We have just come back from a long family trip to California, stopping in Vegas for two days on the way. While I did my best not to photograph and rather spend time with the family, I did take about 800+ photographs with the new Nikon 24-120mm lens (mostly family pics and some landscape/architecture). Right before our departure, Lola and I also photographed a wedding and took around 900+ pictures with the 24-120mm. Having used the lens for the last two weeks, I now have a pretty good picture of its performance and I wanted to note a couple of things before I post the full review of the lens. Overall, I like the lens – read below to see why.
First of all, the lens is NOT of the same class as the Nikon 28-300mm in terms of performance like many people think. I have not done sharpness tests of the lens yet, but even if the 24-120mm appears to have similar performance as the 28-300mm at some focal lengths, several things on the 24-120mm do make a huge difference. The difference in focal length, for example, is very apparent. Those 4mm of difference (it is actually a little more than that, because the wider side of the 28-300mm is more like 30mm) are significant, especially for landscape and architectural photography. The Nikon 24-120mm has the maximum angle of view of 84°, while the 28-300mm is 74° – a whopping 10 degree difference. Next comes the AF performance, another huge difference that many photographers and reviewers omit. The Nikon 24-120mm focuses dead on, both in terms of speed and accuracy, something the 28-300mm is not very good with. I did not see a single picture where the 24-120mm did not focus well – if an image was out of focus, it was because I screwed up and moved or the subject moved. Every time I focused on a subject, I got consistently good results at all focal lengths. Last, but not least, is sample variation. The first copy of the 28-300mm I got was very poor at long focal lengths and it did not focus accurately beyond 105mm – the second copy of the 28-300mm was better and did not have the same problems. Other people report getting soft copies of the 28-300mm and one of our readers even reported receiving three different copies of the 28-300mm that all performed poorly. The Nikon 24-120mm seems to be better in that regard. So far, I have tested two copies of the 24-120mm and they both performed equally well. I had to return the second copy, but a quick side-by-side comparison yielded very similar results. Four other readers have reported similar feedback on the performance of the 24-120mm. From the pictures of the wedding and our trip, the sharpness of the 24-120mm appears to be very good in the center. Corners are soft wide open, similar to 24-70mm, but get much better by f/8.0. Like I said above, I have not yet performed full tests in a lab environment, but will do later today for the upcoming review. Oh, and one more thing, not sure if it was the weather or other circumstances, but the color rendition of the 24-120mm seems to be more pleasing than the 28-300mm. Obviously it is not the same class as the 24-70mm and the lens suffers from distortion and vignetting, but it is not too bad, quite acceptable for an f/4.0 lens.
Here is a sample shot at 58mm, shot with the Nikon D3s @ f/5.6, 1/60, ISO 200: