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Nikon 24-85mm AF-S G
FX, DX and 35mm (2002-2006)
© 2002-2012 KenRockwell.com

Intro   Specifications    Performance   Compared   Recommendations

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Nikon AFS 24-85mm f/3.5-4.5 AF-S

Nikon 24-85mm f/3.5-4.5 G AF-S. (FX, DX and 35mm coverage, 67mm filters, 14.520 oz./411.7 g, 1.2'/0.38 m close focus, about $300 used). enlarge. This free website's biggest source of support is when you use these links, especially this link directly to them at eBay (see How to Win at eBay), when you get anything, regardless of the country in which you live. Thanks! Ken.

July 2012 update: I just shot this on my D800E, and it's just as sharp as the newest 24-85 VR and 24-120 f/4 VR, with the same easy-to-correct but strong distortion. Most of this review below is from shooting this lens on film in 2002. Only some of it has been updated for use on FX, on which it works great as well.

 

July 2012     Nikon Reviews   Nikon Lenses   All Reviews

See also:

24-85mm VR (2012-today)

24-120mm f/4 VR (2010-today)

24-85mm AF-D (2000-today)

 

Sharpness Comparison to all other 24mm lenses August 2010

 

Introduction     top

Intro   Specifications    Performance   Compared   Recommendations

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B&H Photo - Video - Pro Audio

This is a tiny, fun and easy-to-use cheesy plastic (it was cheesy in 2002, but in 2012, its the same as everything else from Niikon) zoom lens that is also the best performing midrange zoom I've ever used! It is clearly superior to the older 24-85mm f/2.8-4 AF-D, 24-120mm Streetsweeper and 28-105mm AF-D lenses I also bought or tried before I bought this one.

Even Moose Peterson loved it, saying it was optically the equal of his huge professional 28-70mm AF-S that cost four times as much! (scroll down halfway, or click the 24-85 link towards the top.)

The weird thing is that this les was so good and inexpensive that Nikon discontinud it in 2006, keeping the older and more expensive 24-85mm AF-D version!

This superior, new AF-S lens was introduced at PMA in February 2002. See the press release here. Moose Peterson loved it, saying it was optically the equal of his huge professional 28-70mm AF-S that cost four times as much! (scroll down halfway, or click the 24-85 link towards the top.)

I have not compared it directly against the 24-120VR. If the 24-120VR works as well as this 24-85AFS and if the 24-120VR has no vignetting problems with a 77mm step-up ring at 24mm on film then, for twice the price, I'll probably prefer the 24-120. Note that many mid-range zooms don't really make me that happy, so until I get my hands on a production 24-120VR for a full film test I cannot be sure.

I bought mine in September, 2002, to replace my previous favorite, the 28-85 AF that I wore out. Nikon ran a $50 rebate through June 30, 2003 so it effectively cost me only $310 back then. In 2007, it sells for about $300.

Oddly, the manual focus ring and overall specs, size and performance of this lens seems almost identical to the very popular Canon EF 24-85mmm f/3.5-4.5 USM.

 

Compatibility

Everything works perfectly on every digital Nikon ever made, both FX and DX, from the best D4, D800 and D800E to Nikon's cheapest digitals like the D40, D40x, D60, D3000, D3100, D3200, D5000 and D5100.

It's also perfect on decent or recent AF film cameras like the F6, F100, F5, N80 and N75.

The incompatibilities for older or cheaper 35mm cameras are that:

1.) It won't autofocus with the cheapest new AF 35mm cameras like the N55, but if you focus manually, everything else works great. Even if you lose autofocus, these cameras have in-finder focus confirmation dots to help you.

2.) Late 1980s ~ early 1990s AF cameras like the N90s, N70 and F4 will focus just fine, but you'll lose VR. You'll have Program and Shutter-priority modes, but lose Manual and Aperture-priority since you have no way to set the aperture on the camera or on the lens.

3.) You're really pushing it with the oldest AF cameras like the N2020, N6006 and N8008. You'll have no AF, confused exposure modes, and no VR. Manual focus is fine, along with electronic focus indications.

