Nikon 24-85mm f/3.5-4.5 VR - Review and personal assessment.




The Nikon 24-85mm f/3.5-4.5 VR zoom lens is a recent addition to Nikons 35mm sensor (FX) range of lenses, and in many ways is a kind of superior "kit lens" for the D800/800E, D4 etc. cameras with the larger sensor. It can of course be used with DX APS-C cameras where it becomes similar to a 36-127.5mm lens in 35mm terms.

Its lighter, smaller and cheaper than lenses such as the 24-70mm f/2.8, and includes Nikons image stabilisation system (VR). 

BUILD QUALITY AND HANDLING

It is of course a Nikon zoom and that means its built like a tank. Its a very chunky lens (460g) and handles extremely well. There is no "zoom creep" on my copy and the zooming and focusing rings are nicely smooth. 
 
IMAGE QUALITY
 
Ken Rockwell, in his review of the lens reckons is as sharp as the current 24-120mm VR, which I can't comment on since I don't have one to compare it with. My experience with my copy indicates that its not quite as sharp as either my 28-300mm VR zoom or my Tamron 28-200mm up to about 135mm. The 24-85mm obviously has the benefit of being slightly wider, but overall I have found it slightly softer than the other two zooms I've used. To put this into perspective, this is a very slight difference and can be easily compensated for in raw development.

DISTORTION

There is quite of bit of this. Fortunately, in the latest version of Adobe Camera raw, there is a lens profile which "corrects" this to a large extent. To give you an idea of what this does, here is a before and after comparison.


As you can see, this improves the lenses performance, but if you use this remember to compensate for it since as you can see you loose some of the image area.

Overall its a very useful lens for general use, though on a 35mm sized sensor its not that long. 85mm is a classic focal length for portraits, but for landscape work it doesn't really pull much in. I've found it useful in certain situations and I have no complaints about the VR, which is very good indeed. At the wide end I've been able to shoot at 1/15th. sec with no problem if I'm careful. As I said it is less sharp than my other zooms and its not as crisp as prime lenses, however this is just me being picky and it does produce excellent images.




USING IT ON APS-C SENSOR CAMERAS

It actually is a pretty useful zoom range on Nikon bodies with the slightly smaller sensor, but my problem was that I used it on a D3200, which with the soft results I was encountering from that cameras sensor, made the images I took with the combination somewhat disappointing in terms of sharpness.
 

 
Somewhat perversely I found it worked very well on my Sony NEX-7. This obviously required an adapter that changes the aperture and its manual focus only, but I was actually pleased with the results. I wrote about that here and here.



RAW AND JPG. SAMPLES

As is my current practice I have put together a series of test shots, both out of camera jpgs. and raw files so that you can see for yourself. There is a (huge) zip file here on google drive which you can download. 


These were shot at 24mm, 50mm and 85mm, tripod mounted on my D800E at apertures of f/3.5 (or whatever aperture the lens defaulted to at the longer lengths) f/5.6, f/11 and f/22. The raw files are .dng format and should open up in any version of Photoshop that supports raw files and Lightroom. They should open up in other software that supports .dng files but I haven't been able to test that. 
 
If you are considering this lens this should give you a decent idea as to what you can expect.
 
Other posts on this lens can be found here

CONCLUSION

This is a decent lens. Not one of the great Nikon zoom lenses but very useful and high quality none the less. Its also (relatively) inexpensive for what it does. If you have a Nikon with a 35mm sized sensor or are contemplating getting one then its a lens I would reccommend. The VR is excellent, build quality is very good and its a useful set of focal lengths. Despite my reservations about the D3200, I think it would work very well on cameras such as the D5100 and D7000, both of which produce sharper results than the D3200 and its a useful zoom range on those APS-C sensor cameras. If you are looking for a better range and (slightly) better sharpness (and you can carry it!) then I personally prefer the 28-300mm which is a really top class lens and I'll be doing a review of it soon, plus a comparison between the 24-85mm, 28-300mm and Tamron 28-200mm lenses. However, if you choose the 24-85mm then I doubt that you will be disappointed.


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