AF-S Nikkor 24-85mm f/3.5-4.5G ED VR Lens


    Photo Review 8.8
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    AF-S Nikkor 24-85mm f/3.5-4.5G ED VR Lens

      In summary

      Buy this lens if:
       - You want a capable general-purpose zoom lens for a Nikon camera body.
       - You require detailed images with accurate colour reproduction.
       - You want fast and quiet autofocusing.
       - You want effective built-in image stabilisation.

      Don’t buy this lens:
       - For macro photography and extreme close-ups.
       - As a copying lens.
       - If you're concerned about size and weight.

      Full review

      Announced in June 2012, the AF-S Nikkor 24-85mm f/3.5-4.5G ED VR updates an existing lens that was released in 2002. Although larger and heavier, it retains the SWM (Silent Wave Motor) autofocus drive of its predecessor but adds VR II stabilisation, giving photographers seeking an FX-format compatible standard zoom lens an incentive to upgrade.

      Side view of the AF-S Nikkor 24-85mm f/3.5-4.5G ED VR lens with the lens hood attached. (Source: Nikon.)

      Covering the frequently-used focal length range of 24mm to 85mm, this lens is well suited to a variety of subjects, making it a good choice for everyday photographers. Stills photographers will find it handy for landscapes, architecture, head-and-shoulder portraits, candid shots and group shots. If you enjoy shooting movies, it performs well for wide establishing shots but allows you to zoom in for medium close-ups when needed.

      This lens can also be used on DX bodies, where it will provide an effective field of view of 36-127mm. However, unless you're using both DX and FX bodies together and wanted this particular zoom range, the only reason why you would bother would be for the improvements to edge sharpness the smaller sensor delivers (see below).

      The lens contains 16 optical elements in 11 groups with one Extra-low Dispersion (ED) glass element and three aspherical lens elements, arranged in the positions shown in the diagram below.  Seven aperture blades close to produce a rounded iris diaphragm and this lens features Nikon Super Integrated Coating to minimise flare and ghosting.
       

      The optical construction of the AF-S Nikkor 24-85mm f/3.5-4.5G ED VR lens. (Source: Nikon.)

      Built-in Vibration Reduction (VR) distinguishes this lens from its predecessors. It's second-generation technology  and Nikon claims it offers up to four f-stops of camera shake compensation, which is credible. It also features Auto Tripod detection, which recognises when the camera is mounted on a tripod, even during HD video recording and applies only such corrections as are required.

      Silent Wave Motor (SWM) autofocusing carries over from the previous lens, using ultrasonic vibration to drive focusing. The system is smooth, fast and very quiet (an advantage when shooting movies) and allows precise focusing control.

      The lens is supplied with a 72mm snap-on front lens cap, LF-1 rear lens cap and HB-25 bayonet-mounted hood. A soft carrying pouch is also included. For our review, we used the Nikon D600 as the main camera body but also conducted Imatest tests with the D3200 body.

      Build and Ergonomics
      For an FX zoom lens, the 24-85mm f/3.5-4.5G ED VR is relatively compact. It's approximately 82 mm long with a diameter of 78 mm. Fitting the lens hood extends the overall length to 86.7 mm.

      Overall build quality is good, even though the barrels are main mainly from  high quality polycarbonate, anchored to a metal mounting plate. The zoom ring is 22 mm wide and located a few millimetres behind the front of the lens. It has a 15 mm wide broadly-ridged rubber grip band with focal length settings stamped on the trailing edge of the ring.

      Turning the zoom ring extends the lens by 31mm as you zoom from the 24mm to the 85mm position. The ring rotates through 90 degrees with absolutely no slackness. Both the maximum and minimum apertures change as you zoom, as shown in the table below.

      Focal length

      24mm

      35mm

      50mm

      70mm

      85mm

      Maximum aperture

      f/3.5

      f/4

      f/4.2

      f/4.5

      f/4.5

      Minimum aperture

      f/22

      f/25

      f/29

      Behind the zoom ring is a distance scale, which is inset into the outer barrel and carries distances in feet and metres. The infinity setting is slightly back from the end of the focusing range to allow for focusing at different temperatures.

      Just behind the distance scale is the focusing ring, which is 10 mm wide and has a rubber grip with slightly finer ridging. In manual focus mode, this ring moves through approximately 90 degrees as it spans the focusing range. There's a slight resistance as you approach the closest focus and towards infinity but the ring can be turned full circle.

      Both focusing and zooming are internal, which means the front element of the lens doesn't rotate, allowing easy use of angle-critical attachments. There's no aperture ring, which means that using this lens with manual focus film cameras restricts you to shooting at its minimum aperture.

      As with all AF-S lenses, you can manually override autofocus at any time and there's an AF/M slider switch behind the focusing ring on the side of the barrel  if you want to turn the autofocus off.

      Performance
      Images straight out of the camera appeared very sharp with both camera bodies. Slight edge and corner softening were apparent at all focal length settings and through most of the aperture range with the D600. Mounted on the D3200, the softening was only noticeable at the widest aperture settings (because the sensor covers a smaller percentage of the lens's imaging circle).

      Imatest confirmed our subjective assessments and showed even the highest resolution we recorded wasn't quite a match for the high-resolution sensor on either camera body, although it came quite close, particularly with raw files. We obtained the best results in our Imatest tests at f/5.0 with the 24mm focal length with both cameras, as shown in the graphs of our Imatest results below.
       
