Nikkor 24-120mm f/4 VR: The “Street Sweeper”

Last week I spent a very busy few days in New York, shooting a wedding for a friend and hanging out with friends in Manhattan. Because of the wedding, I had a bag full of gear and lenses, including my new go-to utility zoom for travel and event photography: the Nikkor 24-120mm f/4 VRII. I wrote a small post on my first impressions of the lens a little while back, but last week I really got a chance to leisurely shoot with it mounted on my D700 and get a better impression of how it performs in various circumstances. After taking it everywhere with me during the trip, I can say for sure that I love the 24-120. In short, it’s sharp, focuses fast, and has a focal range that keeps you ready for just about anything. While I did use many of my other lenses during the trip, I’ll keep a small sampling of images in this particular post focused on the 24-120 f/4.

At 24mm, you’re pretty wide on an FX camera. Great for shooting cityscapes:

Nikon D700 + Nikkor 24-120mm f/4 VRII at 24mm f/9, 1/320 second ISO200

Nikon D700 + Nikkor 24-120mm f/4 VRII at 24mm f/8, 1/640 second ISO200

Nikon D700 + Nikkor 24-120mm f/4 VRII at 24mm f/7.1, 1/200 second ISO200

Nikon D700 + Nikkor 24-120mm f/4 VRII at 24mm f/10, 1/250 second ISO200

Nikon D700 + Nikkor 24-120mm f/4 VRII at 24mm f/4, 1/60 second ISO1600

Nikon D700 + Nikkor 24-120mm f/4 VRII at 24mm f/10, 1/60 second ISO400

Nikon D700 + Nikkor 24-120mm f/4 VRII at 24mm f/6.3, 1/160 second ISO200

Images from the 24-120 have great contrast and depth.

Nikon D700 + Nikkor 24-120mm f/4 VRII at 24mm f/9, 1/320 second ISO200

Added vignetting in the image above. The lens does vignette at 24mm, but it’s easily correctable in post. I tend to add it anyway, so it doesn’t bug me a bit.

Nikon D700 + Nikkor 24-120mm f/4 VRII at 24mm f/5.6, 1/25 second ISO800

Nikon D700 + Nikkor 24-120mm f/4 VRII at 24mm f/4, 1/160 second ISO800

Nikon D700 + Nikkor 24-120mm f/4 VRII at 24mm f/4, 1/1250 second ISO1600

Nikon D700 + Nikkor 24-120mm f/4 VRII at 24mm f/4.5, 1/100 second ISO800

Nikon D700 + Nikkor 24-120mm f/4 VRII at 24mm f/5.6, 1/40 second ISO800

Can you tell I love that 24mm on the wide end? Probably why I keep begging the wife to let me pick up at 24mm f/1.4. In due time…. =)

Of course, it’s also nice to have that range all the way through 120mm in one constant aperture lens:

Nikon D700 + Nikkor 24-120mm f/4 VRII at 55mm f/4, 1/25 second ISO2000

Shooting static subjects at 1/25 or even lower throughout the range is no problem at all with VRII on board.

Taken blocks away from where I used to live in Brooklyn Heights. Wouldn’t you love to live on Love Lane?

Now for a few shots of people taken with the 24-120mm to further demonstrate its versatility as a mid-range zoom:

Nikon D700 + Nikkor 24-120mm f/4 VRII at 40mm f/4, 1/1000 second ISO1600

Nikon D700 + Nikkor 24-120mm f/4 VRII at 85mm f/4, 1/160 second ISO6400

The maximum aperture of f/4 is plenty fast for most instances, especially with the ridiculous ISO capability of the D700.

Nikon D700 + Nikkor 24-120mm f/4 VRII at 120mm f/4, 1/500 second ISO1600

Racking the lens out to 120mm gives you a good focal length for tighter portraits. Took the image above in our hotel room while the wife applied some makeup by the window.

The longer end also helps in catching fun expressions and moments at an event. Here’s an example from the wedding reception last weekend:

Nikon D700 + Nikkor 24-120mm f/4 VRII at 92mm f/4, 1/200 second ISO2000

I already wrote a post on the wedding, so head here if you want to check out a few more, or see some hi res images on my website.

Nikon D700 + Nikkor 24-120mm f/4 VRII at 24mm f/4, 1/40 second ISO2500

My cousin Josh, on the right, is out of focus here, but I wanted to use this shot to show how much environment you can show around your subjects with that 24mm wide end of the lens. Here are a couple more:

Nikon D700 + Nikkor 24-120mm f/4 VRII at 24mm f/4, 1/500 second ISO6400

Nikon D700 + Nikkor 24-120mm f/4 VRII at 24mm f/4.5, 1/80 second ISO1600

At f/4 your depth of field is still pretty shallow. Check out this shot my wife took of me in my favorite store ever, the B&H super store. I never go to NY without paying a visit there! Here I am playing with the incredible Nikon D3s (below). Not too randomize this post too much, but you can see that at f/4, the front element of that fat 24-70 is the only thing in the frame that’s in focus. Could be because the 24-70 is so stinking long =D

Nikon D700 + Nikkor 24-120mm f/4 VRII at 62mm f/4, 1/50 second ISO1600

Nikon D700 + Nikkor 24-120mm f/4 VRII at 110mm f/4, 1/80 second ISO800

Back out into the street. Again, the focal range is very flexible for dynamic environments like the streets of New York.