4.) Since it has no aperture ring, it's just about useless with manual focus film cameras. It will shoot every shot at its minimum aperture.

See Nikon Lens Compatibility for details with your camera. Read down the "AF-S, AF-I," "G" and "VR" columns for this lens. You'll get the least of all the features displayed in all columns, since "G" (gelding) is a deliberate handicap which removes features.

 

Nikon AFS 24-85mm f/3.5-4.5 AF-S

Nikon 24-85 G AF-S. enlarge.

 

Specifications    top

Intro   Specifications    Performance   Compared   Recommendations

Nikon AFS 24-85mm f/3.5-4.5 AF-S

Nikon 24-85 G AF-S.

This lens has fifteen elements in twelve groups and has some sort of aspherics.

It focuses directly down to 15 inches (0.38 meters or 1.2 feet) at all focal lengths. This is great because there are no idiotic macro lock out switches like on all the other lenses.

It takes 67mm filters and comes with an HB-28 hood and unique new 67mm lens cap designed so that you can get it on and off from the front with the hood still on.

MTF at 24mm
MTF at 85mm
MTF at 24mm, 10 and 30 cyc/mm
MTF at 85mm, 10 and 30 cyc/mm

It weighs 14.3 oz. or 415g. This is really light; it's one of the smallest midrange zooms Nikon's ever made.

It's 2.9" (73mm) around by 2.9" (72mm) long.

Front, Nikon 24-85mm G

It has a rounded seven-bladed diaphragm and stops down to f/22 - 29.

Announced 21 February 2002.

See Nikon Japan's product data here and Nikon USA's data here.

 

Nikon AFS 24-85mm f/3.5-4.5 AF-S

Nikon 24-85 G AF-S.

 

Performance    top

Intro   Specifications    Performance   Compared   Recommendations

AF action is fast and silent. Well, it was on the first day I had it. As dust collected inside after the first day of use I now get a slight squeak as it focuses. Ditto for the smoothness of the zoom; after the first day stuff collects inside and it's no longer as smooth. This is a cheap lens and nowhere near as slick as the $1,000 AF-S lenses.

This lens feels like driving a ordinary modern car as opposed to car from the 1950s: it works a lot better at everything but it's all plasticy. The heck with my whining; I love this lens.

The front never rotates, regardless of focus or zooming.

It does not have a black index screw on the lens mount as some AF lenses have. You'll have to look for the smaller white index dot on the lens body.

 

Distortion

24 mm
30 mm
35 mm
50 mm
70 mm
85 mm

The brick wall with film or FX.

24mm: strong barrel.

28mm: none (better than other lenses at 28mm setting).

35mm: slight pincushion at far distances and none at 3.'

50mm: pincushion.

70mm: pincushion.

85mm: strong pincushion (worse than 28-85).

This is where there is no free lunch. In exchange for the sharpness and tiny size we get this distortion. It will be very annoying if you are shooting architecture and are not careful to select a focal length with little distortion. Set the lens to 28mm if you need no distortion, and use the 35mm setting at close-up distances. No, there is no 28mm marking, just set it between 24mm and 35mm.

If distortion is important to you then instead get the 28-105 which was not as sharp for me due to AF errors but had much less distortion than of any of these similar zooms.

On a Nikon Digital SLR at 2k resolution the way to correct barrel distortion in Photoshop at 24mm is to

1.) Increase canvas size from 2,000 x 1,312 to 3,000 x 2,000 pixels
2.) Filter > Distort > Spherize at -7 to -8%

 

Sharpness

Surprise! It's the sharpest midrange zoom I've used. It is sharp and contrasty, even wide open, at all focal lengths. It's a little less contrasty in the corners on film wide open, which cleans up a stop or two down. The performance is similar at all focal lengths.

On the wide end there is a little secondary lateral chromatic aberration, or very slight green-magenta color fringes in the corners.

Criminy, it's even sharp in the macro range!

On the D1H of course it's sharp at all apertures and focal lengths and positions on the image, but so what, most lenses are. It's easy to be sharp in digital.

