Nikon 24-120mm VR Zoom Lens Review

Several months ago when I was searching for what I call a ‘walking around lens’ the Nikon 24-120mm VR was top on my list. It’s a unique lens in the Nikon lineup. It’s both fairly wide and fairly long and has VR to help steady your lower light shoots. Plus, it’s not a DX specific lens so it can be used on DX cameras, full frame digital and film cameras without any problem. Nikon makes a number of other lenses with similar focal lengths, but they are all DX lenses. This lens is the only one that fit all of my criteria.

I have had the lens for a good while now and my image library shows nearly 2000 ‘keeper’ images made with it so it’s seen a good bit of use. This is the lens that I carry with me at all times. It stays mounted on my D300 and loaded into my backpack whenever I leave the house. It’s my ‘walking around lens’, what did you expect?

In terms of day to day use, it’s pretty good. It’s has a bit of heft but feels well balanced on my D300 and is easy to shoot with. It’s well built and does not have any ‘creep’ like some other zoom lenses. The lens doesn’t move around when you point it straight up or down. My hunch as I’m shooting with the lens is that it’s not super sharp wide open but as I’m testing that theory I can’t seem to prove it. I think the true problem is simply that the lens isn’t very fast and by extension doesn’t offer very fast shutter speeds in low light. While reviewing the shots taken with this lens that show somewhat blurred images they all have shutter speeds around 1/30th to 1/60th of a second at the long 120mm end of the lens. The fact that the shots are sharp enough to keep speaks well of the lens, not badly. The VR is doing a lot to to make photos taken in very adverse conditions look great. I’m not usually a ‘pixel peeper’ but taking this critical look at this lens was good to dispel some mis-givings I had with it.

120mm @ F/5.6 and 1/40th of a second
120mm @ F/5.6 and 1/40th of a second

When I’m shooting in good light I do always set this lens to F/8 as a matter of course. I think all lenses look better when stopped down to the F/8-F/11 range and this lens is no exception. This lens is very sharp at F/8 and does a brilliant job with color even under bright sun. Here is an image shot on the beach under mid-day sun and the colors of the kite look great.

24-120mm @ F/8 1/1000th of a Second
24-120mm @ F/8 1/1000th of a Second

When I sat down to write this post I was planning on saying ‘Great for sunny days, not very good wide open.’ Now that I have looked at the shots and the details behind them the only qualm with this lens is that it’s not faster, F/5.6 at the wide end is par for the course in these amateur lenses though. I will say that I wish it was less expensive. I really would have expected to pay closer to $450 for this lens and not the $524 that I paid. If given the chance I would buy it again, but like I said it’s the only non-DX lens Nikon makes with such a broad focal range.

As it turns out Nikon is packaging this lens with the new D700 FX camera. The pair should be great. The D700’s extended low light performance will help increase the shutter speeds and sharpen the shots. At the end of the day the shot you have is always better then the one you don’t and this lens will certainly keep you versatile enough to get a lot of otherwise cumbersome shots.

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