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Friday, 28 November 2008


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I don't know why, but Nikon does this once in a while (and "once is a while" is way too often).

I had a very similar reaction to the 18-135mm which was bundled with the D80. One of the worst SLR lenses I've ever used. It single-handedly convinced me never to buy another inexpensive consumer zoom, no matter how much money I saved.

Why Nikon wants to trifle with its reputation, especially for glass, I'll never know.

Thanks! The specs were, indeed, pawing at my wallet, though I have the entire range covered in far better lenses. The idea of a single small light lens has its attractions for that mode where the little snapshot camera isn't enough, but I don't want 25 pounds on my shoulder.

Interesting that the VR was so bad. I just did two sets of tests on the VR in my 70-200 and determined that it did not increase the proportion of critically sharp frames at all (tested at 200mm, shutter speeds in the 1/13 to 1/30 range), but greatly increased the number of nearly sharp (usable at web resolution, I think) frames. Never having owned or tested a VR lens before, I'm wondering if I didn't give it a fair shake, or if mine is broken, or what. (My test report at http://dd-b.net/ddbcms/2008/11/vr-test-part-2/ ).

Gee Mike, why hold back? Go ahead and tell it like it is. Seriously now, once again this is not the typical online lens review and I like it. Keep it up.

I know it is too long for your style, but do you include the Minolta 70-210f4 in your 80s list of junk? Just curious.

Oh Shit! Good word for it.

Appropriate too. I once had a 24-120, one of the
real early designs, soft in the middle and on the edges. I suspect Nikon is attempting to cram too much into one piece of lens.

Mine arrive on the F90 which was the first Nikon I purchased after graduated from two somewhat worn Pentax K1000's. First thought the poorly focused images were something I had done.

Nope, the 50 mm f/2 was perfect. The 24-120 could've been traded but figured no piece of glass needs to be retained that was this ill.

Gave it to a friend who is a member of the local gun club. Yep it became a target at the end of the range. Looked good with a slug shot all the way through it!

Another good reason to have a few dogs in the lens lineup: you can identify immediately someone's credibility based on their opinion of them. Kinda like cell phone holsters and jean shorts.

I had the same reaction to mine, put it on the shelf, and just used my 35/f2 and 50/1.8, both of which were much sharper.

But the other day I tried again, though this time I took advantage of the D700's AF adjustment feature. After fiddling, and deciding on a setting of -10, it's an entirely different lens. Rather sharp at the wide end, very sharp at the long end.

I don't care for the bokeh, but then that's not why you use a 3.5-5.6 zoom.

For the kinds of photography where a 24-120 zoom is practical, I don't mind mine at all now.

As for the VR, I get sharp shots at 120mm with shutter speeds of 1/10 to 1/15th.

Fair enough. And do you fix all that distortion in software? No amount of fiddling with focus adjustment will help that....

Mike J.

P.S. I predict you will not remain happy with it for very long. Just a guess.


This lens is a known duffer in the Nikon world. Actually fairly old, and clearly, they've learned a lot since they brought this one out. It is greatly hoped by many (as evidenced by the number of rumors to that effect) that Nikon will soon upgrade this lens. But then everybody in the photo world has been having to upgrade their lenses.


Upgrade...hmm...somehow I think Bryce Lee's friend had the better idea....[g]

Mike J.

I'm a street photographer. Don't do architecture or brick walls. When I get bored with the street, I head to the woods. Distortion doesn't affect my shots.

Earlier this year I used an Olympus E-3 and the 12-60 lens (24-120). It had rather nasty distortion if you aimed it at a brick wall etc, but for street and landscapes, it's a fine, if not very fine, lens.

Here's a gallery of photos taken with the 24-120, of which all but one were taken before I made the lens sharp. In some taken at 24mm wide open, there are issues.
But nothing that ruins the photo.


I hope you get to try the camera with a good lens. It is a terrific camera, and you if want a mid range zoom the 24-85 f3.5 (now only available used) is tiny and good. As you know from the D3, the 24-70 f 2.8 is great, but huge.

