This is an in-depth review of the Nikon 24-85mm f/3.5-4.5G VR lens, also known as “AF-S NIKKOR 24-85mm f/3.5-4.5G ED VR”, which was announced together with the Nikon 18-300mm f/3.5-5.6G ED VR DX in June of 2012. The Nikon 24-85mm VR is an affordable consumer-grade lens targeted at photo enthusiasts that need a mid-range zoom lens with optical stabilization for everyday photography. It is an update to the short-lived Nikon 24-85mm f/3.5-4.5G IF-ED that was introduced in 2002 and discontinued in 2006, and it might also replace the older Nikon 24-85mm f/2.8-4D IF that is still in production as of today. With an equivalent focal length of 36-128mm on DX sensor, it is better suited to be used on full-frame cameras. When the full-frame Nikon D600 budget DSLR was announced in late 2012, Nikon included the 24-85mm VR as a kit lens option, so I think we will be seeing this lens bundled with FX cameras in the future.
In this review, I will provide a thorough analysis of the Nikon 24-85mm VR lens, along with image samples and comparisons to the Nikon 24-85mm f/3.5-4.5G IF-ED, Nikon 24-85mm f/2.8-4D IF and Nikon 24-120mm f/4G VR lenses.
1) Lens Specifications
- Versatile 3.6x standard zoom for brilliant photos and HD videos
- Nikon’s VR II Image Stabilization with Tripod Auto Detect
- Extra-low Dispersion (ED) design offers superior sharpness and color correction by effectively minimizing chromatic aberration, even at the widest aperture setting.
- 3 Aspherical Lens Elements virtually eliminate coma and other types of aberration.
- Quiet focusing with built-in Silent Wave Motor (SWM).
- Two focus modes selectable – M/A and M
- Exclusive Nikon Silent Wave Motor (SWM) enables fast, accurate and quiet autofocus.
- Internal Focus (IF) provides fast and quiet autofocus without changing the length of the lens, retaining working distance throughout the focus range.
- Nikon Super Integrated Coating (SIC) enhances light transmission efficiency and offers superior color consistency and reduced flare.
- Rounded 7-Blade Diaphragm renders natural appearance of out-of-focus image elements.
- Mount Type: Nikon F-Bayonet
- Focal Length Range: 24-85mm
- Zoom Ratio 3.5x
- Maximum Aperture: f/3.5-4.5
- Minimum Aperture: f/22-29
- Format: FX/35mm
- Maximum Angle of View (DX-format): 61°
- Minimum Angle of View (DX-format): 18°50’
- Maximum Angle of View (FX-format): 84°
- Minimum Angle of View (FX-format): 28°30’
- Maximum Reproduction Ratio: 0.22x
- Lens (Elements): 16
- Lens (Groups): 11
- Compatible Format(s): FX, DX, FX in DX Crop Mode, 35mm Film
- Diaphragm Blades: 7
- Distance Information: Yes
- ED Glass Elements: 1
- Aspherical (Elements): 3
- Super Integrated Coating: Yes
- Autofocus: Yes
- AF-S (Silent Wave Motor): Yes
- Minimum Focus Distance: 1.25ft.(0.38m)
- Focus Mode: AF, Manual
- G-Type: Yes
- Filter Size: 72mm
- Accepts Filter Type: Screw-on
- Dimensions: (Approx.) 3.1×3.2 in. (Diameter x Length), 78x82mm (Diameter x Length)
- Weight: (Approx.) 16.4 oz. (465g)
- Supplied Accessories: LC-72 Snap-on Front Lens Cap, HB-63 Bayonet Lens Hood, LF-4 Rear Lens Cap, CL-1118 Soft Lens Case
Detailed specifications for the lens, along with MTF charts and other useful data can be found in our lens database.
2) Lens Handling and Build
Similar to other Nikon zoom lenses introduced within the last couple of years, the Nikon 24-85mm VR has a solid build, with plastic exterior and a metal mount. Weighing 465 grams, it is lighter than the Nikon 24-85mm f/2.8-4D (545g) and slightly heavier than the Nikon 24-85mm f/3.5-4.5G (415g), but still significantly lighter and smaller than the monster Nikon 24-70mm f/2.8G that weighs a whopping 900 grams. With its light weight construction and relatively small size, it thus handles quite well on all Nikon DSLRs. Like all recent Nikon lenses, it also comes with a rubber gasket on the lens mount, which provides good sealing against dust making its way into the camera (the rubber gasket definitely helps not only in reducing sensor dust, but also in reducing the amount of dust that could potentially end up inside the lens).
