Product Review: Nikon AF-S NIKKOR 24-120mm f/4G ED VR

December 14, 2010

By Dan Havlik

Though it’s got a versatile focal length, the Nikkor 24-120mm f/4 lens is relatively compact.

I’ve got a pretty good feeling Nikon’s going to sell a lot of its new AF-S NIKKOR 24-120mm f/4G ED VR lenses in 2011. Why? First, look at the focal range. Seems to cover the waterfront, right? Second, check out that constant f/4 aperture and VR (Vibration Reduction) II technology. That’s going to help a lot in a range of lighting conditions. And third? I’ve been shooting with this lens for a couple months now and I’m hard pressed to find a weak spot.

I started off by photographing the great Balloon Fiesta in Albuquerque in October and the 24-120mm focal length on a Nikon D3s allowed me pull back to cover the wide circumferences of the hot air balloons and then gradually zoom in as I chased them across the launch site toward the surrounding hills. As a result I got colorful shots of masses of balloons going airborne and crisp close-ups of the pilots hitting the burners to push their vessels higher. One of the true tests was during the pre-dawn flights when the flames from the balloons were the only light source. That constant f/4 aperture and the VR II helped keep my images of crew workers sharp as they hustled to lay out the ropes for their balloons.

Back in the real world, the NIKKOR 24-120mm f/4 performed quality yeoman’s work for an event I had to cover, capturing portraits and scene-setters with skilled aplomb. I think event photographers are going to go bananas over this lens, since it’ll be pretty much the only thing they’ll need to keep on their cameras for an assignment. Same goes for wedding photographers who will not only like the focal length, constant f/4 and VR II but will really appreciate the relatively compact size. If you want a little more zoom on it, throw it on one of Nikon’s non-full-frame DX-format cameras— such as the D7000 also reviewed in this issue—and you’ve got a 36-180mm equivalent. Heck, sports photographers might even go for it.
I don’t want to name names but when you stack this lens against the competition—OK, Canon—it fairs extremely well. Not only was image quality and corner sharpness on par to Canon’s immensely popular EF 24-105mm f/4L IS USM, you’re getting the same constant aperture and a longer focal length. Pricing? It’s about the same.

I could also tell you about all the Nikon technology that’s in this lens—the Nano Crystal Coat to reduce ghosting and flare, the Extra-low Dispersion (ED) elements to lower chromatic aberrations—but if you read this column or follow Nikon’s lenses already you probably know about that stuff.
I will say this: If this lens has a downside it’s that when you use it, you’ll be playing it kind of safe. Sure it’ll save you the hassle of having to change to other focal lengths in the course of a busy gig but if you want to get some really unique looks at your next wedding, bar mitzvah, or balloon race, you should be experimenting with super wide fisheyes or long zooms or stuff that’s just plain weird. The NIKKOR 24-120mm f/4 is a rather milquetoast lens that gets the job done (well) but it’s not exactly going to push your creativity.

Wedding, event, travel, portrait and landscape photographers in need of a do-everything-well, all-purpose zoom lens that can fit in the palm of your hand should run to their nearest Nikon dealer and gobble up the new AF-S NIKKOR 24-120mm f/4G ED VR. Anyone looking to add some crazy, off-the-wall excitement to their next photo shoot, might want to look a little further afield.

AF-S NIKKOR 24-120mm f/4G ED VR
Pros: This could be all the lens you’ll ever need.
Cons: Your needs may be more complicated than that.
Price: $1,299