Alright, I only posted this image because if you go to New York, you MUST have a burger at Shake Shack. You MUST!!!

That’s all for now. Still rummaging through images I’ve taken with this lens and others, as well as all the wedding photos I took last week. Stay tuned for more!

38 thoughts on “Nikkor 24-120mm f/4 VR: The “Street Sweeper”

  1. I love this group of pics because they not only show the versatility of the lens, but captured all of the different sights we saw and fun things we did in NY!

  2. Nice “real-life” review Jonathan 🙂 Guess that if I were to go full-frame, that would be my main lens, just as the 16-85 associated to my D300s today.

    I really do hope Nikon finally makes such constant f4 lenses for DX though…

    Take care,

    1. Thanks Nicolas!

      Yes, I’ve always coveted your 16-85! Such a great range, and I’ve really enjoyed your travel images with it. That’s why this is lens, for me, is a pretty exciting one =)

  3. Amazing Jonathan. Your works are really inspiring. Does this mean that your Tammy will spend more time in the drybox?

    1. Sigh, my Tamron 17-50 VC. It’s in safe hands now with my cousin. He’ll be using it on his DX system as his new bread-and-butter mid range zoom. I’ll miss it dearly =)

  4. One of the knocks on the lens is severe barreling at 24mm. Did you process your pictures to remove it, or are your pictures as shot? It looks like the building in your third picture is actually curved, rather than being distorted by the lens, right?

    Is there anything about the lens that bugs you?

    Thanks for the pictures and the review!

    1. Thanks for the comment!

      Yes, that’s a curved building. I’d have some serious issues with the lens if the distortion was THAT bad =D

      It does produce distortion at 24mm that won’t go unnoticed in shots of straight lines. I’ve corrected it to some degree in a few of these shots. Practically speaking, and for the kinds of subjects I shoot, I’m never bothered by it.

      Does anything really bug me with this lens? Not really. I’ve been wanting a lens like this for a long time, something similar to what my Canon friends have with the 24-105mm f/4. Now I got one, and I’m happy! Every lens is a compromise in some way or another, and at least for me, this new Nikkor represents a balanced blend of compromises that really fit my shooting needs.

      1. yeah, i noticed that from your blog posting… i thought you won the lottery…
        i’m saving up for the d3s; maybe by the time i decide to pull the trigger the d4 will be out 😉

  5. Hi Jonathan,

    Just bought the lens yesterday and I like it. Haven’t actually used it though.

    One thing I notice is the lens moves air a lot when it zooms. I can even feel the air through the viewfinder when zooming fast. I don’t know if this will cause any dust problem on the camera’s sensor.

    Since you already spent some time with this lens, have you noticed any extra dust build up on the sensor after the extensive use?

    1. Well, any zoom is going to move air, and the faster you turn that zoom ring, the more forcefully the air will move. On some zoom lenses, the result is a build up of dust inside the lens itself. After extended usage over the past couple of weeks, I have yet to see any evidence that the lens is pulling in any dust, either into itself or into the camera body.

  6. I think my sample may have some problems. The lens seems to be too soft at some focal lengths, especially ones <85mm. I don't know if it's focusing issue or the lens' defective.

    I hope you don't mind me posting a link to other website. Below is a link to a thread I posted in DP-Review. If you have a chance, please have a look and let me know if your sample behaves the same.


    1. PrTv,

      Is this the only lens you are or have ever had issues with? Before you send your lens in for a potential problem, you have to make positively sure that there aren’t any other factors that are contributing to a lack of sharpness. I don’t engineer lenses, so I can’t draw any conclusions from a test chart analysis.

      Are you positive that both the test chart and the method you used to administer the test are absolutely reliable? If you shoot wide open and pixel peep at 100% with no sharpening added, do you think you might be expecting a little too much?

      When I shot a wedding with this lens a couple weeks ago, I feel like I used every conceivable combination of focal lengths and apertures, and am very happy with the results. I think you should keep shooting and give the lens a chance in practical use. Stop down a little and use the lens at its sharper settings as well. Once you’ve logged a good amount of time with the equipment, you’ll be able to make a better determination.

      1. Thanks Jonathan for your reply.

        I actually experienced similar issue with my D90+17-55 F2.8. When I shoot wide open (2.8), I sometimes got soft focus (area that should be sharp, isn’t tact sharp).

        Come to think about it, I think it’d be very unlikely that 2 different bodies and 2 different lenses I own would be defective. Maybe it’s something to do with my technique.

        FYI, in addition to the 24-120, I also use 50 1.4D, 85 1.8D and 70-300VR with D700 and I don’t think I experience this problem with those lenses.

        I’ll give it more time and see if it’s me, or the lens that messes things up.

