Nikon 24-120mm f/4 VR AF-S Lens Review

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Update 12/5/2014: Sold the lens. Good lens, but I just found myself reaching for faster glass almost everytime.

The whole process was very simple and easy. They have a simple checkout process, and at the end, you get a download link to download your presets. It comes complete with instructions on how to install your presets into PhotoShop, and has a version of the action for the varies versions of PhotoShop. It takes just seconds to install, and you can instantly begin using them to edit.

The Carving Tree collection appears to have been designed with portrait editing in mind, but I found it works well with automotive photography as well. The collection has all of the effects organized into easy to understand groups, with instructions on how to use each group. Overall, it’s easy to understand, and quickly get the effect/style that you want for the photo. I highly recommend these actions, as these are the best PS actions that I have run across to date.

I preface every review with the same disclosure. I am not a professional. I do not shoot test charts. I do not try every lens with every camera. All opinions are my own, and are only based upon my own experiences with the gear. I haven’t had a ton of gear, or all of the expensive gear. I won’t list every specification or test for every specification. My review is not meant for professionals – if you are a professional, you shouldn’t need a review from an amateur. The information below is simply my own observations while doing normal photography, and is for other car enthusiasts and amateurs like myself.

Image Quality

Nikon 24-120mm f/4
Nikon 24-120mm f/4 AF-S VR

Unlike some other reviews, I am happy to give you the truth about the lens. Quite simply, it is nowhere near as sharp as my primes, and has a lot more distortion than them. It’s not as good as a Nikon 24-70mm f/2.8 AF-S or 28-70mm f/2.8 either in image quality. It’s not meant to be that though, and it is not a substitute for one of them when you are shooting a wedding.

It is better than the other options in it’s category. The lenses that were its predecessors were not nearly as good as this lens, and none of the superzooms, like the 28-300mm are even close. This is a lens that is perfect for family photos where you don’t need extremely shallow depth of field and for vacations where you need a flexible zoom range but have a DSLR with enough megapixels that you can crop when needed.

It’s ideal uses are general family photos and vacation shots, especially when you just want to carry only one lens. The image quality on a D600 is excellent in those scenarios, and you can adjust distortion in Lightroom, or in camera.

If you do want to do a portrait/headshot, you can zoom out to 120mm and still shoot at f/4. To blur the background, just make certain that the background is farther away from the back of the subject than you are from the front of the subject.

Chromatic aberration has not been an issue in any situation for me. It has been very well controlled.

Distortion is very noticeable, but it is easily corrected in Lightroom. It’s not really an issue.

The lens does seem to be a little soft when shooting at 120mm and wide open at f/4, but that seems normal for most zooms of this category. Stopped down a f stop and it’s sharp again.

Bokeh quality is liveable – it’s not like shooting a 200mm f/2 or an 85mm f/1.4 (not creamy like them at all), but it is ok enough for most people.

Bottom line – Sharpness is better than the other lenses in its range, contrast is good, and color rendition is good. That is not the same as great though, and while the photos with it are fine, none of them have made me say “wow”.

Build Quality

It’s plastic, but not flimsy. It feels solid in your hand. If is not internal focus, so the lens does extend when you zoom, and the filter ring is 77mm. The lens is f/4 through the whole focal length range, and it does have a very good VR system, so you can shoot it in pretty low light if you need to – for still objects, not for moving ones or people.

VR is not a substitute for fast glass. You still have to have the right shutter speed, aperture, and ISO for proper exposure, but what the VR does is allow you to shoot a slower shutter speed without camera shake. It doesn’t stop motion blur though, so you have to determine for yourself if VR is useful to your photo needs.

The zoom and manual focus rings move smoothly and autofocus has been very fast and predictable. Its definitely not a professional grade lens, but definitely not a cheap one either. It’s has weather sealing and I have shot mine in the rain more than once. It had no issues with shooting in the rain.