Your review of Nikon's 24 – 120 VR lens reminds me of an old beer commercial on radio. "It's real cheap." "Yeah, but it sucks." "But it's cheap!" "But it sucks." In this case, it's a convenient focal length range, but optically it sucks. And full-frame 35 mm format sensors mercilessly reveal the flaws of any lens placed in front of them.

Seems like there's always a tug-of-war between optical perfection and real-world utility, with (hopefully) some sort of sweet spot in the middle. In the Canon world the older 28 – 135 mm IS zoom is optically mediocre on a full-frame sensor, with lots of field curvature and mushy corners at every f-stop. The 24 – 70 f:2.8 L is optically very good. Unfortunately it lacks stabilization, weighs about 2 pounds, and always seems too short at the long end. The 24 – 105 mm f:4 L has stabilization, and a useful long end...but it vignettes so badly at anything wider than f:10 or so, it's almost embarrassing.


FWIW this is an older lens design so it might not be surprising that it's a bit of a dog.

The "digital" version of this lens is the 16-85 VR which I have and might be a bit better than this.

VR is also a strange thing. It only really works in low light on stuff that isn't moving *at all*. Basically, if what you are taking a picture of has a pulse it won't do you much good because it can't freeze motion.

I got the lens to replace the venerable 18-70 kit lens that I've been using for years. But I think overall I like the 18-70 more, but I can't point to exactly why. The pictures just look better.

That's a great gallery Luke. I especially like the black guy with the Canon giving you the eye, and the guy with the trumpet. Thanks for the link.

Mike J.

This lens is known pooch from some time back. I got suckered into buying the 24-120 back in the days of the N90 film camera, and despite the salesman's glowing endorsement, it was possibly the worst lens I have ever used that wasn't on one of my Diana cameras. But here is the funny part. I was selling a bunch of unused stuff on ebay about six months ago, and I wrote a description of this lens that was brutally honest. I described just as you have, as a piece of shyte, and a disgrace to the Nikon name. I harshed it badly. And because of my smartalecky description, I got about $50 more for this lens than ANY of the completed sales of the same doggie lens from the previous six months on that auction site. Go figure. Makes me wonder if the same reverse psychology was behind the apparent enthusiasm for all those toxic bonds and CDOs that are threatening to burn our economy to the ground right now.

Ha Ha

Not sure what is funnier. You calling this lens a POS or Zak saying this:

Kinda like cell phone holsters and jean shorts.

Too funny.

Get that 35mm stuck to the front of that D700 Mike.

God I love this place sometimes.


When I got my D3, the 24-70 that I ordered with was back-ordered so the dealer gave me a 24-120 as a loaner. It seemed sharp enough, but I couldn't stand the distortion at the edges. It is completely out of place on a D3 or D700. I'm wondering if distortion performance, because it can be fixed so easily in Photoshop, is now lower on the priority list for lens designers. If it is, it's a pity.

Well, there are variations(or abuse)in all types I guess.
In anticipation of a new D700. I just picked up a used nikkor 17-35 f2.8 generaly considered a "venerable" lens. but after a very few shots decided to return it. only sharp at f8-11 and not spectacular there (compared to my 35-70 2.8 at 35 and my tokina 12-24 f4 at 17 all on my d200 so I figured it would only be worse on FX)

I'd love to see what you think of the canon 24-105. It's supposed to be A real gem.

Hi Dale,

Maybe your 17-35mm had a hard life. My new one is very sharp across the board, except the corners at 2.8 - but who cares what is in the corners if you are shooting at 2.8?:-) There is a little distortion, but view cameras are for architecture, not high speed zooms.

You're welcome Mike. I won't argue that the 24-120 is a stellar lens, just that mine is fine (for what it is) now that I've fixed the sharpness problem.

90% of the time I've got the 35/f2 attached.

I can't afford the 24-70.

If you want to see high ISO shots, here's a gallery:


First two are ISO 6400, the remainder 12800. Lens used are the 35/f2 and 50/1.8

ISO 12800 allowed me to shoot around 1/200th at f2 - the only light came from street lamps.

Should I say it? Do I dare?

Aw what the heck ... TOLD YOU SO!