Size-wise, the lens is slightly larger than the older Nikon 24-85mm, but much smaller in barrel size than the Nikon 24-120mm, as shown in the below image:
And here is how it compares to the Nikon 28mm f/1.8G (left) and Nikon 24-85mm f/2.8-4D (right):
Smaller barrel means a smaller filter thread, which is 72mm – a fairly common filter size on smaller FX and DX Nikkor lenses. Thanks to the internal focus (IF) feature, the front of the lens never extends or rotates during focusing, which means that you can easily use polarizing filters without worrying about constant readjustment. The lens comes with the HB-63 bayonet lens hood, which sits tight and does not wobble once mounted. If you reverse-attach the hood during transportation, I would recommend to mount it back normally when you are ready to shoot; otherwise it is tough to rotate the zoom ring with the lens hood attached in reverse position.
The zoom ring is large enough for changing the focal length, but just like the 24-120mm, it is located on the front of the lens. Having been used to the zoom ring on the rear side of the lens on pro lenses like Nikon 14-24mm, Nikon 16-35mm and Nikon 24-70mm, it took me a little time to get used to it. The M/A and M switch on the side of the lens allows autofocus with manual focus override and full manual focus operation. The latest Nikon DSLRs like Nikon D3200 immediately recognize the focus position and provide notifications on the information (“I” button) screen. The manual focus ring is tiny and not very convenient/useful for manual focus use – a slight accidental turn can impact the focus. But that’s a normal thing to expect from such lens. As I have already pointed out, even the excellent Nikon 24-120mm VR has a similar lens design.
3) Autofocus Performance and Accuracy
The autofocus speed of the Nikon 24-85mm VR is pretty good; I would say very comparable to the older 24-85mm. It is certainly slower than the Nikon 24-85mm f/2.8-4D that has a screw drive AF (in fact, I find most new AF-S lenses to be slower than the older screw drive “AF-D” lenses). Thanks to the Silent Wave Motor (SWM) technology, autofocus operation is pretty quiet, much better compared to AF-D lenses. I tested this lens in both daylight and low-light situations on multiple FX cameras and autofocus was fairly accurate in general. There were definitely a few misses here and there, but nothing unusual for a variable aperture zoom lens.
4) Lens sharpness, contrast and color rendition
The Nikon 24-85mm VR produces images with great contrast and colors, as can be seen from some of the sample images in this review. It does not have the “magic” of Nano coated glass though, so it is not quite as good as some of Nikon’s pro-level zooms in my opinion, especially when dealing with bright sources of light. Sharpness-wise, it is quite good, but definitely not in the same league as Nikon’s excellent zoom lenses like Nikon 24-120mm VR. For detailed sharpness charts, please see the next “Sharpness Test” section.
5) Vibration Reduction – VR II
I am a big fan of Vibration Reduction (VR) lenses – I wish every lens had VR in it, because it is one of the most useful lens features for low-light photography. VR certainly does work very well on zoom lenses and the Nikon 24-85mm VR comes with the latest version of Vibration Reduction called “VR II”, which is supposed to deliver sharp images up to four stops the shutter speed.
If you have used lenses like the Nikon 24-70mm in the past for hand-held, low-light work and try the 24-85mm, you will suddenly realize how useful VR would be on the 24-70mm. When Nikon released the 16-35mm lens (which was the first image-stabilized short-focal zoom lens in the world) so many photographers at first stated that VR for such short focal lengths would be useless. Those who tried out the 16-35mm quickly discovered that VR actually works great even for short focal lenses. I am glad that Nikon added VR to the Nikon 24-85mm lens – it certainly needs it.
Here is a shot that I captured hand-held at 1/6th of a second at 24mm with VR turned on:
6) Focus Shift and Field Curvature
During my lab testing, I did not see any major focus shift issues with the Nikon 24-85mm f/3.5-4.5G VR lens. As for field curvature, as I will reveal in the Lens Comparisons section, this lens has much less field curvature issues compared to the older Nikon 24-85mm lenses (especially the Nikon 24-85mm f/2.8-4D). This is good news, because images look more uniform and sharpness is more or less evenly distributed throughout the frame.
