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Nikon 24-85mm/f3.5-4.5 AF-S VR Early Impressions

Shun Cheung , Jun 25, 2012; 08:15 a.m.

This lens was announced 11 days ago along with the 18-300mm DX lens: http://photo.net/nikon-camera-forum/00aV9s. Nikon was very quick sending photo.net a test sample. I have used it for a few days. Since there seems to be some interest in this lens, I am posting some of my first impressions. We also had a brief discussion on this entire thread: http://photo.net/nikon-camera-forum/00aWsd

This new 24-85mm/f3.5-4.5 AF-S VR essentially is the VR replacement of an earlier lens with the same zoom range and aperture specifications but without vibration reduction. I used to have that older version that I bought 10 years ago in 2002 for about $300. That old version was very popular back then. Nikon prices have gone up quite a bit in the last few years due to the rising yen, and this new VR version is $600.

Other than that price increase, the new version is generally similar to the old version and there are few surprises:

  • The new 24-85mm is a plastic barrel and is quite light. Construction quality is very typical consumer grade but with a metal mount and an A/M switch; i.e. you can manually override AF without first switching the lens to manual focus.
  • Similar to its predecessor, sharpness is very good throughout its zoom range. I have tried this lens on the very demanding 36MP D800 and D800E, and sharpness is still fine on those cameras.
  • Geometric distortion is quite pronounced, as its predecessor. As expected, you get quite serious barrel distortion at 24mm. It switches over the pincushion distortion around 35mm. From 50mm to 85mm, pincushion distortion is very obvious. Unlike 10 years ago when most people were still using 35mm film, today, such distortion is not difficult to correct in post processing and sometimes automatically in camera.
  • Auto focus speed is decent. Under dim light or on subjects with little contrast, AF with the 24-85 VR tends to hunt noticeably more than the faster 24-70mm/f2.8.
  • Chromatic aberration is well controlled.
  • Last but not least, VR is indeed helpful indoors with slow shutter speeds, but that is not exactly news.

I'll continue to use this lens in the next month and prepare a review for photo.net. Personally, I already have the earlier 28-70mm/f2.8 AF-S and the 24-120mm/f4 AF-S VR, I have no need of another mid-range zoom. I prefer the 24-120 for its wider range on the long end, but that is also considerably bigger and more expensive.

Size Comparison

Nikon 24-85mm/f3.5-4.5 AF-S VR with HB-63 Hood


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Dan Brown , Jun 25, 2012; 09:19 a.m.

Thank you for this Shun.

It all looks good, but the photographic price we pay is some geometric distortion. However, for many casual subjects, this is not a big concern. And as you mentioned, it can be fixed after the fact when it is noticeable.

Shun Cheung , Jun 25, 2012; 09:35 a.m.

No problem, Dan. Since you have pre-ordered this lens, when you receive it, please also post your own impressions here. You may be using it quite differently from the way I use these lenses, and you may have other observations.

But generally speaking, this is a good consumer zoom; strengths and weaknesses for this type of Nikon lenses are quite well known. IMO there are few surprises here.

Again, when it was announced two weeks ago, Nikon USA expected that it will become available around June 28, which is merely a few days away.

I stopped by my local post office and captured an image of these mailboxes at 24mm on the FX-format D700. Barrel distortion is quite serious. In PhotoShop, since this is a brand new model, auto correction is not available yet, but it is not difficult to remove most of the distortion manually.

Barrel Distortion @ 24mm

Michael R. Freeman , Jun 25, 2012; 10:27 a.m.

Thanks for your early impressions Shun. I still own the original AF-S 24~85mm f/3.5-4.5 and use it daily on DX format (and prior to that on an F100). The older lens has held it's value very well since being discontinued, with used samples frequently selling for $250 and up, which is about what I paid for a Nikon USA factory refurbished demo quite a few years ago.