Now that I've gotten that immature outburst out of the way, I have to add that I really felt betrayed by the 24-120. You almost expect to look closely at the name and discover that it actually says "Nikan" or something equally deceptive. I cannot believe that they sold it as the kit lens with the D700. What a great way to make a sensational camera look like crap.

Sometimes I just don't understand "marketing."

The Nikon 24-120mm lens is bad enough to have made it to Ken Rockwell's Nikon worst 10 lens.


I should make a couple of points clearly here about Luke's pictures: most lenses will look good at moderate apertures in good light, especially if you avoid situations that will make their weaknesses apparent. His results don't change my opinions about this lens.

However, lenses don't take pictures, photographers do--I'm the last guy to dismiss someone's work just because it happens to be made with a lens that I don't happen to like. When I look at pictures I judge the pictures, not the lens. Luke's work convinces on its merit, and I'm happy to take that at face value.

People who have been reading my opinions for a long time will probably not need this pointed out, but it's worthwhile to stay clear.

Mike J.

I agree, really nice street photography by Luke there.


I like the work of the painter in the window, anybody know who he is?

I'm no fan of jeans, not blue jeans at least, but on the right girl a pair of jean shorts can look really nice. :-)

After that blast Nikon could always sell the remaining stock to the Chinese factory that makes Holgas. Back in the 80's you speak of I found an 80~200 zoom with the JCPenney label on it for 39.99 on clearance. I figured I would give it a try. There are no words, coke bottle is too, I say TOO kind! The negs so flat as to be unprintable on #5 paper. I returned the lens and got my hard earned money returned. Finally, for a little more I nicked a used Vivitar series 1 70~210. I'm not any kind of expert but the difference was amazing.

Thanks Ed, I haven't given up on the idea of a Nikkor 17-35 2.8, I just decided to hold off until I get the D700. I have a Tokina 20-35 2.8 that was about the same(but it was only $250)
As far as questionable lenses there's always lensbabies, I concept I can't grasp. for about the same money I bought a Leica IIIc with a "jupiter" lens figured it couldn't be worse and a whole lot cooler!

I've had one and tried 2 iterations of this lens, unsatisfying at both. Thank you for steering me clear of this version. OTOH, I've found the 18-135 to be "good enough" as a travel lens

It's a fine line I suppose, the flaws that define a real lens, and the flaws that define a real lemon.

What I especially liked about the review was the way that, with a single, lightning-like thrust, Mike assured himself of a continuing supply of Nikon loaners. 8-) The guy who loaned him this set is probably crying over his Sapporo right now, a broken salary-man.

Luke: I would really like to see you take a picture of a well-lit brick wall with the tuned 24-120, and then fix the distortion in Photoshop, just to see what can be done. I'd do it myself -- I also have the lens, and mine is also a piece of shit, which provides further testimony that we're not victims of sample variation -- but I'm traveling, and don't have the lens with me (because it's a piece of shit.)


Hmmm... Luke, in that first set of pictures, is that Michael Reichmann on a bicycle?

Funny, the 18-55 AF-s VR kit lens for DX is one of the best nikkors I have ever used, super sharp and extremely light (due to the cheapo plastic mount) and the VR works great. I really love that lens. The 55-200 VR is also a cheapo nikkor that delivers killer results, much more than its price would imply. These two lenses have allowed me to put off an FX acquisition for a while.

Here's hoping there is a new 24-120 in the works, hopefully a vrII version with better optics.

It's real shame that this lens is such a lemon for the most part, as I've always found the focal length range to be particularly useful.

I've had one since my D100 days and realised that it wasn't one of Nikon's best pretty early on. Why they still issue it with the D700 is a mystery to me - surplus stock disposal I guess.

When I got my D700 it was handy being able to use it on that as well, but now I've realised that it's main use has to be strictly f16 portraits in the studio, with studio flash, and usually with some post-processing softening of the end result anyway. In those circumstances it's still useful.

I'm glad you said "In brief, for a full-frame 24–120mm lens, this is a decent 35–105mm APS-C lens", might make mine easier to sell at some point!

