Nikon 24-120mm f/4 VR G
Nikon 24-120mm f/4 VR G (77mm filters, 25.0 oz./708g, 1.3 feet/0.40m close focus). enlarge. The biggest source of support for this free website is when you use these links, especially this link directly to this lens at Adorama and at Amazon and at Ritz when you get anything. Thank you! Ken.
Sharpness Comparison to all other 24mm lenses August 2010
24-120mm f/3.5-5.6 VR (2003-2010)
24-120mm AF-D (1996-2002)
24-85mm VR (2012-)
Perfect for use as your only lens on FX digital and film.
Personally, I prefer the 28-300mm VR on FX and film its longer zoom range and lower price. Its optics, mechanics, and ergonomics are the same as this 24-120mm; I think someone at Nikon accidentally reversed the prices of these two lenses, which were announced at the same time.
The new Nikon 24-120mm f/4 VR is a great lens. It is worlds sharper than its predecessor, the fuzzy 24-120mm f/3.5-5.6 AF-S VR (2003-2010). Both these 24-120 AF-S VR lenses are much better ergonomically than their predecessor, the clunky 24-120mm AF-D (1996-2002). All three Nikon 24-120mm lenses are loaded with distortion.
This new Nikon 24-120mm f/4 VR would be a game-changing, earth-shaking do-it-all lens on FX, except that the 28-300mm VR was announced on the same day, and is even more useful, for less money.
Both lenses are made with the same quality and materials in Thailand. They look the same.
Nikon 24-120mm f/4 VR and 28-300mm VR ED. enlarge.
Both lenses use ED glass, but only the 24-120 bothers to use gold trim. The gold trim for the 28-300mm ED was put on the non-ED 85mm f/1.4 AF-S instead by mistake. (The exterior styling has nothing to do with what's inside.)
Both lenses have instant manual-focus override.
They both have the same strong distortion.
They are just as sharp as each other, which is pretty sharp. How do I know? I purchased one of each from Adorama, and shot them against each other at the range. The two images are usually indistinguishable, but depending on the test conditions for each frame, one will be slightly better or worse than the other. Neither is better or worse than the other overall.
Therefore, I see no reason to pay more for this 24-120mm that does less than the 28-300mm.
This new 24-120 is a great lens, but the 28-300mm VR goes 2.5 times longer, with little increase in size or weight, for less money!
The only two things the 24-120 does slightly better for the extra $270 is go to 24mm, instead of 28mm, and add about a half stop more speed. Even at 120mm, there is less than one stop speed advantage to the 24-120mm, and at 28mm, the 28-300mm is faster. 24mm is not a significant difference from 28mm. In fact, 24mm is so much the same as 28mm that Nikon can't even fit "24" close enough to "28" on the zoom ring, and instead has to use a line pointing to where it ought to be!
Zoom ring at 24mm.
If you anticipate a few situations where you might need the slightly wider angle of the 24-120mm, I'd still get the 28-300mm VR instead and use the money saved to buy a used 18mm f/3.5 AI-s or 20mm f/2.8 AI-s, either of which are far wider and have less distortion than any of these zooms. For even less money, you could buy a used 20mm f/4 or 20mm f/3.5, along with the 28-300mm VR, and still spend less for the two lenses than just the 24-120mm f/4 VR alone!
If you think you might need a faster lens at the long range, the half-stop extra of the 24-120 is meaningless: the 28-300 is f/5.6 at 300mm, but at 50mm, it's f/4.5. If you really need faster in the tele range, use the $270 you saved buying the 28-300mm to buy a used 85mm f/1.8 AF-D over eBay (here's a direct link to the 85/1.8 at eBay), and you'll be way ahead of the 24-120mm for speed and performance.
Go for the 28-300mm VR. I did. I bought both of these, and sent back the 24-120mm as redundant. The 28-300mm VR is as good, and goes all the way to 300mm, for less money.
If we forget about the 28-300mm VR for a moment, here is my review of the 24-120mm f/4 on its own significant merits.
The incompatibilities for older or cheaper film cameras are that:
1.) It won't autofocus with the cheapest new AF film cameras like the N55, but if you focus manually, everything else works great. Even if you lose autofocus, these cameras have in-finder focus confirmation dots to help you.
2.) Late 1980s ~ early 1990s AF cameras like the N90s, N70 and F4 will focus just fine, but you'll lose VR. You'll have Program and Shutter-priority modes, but lose Manual and Aperture-priority since you have no way to set the aperture on the camera or on the lens.