As I have shown in my Nikon 28mm f/1.8G review, field curvature can be quite painful, yielding inconsistent performance from the center of the frame to the corners. Coupled with focus shift, it can cause some frustration and one has to fully understand these limitations when working in the field.
Variable aperture zoom lenses are generally quite weak in rendering good-looking backgrounds, also known as “bokeh” (see What is Bokeh?). Although bokeh on the 24-85mm does not appear as harsh as in some lenses, the small maximum aperture is the limiting factor for good subject isolation, which is again expected from this type of a lens. Take a look at the below image sample that shows the quality of background blur:
And a 100% crop from the above image:
As expected, the Nikon 24-85mm shows pronounced vignetting at various focal lengths. At 24mm, the amount of vignetting is very high in the corners, reaching up to 4 EVs at maximum aperture. Vignetting goes down significantly when the lens is stopped down to f/5.6 and smaller, but still stays rather high at this focal length. As the focal length is increased, vignetting normalizes quite a bit, with longest focal lengths showing the least amount of light falloff. Take a look at lens vignetting at different apertures (the below numbers are computed as a mean value from all four corners of the frame):
And here is a a graph that shows the spread of light falloff across the image frame at 24mm, f/3.5 (worst vignetting levels):
9) Ghosting and Flare
Ghosting and flare are both handled well, definitely better than older lenses with limited or no coating, but not quite as good as some of the Nano-coated Nikkor lenses. Adding low-quality glass filters (or shooting through a glass window) can add more to ghosting and flare, as shown in the below image:
Depending on the location of the bright source, these optical issues can be practically eliminated, especially without any filters in place:
The Nikon 24-85mm VR exhibits a lot of pronounced distortion at all focal lengths. At the shortest focal length of 24mm it has very strong barrel distortion that Imatest measured at -3.74%, which then immediately switches to pincushion distortion at around the 35mm mark and continues to stay that way until 85mm. The amount of distortion is least visible at the 35mm mark, where we see about 1.97% pincushion distortion. Again, this sort of optical behavior is expected from a low cost zoom lens, so no real surprises here. In fact, even the Nikon 24-120mm VR shows similarly pronounced distortion throughout its focal length range. While distortion issues can be easily fixed in post-processing software like Lightroom and Photoshop, strong levels of distortion mean that some of the image will have to be cropped after the image is adjusted for distortion.
11) Chromatic Aberration
All chromatic aberration tests were performed using RAW images (CA correction turned off both in camera and in post-processing). The Nikon 24-85mm VR exhibits pronounced lateral chromatic aberration at the shortest focal length of 24mm, with CA levels reaching close to 4 pixels in the extreme corners. As the focal length and aperture increase, CA levels drop to somewhat acceptable numbers. Here are some results from Imatest:
When it comes to Longitudinal Chromatic Aberration (LoCA), the Nikon 24-85mm VR seems to handle it quite well.
Let’s now move on to the good stuff – sharpness tests and comparisons.
12) Sharpness Test
Take a look at the following sharpness charts that illustrate the optical performance of the lens at different focal lengths from 24mm to 85mm:
At 24mm, the lens has fairly good center and mid-frame sharpness, but definitely does suffer in the corners at large apertures.
It gets a little better at 35mm with increased resolution throughout the aperture range, but still rather weak in the corners overall.
The corners improve more at 50mm mark, but the mid-frame takes a slight hit at maximum aperture.
70mm seems to be the best focal length for the corners.
By 85mm, the overall performance from center to corner is somewhat normalized. The best overall performance at all focal lengths seems to be around the f/11 mark, which is quite normal for this type of a lens.
How do the above numbers compare to other Nikkor lenses?
13) Compared to Nikon 24-85mm f/3.5-4.5G ED
The Nikon 24-85mm f/3.5-4.5G ED lens that was introduced in 2002 and got out of production in 2006 was a surprisingly good lens. Offering excellent sharpness when stopped down to f/5.6, it was a great value for those that were on a tight budget. For reasons unknown to me, Nikon decided to discontinue the lens and keep the older Nikon 24-85mm f/2.8-4D lens available instead. After 6 years, the new Nikon 24-85mm f/3.5-4.5G VR revives the 24-85mm zoom line. Let’s see how it compares to its old sibling.