While I have no reason to defend the lens (I don't even have a Nikon, and even if I did wouldn't consider buying it), it does look as though the copy you got is a particularly bad one.
The distortion at 55mm just shouldn't be that bad - and reminds me of a bad copy I had to return of the (eventually) excellent Pentax 50-135mm.
Out of curiosity, I checked the test results on Photozone (decent), and SLRgear (not so much).
While I agree with most of your comments on modern lenses, I'm really not convinced that QC is good enough yet.

Yep, both of the 24-120's(VR G and the older AF-D) are known duds. Can't figure out why Nikon used this as the kit lens for the D700 and discontinued the rather good 24-85G at the same time.

Oddly the DX equivalent of the 24-120VR, the 16-85VR is stellar, rivalling Nikon's pro 17-55 in colour, contrast and sharpness and beating it in flare control. Nikon could clearly come up with a better 24-120 if they could be bothered.

Oh, and note that the 24-120 has the older VR implementation, not the much more effective VRII that Nikon's been using for a few years now (starting with the 105VR)

Nikon does have one consumer FX gem, the 70-300VR.

"I cannot believe that they sold it as the kit lens with the D700."

One problem may be that all the other obvious "kit lens" choices are DX. What did they really have to choose from? The 24-70/2.8 is a wonderful lens (I have one on my D700), but it's hardly a "kit lens" -- too heavy, too expensive.

I own a 24-120 and have read the negative press from day one. I got mine several years ago off eBay. It is made in Japan and was in excellent shape. I started using it extensively about a year ago and honestly, I don't observe all these negatives. It feels good in the hand, has a range I like, silent, fast....I love it!!! Maybe a poor art student who got used to using "Coke" bottle glass named "Kalimar" doesn't have high expectations. The point is....you have to have confidence in what you are using in order to do your best! If you don't have confidence in this lens don"t use it but I don' think this lens is going to make or break me in my photographic progress.

OK, Mike, so I have one of these and since ebaying my Minolta 7D, 3 Rokkor lenses and flash I've only been able to afford this one lens with my Nikon D300. I'm not as expert a user as you, so it hadn't occurred to me that the lack of sharpness and occasionally strange color rendering weren't my fault. (Actually, I recently splurged on the Tokina 11-16 f2.8 which I'm enjoying but not yet adept at seeing with). Granted, I am shooting with an APS-C sensor, if I wanted to sell this poor lens and replace it with a decent walking around zoom, what would you recommend? I see lenses in basically 3 categories: the $1000+ lenses I can only dream of; the ~$200 lenses I avoid like the plague and the $500 - $650 lenses which are just right. Any ideas for a replacement for my 24-120?

Thanks for the review Mike. I suspect that a lot of the equipment on the market these days would deserve to be placed in the "It's a piece of shit"column. You would never think so from reading the ads in the popular US photo magazines. Lately, I've been more satisfied with almost any of the many photo mags published in the UK. Virtually all of the US magazines with the exception of Photo Techniques, seem to have morphed into extensions of the camera manufacturers marketing departments. The reviews in the US magazines never seem to find anything really wrong with any of the products supplied by their advertisers. Go figure. I remember that some years ago, a gun review magazine was started that accepted no ads and they plainly called something crap if it was. Maybe you could do something similar for photo equipment? Mike's Shit List has a nice ring to it. I would subscribe. Anyone else?

"Well, here's the thing: it's a piece of shit." Tell us what you really think, Mike.

I laughed so hard, I think I pulled a muscle. The real bummer of course is that the above mentioned lens is the kit lens for the D700. Ooops.

David Dyer-Bennet makes a good point about what Nikon has to offer as a kit lens on FX. Considering that a zoom is de rigeur, the 24-120 is it. And it's been updated recently: formerly D type now G type plus VR, so I don't think it will get another iteration soon (but who knows). On DX, the 18-70 and the 16-85 seem to be well regarded, although I have the 18-70 and my opinion of it changes from day to day.

Further Nikon seems to have gone zoom happy of late: each new consumer camera has come with a new zoom. Much to the chagrin of those of us who favor primes. On top of that the 2 new pro zooms appear to be truly stellar. Which make me wonder if they will ever update the wide primes or the short teles for that matter.

