Nikkor 24-120mm f/4 VRII: First Impression

A year or so ago I was taking a look at a Canon 5D MkII with a 24-105 f/4L IS lens mounted. Loved the range, the constant aperture, the stabilization. I thought to myself, “why doesn’t Nikon make something like this? If they did, I’d SO buy it….” Well, they finally did.

So I took the plunge. I’m the proud new owner of one of Nikon’s latest lens releases, the Nikkor AFS 24-120mm f/4G VRII. This nano-coated beauty arrived yesterday, and I’m excited to start putting it through its paces. As soon as the lens was announced I was immediately drawn to its appeal. Previous generations of the 24-120mm don’t exactly have the best reputation, but with a new optical design, better build, and constant f/4 aperture throughout its zoom range, I felt safe enough giving Nikon the benefit of the doubt.

Originally the 24-70 f/2.8 was on my hotlist, but  first off, I’m big on image stabilization for hand-held shots at very low shutter speeds, a feature the 24-70 lacks. This lens has a more flexible focal range as well, and is lighter and smaller. Sure, you lose a stop of light gathering with the smaller f/4 aperture, but I rarely shoot wide open anyway. I think this is the general purpose/travel/event lens I’ve been looking for.

It’s only slightly larger than my Tamron 17-50mm f/2.8 VC, a much loved lens on my crop sensor body. Focus is much more snappy than my Tamron, and while the 24-120 is not an all-metal build, it feels solid and very well built. Coming from the Tamron, the Nikkor’s zoom ring placement is throwing me off! It’s going to take some getting used to.

Zooming out to 120mm extends the lens barrel, just about doubling the length of the lens.  Not a big deal.

So how does it perform? I’ll know for sure with this lens mounted on an FX body. Yesterday I had my D300s with me at work, so I picked Suki up in the afternoon and took a few shots of her with it last night. This is one of the first images I took with the new Nikkor:

Nikon D300s + Nikkor AFS 24-120 f/4 VR at 78mm f/5.6, 1/30 second ISO400

Did a quick test that same evening to test the effectiveness of the lens’ image stabilization:

Nikon D300s + Nikkor AFS 24-120 f/4 VR at 120mm f/4, 1/8 second ISO800

This is hand-held at a full frame equivalent of approximately 180mm, at 1/8 of a second. Guess the VR works! Well, that’s all I got for now. Will be taking this lens on a trip next week and hope to use it extensively for about a week. We’ll see how it does!

UPDATE: Just shot a wedding over the weekend and used the 24-120 f/4 on a D700 for many of the images. Loved the result! Check out the post here.

Also, see some casual shots I took in NY with it here.


UPDATE (11/9/10): Just read a killer review on the 24-120 f/4 by Todd Owyoung, an awesome concert photographer. Lots of sample images as well as pictures of the lens itself. He has a lot of great things to say about the lens. Check it out at this link!


UPDATE (11/14/10): Used the 24-120mm f/4 today for some on-location portraiture. Check out my latest post!


UPDATE (11/29/10):  Legendary wildlife photographer Moose Peterson loves his new 24-120 VRII, check out what he has to say about the lens at this link.

Lens Images: Nikon D40 + Nikkor AFS 50mm f/1.4G

62 thoughts on “Nikkor 24-120mm f/4 VRII: First Impression

  1. I’ve tested it on a D700 and its a good lens and acceptably sharp. Better than the previous model which I ended up selling it was that poor.

    I’ve compared it to my Nikon 16-35mm f4 vr and Nikon 70-300mm F4-5.6 VR lenses. It comes close the the 16-35 but doesn’t do as well as the long end – centre of frame sharp but less so elsewhere. Acceptable though for general purpose photography where you don’t want to be burdened by a bag full of lenses.

    1. Paul,

      Thanks for your input! Good to know. Seeing as the 24-70 (my alternate choice) doesn’t have much of a long end anyway, I think I can deal with slightly less than stellar corner performance when racked out on the 24-120. I’ll know for sure as I continue to use the lens.