The hood is solid, but short (it has to be for 24mm). It isn’t a lot of help, but it’s as good as they could make it.

Alternatives to the 24-120mm

If you can’t see yourself spending that much, you have one of two choices – either give up zoom range, or give up image quality.

Older Versions

There were two predecessors to the 24-120mm AF-s f/4.

Nikon made the 24-120mm AF-S f/3.5-5.6 VR up until recently. I haven’t shot it, but I have never heard anyone say anything good about it. I decided not to risk it with all of it’s bad reviews.

Before the AF-S version, Nikon made a AF-D version. It doesn’t have the built in autofocus motor, and it doesn’t have VR, and most people that have shot it and the newest 24-120mm claim that the newer version is much better. The older version is only available used now, so you would have to hope that you got a good copy if you decided to get this one as an alternative.

24-85mm’s

Nikon has made several 24-85mm lenses over the years.

The current model is the kit lens for the D600 – the Nikon 24-85mm AF-S VR f/3.5-4.5. Since it has not been out long, if you could get a used on for around $300, it’s a good alternative. Supposedly, it has lots of distortion and the build quality isn’t great, but it’s supposed to be a good value and gives sharp, clear photos with good color rendition and contrast. I got my D600 without the kit lens, so I have not tested it myself.

It’s predecessor was the 24-85mm AF-S f/3.5-4.5G. It is supposedly good, but I haven’t shot with it.

Before the G came out, there was the 24-85mm f/2.8-4 AF-D. I wouldn’t bother with it as it is reported to not be as good optically as the newer versions by a lot of people.

Superzooms

The Nikon and Tamron 28-300mm superzooms just don’t have the sharpness to compete with the 24-120mm, plus they are really soft from 200-300mm. They are also slower apertures than the 24-120mm.
The Nikon 28-200mm is not a match either, as it is slower and with a lower build quality, and is softer.
On top of that, you usually find that 24mm is better than being limited at 28mm, although you can usually back up another 4 feet or so and use 28mm as easy as 24mm.

Fast Glass

If you are willing to give up zoom range and VR, then you have other options.

The Tokina 28-70mm f/2.6-2.8 is very rare, but it is excellent optically – for a much cheaper price – typically used you can find these under $500 at the max. These are good options for the budget-minded who want a build quality worth of being called professional grade. They are made of solid metal construction with high quality glass – but that makes them pretty heavy. The problem is finding one. One of my friends has one, and I love it.

Tokina also has a 28-80mm f/2.8 that is recommended a lot by photographers. It is much easier to find, and is usually around $300.

An easier to find option is the Tamron 28-75mm f/2.8. These come in around $250 used and are 77mm filtered and have good, solid optics. They do not have a professional build quality, but they don’t fall apart easily either. This is probably your best alternative to the 24-120mm. A lot of people like it even better than the 24-120mm as well. I would like to compare them at some time in the future.

A used Nikon 28-70mm f/2.8 (The Beast) is also an option, but it tends to fetch almost as much as the 24-120mm, so its not really going to save you a lot as an option. it also weighs a lot more than the 24-120mm.

Conclusion

If you want a general purpose family /travel/vacation lens, and aren’t looking to shoot at extremely shallow depth of field, this lens has good contrast, sharpness, and color rendition for that. The downside is that it is expensive for those uses – to the tune of $1300 retail. As I mentioned, it’s a good lens, and there is nothing wrong with it, and nothing that it seems to fall short on, but – I’ve shot it for over a year, and it hasn’t made me think that it was an amazing lens yet. I pretty much constantly ask myself if I should sell it and get something else, and based upon what I have read from others, they are asking themselves that question as well. Some people sell theirs, and are happy with something else, others sell theirs, and then buy another one as they find its the best for them.

Nikon Product Page: http://imaging.nikon.com/lineup/lens/zoom/normalzoom/af-s_nikkor24-120mmf_4d_ed_vr/