       

      D600 body.
       
       

      D3200 body.
       
       Diffraction limiting set in around f/8, and its effects became noticeable between f/16 and f/22. Stopping down beyond f/16 isn't recommended.

      Lateral chromatic aberration hovered around the dividing line between 'negligible' and 'low' and can't be seen as a significant issue. The use of ED glass elements has played a role in keeping CA low (and most modern cameras include automatic or selectable CA correction). In the graph below showing the results of our tests, the red line marks the boundary between ‘negligible’ and ‘low’ CA, while the green line marks the edge of the 'moderate' zone.

       
       Slight vignetting was seen at the widest apertures with the vignetting control switched off. Effective in-camera correction prevents this aberration from being an issue with any lens used on the D600.

      Distortion control is also available in the D600, so the noticeable barrel distortion we obtained at 24mm and slight pincushion distortion at 85mm need not trouble photographers. Between 35mm and 70mm, distortion was barely noticeable with the in-camera correction switched off.

      Autofocusing was relatively fast for shooting stills, taking less than a second to re-focus from 38 cm (the closest distance) to infinity. The AF motor could barely be heard during this process. Focus lock was sustained quite well while zooming and panning.

      However, it was a little sluggish for movie recordings, when contrast-based focusing predominated. The SWM (silent wave motor) focus drive proved very quiet and we found no evidence of camera noises being captured in movie soundtracks.
       The VR stabilisation system was very effective and we were able to use shutter speeds as slow as 1/6 second with the 24mm focal length with VR activated and obtain more than 50% of 'keepers'. The VR stabilisation also helped to provide stability while shooting movies.

      Flare and ghosting present few problems when the supplied lens hood is used. Bokeh was generally attractive with few instances of choppiness or outlining in out-of-focus areas.

      Conclusion
      While this lens is solidly constructed and provides good enough image quality to satisfy entry-level enthusiasts, Imatest showed its optics couldn't quite match the resolution of the 24-megapixel Nikon D3200 and D600 camera bodies we tested it on. Nevertheless, it represents a valid choice for cash-strapped photographers, particularly when purchased with the D600 body.

      Aside from the slight light falloff and loss of sharpness in the corners with the FX camera, this lens can be seen as a good all-round performer. Most aberrations are well constrained – or automatically correctable in a modern camera.

      Even though it's not capable of macro focusing this lens can produce perfectly good close-up shots in relatively low light levels. For its price, it represents very good value.

      Buy this lens if:
       - You want a capable general-purpose zoom lens for a Nikon camera body.
       - You require detailed images with accurate colour reproduction.
       - You want fast and quiet autofocusing.
       - You want effective built-in image stabilisation.
       Don’t buy this lens:
       - For macro photography and extreme close-ups.
       - As a copying lens.
       - If you're concerned about size and weight.

      SPECS

       Picture angle: FX-format DSLR cameras: 84 to 28 degrees; DX-format DSLR cameras: 61 to18 degrees 50 minutes
       Minimum aperture: f/22-29
       Lens construction: 16 elements in 11 groups (including 1 ED lens element and 3 aspherical lens elements)
       Lens mounts: Nikon F mount
       Diaphragm Blades: 7 (rounded aperture)
       Focus drive: Nikon Internal Focusing (IF) System with autofocus controlled by Silent Wave Motor and separate focus ring for manual focus
       Stabilisation: VR (Vibration Reduction)  with up to 4 EV of compensation
       Minimum focus:  38 cm from focal plane at all zoom positions
       Maximum magnification: Approx. 0.22x
       Filter size:  72 mm
       Dimensions (Diameter x L): Approx. 78 x 82 mm
      Weight: Approx. 465 grams

      RRP: AU$699; US$600
       Distributor: Nikon Australia; 1300 366 499; www.nikon.com.au

      TESTS

       Based on JPEG files taken with the D600 body:
       

       

       

      Based on JPEG files taken with the D3200 body:

      SAMPLES

       (All taken with the lens on the Nikon D600 body.)
       
       

      Vignetting at f/3.5 at 24mm.
       
       

      Vignetting at f/4.5 at 85mm.
       
       

      Rectilinear distortion at 24mm.

      Rectilinear distortion at 85mm.

      24mm focal length, ISO 100, 1/200 second at f/7.1.

      85mm focal length, ISO 100, 1/200 second at f/5.6.
       
       

      Strong backlighting: 46mm  focal length, ISO 100, 1/320 second at f/9.
       
       

      Close-up at 85mm focal length, ISO 100, 1/200 second at f/8.
       
       

      Bokeh in a close-up with a fairly uniformly-lit background; 85mm focal length, ISO 100, 1/800 second at f/4.5.
       
       

      Bokeh in a close-up with a busy background; 78mm focal length, ISO 400, 1/500 second at f/4.5.
       
       

      Stabilisation test; 24mm focal length, ISO 1600, 1/15 second at f/6.3 with the camera hand-held.
       
       

      Stabilisation test; 78mm focal length, ISO 1600, 1/5 second at f/6.3 with the camera hand-held.
       
      Additional image samples can be found with our review of the Nikon D600.

      Rating

      RRP: AU$699; US$600

      • Build: 8.5
      • Handling: 8.5
      • Image quality: 8.8
      • Versatility: 8.8

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