  2. Very nice quick review of this lens! I just traded in my D80 for a D300s body, so no new lens purchases for me for a while, but this one is certainly on my short list. Thanks for this!

  3. Yo Jonathan =)

    good review tho without some tech background but simple and informative the way it should be ! =)

    i think this lens can be compared to 16-85 since it has quite impressive sharpness (16-85 is meant)for general purpouse photography

    1. I agree. On my DX camera, I’ve always felt that my Tamron 17-50 wasn’t quite wide enough and wasn’t quite long enough for my needs as far as focal range. I found myself longing for the more practical range of the 16-85, but didn’t want the variable aperture. With the 24-120 f/4, I get both the constant aperture and the focal range I want. I think this will be just what I needed for FX. Thanks for the comment!

      1. On my D300s I think this lens combined with an ultrawide lens like the 12-124mm F4 is everything I need in a compact package. Thanks to the constant aperture this lens can be very usefull in the studio as well!

      2. but… i returned the Nikon D3100 to the shop because the accuracy of the autofocus was not very good. After I saw I had often not tack sharp images. I did a test. I tested in comparison with my nikon d300s and the D3100 gave a lot of misfocus (usually frontfocus)the D300s always precise. I tested with a Nikkor 60mm AF-s, 50mm AF-s and 17-55mm f2.8. Just to warn you before you buy a Nikon D3100.

    1. By the way, I just bought the new lightweight consumer D3100 and according my test shots IQ is the same or even better than the D300s! This lightweight option in combination with the new 24-120 + a 12-24mm lens gives DX new attractive possibillities especially for travel.

      1. Cool! Yes, I’ve heard great things about the image quality of the D3100, and I am actually considering one myself for travel.

    1. Thanks Jay! It was still a tough choice, since there’s a lot to like about the 24-70. There are many factors to consider when deciding on a photographic tool, and it always involves compromise.

  4. Hi Jonathan, congrats for the new addition. I will be curious to hear what your thoughts are when you compare IQ between the D300 and D700. Happy shooting!

  5. I’ve bought a new 24-120mm, and spent a couple of days with it, along side a borrowed 28-300mm on a D700. The 24-120 IS NOT WORTH the extra cash, they are both optically the same, the 28-300 has more going for it and didn’t ‘hunt’ when focusing nearly as much.

    1. Is your name really Steve or is it Ken Rockwell? haha

      First of all, I’m concerned about your assessment of both lenses, since as you said, you’ve only experienced both for a couple of days. In addition, there are reasons why I didn’t even consider the 28-300 for me, which is why I didn’t even mention it in this post. Even if they are indeed optically the “same,” so what? There are other factors to consider when making a choice:

      The 28-300 is, well, 28mm on the wide end. That doesn’t work for me. If I’m photographing an event or even on a walk, I want that 24mm without changing lenses. Period. Means a lot more to me than 300mm at the long end. The 28-300 is designed to breathe its focal length, which means it’s not really 300mm in many circumstances. It’s roughly 100 grams heavier, and I don’t want that variable aperture. If that works for you, fine, but not me.

      I find my 24-120 to be stellar in the focusing department, and I haven’t had any hunting issues, so our experience differs there as well. Thanks for your input, but I’m sticking with my 24-120.

      1. Thanks for the reply, no it really is Steve…
        To my eye, the 24 end is no different to the 28 end, I’d be hard pushed to see any difference, I’m pretty sure there isn’t. Sure the weight is an issue but a D700 is a heavy camera to start with.

        It’s good to hear that you 24-120 focusing is OK, I have had to send my 24-120 back to the supplier as it refuses to close down at 120 and so over exposes the pictures. I’ve probably had a bad example…

      2. I can see where you’re coming from. My eyes, however, can really see the difference between 24 and 28. I dig the extra stop of speed at the long end as well. In addition, I’d rather carry this lens and my 70-300 VR if I feel I’ll need a longer focal length (I almost always don’t when I’m just tooling around town).

        Just came back from NYC where I used the 24-120 extensively for street shooting and a wedding. It performed really well. Will post some images soon!