 

Auto Focus Accuracy

AF is dead on at all apertures and focal lengths, which is why it's sharper in real use than all the other modern midrange zooms I've tried. This, along with its size and ease of use, are why this lens is the clear winner.

Remember that all the other tests you read elsewhere are done on a test bench and are focused manually for best results. Those dry lab tests don't show up the sharpness-robbing AF errors I've seen on many of the other lenses.

On the other hand I go out and blew $100 on real film to see what this lens really does, and it shines consistently.

 

Focus Hold while Zooming

The focus holds fairly well while zooming. This means you're usually OK focusing at one focal length and zooming to another without refocusing. It's not perfect, so for anything critical focus at the final zoom setting.

 

Ease of Use

It's probably Nikon's easiest to use lens.

This mostly comes from the fact that it's super light and small and the AF-S feature means you can just grab the focus ring at any time and adjust the focus manually, and just press the shutter release lightly to autofocus. There is no need to adjust any M/A switch to do this as with all other non-AF-S lenses.

The only other AF-S lenses are huge, and therefore not exactly fun unless you don't have to carry them. I work in the field so I have to tote everything.

The M/A - M switch only prevents the lens from autofocusing. It allows you to lock the lens in manual focus if you prefer.

There are none of the annoying range limiters or macro lockout switches like the 24-85mm f/2.8-4 has. The close focus range is available at all focal lengths.

All the wide focal lengths are squeezed together at one end of the zoom range making fine adjustment at the wide end difficult. This is the biggest flaw I can find with this lens!

 

Falloff of Illumination (corner darkening)

It has some light falloff wide open at 24mm on film and FX. Stop down a stop or two and it's gone. It's very mild, even wide open, at longer focal lengths.

On DX digital, since only the center of the image is used, I have seen no falloff.

Here are shots of an expodisc on my D3 in full-frame FX mode. This greatly empasizes any falloff.

 

Falloff on a FX Full-Frame.

 
f/5.6
f/8
f/11
24mm
35mm

50mm

70mm
85mm

 

 

Filter Vignetting

Excellent.

No 67mm filter, even the thick Tiffens and B+Ws, vignettes.

In fact, I can stack TWO 67mm filters with only the slightest little vignetting at 24mm on film, and of course all the other focal lengths are fine.

There is no problem with anything on digital cameras since these only use the middle of the lens' image.

I use a 67 -> 77mm step-up ring permanently attached so it takes the same filters that my big lenses take. It has no problem with vignetting with a 77mm UV filter and this ring even at 24mm on film.

 

Flare and Ghosts

Quite good. I leave the hood at home and have no problems shooting straight into light sources.

 

Durability

Nikon AFS 24-85mm f/3.5-4.5 AF-S

Nikon 24-85 G AF-S. enlarge.

 

This lens feels cheap (by 2002 standards). The plastic feels like the cheap plastic on the $100 lenses and not the plastic of the $300 and $1,000 lenses. It seems like a softer plastic.

By 2012's standards, its the same as the 28-300 VR and 24-120 f/4 VR.

Like most AF lenses, the play in the front elements is normal.

It works so well I'll throw it away if it wears out after the generous 5 year warranty expires. This is another good reason to buy the legitimate USA version as I did at the link above; if you buy a gray market version through some unauthorized dealer and the lens dies in 4 years you're out of luck. Watch out; even if a shoddy dealer offers an independent "USA" warrantee that may still not be the legitimate Nikon USA 5 year warrantee. It will say "5 Year Warrantee" on the box if it has it.

It seems to be a little less durable than the other current $300 Nikkor zooms. It is nowhere near as solid as all the other AF-S lenses, and better than the other toy store G lenses. It feels like a $100 lens with a fancy gold colored label put on it.

If you want tough, then get the 28-70 AF-S. If you want thousands of great images and a light lens you'll always have with you, get this 24-85 as I did. Heck, I made over 1,500 images with this lens in the first three days I owned it and it's holding up just fine.

