Nikon 24-85mm f/3.5-4.5G VR vs Nikon 24-85mm f/3.5-4.5G IF-ED
The Nikon 24-85mm f/3.5-4.5G IF-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.
As you can see from the charts below, the Nikon 24-85mm VR seems to perform well at 24mm in comparison, except in the extreme corners where it shows less resolution:
At 35mm, the Nikon 24-85mm VR starts out a little better in the center, but falls behind quite a bit in corner resolution when stopped down due to significant field curvature:
Zoomed in to 50mm it offers excellent center sharpness, but still does worse in the corners:
At the 70mm mark, the Nikon 24-85mm VR takes over and seems to have a slightly better overall resolution:
Lastly at 85mm, the Nikon 24-85mm VR again slightly outperforms the older 24-85mm ED in the center, but doesn’t do all that well in the extreme corners:
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, although it also exhibits quite a bit of field curvature that heavily affects the corners.
Nikon 24-85mm f/3.5-4.5G VR vs 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.
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):
The older 24-85mm f/2.8-4D again does quite well at 35mm, but at the expense of the corner performance:
The performance noticeably goes down by 50mm:
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:
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:
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.
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.
Nikon 24-85mm f/3.5-4.5G VR vs Nikon 24-120mm f/4G 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 performs better in the center and the corners, but loses in the mid-frame due to its field curvature.
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