I shot an extensive series of tests today with the new Nikon 24-120mm f/4G VR. Some people really want a walk-around lens with image stabilization (vibration reduction = VR), as well as that much zoom range, for “street shooting” or similar. I wonder how the great photographers ever made do with a fixed focal length lens. The answer is simple for me: I always make better images with a fixed focal length lens, because I’m not skilled enough yet to use a zoom lens; too many unfocused possibilities that diffuse my vision.
For walk-around shooting, it’s fast and easy to zoom in and out, which feels fun, always shooting at f/5.6 for decent quality, with VR and higher ISO helping out in lower light. Which means, for me, I’d find the 24-120 just about useless— images that focus viewer attention often result from less depth of field (e.g., f/2 or f/2.8 or f/4). So I really have no use for this lens; it has no flexibility, zoom range notwithstanding. But others might want just that zoom range, and I realize that, so my report in DAP will explore the 24-120 in significant detail, though for me, using it is like wearing a hair shirt.
The 24-120 is marginal at f/4 on a full-frame camera, improving markedly at f/5.6, which means that it’s really an f/5.6 lens unless one has modest standards for image quality. But for Nikon DX shooters, good performance over the central 2/3 area is OK.. For about $1299, it’s not a casual purchase, and I’d personally rather own one or two good primes for that money, such as the Nikon 50mm f/1.4G, or for Nikon DX shooters, the 35mm f/1.8G.
Like most Nikon zooms, the 24-120mm shows some signs of asymmetric sharpness, indicating the usual hit-and-miss quality control one can expect with complex zoom lenses. See Brand-new Blur.
Normally a zoom in this focal length range has barrel distortion at the wide end, and pincushion distortion at the tele end, with a relatively distortion-free middle area. But the 24-120 shows pronounced pincushion distortion right in the middle of the range, 50mm.
Distortion can be corrected, at the loss of some angle of view, and (if the lens is good), a slight loss of contrast on fine detail. But the latter is not an issue with the 24-120, so distortion correction should be perfectly acceptable for most shooters that want to use this lens. It doesn’t float my boat, but it might float yours.
With Nikon Capture NX2 Auto Distortion correction: