AF-S Nikkor 24-120mm f/4G ED VR Lens
A versatile, but quite expensive, 5x standard zoom lens that covers a popular focal length range for general photography.Announced in mid-September 2010, the AF-S Nikkor 24-120mm f/4G ED VR is an update to the popular 24-120mm f/3.5-5.6 VR that features a constant f/4 maximum aperture across the focal length range. Designed for Nikon’s FX (36 x 24 mm sensor) cameras, it is also usable with the company’s DX models, where it covers a focal length range equivalent to 36-180mm. . . [more]
Announced in mid-September 2010, the AF-S Nikkor 24-120mm f/4G ED VR is an update to the popular 24-120mm Æ’/3.5-5.6 VR that features a constant f/4 maximum aperture across the focal length range. Designed for Nikon’s FX (36 x 24 mm sensor) cameras, it is also usable with the company’s DX models, where it covers a focal length range equivalent to 36-180mm.
Nikon has been manufacturing 24-120mm zoom lenses since 1996, attesting to the popularity of this zoom range. The new lens introduces some useful upgrades and a small change in the design that may prove initially disconcerting to some users. But, overall, it’s a step in the right direction.
Our tests were conducted on the Nikon D7000 body, which is a comfortable match in size and weight. We were unable to evaluate the lens on one of Nikon’s FX bodies but assume they would be equally suitable.
The AF-S Nikkor 24-120mm f/4G ED VR, shown without the supplied end caps and lens hood. (Source: Nikon.)
The optical design comprises 17 elements in 13 groups and includes two ED (Extra-low Dispersion) and three aspherical elements. Nano Crystal Coatings have been applied to minimise flare and ghosting.
The diagram above shows the position of the various lens elements with the exotic elements colour-coded. (Source: Nikon.)
Nikon’s latest VR II built-in vibration reduction system provides up to four f-stops of camera shake compensation. It engages when the camera’s shutter button is half-pressed and you can hear a soft click followed by a barely-detectable buzz as the internal motors adjust the floating elements. The built-in Silent Wave Motor (SWM) focus drive promises fast and quiet autofocusing.
Build and Ergonomics
Although manufactured mainly from black polycarbonate, the 24-120mm f/4G lens is solidly constructed and well finished, although a tad pricey for a mainly plastic lens. The front of the lens extends 10.4 cm from the camera body at the 24mm position, stretching to 15 cm at 120mm. Attaching the petal-shaped HB-53 lens hood adds a further 4 cm. It has a ribbed inner surface and can be reversed onto the lens for storage.
The zoom ring is a 30 mm wide band located directly behind the front element. It has a 22 mm wide, deeply ridged rubber grip and rotates through roughly one quarter of a turn as you span the focal length range.
The trailing edge carries stamped markings for the following focal length settings: 24mm, 28mm, 35mm, 50mm, 70mm, 85mm and 120mm. These marks line up against a white dot on the main barrel.
Just behind this dot lies the distance scale in metres and feet, which ranges from 0.45 metres to infinity. A plastic window covers the scale. Neither depth-of-field nor infrared markings are provided.
Behind the distance scale is a 9 mm wide focusing ring, which has rubber ridges with a different texture from those on the zoom ring. This ring moves through just over one quarter of a turn with stops at the closest focus and just past infinity. All focusing is internal, enabling angle-critical attachments to be used without requiring re-adjustment.
Between the focusing ring and the camera body – and around the barrel towards the left side of the camera – are three slider switches. The top one handles focusing and has M/A and M positions. Full manual over-ride is available in the M/A mode.
The middle one is labelled VR ON and OFF and engages or disengages the VR II stabilisation. The bottom one switches between the Normal and Active VR modes.
Weighing 756 grams with lens hood and lens cap in place and protruding almost 19 in front of the camera body, the 24-120mm f/4G lens is a substantial handful. While an excellent match for the D7000 we used for this review, it may prove a little heavy for Nikon’s entry-level models.
Both the zoom and focusing rings move smoothly, each through roughly one quarter of a turn as they span their respective ranges. Zooming requires a small amount of pressure, minimising the chances of zoom creep when the lens is carried pointing downwards.
The focusing ring moves has soft stops at the closest focus point (45 cm) and just past infinity. The front element of the lens remains fixed in place during focusing.
Our Imatest tests showed the review lens delivered its best performance with aperture settings between f/4 and about f/8 at the shorter focal lengths. For focal lengths between 70mm and 120mm (inclusive), the highest resolution apertures were roughly half an f-stop smaller.
Diffraction began to kick in at around f/11 and resolution plummeted from f/16 onwards. The f/22 aperture is one to avoid, delivering low figures in our Imatest tests and visibly soft phtoographs. The graph below shows the results of our tests.
Subjective assessments of test shots confirmed the Imatest findings of corner and edge softening at wider aperture settings, particularly at 24mm. However, stopping down to f/5.6 produced a visible improvement in edge sharpness at the wider focal lengths; less so from 70mm to 120mm. We found the best overall performance was with the 35mm focal length at f/5.6, an advantage it retained right up to f/11.
Lateral chromatic aberration remained negligible at all lens apertures and focal length settings. This is doubtless due to the use of the ED elements and Nano Crystal Coatings. The graph below shows the results of our Imatest testing.
Some barrel distortion was observed at shorter focal lengths but it had been largely resolved by the 35mm position. Slight pincushioning could be seen in shots taken with the 120mm focal length. Neither distortion was visible enough to affect everyday photography.
Vignetting was also minimal at f/4 across the focal length range of the lens. It’s marginally more visible at the shorter focal lengths but eliminated by stopping down to f/5.6.
Autofocusing was fast and nearly silent, thanks to the Silent Wave Motor. It took roughly one second to go from 24mm to 120mm in bright conditions and approximately 1.5 seconds to cover the same distance just before sunset on a cloudy afternoon. Some hunting occurred in very low light levels with low-contrast subjects and focusing was slightly slower for close-ups, even in relatively bright conditions.
Close-up shooting capabilities are limited by the minimum focusing distance of 45 cm. However, with the 120mm focal length you get a magnification of 0.24x, which is adequate for many subjects.
Bokeh with the f/4 aperture is pleasant enough for close-up work (though not outstandingly smooth). Some outlining could be seen in shots taken with the f/4 setting and highlights reflect the shape of the circular aperture at all focal length settings.
The VR II image stabiliser enabled us to use shutter speeds as slow as 1/20 second with the 120mm focal length, confirming Nikon’s claim of approximately four EV of shutter speed compensation. More than 80% of shots taken in our stabilisation tests were acceptably sharp at between three and four f-stops below the shutter speeds we would expect from an unstabilised lens.
Buy this lens if:
– You want a capable, reasonably fast, general-purpose lens to match one of Nikon’s larger DSLR bodies.
– Your preferred subjects include landscapes, portraits, interiors and weddings.
– You prefer a lens that retains the same maximum aperture throughout its zoom range.
– You’d like a lens that requires no readjustment when you fit polarisers and graduated filters.
Don’t buy this lens if:
– You have an entry-level DSLR.
– You prefer having the zoom ring closer to the camera body than the focusing ring.
From JPEG files taken with the lens on the D7000 body.
(All samples taken with the lens on the D7000 body.)
Vignetting at 24mm with f/4 aperture setting.
Vignetting at 50mm with f/4 aperture setting.
Vignetting at 70mm with f/4 aperture setting.
Vignetting at 120mm with f/4 aperture setting.
Distortion at 24mm; f/4, ISO 100, 1/125 second.
Distortion at 120mm; f/5.6, ISO 200, 1/160 second.
24mm focal length; f/16, ISO 400, 1/25 second.
35mm focal length; f/11, ISO 400, 1/25 second.
70mm focal length; f/8, ISO 400, 1/25 second.
120mm focal length; f/8, ISO 800, 1/25 second.
120mm focal length; f/4, ISO 1100, 1/640 second.
120mm focal length; f/4, ISO 200, 1/30 second.
100mm focal length; f/4, ISO 400, 1/125 second.
Showing slight outlining in the out-of-focus areas; 120mm focal length; f/4, ISO 200, 1/250 second.
Showing the shape of the circular aperture reflected in highlights in the out-of-focus areas; 120mm focal length; f/4, ISO 200, 1/320 second.
Additional image samples can be found with our review of the Nikon D7000.
Picture angle: DX format: 84 degrees to 20 degrees 20 minutes; FX format: 61 degrees to 13 degrees 20 minutes
Minimum aperture: f/22
Lens construction: 17 elements in 13 groups (2 ED and 3 aspherical lens elements, including elements with Nano Crystal Coat)
Lens mounts: Nikon AF
Diaphragm Blades: 9 (circular aperture)
Focus drive: Silent Wave Motor (SWM)
Stabilisation: VR II built-in vibration reduction (up to four steps of camera shake compensation)
Minimum focus: 45cm
Maximum magnification: 0.24x (at maximum telephoto position)
Filter size: 77 mm
Dimensions (Diameter x L): Approx. 84 x 103.5mm
Weight: Approx. 710 grams (without end caps and hood)
Distributor: Nikon Australia; Ph: 1300 366 499; www.nikon.com.au
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Rating (out of 10):
- Build: 8.8
- Handling: 8.5
- Image quality: 8.5
- Versatility: 8.8
- OVERALL: 8.5