  6. Thanks Jonathan for the review.

    I’ve just upgraded to FF and am looking for a nice normal-zoom to complement my 70-300VR. Initially, the 24-70 was on my list but after being aware of the infamous “stuck zoom” issue, I decided to look elsewhere. FYI, where I live, it’d cost me around 1,200$ to fix the lens after that 1 year warranty period expired.

    How is image quality (sharpness/vignette) wide open? It’d be appreciated if you could post some 100% pictures taken with this lens at F4 so that we can see how it looks. [Sample pictures at Nikon’s website isn’s that good.]


    1. Thanks for the comment!

      I’m working on a new post right now that will include a few images I took with the camera while I was in New York last week. I use F4 with confidence and have been getting very sharp results. The lens does vignette wide open, which doesn’t bother me and is easily fixed in post if it becomes an issue.

      I agree that the samples on the Nikon website aren’t too exciting. Stay tuned for my next post =)

  7. I have used the 24-120mm 3.5-5.6 for sometime and find the harsh criticisms unjustified. Maybe I have a good sample of the lens, but there are certainly no sharpness issues when used with studio flash. A little mushy in cloudy daylight at the far end perhaps but not as bad as some make out.
    Samples at
    Having said that, I would trade it in for the f4 for consistent quality in ALL conditions. A fantastically useful focal length range, and a lens you can grow to LOVE! 🙂

    1. John,

      It’s funny that you mention being satisfied with the previous version. A friend of mine who is a retired professional photographer also uses the 24-120mm f/3.5-5.6. He has some stunning prints on his wall that he made using that lens. You have some great work as well. Thanks for sharing! If you love the range, I wouldn’t hesitate for a second to recommend the new f4 version. =)

      1. Thanks Jonathan. The information you have provided about this lens is most helpful. Love your wedding pictures. The couple must be thrilled to bits. I also use the 24-70mm which is certainly a prime piece of glass but weighs like it too. I wrote to Nikon some time back suggesting they bring out a 24-120mm without compromise even if it costs considerably more. Maybe they listened! I can see this f4 version finding its way into my bag eventually, especially as I asked for it!!

  8. John,

    I think Nikon definitely has listened and responded with a well performing, flexible tool for us Nikon shooters. Thanks for your input and your nice compliments!

  9. Hey Jonathan, thanks for the shout out and link to my review of this lens. Looks like we’ve both enjoyed shooting with it – love your NYC shots with the 24-120mm. Cheers.

    1. Thanks for all you do Todd. Your work is simply incredible and there’s such a wealth of great info on your website for photographers. Thanks for stopping by!

  10. Hi Jonathan,
    This is my first ever blog so bare with me please.
    First, I have to say I love you work, very telling and down to earth.
    My question is regarding the Nikkor 24-120mm. I shoot a D300 and other sites (e.g. KenRockwell) say to avoid this lense and stick with DX lenses. Seems to me that logically if the center of the lense is giving you the best results with falloff of quality and light gathering as you move towards the periphery of the lense that using this large lense on a smaller sensor would take advantage of this. I have not seen or found any information favoring or rebutting this. Please give me your opinion.

    1. Don,

      One argument in favor of using DX lenses on DX bodies is that you typically end up with a more compact system, as DX glass tends to be smaller and lighter than FX glass. You also typically pay a higher cost with full frame lenses, so that should also be factored into your buying decision.

      I do agree, however, that a DX body will of course use a smaller, higher performing portion of an FX lens. I see less vignetting at 24mm on my D300s than on my D700 with the 24-120 f4, but then again, I’m not getting a true 24mm wide end when using it on my D300s.

      So if you like the range you get when sticking any given FX lens on your D300 and the size, cost, and weight doesn’t bother you, I don’t see an issue with using it. In the case of the 24-120, however, you might need to pair it with a DX ultra-wide depending on your shooting needs.

  11. I have a question for you – if I’m taking pictures of a product close – up ( I have an electronics company), what size lens should I use?