3.) You're really pushing it with the oldest AF cameras like the N2020, N6006 and N8008. You'll have no AF, confused exposure modes, and no VR. Manual focus is fine, along with electronic focus indications.
4.) Since it has no aperture ring, it's just about useless with manual focus film cameras.
See Nikon Lens Compatibility for details with your camera. Read down the "AF-S, AF-I," "G" and "VR" columns for this lens. You'll get the least of all the features displayed in all columns, since "G" (gelding) is a handicap which removes features.
Nikon 24-120mm f/4 VR. enlarge.
Nikon's first 24-120mm f/3.5-5.6 AF-D (1996-2002) was nicknamed "The Streetsweeper" by journalists since they could shoot just about anything that was thrown at them on an instant's notice with it. It was a swell lens.
Nikon's next 24-120mm f/3.5-5.6 VR (2003-2010) was awful. It added VR and instant manual-focus override, which was great on paper, but there were two big problems. It had a lot of falloff, which lead to annoyingly dark corners at just about every setting, and it was horribly soft, also at every setting. This horrible optical performance won it a place among Nikons Ten Worst Lenses of All Time.
This new 24-120mm is a huge improvement over the other 24-120s. It retains VR and instant manual-focus override, and adds a full stop of real speed where you need it at 120mm, and is sharp.
Yes, this new lens costs more than twice as much as the old f/3.5-5.6 VR, but the old lens was horrible because it never got sharp, even stopped down.
Bottom, Nikon 24-120.
Nikon calls this the Nikon AF-S NIKKOR 24-120mm f/4G ED VR.
AF-S: Silent Wave Autofocus Motor.
G: Gelded for cost-reduction and removing compatibility with older cameras.
ED: Magic Extra-low Dispersion Glass.
VR: Vibration Reduction.
Magic Nano-crystal coat is an anti-reflection coating which varies its index of refraction continuously to achieve even greater reflection reduction. It's probably only on one surface, and is used mostly for marketing purposes.
Internal diagram, Nikon 24-120mm f/4 VR. enlarge.
17 elements in 13 groups.
Internal focusing; nothing moves externally as focused.
Three aspherical elements.
Two ED (magic Extra-low Dispersion glass) elements.
Nikon Super Integrated Coating (SIC).
9 rounded blades.
Stops down to f/22.
Film, FX and DX.
Focal Length top
Angle of View top
84° ~ 20.5° on FX and RealRaw.
61° ~ 13.3° on small-format DX.
Close Focus top
1.3 feet (15-3/4" or 0.40m), measured.
1.5 feet (0.45m).
Maximum Reproduction Ratio top
Hard Infinity Focus Stop? top
You have to let the AF system focus at infinity.
Focus Scale top
Depth-of-Field Scale top
Infra-Red Focus Index top
Aperture Ring top
Filter Thread top
Does not rotate.
Vibration Reduction (VR) top
Claims "up to 4 stops" improvement.
Nikon specifies 3.3" (84mm) diameter by 4.1" (103mm) extension from flange.
24.960 oz. (707.6g), measured.
Nikon specifies 23.6 oz. (670g).
Plastic bayonet HB- 53 hood, included.
CL-1218 pouch, included.
Snap-on front lens cap
Cheaper LF-4 rear cap, not the professional LF-1 as specified.
Plastic bayonet HB- 53 hood
Made in Thailand.
19 August 2010.
Shipping since the end of September 2010.
Nikon Product Number top
$1,299.95 list price, USA, August 2010.
Nikon 24-120mm f/4 VR and its Box.
The 24-120mm f/4 VR is a great lens, however, sharpness, mechanical quality and distortion are the same as the 28-300mm VR. I'd get the 28-300mm instead for less money and longer range.
AF is reasonably fast, a bit faster than the 28-300mm VR, but not instantaneous, either.
AF is always right-on.
Manual focus is great; just grab the ring at any time.
It's slow at 24mm, and a little fast at 120mm; the best to which a zoom can hope.
M/A - M Switch
Nikon goofed. This switch is supposed to be labeled "A - M."
The "M/A" position means autofocus. It's called "M/A" because you also can focus manually simply by grabbing the focus ring in this position.
The "M/A" position means autofocus. It's called "M/A" because back in the old days, when Nikon had almost caught up to Canon who had been doing this for ten years before, Nikon was trying to show off that you could focus manually while in the AF position.
Paint over the extra M if you're easily confused.