Not sure that I want to fork out double the price just for the added benefit of VR however, so I'll probably not update. But it's nice to see this lens return to the lineup. Was always puzzled why it was discontinued in the first place.

Dan Brown , Jun 25, 2012; 10:35 a.m.

At least it's not mustache distortion, which I believe was the case with the 2002 24-85 that came with my D100, IIRC.

John Hinkey , Jun 25, 2012; 11:24 a.m.

I've been using the 24-85AFS (old version) on my D700 for some time as a compact/light weight walk around lens on vacations or for hikes/backpacking. It's very very good with my only issue being light fall-off at the long end when shot against deep blue sky.

The new version looks like a worthy replacement due to not only the addition of VR, but it appears from the MTF data that it's potentially a bit sharper. All for a very modest increase in size (a little longer) and weight (just a tad heavier). Hopefully the build quality is still the same or a bit better.

When I get mine I'll be doing a direct side-by-side comparison using my new D800.


Shun Cheung , Jun 25, 2012; 11:46 a.m.

I too had the old version of 24-85 AF-S once upon a time, but after I got my 28-70mm/f2.8 AF-S, I sold the 24-85 for like $200 several years ago. Therefore, I no longer have one for side-by-side comparison. Again, for those of you who are getting this lens, by all means please post your experience here when you receive it.

If I recall correctly, the zoom ring on the old version was a bit loose. This new version feels a little more solid. This new lens is a consumer zoom with a decent build. It is not going to feel like a 70-200mm/f2.8 AF-S VR II or 24-70mm/f2.8 AF-S, but it is a good, solid lens that is reasonably compact.

As Jose noticed on the other thread, the included HB-63 lens hood is rather deep. If you mount the hood on the lens in the reverse position for storage, it'll cover up the zoom ring to a dregee that it is hard to access the zoom. Moreover, as you can see, the 24-85 VR has a front element that is close to the rim and is rather prone to scratching. I don't want to restart the protection filter debate so please don't debate about that again, but if you tend to get protection filters, this lens is a good candidate. Of course, that deep hood will also protect this lens quite well.

The 24-85mm/f3.5-4.5 AF-S VR accepts 72mm front filters, up from 67mm (as I recall) on the old non-VR version.

HB-63 Hood

Jose Angel , Jun 25, 2012; 11:49 a.m.

You`re right, the older version has a 67mm filter thread.
I think this lens will be the main competitor for the 24-120/4... being much lighter and smaller, it could be the perfect lens for casual trip and everyday shooting.
I`m so pleased with the longer range and constant aperture of the f4 (which I had been waiting for a long time) so I`m not so excited about this one. Anyway, I think performance could be on pair.
I`m still owner of the first version, which was very appealing to me, not only for the size&weight and performance but also for the price; I find so relaxing to go to harsh environments with a cheap lens on the camera. This one is not as cheap, but still cheaper than most other options. Maybe this is the reason of being the latest to be released.
Now it`s the turn for the longer lenses.

Dan Brown , Jun 25, 2012; 01:25 p.m.

I don't want to start a speculation thread, but I will note that if the D600 comes to fruition, this new 24-85 VR is the obvious kit lens. In fact, Nikon doesn't have any other lens that would make sense to kit with a popularly priced FF body.

I predict great commercial success for Nikon with this new lens.

John Hinkey , Jun 25, 2012; 06:03 p.m.

I just compared my old version to your pictures Shun and it certainly appears that the new front element is larger and just as exposed as the old one. Just for comparison I threw the hood on it and it too covers up the zoom ring mostly, though you can just grab it with your fingers if they are not too large (mine are average). I've never used the hood with mine anyways.

I also checked out the zoom ring and mine is not loose at all - it's just about right - as with many things mechanical it may wear into being very loose with age. Mine was bought used but looked like it had just come off the Nikon assembly line.

I have the new version on order (ordered it moments after it was available from B&H) so hopefully I'll get one in a couple of weeks. I'll do a comparison for sure and post it here.


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