  7. since you’ve fondled the 3S, i’ll take the time to tell you — as someone who works with both cameras — that you have the best camera. 🙂 with all the shooting I’ve done, i feel the 700 outperforms the 3S in regards to whitebalance, exposure, auto-find auto-focus (by a landslide … which most photographers might think is an irrelevant feature, but for my type of photographer is highly necessary!) what you gain is a couple of stops up on the ISO, but not much more.

    the only thing making me keep her is that i like the feel and general function; i need a second body; and the lifespan of the 3S is twice that of the 700 … so in essence, they come out to the same in my books.

    but nothing beats the 700.

    1. Illona,

      Interesting findings! Thanks for sharing your experience with both cameras. Ergonomics on the D3s are top notch for sure, but I do like the fact that I can pack lighter for travel or casual use by removing the grip from the D700, something I obviously couldn’t do with the D3s. For that reason alone, and as my primary camera, the D700 is more flexible for the wide variety of situations I find myself in. I might consider a D3s in the future, but right now and quite happy =)

      Thanks again!

  8. Again as always, nice shots!!

    As we’ve spoken before, Im a Canon guy, but respect Nikon very much. I’d like you input on a choice Im going to make. I figure that your 24-120mm is in the same category as the lens I’m looking at, the Canon 24-105mm f4L IS USM. I’m trying to choose between this lens and the 24-70mm f2.8L. Both produce great exposures!! But… One has IS, the other doesn’t. One has an extra 35mm, the other doesn’t. One has f2.8, (Low light shots and creamy bokeh!) the other
    has f4 and up. What are your thoughts? I know your much more savvy with Nikon, but any points would help. Thanks!

    1. Danny,

      What I want in a mid-range zoom is a feature set that is flexible enough to use as a one lens solution for both travel and events. For me, the 24-70mm range is too limited for that purpose and is too big and heavy. I don’t lug a tripod around with me when I travel, so image stabilization is also critical. Also, for low light and shallow depth of field, I’d more likely use a prime than a mid-range zoom. I’d say if you’re going to pick up the 24-70, do it only if you absolutely must have f/2.8 in that range.

      Like I mentioned in my other post, I always wished Nikon would make something similar to Canon’s 24-105. Either lens will perform great, but you have to choose based on what your shooting needs are.

  9. Hi Jonathon

    I have recently won this lens with a D700 in a photo mag comp and have been looking at the net to see what various people thought of the lens.I had thought about selling my prize to get a canon5d mk2 (as i have canon kit)but seeing your images has me thinking I should keep this along side my canon kit and just enjoy using it!

  10. I am currently looking for a new lens, still undecided between 24 120 and the 24 70… But the more I think about it, the more I feel like I am going to take the 24 120 for is versatility and low weight.

  11. Hi Jonathan,

    Your blog is a great read, love your thoughts and sample images on your lenses. I was wondering if you would have some lens advice. I have a D700, a 50mm 1.4, and a 85mm 1.4. I’m actually trying to decide between two of the lenses you have the 16-35mm f4 and the 24-120mm f4. My main purpose is as a general travel zoom (to pair with probably the 50mm for low light), and to cover the wide angle for landscapes and city photos.


    1. Paul,

      Thanks for your visit and comment! If what you’re looking for is a general zoom for travel applications, I’d have to recommend the 24-120 over the 16-35, mainly due to its greater focal range. If you go with the 16-35 for general use, you may find your self changing lenses pretty often between your ultra-wide and either of your primes, unless of course you love shooting at really wide angles all day long. That being said, pairing the 16-35 with your 85 might actually make a good travel combo. I know that my choice for travel would definitely be the 24-120, however. When you travel, less is often more, and I could shoot with the 24-120 all day without wishing I had something else.

      1. Hi Jonathan,

        Thanks a ton for the advice. I was slightly leaning towards the 24-120mm f4, so your input definitely helps steer me in the right direction. I was really looking hard at the 24-70mm as well, but I think I might like the extra range. Thanks again.

  12. I actually just purchased the Nikon 24-120mm f4, and was wondering what type of filter (if you use one) that you use? I was hoping to prevent some of the vignetting that can be seen at 24mm with my current B+W filter?

    1. I haven’t actually used any filters on the 24-120 yet. As far as vignetting, if you’re shooting JPEGS on a say a D700, the camera can automatically correct it. If you shoot RAW, you can correct vignetting easily in post.

  13. Thanks for the reply Jonathan! I just used Lightroom and the new 24-120mm f4 lens profile seems to take care of all the vignetting and distortion pretty cleanly. Thanks for the tip.

  14. I am making more serious plans to purchase this lens. All in all I still like this range as a one lens system and still carrying my other lenses.

  15. Hi Jonathan, Good day to you mate, i followed your blog and mansurovs blog to get the Nikon 24-120f4VR for my D700, and no doubt about it, this lens is simply amazing, sharp, focuses fast and great focal ength and has VR too :-)…..

    your pictures are just too awesome 🙂 good work man!…

    cheers mate

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