Sunday, February 1, 2009

Nikon 24-85mm f/2.8-4 ED IF lens review

I was looking for a standard zoom for my Nikon D700 when I made the purchase and got a very good deal on this lens so I bought it. I was more interested in the Nikon 24-70mm f/2.8 AFS G lens at the time so I tried one at the shop and also tried my friend's lens. The 24-70mm f/2.8 is a very heavy lens and I decided to give the 24-85mm a try before I decide to sell it.

I was primarily using the 24-85mm as my main lens and I have been shooting extensively with this lens. This is my very subjective opinion about this lens. This pertains to FX format but most of it holds good for DX format also but this becomes a 36-129mm in DX format so something to keep in mind.

This is the current lens in the Nikon line up so it is not weather sealed but of adequate build quality. I am not the person who looses sleep overbuild quality since half of those who comment on it do not have a clue about the materials used. In modern lens standard the only relevant question is weather sealing. All else is immaterial. Most people do not realise that expensive lenses withstand the same amount of abuse as this one baring weather effects. I will try to expand on this in some future blog. But suffice to note that this lens will take a lot of abuse before showing signs of it. The zoom is smooth and precise. There is no creep or other issues. The lens is internal focusing so the front element does not rotate, makes it useful if you use a polarizer.

This is a Screw-drive lens meaning that there is no internal motor but relies on the camera to focus. This translates to the effect that the AF speed will depend on your camera also. On a D700 AF is fast and precise. You will not loose any shots due to the AF speed. The closest focus is 0.5 m.

(For in depth explanation of various Auto focus settings and custom modes in auto focus for users of Nikon D700 D3 and D300 please see

Manual Focus:
This lens is optimised for AF. MF is possible with a switch. It is easily workable as a MF lens if need be but not as fluid as dedicated MF lens.

There is some vignetting at the widest end (24mm) which is easily correctable with software (I have used both lightroom or Capture NX2 to good effect). The vignetting is gone by the time you stop down to f/4 or f/5.6. There is also decrease in vignetting as you go from wide to tele. For practical purposes vignetting is not a problem.

Chromatic Aberration:
This lens handles CA very well and I could not recall any photos where I had any significant CA.

There is moderate barrel distortion at the wide end with curvature of field. This is typical of a zoom lens. The 24-70mm G lens also has similar distortion.

This lens has excellent resolution that is better than 35mm f/2 at 35mm and almost as good as 85mm f/2 Nikkor. I have no experience with 85mm f1/8. You will be hard pressed to fault this lens based on its resolution.

Not a true macro. Excellent close focus of about 21cm. You cannot go wider than 35mm in macro mode. But at 85mm you get 1:2 which is very decent macro for a zoom lens.
Important tip: Switch to normal mode from macro when you want to zoom wider than 35mm otherwise you will not be able to go beyond 35mm. Another important consideration is to focus beyond 50 cm before you will be able to switch from macro to normal mode. Remember this otherwise you will think that the lens malfunctions.

There is some loss of contrast wide open but contrast become very good as you stop down. This is where the 24-70mm G pulls ahead. The expensive zoom has spectacular contrast even wide open.

I still have the 24-85. The reason is this is such a good walk around lens for Nikon full frame. The lens has excellent resolution and decent in most parameters. Most importantly this is such a light weight lens. Personally the weight is the only factor that prevents me from switching to 24-70mm AFS. By no means am I suggesting that the 24-85mm is a better lens. What the 24-70mm gets you is slightly better distortion control, better contrast, uniform aperture of f/2.8 and better build quality. Only the user can determine if it's worth more than $1000 price difference.

For FX format Nikon this is the best walk around lens considering the price, performance and weight factors. I have briefly used the 28-105 but was not impressed either with resolution or with the wide end. No its not a bad lens but the 24-85mm is definitely better. If you are buying this lens used there is no better bargain. For comparison let me put this in a way I am familiar with. I have used most Canon zooms which are excellent by the way and this 24-85mm is as good as the Canon 24-105mm f/4L which I owned and is a great zoom in its own way. This is one of the few things that Nikon has impressed me with. They really don't hold back on consumer zooms and give the best possible within that price range.

Check my impression on the Nikon 70-300mm VR AF-S here

Some photos with this lens:


  1. I couldn't agree with you more. On the D700 this is a very good "walk-around" lens and you don't sacrifice much. It has a nice balance between quality/price and the macro capability is just frosting on the cake. Good review. Keep them coming.

    - Ned F.

  2. I located one of these to buy but the seller said it didn't have the auto focus thing I needed to use on the D700..Is this correct?

  3. Also where can I find one?

  4. wkc: I have this 18-85mm.
    It's a very fine lens for the D700.
    No problem w. AF!


  5. wck,

    The Nikon 24-85mm f/2.8-4 is an autofocus lens. If it is not autofocus then do not buy it as it may be some other lens. If buying used, buy it from reputed sellers like bhphoto or KEH.


  6. I had the lens and I used it on a D70s body for a year or more. I liked the focal lengths that were available. I also used it on a Nikon F100 body. I used it as a walk around lens and for weddings. What I did not like was that it could flare in certain situations such as backlight when the bride and groom came out of the church and stood by the car. Also, it was only F2.8 at the 24mm setting. Right away it would change its variable aperture when zooming away from 24mm. On DX, it was not really wide but it was fine for most people pics.

  7. I have settled on the 50mm f/1.4 as my everyday lens for the D700. It soooo small it adds nothing in weight to the base body. It's fast, and can get good shots indoor and out. I have the 24-70 as well and generally leave it as home since it's so heavy.

  8. Thanks for review, it was excellent and very informative.
    thank you :)

  9. Thank you for your thorough review! I found one used on B&H and am very glad that I grabbed it for lower than what I would have bought it new. Looking forward to more of your reviews.