Another problem with Nikon's cheap zooms is where they put the zoom ring, it makes no sense, especially when most people autofocus. After years of it being on the shelf I have started shooting events on the D700 with an old Nikon 28-70mm f3.5-4 and its great. Designed by Nikon lens engineers not their marketing department.

If you can find one for your test, try the same Tamron 28-75 on the D700. I bought a D700 not long ago and needed a decent mid-range zoom. Can't swing the Nikon 24-70 2.8 right now and my Nikon 24-85 f/2.8-4 has terrible distortion and more softness than I care for at the corners. The Tamron, on the other hand, does very well. Mine seems its best from 35-70.

I've stayed away from the 24-120 VR since no one says anything positive about it. Nikon needs a replacement for it to match up with Canon's 24-105 f/4 IS, which I used when I had a 5D.


Around 1999 picked up a 24-120mm AF Nikkor and used it professionally for up to about 3 years ago when I switched to Digital and a Nikon D200 with a 17-55mm F/2.8 Nikkor. This past summer picked up a Nikon D700 and have been using the 24-120 Nikkor again. After reading many articles on how bad the current 24-120 VR AF Nikkor seems to be I began second guessing my older lens. This past weekend was able to compare my first generation 24-120mm with a new sample of Nikon's current 24-120mm VR AF lens. Using the D700 on a heavy duty Linhof tripod and shooting at f/11... at 24mm the older lens was better by a noticeability bit, at 50mm the older lens was definitely better enough to matter, at 120mm the older lens was excellent, the newer lens was really terrible to the point of looking to be definitely out of focus so ran the test a second time and same results. The newer 24-120mm Nikkor was totally unacceptable in my opinion. The older circa 1998 24-120mm I will never part with. It does exhibit some distortion but I can live with it. Shooting wide open is acceptable, but by stopping down one f stop... the older lens really shines.

I'm a full frame film shooter, and I love the 24-120 focal length. But, after trying a few versions on the Nikon 24-120 (earlier non-VS and newer VS version), I concluded that they were soft. However, I did discover the superb Tamron SP 24-135AF lens, which I really like. It's much better than the Nikon 24-120's.

Kiron Kid

I had not seen this. I went and requested a 24-120mm for the D3X, because Canon sent a 24-105mm as a kit with the 5D MkII. My experience with the 24-120mm was just like yours. One shot, nothing in the world - no amount of reframing and trying again - would persuade it to focus on a particular subject. Others, it confirmed focus to the camera allowing release (set of focus priority) when the image was not focused at all. And even correctly focused images at 120mm are, quite simply, unusable and would be at 12 mpixel or even 6 mpixel let alone 24!

See: http://www.photoclubalpha.com/forum/viewtopic.php?f=32&t=1499

I love everything from the preamble to the hilarious end. I shoot with a Canon and while I have nothing against Nikon, this is a refreshing article amongst the slew of well deserved positive press recently. Apparently even the folks at Nikon are human.

Maybe you should check out Canon :)

Thanks for the VERY honest review, much appreciated.

Beautiful Mike, just perfect. I could not have put it any better. What a piece of shit lens.

I was so disgusted it is now sitting at the bottom of the Hinz Dam.

It seems many blind followers of the BIG TWO take everything on faith. If its a Canon or Nikon product, it has to be beyond reproach. Its obvious in recent years that these companies have been riding on their names and reputations rather than actual quality in many cases. 3rd party manufacturers like Tamron and Sigma have to try harder because they're the underdog. Both companies' zooms in the range of yours (28 or 27 to 70 or 25) have received rave reviews but a lot of die hard canon or nikon followers would rather be seen with an inferior N or C badged lens rather than a superior lens by another company. Thanks for the honest review! By the way, I don't shoot with either C or N. I have a Pentax!

Hey Guys,

Keep in mind that this lens is a pretty old design and was Nikon's first VR lens--at least in the normal range. I bought mine a few years ago because it was the only available.

Nikon knows it has to be redesigned and upgraded. The question, particularly in today's economy, is whether they afford to in the near future.

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