 800 120mm
1/125 @ f/11 ISO 800 120mm
1/500 sec @ f/4 ISO 800 55mm
1/500 sec @ f/4 ISO 800 55mm
1/125 sec @ f/4 ISO 3200 120mm
1/125 sec @ f/4 ISO 3200 120mm

More Images

I didn’t have room to comment on all of the images. Here are some more that I think really show the capabilities of this lens.

Tips

  • This lens is often included in kits for a significant discount. Bundled with my D750 it only cost $300. That’s an $800 savings! 
  • You can occasionally find them used at Adorama for around $550. They generally come with accessories, an Adorama warranty, and the remainder of the manufacturer’s warranty.
  • You can also try eBay if you trust the seller. Since it is included in many kits, you can find it in new or near-new condition at a significant discount.

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