Nikon 24-120mm Initial Impressions

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:

Nikon 24-120mm Test

NIKON D3S + 24-120mm f/4 @ 58mm, ISO 200, 1/60, f/5.6


  1. 1) Guzal Fakhriyeva
    October 31, 2010 at 2:19 pm

    Welcome back :). Ждём – не дождёмся остальных фотографий.

    • November 17, 2010 at 4:29 pm

      Thank you! Just catching up with the comments :)

  2. 2) Tom
    October 31, 2010 at 1:36 pm

    Welcome back, nice shot, I look forward to seeing more.

    • November 17, 2010 at 4:29 pm

      Thank you Tom, just catching up with the comments now, LOL :)

  3. 3) Peter Dinella
    October 31, 2010 at 2:21 pm

    Very encouraging initial review, especially as it relates to the 28-300 comparison. I am very interested in seeing the lab shots. After that I’ll decide whether to buy or not. This would be a “convenience lens” for me, so I need to see some-value added quality. I shoot with the Nikkor 17-35, 35-70, and 70-200 lenses.

    Intital review seems to suggest there’s something there.

    • November 17, 2010 at 4:30 pm

      Peter, sorry for not being able to respond to this one…I’m just catching up :)

  4. 4) Del-Uks
    October 31, 2010 at 3:32 pm

    I can’t wait… ;-)

  5. 5) Pasquier
    October 31, 2010 at 9:49 pm

    Hi Nasim
    Seems like you had a good trip.
    I finally got a copy of this lens and am very impressed – it is an ideal “companion” for the D700 – in fact I’m liking this lens more and more.
    It even seems to be quite good “wide” open – if f4 can be considered as that and also handles flare very well. There s something to be said for N nanocoat.
    I’ve not noticed any vignetting…. whereas some were not happy with the 24-70mm in this regard.
    Although the 24-70mm is a superb lens, I’ve never been a fan of “70mm” – it’s just neither here nor there.
    With the 24-120mm I have more reach, which is great for portraits, details etc and the VR makes up for the lost stop.
    Look forward to the full report.

    • November 1, 2010 at 1:14 pm

      Yeah, I’m often hitting 70mm like a brick wall, compared to 18-70mm on the D70. I still love the f/2.8 but wish I had VR at times. Can’t have it all I guess. I have no issues with vignetting on the 24-70mm, but I have vignette control set to normal on the D700 and I use Capture NX 2. I also add vignetting at times with Lightroom for tight portraits anyway, but I’ve not had a big issue at 24mm for landscapes/panoramics.

    • 5.2) SVRK Prabhakar
      February 21, 2013 at 12:38 am

      Hi Pasquier, I am assuming that you are owning 24-70. Do you still want to keep your 24-70 having purchased 24-120 or you want to keep it? I am asking this since I own 2470 and searching for a good walk around lens with good reach (say 300 mm) but I am not satisfied with the autofocus speed of 28-300 and reach of 24-120. I would sell my 2470 if I happen to buy any suitable replacement. The main complaint I have on 2470 is lack of VR and reach. Thanks for your views.

  6. November 1, 2010 at 1:07 pm

    Nikon’s “Nano Crystal Coat” seems to make a big difference with flare and color rendition, especially backlit situations and with reflections off shiny objects (leaves, water, chrome, etc.). Not quite a polarizing effect, but definitely noticeable. I suspect this is part of the difference folks have noticed between the 24-120mm and 28-300mm.

    • November 4, 2010 at 1:07 pm

      Aaron, yes, I agree with you – the images just look much more colorful and pleasing to look at. The Nikon 28-300mm has a much “cheaper” look to images.

  7. 7) Peter Dinella
    November 2, 2010 at 9:34 am

    We’re dying out here, Nasim! Where is the final report on the 24-120? Please Hurry!
    My birthday is December 6. I need to order soon! My happiness is in your hands.

    Your loyal reader.

    • November 4, 2010 at 1:06 pm

      Peter, I apologize for not being able to post the review yet. The reviews take a lot of time and I am almost done with all the lab tests, now need to get out today/tomorrow and do some other tests for CA, bokeh and distortion. Hopefully, I will publish the review this weekend.

      I have good news for you if you want to get the 24-120mm – I like it much better than the 28-300mm :)

  8. 8) Peter Dinella
    November 7, 2010 at 7:19 am

    While waiting for your final review, I checked out the customer comments on the B&H site. There were 12 valid comments (I eliminated 1 that sounded like it was lifted directly from the Ken Rockwell site). Of the 12, eleven gave the lens a 5-star ratings an one gave it a 4-star rating – that’s a 4.9 overall rating.
    This seems very consistent with your preliminary review and subsequent comments.

    However, your lab tests should close the book on this lens or open up some interesting controversy!

    • November 17, 2010 at 4:31 pm

      Peter, I checked out the review page of B&H and there are a lot more comments now with plenty of positive feedback. I’m glad to see that many owners are happy with their purchase.

  9. 9) Peter Dinella
    November 8, 2010 at 11:12 am

    B&H Customer Comments section UPDATE.

    As mentioned in letter 11) above, today B&H removed the comments from that person who was lifting Ken Rockwell’s comments on this lens. So, the average rating is confirmed as 4.9 from 12 valid comments. Three cheers for B&H integrity!

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