Throughout a manufacturer’s range of lenses there will always be the case for a cost-effective zoom. Something with good optics that has a bunch of features from top-end lenses like VR, but that still produces satisfying images. The Nikon AF-S NIKKOR 24-85mm f/3.5-4.5G ED VR fits this bill.
This is a consumer-grade lens, which ticks all the boxes if you need a mid-range zoom with optical image stabilization. The lens can also be used on a DX sensor with an equivalent focal length of 36-128mm. There’s plenty of scope for use, so let’s have a closer look and see how this lens performs in the field.
Although the lens barrel is made from heavy duty plastics, it feels extremely sturdy and has a metal mount for a solid attachment to the camera body. It’s also a lightweight offering coming in at 465g, with the weight almost echoing its price point. It’s also a compact little zoom, coming in at 78x82mm and doesn’t extend when zooming. But different filters can be attached to the 72mm thread. An included HB-63 lens hood finishes off the top of the lens.
The rest of the lens barrel is very Nikon-like in design, with the zoom ring near the front of the lens. Next along is the de facto standard distance scale, then the very narrow focus ring. This isn’t the easiest to grab hold of at a moment’s notice, but it at least gives the option of manual focusing. Two switches have been added to the lens barrel – one being the M/A/M switch with manual focus override, and the other switch is for turning the stabilization system on and off.
Internally, the Nikon AF-S NIKKOR 24-85mm f/3.5-4.5G ED VR has a variable aperture of f/3.5-4.5, topping out at f/22-29, with a seven-blade rounded diaphragm. Minimum focus distance comes in at 38cm, providing a nice close-up range, but not exactly verging into macro territory.
Optically the lens has 16 elements arranged in 11 groups, including three aspherical and one extra low dispersion elements, helping to reduce anomalies such as chromatic aberration. A Super Integrated Coating has also been applied to reduce flaring and reflections. Lastly, in this department is Nikon’s Silent Wave Motor which has been included for fast auto focusing, while the VR II image stabilization system can provide up to four stops of compensation.
The Nikon AF-S NIKKOR 24-85mm f/3.5-4.5G ED VR In Use
Starting with the autofocus system, the Silent Wave Motor responds quickly and is relatively quiet compared to the system found on AF-D lenses. The speed of focus is still quite accurate compared to newer FX lenses, but there was incidents of focus hunting when the lens was shooting in very low light conditions. However, the operation is roughly around what we would expect for this price point of lens.
Straight out of the bag, the Nikon AF-S NIKKOR 24-85mm f/3.5-4.5G ED VR produces images with a lovely degree of contrast and color, but it’s not going to be stepping on the toes of more high-end lenses. You also have to consider you will have to be paying two or three times the amount for those extra optical qualities and things like Nano-coated glass. However, the results are still very respectable.
When it comes to the sharpness of the 24-85mm, at 24mm and f/4, center sharpness is good, but there is definite softness in the corners. Stopping down at this focal lengths from f/5.6-f/8 provides the best center sharpness, but the corners really are the best at f/8, with a drop-off thereafter. At 50mm, center sharpness looks the best at f/5.6, with the edges again having the best detail at f/8. Moving to the most telephoto end at 85mm, sharpness becomes more even across the frame, with the best results coming in at f/8.
The inclusion of Vibration Reduction (VR) is a handy addition, no matter the lens, and in this case comes in the VR II variety. Even at the widest focal lengths, VR comes in very useful with the ability to get very low shutter speeds. Testing the lens in very dimly lit conditions, it’s very easy to achieve a 1/6th of a second at 24mm. This is a great feature for scenarios like wedding photography.
Testing out the bokeh or background blur effects, traditionally a variable aperture lens isn’t the greatest performer. Bokeh, in this instance can be produced with a reasonable amount of quality, but don’t expect the levels of creaminess that you would find with a prime lens. However, getting close to your subject can produce this effect quite readily.
Lens anomalies can rear their collective heads on this lens, starting with a good deal of vignetting at 24mm and f/3.5. The Nikon AF-S NIKKOR 24-85mm f/3.5-4.5G ED VR has to be stopped down to at least f/8 to reduce light drop-off in the corners, with much better results coming in as the lens approaches 85mm. Luckily, the effect can be easily countered when tweaked in your choice of editing software.
Ghosting and flaring are handled very well by the lens and although it doesn’t have any advanced Nano coatings, there wasn’t any evidence of light streaks in direct sunlight. Pointing directly at the sun can produce small amounts of lens flares, but you really have to be pushing the boundaries to produce obtrusive streaks of light. Chromatic aberration can also be seen when the lens is at its widest. This is most prominent in the corners, but as the focal range creeps up to 85mm and f/5.6 and above, CA drop significantly.
Although the Nikon AF-S NIKKOR 24-85mm f/3.5-4.5G ED VR displays a bunch of lens anomalies, especially wide open, in the field the lens can produce rich and detailed images. Covering the most useful focal lengths, there’s a lot of scope here to go from landscape photography to portraits with just a little stopping down and images are very pleasing. The lens operates at its best around f/5.6-f/8, but with the addition of VR, the lens can go into low-light conditions more readily than previously expected.
How Does It Compare?
For not much more money there is the option of the Nikon AF Zoom-NIKKOR 24-85mm f/2.8-4D IF, an older lens which doesn’t benefit from image stabilization, but does have an f/2.8 aperture. The 24-85mm f/2.8-4D has the better center sharpness at 24mm, but it does suffer from inconsistent corner sharpness. The Nikon AF-S NIKKOR 24-85mm f/3.5-4.5G ED VR is more consistent across the range, but if you really need the f/2.8 aperture on the other lens, that is the way to go.
Alternatively you can go the more expensive route with the Nikon 24-120mm f/4 VR. With an obviously longer focal range, this one also benefits from VR and on the whole is a much sharper lens. But, you will have to pay twice as much for these privileges.
|Nikon AF-S NIKKOR 24-85mm f/3.5-4.5G ED VR||Nikon AF Zoom-NIKKOR 24-85mm f/2.8-4D IF|
|Optics||16 elements/11 groups||15 elements/11 groups|
|Diaphragm||7 rounded||9 rounded|
As a mid-priced offering, the Nikon AF-S NIKKOR 24-85mm f/3.5-4.5G ED VR is a reasonably good performer, but it does fall short at the 24mm end. The middle of the focal range and upwards are the best zones for clarity and detail. There’s also the abundance of vignetting at the widest aperture, along with other lens anomalies, meaning the middle of the range in all areas are the best spots to use.
Center sharpness is good across the range, but at the expense of the corners. Considering the price point of this lens, it has good value operation for the price, and as long as you live within its narrow operating band, the Nikon AF-S NIKKOR 24-85mm f/3.5-4.5G ED VR can produce some very good images. In total, it’s a reasonable offering for the money.