Thursday, 8 August 2013

A user's review: a year with the Nikon AF-S 24-120mm f/4G ED VR lens

Manhattan from Roosevelt Island. Panorama of 24 overlapping images at 75 mm stitched with PTGui. Larger original
This blog piece is adapted from a forum post I put on DPReview a few weeks ago. Since it is in the nature of forum posts to disappear without trace, it seems worth revising and reposting it on Wonky Horizons.

This piece is a short user's review of the Nikkor 24-140 f/4 G VR lens now that I've had it for just over a year. I've used it mainly with my Nikon D700, and to a lesser extent with my D300.

Bottom line: it is a terrific lens and I'm delighted with it.

I bought this because I wanted a general purpose zoom for the D700: this camera has an FX (full frame, or 35mm equivalent) sensor. For my purposes the focal length range, constant f/4 aperture and VR (vibration reduction otherwise known as image stabilization) were just right. But before buying the lens, I hummed and hawed about the lukewarm to outright negative comments I saw online about it, as well as the price, which was more than I really wanted to pay.

The thing to appreciate is that this is a 5x zoom, and you pay in both money and ultimate image quality for practicality. It can never be expected to match the optical quality of a top-of-the-line 3x zoom (e.g. 24-70mm f/2.8), but it is (relatively!) smaller, lighter and cheaper.  In the end, I gave in and bought one in May last year (from Wex here in the UK, who were cheapest at the time).

I've used it mostly as my go-to lens for day-to-day work. It has been with me walking round cities, for landscape and aviation photography. I've done a fair amount of people photography as well.

I'm posting a few samples below with comments.

The focal length range is great for photographing events. Here's a couple from each end of the range taken when the Olympic Torch came through Canterbury last summer.

The Olympic Torch passes though Canterbury. 24 mm.

Crowds who came to see the Olympic Torch. 120 mm.

It works well with grad or ND filters. The next one is with a Lee ND grad and the one after that has both a ND and a Big Stopper.

Supermarine Spitfire TA805 Mk9 (the Kent Spitfire)

Seasalter beach

VR works great. Here are a couple taken air-to-air with slowish shutter speeds to get full prop circles. The thing about these is that they were taken in aircraft that vibrate significantly, and the VR just helps with sharpness.

Yak-50 "Sasha" And T6

Bulldog G-CBJJ

Some of the criticisms I read focussed on the overall sharpness and general image quality. I've no criticisms here at all. I don't print larger than 18" x 12" usually, and all those I've made at that size are simply pin sharp irrespective of aperture or focal length. (The Spitfire picture above looks great at 18" x 12"!) Similarly a print of the next one is bitingly sharp and detailed.

Fat Tuesday's instruments

I've used it much less on the crop-sensor D300, both because of size and weight (see below), but also because I don't find the focal length range so comfortable on crop-sensor (DX) cameras (your mileage will certainly vary on this point). It works very well on the D300, but needed significant fine focus adjustment (-10), which was not needed on the D700.

Just for my own interest, when I thought of writing this review, I thought I would try a few pictures to compare the nature of the images at f/4 (wide open) with two of my favourite primes at the same aperture: the venerable 105 mm f/2 DC AF-D and 50 mm f/1.4 G AF-S. I took them into my garden, and used a tree trunk as my "model". Using a tripod and exposure delay/remote release, I took some pictures as simple comparators for sharpness just off centre (about where you might put your subject's eyes in a portrait), and quality of the out of focus background.

Comparison of the 24-120 with 105DC and 50mm primes: best to look at the original via link below

Original, larger version here

I was pleased just how good the zoom is: certainly sharp enough for my purposes. Both the primes are sharper at f/4 than the zoom, as expected. But, note that the zoom is sharper than the 105DC when +4R DC is applied: perhaps that's another reason why the 105DC is a flattering portrait lens? The bokeh of the 105DC is, as I'd hoped, much better, especially with the +4DC, but I'd have no qualms at all about using the zoom for an outdoor portrait if I'd not got either of the primes with me.

Just a couple of other points. Vignetting, distortion and colour fringing? I never even notice them becuase I have the Lightroom lens profile set to apply automatically to my Raw images. The lens does vignette and there is colour fringing (see examples in Mansurov's review), but Lightroom's corrections are so good, they're not an issue.

Sealing? I've not got this lens very wet in the rain, but no problems so far (fingers crossed). In terms of dust access, I've recently come back from Fairford, having spent 5 days in dry, dusty fields and by active runways. Dust everywhere: I didn't change lenses on either the D700 (which had this lens on, or the D300, which had the 200-400 on) for that reason. But at the end of that time, there was no more dust on the D700 sensor than there was at the beginning of the week (and the same applies to the D300). I'm very, very happy about that.

What don't I like about it? Size and price. The price now, here in the UK, is even more expensive than when I bought it, and you'll want to think long and hard about whether the Nikon 24-85mm f3.5-4.5 AF-S G VR Lens (or a third party lens) would suit you equally well at lower cost.

After a year with this lens, I would not change my mind. I'll take the constant f/4 and wider focal length range, even with the greater cost.

But size. This is a big lens. I've always been one for small cameras, and having "grown up" in photographic terms with an OM2n, I'm still amazed (and slightly horrified!) that I've ended up with something as big and heavy as the D700/24-120 combination.

On the way to Earls Court for the Olympic Volleyball
Flare is well controlled: note the sun in the image above, top right (see also my picture of the Red Arrows/A400M flyover: Flickr or in the previous post).

Poland fans at the Olympic volleyball

I spent some time during the Olympics walking round London with the D700/24-120 (and the 50mm in the bag as well) and I took it on a visit to the US at the end of last year. Although in technical terms it is perfect for me as a walk-around combination, in the end it is just too heavy and big to enjoy carrying for a whole day walking in a city. I've gone back to the D300 and 18-70mm zoom for the moment as my day-out-in-a-city stand by.

Dolphin and Girl, Tower Bridge
But, if you can cope with the size and weight, the lens is great for tourism.

In summary
Overall, my view is that this is a terrific lens. It is possible that one day I may supplement my gear with a small mirrorless camera, but I can't imagine ever replacing this lens with something else in my DSLR kit. You'll still find it in my cold dead hands.

1 comment:

  1. wow sharp picture and amazing bokeh
    Thanks for review, it was excellent and very informative.
    thank you :)