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Review: Nikon 24-85mm f/3.5-4.5G ED AF-S VR

by G Servo on 11/08/2012

The Nikon D600 came with a kit lens: the 24-85mm f/3.5-4.5G ED AF-S VR. The specs of the lens looked promising on paper but very reminiscent of a much older lens that also used to come with film cameras. Unfortunately, this lens was a disappointment. New gear is not always the best. I wish I could hold this lens in the same regard as the Nikon 50mm f1.8 G and 85mm f1.8 G because the build quality of the 24-85mm f/3.5-4.5G ED AF-S VR, at first, reminded me of them. In use, however, it was slightly pitiful. It was not as fast at focusing as I felt it should be when coming with a camera like the Nikon D600.

 

Note: This lens was tested with the Nikon D90, D600, and the D700.

 Specs

From the B&H Photo Video Listing

Performance
Focal Length 24 – 85 mm
Comparable Focal Length: 36 – 127.5 mm
Aperture Maximum: f/3.5 – 4.5
Minimum: f/22 – 29
Camera Mount Type Nikon F 1
Format Compatibility Nikon FX/35mm Film
Angle of View 28° – 84°
DX Picture Angle: 18° – 61°
Minimum Focus Distance 1.25′ (0.38 m) 2
Magnification 3.5x
Maximum Reproduction Ratio 1:0.22
Groups/Elements 11/16
Diaphragm Blades 7
Features
Image Stabilization Yes 3
Autofocus Yes
Physical
Filter Thread Front: 72 mm
Dimensions (DxL) Approx. 3.1 x 3.2″ (7.87 x 8.13 cm)
Weight 1.02 lb (465 g)

Gear used

Build quality/Ergonomics

I did a ‘hands on’ with this lens, and it felt decent for that quick moment. After shooting with the Nikon 24-85mm f/3.5-4.5G for a bit, I found that it was lacking. The ergonomics of the lens felt off and that bugged me. The build quality wasn’t all that terrible, and it felt similar to other G lenses like the Nikon 50mm G lenses. On the D600, the 24-85mm f/3.5-4.5G felt bulky. If the lens was a higher quality and/or faster, I would not have minded.

The focusing ring, situated behind the zoom ring, is rather small and annoying.  The zoom, however, was a nice size.

The lens does not extend too much, which helps to keep it small. Overall, it felt like a ‘kit’ lens, not something I would want to keep. The buttons on the lens are, to its credit, well placed and easy to access which is typical for current Nikon lenses with VR.

Focusing

The Nikon 24-85mm f/3.5-4.5G is built for autofocusing. The manual focus ring is just stupid. I know that may sound immature, but it really bothered me.

Using the manual focus ring is not a great joy because of its size. The lens has an M/A-M function so if you want to manual focus you don’t have to flip the switch. The autofocus worked in many situations. While using the D600, I had some issues in an indoor, mixed lighting environment where the lens would not focus fast enough for my liking. I missed some simple shots that I would have gotten with other lenses. I put different lenses on the D600 and did similar shots which came out much better.

Field of View and Performance

85mm

I must say the image quality is nice. The colors are well rendered and with some work, it can actually attain some very nice image quality. We recommend using a flash though to add some specular highlights. The Nikon 24-85mm f/3.5-4.5G covers the ranges of all my favorite prime lenses. It has 24mm for landscape, 35mm for foodie photography, 50-85mm for events and portraits.

This is something that must absolutely be praised.

50mm

For everyday casual use, this range is not bad, especially on a camera like the Nikon D600. Just expect to use higher ISOs in low light.

24mm

This lens has acceptable bokeh. The depth of field is not that great. Granted it’s probably not designed to have the best bokeh. The lens does handle getting close up to a subject. It’s better doing that at 24mm though.

Sharpness and Contrast

Full image

Cropped

This lens had a decent sharpness to it. It performs best around f5.6. It was not the best I have seen nor the worst. I really could not complain about it when stopped down.

.

The lens had decent contrast as stated before. One could easily see tonal details of subjects. Subtle shadows came out nicely, t00.

Vibration Reduction

Vibration reduction on the Nikon 24-85mm f/3.5-4.5G is good enough for the price and for most users. I was able to hand hold at f11 and 1/25 a second with out issue. Unfortunately, the VR did have a slight issue. I did notice there was a slight shake, however sporadic, before the camera would autofocus due to the stabilization being engaged. This got in the way when trying to shoot quick shots on the fly, which is often for me.

When I was not shooting on the fly and slowly composing my shots, the VR worked the best.

Eventually, I turned turn it off while photo walking, set the camera to use Auto ISO and make sure the camera did not go below a 1/100 shutter speed.

Portraits and Photowalking

I took this lens out for a photo walk on the High Line in New York . For random, fun photowalking, this lens is okay. It’s also pretty good for portraits as skin tones are rendered well.

On a DX camera

On a D90 at 85mm(136.5mm)

On a camera like my Nikon D90 or a Nikon D7000 the Nikon 24-85mm f/3.5-4.5G is actually a 36-136.5mm due to the 1.5x crop factor.  It was okay to shoot with, but again, nothing special. I honestly did not like it on the D90, but others might disagree.

Who is This Lens For?

Some people may like the Nikon  24-85mm f/3.5-4.5G ED AF-S VR. It is the economy car of lenses. I may just be overly hard on it. It does cover a decent range and some folks may find it useful. If someone is buying the D600 because it was sold to them by a greedy salesman, not because it’s what they needed, they will probably only use this lens.  Their camera will, most likely always, be set on auto and take a lot of snap shots and pictures of children. If someone is taking their photography a little more seriously, they will learn of other lens options available to them and eventually put this lens down.

Conclusions

This lens is supposed to be practical. It could be used every day. Will I buy it? NO!

I do understand the reasoning behind a kit lens. It’s meant to get people out and shooting. I feel that Nikon could have done better with this lens. There is something in the way that it feels that makes me think of the Nikon 24-85mm f/3.5-4.5G at $599.0,0 is not worth the cost. I just did not enjoy shooting with this lens. Compared to other lenses, like a Tamron AF 18-270mm f/3.5-6.3 ($649.00, only $50 more), Nikon could have made a better kit lens.

Again, for me, the Nikon 24-85mm f/3.5-4.5G just feels wrong. It does not suit me. If asked, I would suggest buying a Nikon 50mm f1.8 G and/or 85mm f1.8 G. These lenses won’t break the bank. If you want a zoom, I would say take a look at lenses like the  Tamron AF 18-270mm f/3.5-6.3. Another option is going used. If you can find a used Nikon 28-80mm f3.3-5.6G (a lens that used to come with Nikon autofocus film cameras around between 2001 and 2006) it would be far cheaper, more compact, lightweight and may just give you a better experience, even without vibration reduction. The Nikon 24-85mm f/3.5-4.5G felt unwhelming. Something pushed out and dumbed down for Nikon’s low end full frame. After testing the Nikon D600 I felt that being paired with the Nikon 24-85mm f/3.5-4.5G was a disservice. If you do like the Nikon 24-85mm f/3.5-4.5G, you should at least test it before you buy it.

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