    1. Sarah,

      Best bet for anything close is a dedicated macro lens. If you shoot Nikon, the 105mm f/2.8 VR would work great. If you’re on a budget, Tokina makes a 100mm macro lens for about half the price of the Nikkor. Both of these lenses allow you to fill the frame with really small subjects.

  12. Jonathon: Great review and I am glad I finally got to your site. As much as I like the 24-120 3.5-5.6 the new f4 is on my list because of the nano coating and f4. I think personally the 24-24 range is the most useful lens I have ever owned.

      1. That’s ok Jim, I’ve been enjoying my time with my new 24mm f/1.4G, so my favorite range right now is 24-24 😉
        Glad you found my blog! You should definitely add the 24-120 f/4 to your bag.

  13. Hi Jonathan,
    I enjoyed reading your review. I feel now a pressure on my pocket, even tough I’m a fast prime lover 🙂 it seems that the convenience and the IQ of this zoom is very tempting…

  14. i had my 18-200mm stolen and i’m interested in this lens. the only thing is i may miss is the extra range. if i take a shot with this lens at 120mm, could i crop it down to what i would get at 200mm with my old lens and still get a decent 9×12 print ?. i like the f4.. the size and weight… of this lens.

    1. The 24-120mm f/4 is actually a little larger and heavier than the 18-200. You may want to just replace your stolen lens with another of the same, especially if you really want that long end. As far as cropping, you probably could still get a good size print in the scenario you described, but I’m sure it’s better to either use a lens with the right focal length for your style or to get closer to your subject.

    2. Cropping the 120mm is not nearly as big an issue as the fact you lose at both ends. Go for the 18-200mm it no doubt will be more useful for you. And (keep it in sight).

  15. so more votes for the 18-200.
    i guess i’ll get that (and keep my eyes on it, and hopefully nikon will put out a nice dx lens of something like 18-135 or so at f4 or faster.
    someone told me recently that an f4 will focus faster and better than the 3.5-5.6 lenses. the dimmer the view, the harder it is for the camera (nikons anyway) to get a good and fast focus. i thought it was only an advantage in that you can use lower iso’s on a faster lens… i wondered why my focus was hit or miss at 200mm.. (actually that 18-200 hits 5.6 quite quickly.. i can’t remember.. but maybe around 135 or 150mm )?

    1. The 24-120 does seem to focus faster than certain variable aperture lenses that I’ve tried, but one thing is certain: the 18-200 will focus faster than the 24-120 at 200mm. Know what I mean? =)

      Also, don’t forget that 24mm on DX is not very wide. You might find the 24-120 to never be quite wide enough or long enough in either extreme of its range for you. I don’t think the other performance advantages (focus speed, lens speed) will make up for a focal range you’re not excited about. Every gear purchase seems to feel like a compromise, doesn’t it?

  16. With photography, you could spend as much as the Government does and still want more. It is important to remember, “Find what you like to shoot, then get the good image”. Have fun!

  17. HI Jonathan

    Glad to read your review on the 24-120 as I was almost put off by Ken Rockwell who seemed to castigate it. Enjoyed your images and scrutinised all of them for distortion. Almost found one at the wedding number 38 from top of page, a very wide shot, but decided that it was just as likely to be the body shape of the couple swaying

    I wondered about a wide shot of the red truck in New York but I saw that as being restricted by space rather than lens distortion.

    Do you have any examples of distortion or is it a figment of KR’s imagination?

    I am interested as I am in the process of going full frame having used a D200 and 18-200 for almost the past five years.

    1. Micheal,

      Thanks for your comment. Not all images in that wedding post were taken with the 24-120. That dancing shot was taken with a 16mm fisheye, so that’s why you see all that distortion 🙂
      The 24-120 does have noticeable barrel distortion at 24mm, but it’s easy enough to correct in Lightroom, so it doesn’t bug me at all.

      That being said, if you’ve really been enjoying your 18-200, perhaps the 28-300 would be a better fit for you on a full frame camera.

  18. Jonathan,
    is the 24-120 f4 much better than the 28-85 f 2,5-4. Is it worth to upgrade.
    I have a D700

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