 

Focus Breathing (advanced and not related to still photography, feel free to skip!)

I shouldn't even go into this since it has no relevance to anything, but hey, it's my website!

This is only a concern to people using this lens in motion pictures, which won't likely happen. Focus breathing is what we call the effect when the image size changes slightly as the lens is focused. When this happens there is a "breathing" of the image size as the focus is pulled from one actor to another in the same shot.

With fixed focal-length conventionally focused lenses the image gets a little bit bigger as you focus closer. This is normal since the lens moves away from the film.

This effect is seen in the background of the image, which will otherwise be a constant size.

Many modern motion picture lenses like those from Panavision are internally focused (IF) and are deliberately designed to avoid this.

This 24-85 lens has a good deal of this effect, and in the opposite direction from a conventional lens. As you focus closer the image contracts a little bit. This is because the IF design of this lens, as most IF lenses, effectively changes focus not by moving the lens in and out, but by changing the effective focal length slightly to achieve the same effect. Thus as you turn the focus ring closer the lens actually is becoming a lens with a slightly shorter focal length and not moving. This is why the image gets very slightly smaller.

This has no effect on conventional photography.

 

Maximum Aperture

24mm: f/3.5

35mm: f/4

50mm: f/4.5

70mm: f/4.5

85mm: f/4.5

 

Compared             top

Intro   Specifications    Performance   Compared   Recommendations

Nikon 24-85mm VR

Nikon 24-85mm AF-S G, 24-85mm VR and 28-300mm VR. enlarge.

I'd forget the 24-85mm f/2.8-4 AF-D, sold today and introduced in 2000. It was never very sharp, even on film, even though it has a great 9-bladed diaphragm and works on manual-focus 35mm cameras.

This original 24-85mm AF-S G (2002-2006) is a thoroughly modern lens, with astounding identical optical performance, but lacking VR. Otherwise, it's effectively the same lens but slightly smaller and much less expensive than the newest 24-85 VR.

The 24-120 f/4 VR and 28-300mm VR are bigger, heavier and more expensive. They're just as sharp and all these lenses distort like crazy. If you need the extra telephoto range, these other lenses are wonderful, but if 85mm is enough, you'll score a bargain with this superb 24-85 VR.

Avoid the earlier 24-120mm f/3.5-5.6 VR, it's a dog optically.

The 16-85mm VR is a great lens, but only for DX, not FX.

 
Anni
2012-
2002-2006
2000-
2010-
2010-
Filter size
72mm
67mm
72mm
77mm
77mm
AF type
AF-S
AF-S
screw
AF-S
AF-S
Instant manual-focus override?
Yes
Yes
no
Yes
Yes
Close focus

1.25'

0.38m

1.2'

0.38m

0.5'

0.21m

1.3'

0.4m

1.6'

0.5m

Max. repro ratio
1:4.5
1:4.7
1:2
1:4.2
1:3.2
Sharpness
Excellent
fair
Distortion
Heinous
Heinous
Weight

16.2 oz.

460 g

14.5 oz.

412 g

19 oz.

545 g

25.0 oz.

708 g

28.1 oz.

796 g

Price, 7/2012
$300 used

 

Recommendations    top

Intro   Specifications    Performance   Compared   Recommendations

This is the one. Buy it; I did!

I prefer it to the 24-120, 24-85 2.8-4, and 28-105 that I know you are shopping for since I was, too.

It's as sharp as my worn-out 28-85 AF, has more distortion, is much smaller, has a wider zoom range and focuses closer, faster and easier. If I were on a budget I'd look for a used 28-85 here instead for about $150 over any of the other current new lenses.

When the 24-120VR. starts shipping, probably at twice the price, it may or may not be better. I actually will use the VR since I often shoot in the dark without a tripod.

Get a 67 -> 77mm step-up ring and make believe this lens has a 77mm filter size for compatibility with the other pro lenses.

 

More Information

Nikon's product page.

 

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Ken

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Nov 2010, distortion 6/13/2005, 26 Sep 2004, Sep 2002