Bokeh, the character of out of focus backgrounds, not simply how far out of focus they are, is reasonably pleasant at the long end, the only place it might matter. Out-of-focus highlights are soft circles.
The Nikon 24-120m f/4 VR is loaded with distortion.
On FX, it has strong barrel distortion at 24mm, and strong pincushion distortion from 35mm through 120mm. If distortion bothers you, buy another lens, or shoot it at 28mm, where distortion is minimal.
On DX, it still has a lot of distortion: barrel from 24 - 28mm, and pincushion from 35mm through 120mm.
This can be corrected for critical use by plugging these figures into Photoshop's lens distortion filter. These aren't facts or specifications, they are the results of my research that requires hours of photography and calculations on the resulting data.
© 2010 KenRockwell.com. All rights reserved.
* very minor waviness remains.
Nikon 24-120/4 VR. enlarge.
Ergonomics are fine. Focus, zoom, and everything feels great.
The 24-120mm is a "pumper" zoom, so air pumps in and out as you zoom in and out. You may feel some air blow out of the eyepiece into your eye if you zoom out quickly.
You won't usually care, but the design of the 24-120 VR is such that air, and thus dirt, are pumped in and out all the time through both your lens and your camera. The ass-gasket doesn't matter.
Falloff on FX is strong at 24mm at large apertures. You'll see it at 24mm at f/4, but that's about it.
Its so strong at 24mm and f/4 you might think you got a defective lens, but they're all this way. Stop down to f/5.6 and it's much less of a problem.
I've exaggerated this by shooting a gray field and placing these on a gray background.
There is no problem with filter vignetting, even with a thick filter. At 24mm at f/4, your biggest worry is the len's own falloff.
Don't try two stacked filters at 24mm on FX; you will get some cut-off.
The filter ring pumps forwards and back with zooming, but never rotates.
The effective maximum focal length shortens at distances closer than infinity in order to allow this lens to focus as close as it does.
At 7 feet, the 120mm setting is really only about 100mm, effective. It gets even shorter at closer distances. At a couple of feet, the 28-300mm only has slightly more magnification at its 300mm setting, which shortens by an even larger percentage at the same close distances. The 28-300mm gets more magnification at any distance, but not by as great a margin at 2 feet.
There are no lateral color fringes on the D3, which corrects them automatically should this lens have any.
Nikon 24-120mm f/4 VR. enlarge.
The Nikon 24-120/4 VR is made as well as most of Nikon's latest lenses, like the 18-200mm VR and 28-300mm VR. It's all plastic on the outside, and what seems like plastic and metal on the inside.
Plastic; rubber covered.
Plastic; rubber covered.
I see both plastic and metal.
Gold-look plastic plate on outside of barrel, just below focus scale window.
Sticker glued into recess on bottom of barrel.
Ass-Gasket (dust seal at mount)
Noises When Shaken
Assorted mild clunking.
Thailand: lens and both caps.
Nikon LF-4 rear cap. enlarge.
Cheaper LF-4 rear cap supplied with lens. It of course is completely interchangeable with the professional LF-1 rear cap which has been standard since about 1965.
Don't ever bang the front of the lens on anything; you will quite likely break some part of the zoom mechanism.
With those caveats, the Nikon 24-120/4 is quite sharp. It's a bit softer on the sides and corners at f/4, but so what: it's still quite good, and in the conditions under which you'd be shooting at f/4, it's unlikely you'd have anything in focus in the corners as well as in the center at the same time.
It is as sharp as the 28-300 VR.
When Nikon makes a great lens, which is about the only thing it has done in 2010, it makes it easy to review: it's sharp.
Nikon's claimed MTF curves:
With its largely rounded diaphragm, I haven't been able to get any sunstars out of it.
For good sunstars, use an older lens with a more conventional diaphragm. The 9 straight blades of the 28-70mm f/3.5-4.5 make exquisite sunstars.
The Nikon 24-120/4 VR is a consumer lens. I doubt that any sample made today will endure 20 years of constant use without needing repair, as can Nikon's professional lenses like the 80-200mm f/2.8 AF-D.
This 24-120 has a lot of plastic in it, and depends on the internal motor to focus the lens, not a motor in the camera. Likewise, hit the front of the lens on anything, and you'll probably take out the zoom mechanism.
It will last for years under the kind of use for which its designed, but I don't know that this lens has any destiny as a classic in 20 years, especially if used professionally on a daily basis.
It zooms well, but it is a little crowded at the wide end.
Zoom ring, Nikon 24-120mm f/4 VR. enlarge.
Controls, Nikon 24-120mm f/4 VR. enlarge.
Leave it on M/A.
Only set it to M if you want to disable autofocus.
Vibration Reduction (VR)
Leave it ON, unless you're on a tripod.
Leave it at NORMAL, unless you're shooting from a moving platform.
2012 update: see also the newer 24-85mm VR which does pretty much the same thing with less weight and for less than half the price, and which does pretty much the same thing.
The 24-120mm is about the same size and weight as the 28-300mm VR. Both have the same mechanical, optical and ergonomic quality. The gold "ED" band on the 24-120mm has been left off the 28-300mm in the interest of discretion when the 28-300mm is used by investigators; both lenses are ED.
The "N" nano-crystal coating of the 24-120mm is marketing baloney; the old 24-120 VR had no problem with flare, nor does the 28-300mm.
Nikon 24-120mm f/4 VR and 28-300mm VR. enlarge.
The 24-120mm comes with a cheaper LF-4 rear cap while the 28-300mm comes with a professional LF-1 rear cap.
* Actual measured values-.
If price, size or distortion matters, the Nikon 28-105 AF-D covers about the same zoom range as the 24-120mm, but does it without distortion, focuses much closer with an additional macro range absent in the other lenses, and weighs and costs much less. Disadvantages are slightly less sharpness at 105mm and balky manual focus.
If you need optical quality better than the 28-300mm, the 24-120mm isn't any better. You'll have to step up to Nikon's extraordinary 24-70mm f/2.8 AF-S ED G N:
What about the 24-85mm lenses?
I'd forget the 24-85mm f/2.8-4 AF-D, sold today and introduced in 2000. It was never very sharp, even on film, even though it has a great 9-bladed diaphragm and works on manual-focus 35mm cameras.
The original 24-85mm AF-S G (2002-2006) is a thoroughly modern lens, with astounding identical optical performance, but lacking VR. It's as sharp as this 24-120 VR and made as well, complete with ED glass and AF-S instant manual-focus overide.
The 28-300mm VR is bigger and heavier but less expensive and just as sharp.
Avoid the earlier 24-120mm f/3.5-5.6 VR, it's a dog optically.
The 16-85mm VR is a great lens, but only for DX, not FX.
This 24-120mm is a great lens. It's not the fault of this lens, but Nikon just happened to introduce the more useful and equal quality 28-300mm at a lower price on the same day, which in my opinion, made this 24-120mm lens obsolete the day it was announced.
I'd skip this 24-120mm, and buy the 28-300mm VR instead, since they have very similar optical and mechanical quality, and the 28-300mm offers a lot more range and costs less!
I think someone in Nikon marketing reversed the two prices, but until Nikon catches the mistake, getting the 28-300mm is a no-brainer. 28mm and 24mm are the same thing; neither is significantly wider than the other, but 300mm is 2.5x longer than 120mm!
I don't find the slight extra speed at 120mm significant, compared to losing the 120-300mm zoom range of the 28-300mm VR. I'd pack an 85mm f/1.8, which is an extraordinary lens, if I needed more speed at the long end.
Sadly, both the 24-120 and 28-300 are loaded with distortion. If this 24-120mm didn't have all this distortion, I'd be much more excited by it.
The old 24-120mm f/3.5-5.6 VR (2003-2010) has the same distortion, in fact, a little less distortion at 24mm than this new lens. For half the price, the old 24-120mm isn't as sharp, but hey, it's half price and otherwise does the same thing.
If I was working in nasty, dirty areas, I'd forget the cap, and use an uncoated 77mm Tiffen UV filter instead. Uncoated filters are much easier to clean, but more prone to ghosting.
For color slides like Velvia 50, I use a 77mm Nikon A2 or 77mm Hoya HMC 81A outdoors.
Help me help you top
I support my growing family through this website, as crazy as it might seem.
The biggest help is when you use any of these links to Adorama, Amazon, eBay, Ritz, Calumet, J&R and ScanCafe when you get anything, regardless of the country in which you live. It costs you nothing, and is this site's, and thus my family's, biggest source of support. These places have the best prices and service, which is why I've used them since before this website existed. I recommend them all personally.
If you find this page as helpful as a book you might have had to buy or a workshop you may have had to take, feel free to help me continue helping everyone.
As this page is copyrighted and formally registered, it is unlawful to make copies, especially in the form of printouts for personal use. If you wish to make a printout for personal use, you are granted one-time permission only if you PayPal me $5.00 per printout or part thereof. Thank you!
Thanks for reading!