14) Nikon 24-85mm VR vs Nikon 24-85mm ED @ 24mm
As you can see from the charts below, the Nikon 24-85mm VR seems to perform about the same at 24mm, with the exception of extreme corners where it shows less resolution:
15) Nikon 24-85mm VR vs Nikon 24-85mm ED @ 35mm
At 35mm, the Nikon 24-85mm VR starts out a little better in center and mid-frame resolution, but falls behind in corner resolution when stopped down:
16) Nikon 24-85mm VR vs Nikon 24-85mm ED @ 50mm
Zoomed in to 50mm it offers excellent center sharpness and starts catching up with the corners:
17) Nikon 24-85mm VR vs Nikon 24-85mm ED @ 70mm
At the 70mm mark, the Nikon 24-85mm VR takes over and seems to have a slightly better overall resolution:
18) Nikon 24-85mm VR vs Nikon 24-85mm ED @ 85mm
At 85mm, the Nikon 24-85mm VR again slightly outperforms the older 24-85mm ED in the mid-frame and in the corners:
19) Nikon 24-85mm VR vs Nikon 24-85mm ED Summary
With the exception of extreme corners at focal lengths below 50mm, the Nikon 24-85mm VR seems to be on par or better than the Nikon 24-85mm ED lens, especially in the telephoto range. I was rather surprised to see the older Nikon 24-85mm f/3.5-4.5G ED perform so well in comparison. Despite having a different and older optical design, it seems to be a pretty good lens overall that can compete with the latest generation lens from Nikon. However, I noticed a couple of issues with the older Nikon 24-85mm ED – it does not seem to yield consistent results at all focal lengths. While performing lab tests, I realized that the lens suffers from a slight “wavy” field curvature issue. This was noticeable when focusing in different areas of the frame – focusing in the mid-frame would defocus the center, etc. The Nikon 24-85mm VR does not seem to have this particular issue and it was a lot more consistent in my lab environment.
20) Compared to Nikon 24-85mm f/2.8-4D
As I have pointed out before, Nikon decided to discontinue the Nikon 24-85mm ED in favor of the much older Nikon 24-85mm f/2.8-4D. Let’s see how it compares to the new Nikon 24-85mm VR.
21) Nikon 24-85mm VR vs Nikon 24-85mm f/2.8-4D @ 24mm
From the charts below you can see that the older 24-85mm starts out very strong in the center and mid-frame than both lenses, although its corner performance at large apertures is quite poor due to field curvature (more on field curvature below in the summary):
22) Nikon 24-85mm VR vs Nikon 24-85mm f/2.8-4D @ 35mm
Surprisingly, the optical performance of the lens diminishes with the increased focal length. At 35mm, the 24-85mm f/2.8-4D is only better at f/11 and smaller:
23) Nikon 24-85mm VR vs Nikon 24-85mm f/2.8-4D @ 50mm
Not much change by 50mm:
24) Nikon 24-85mm VR vs Nikon 24-85mm f/2.8-4D @ 70mm
At 70mm, the Nikon 24-85mm VR shows much more consistent and better performance throughout the focal length. The Nikon 24-85mm f/2.8-4D has weak overall performance, except when stopped down:
25) Nikon 24-85mm VR vs Nikon 24-85mm f/2.8-4D @ 85mm
Similarly at 85mm, the Nikon 24-85mm f/2.8-4D again suffers from rather poor overall performance and the Nikon 24-85mm VR clearly looks better here:
26) Nikon 24-85mm VR vs Nikon 24-85mm f/2.8-4D Summary
The Nikon 24-85mm f/2.8-4D lens shows rather inconsistent performance throughout its zoom range. It starts out with pretty strong center and mid-frame sharpness, but its corner sharpness is always weak at large apertures. When I focused in the extreme corners of the lens via live view, the corners looked better, but the center sharpness decreased significantly – a clear indication of a nasty case of field curvature. Keep in mind that I do not focus on center and corner frames separately to show their individual optical performance. When was the last time you used live view to focus on an extreme corner of the frame? That just does not happen in real life, which is why I decided to only focus in the center frame when performing my tests. While doing this does not show the actual corner performance of a lens, it will highlight all field curvature issues, which can be quite painful to deal with.
How good is a lens, if it has excellent corner performance that looks terrible when focused in the center? That’s called inconsistency and it has to be accounted for and not dismissed. And that’s the problem with the old Nikon 24-85mm f/2.8-4D: while it has better center and corner resolution than both the older Nikon 24-85mm f/3.5-4.5G ED and the new Nikon 24-85mm f/3.5-4.5G VR, its performance is not uniform across the frame due to strong field curvature.
The new Nikon 24-85mm f/3.5-4.5G VR shows more consistent performance in comparison to both older lenses. While the older two lenses start out stronger at short focal lengths and get weaker towards the telephoto range, the Nikon 24-85mm VR seems to be the other way around – it is stronger at the telephoto range.
27) Nikon 24-85mm VR vs Nikon 24-120mm VR
The Nikon 24-120mm f/4 VR is one of my favorite Nikkor lenses, because it delivers extremely sharp images across the frame, especially at shorter focal lengths. Here is how both compare at 24mm:
Here is 35mm:
Comparison at 50mm:
Here is the comparison between the two when we zoom in to 70mm:
And lastly, the long end at 85mm:
In short, the Nikon 24-85mm f/3.5-4.5G VR does not stand a chance against the Nikon 24-120mm f/4G VR at shorter focal lengths. At 70mm, the 24-120mm starts dropping in sharpness in the center, but still outperforms in the mid-frame and corners. And by 85mm, the 24-85mm clearly performs better in the center and the corners, but loses in the mid-frame due to its field curvature.
When the Nikon 24-85mm f/3.5-4.5G VR was announced, a lot of photographers including myself got pretty excited about it. With a low price of $599, this full-frame lens sounded like a great potential choice for those that do not want to shell out over a thousand USD for the professional Nikon 24-120mm or the Nikon 24-70mm lenses. And with an entry-level full-frame Nikon D600 coming out soon, the Nikon 24-85mm could become a popular lens again, especially if Nikon decides to make it a kit lens for the D600.
I spent over a month testing this lens on multiple Nikon cameras and found it to be a solid performer overall. While it is a little weak at short focal lengths and in the extreme corners, it has very good center sharpness and its overall resolution is quite good when stopped down to f/8 and smaller. At longer focal lengths above 35mm, it can resolve a lot of fine detail and it outperforms the older 24-85mm lenses, even in the corners. The Nikon 24-85mm VR almost has no focus shift and it has much less field curvature issues compared to the discontinued Nikon 24-85mm f/3.5-4.5G ED and the much older Nikon 24-85mm f/2.8-4D lenses. Vibration Reduction (VR II) is very useful and works extremely well, allowing to use up to 3-4 times slower shutter speeds. It produces images with great contrast and beautiful colors, although I would not put it in the same category with some of Nikon’s pro level lenses.
At the same time, the Nikon 24-85mm VR has a number of optical problems. The lens shows high levels of vignetting at maximum aperture, especially at 24mm. Stopping down the lens to f/8 minimizes vignetting quite a bit, but it still stays close to 1 EV at short focal lengths. Its distortion levels are also very high – at 24mm, it starts out with -3.74% barrel distortion, which immediately switches over to pincushion distortion at 35mm. Starting from around the 40mm mark, the lens has 3.2% or higher pincushion distortion, which is very noticeable in images. On top of that, the extreme corners also suffer from a high amount of lateral chromatic aberration, again, primarily at shortest focal lengths. All this is not very unusual though – it is after-all a lens without a gold ring…
29) Where to buy and availability
You can order your copy of the Nikon 24-85mm f/3.5-4.5G VR lens for $596.95 from B&H (as of 07/15/2013).
30) More Image Samples
All Images Copyright © Photography Life, All Rights Reserved. Copying or reproduction is not permitted without written permission from the author.
Nikon 24-85mm VR
- Optical Performance
- Bokeh Quality
- Build Quality
- Focus Speed and Accuracy
- Image Stabilization
- Size and Weight
Photography Life Overall Rating