After I posted my alphabet exercise to the “Welcome to Oz” Flickr group, I mentioned that I never bought a midrange zoom. Not that I never thought about it, but I basically gravitated back to the 24mm f/2.8 prime on the Nikon. I looked at the kit lenses, looked at the new 16-85mm VR, thought about the Sigma 17-70 Macro, but never felt I needed one until I did the alphabet exercise.
Shooting with a prime is reactive. One is presented with the view and can change angle and move in and out, but it’s a modification of the image. It’s hard to, as Versace says, “Own the Frame”. Call me an acolyte, but when Vincent said in the Flickr group that the Nikon 24-120mm was his most favorite single walk around lens, I ordered a used one from KEH.com. It seemed to be a decent match to the 12-24mm f/4 as my wide lens. Being 24mm at the wide end would match my usual walk around 24mm but give me range into the telephoto range with vibration reduction to boot.
As I looked around the net for reviews I found that the 24-120mm is an unloved lens. It is slammed as unsharp on the DPReview and PhotoNet message boards, with a few objections by happy users.
Thom Hogan damns the lens with faint praise, although admitting that he doesn’t like midrange zooms anyway:
Nikon 24-120mm AF-S VR Nikkor review by Thom Hogan: “Overall, the 24-120mm AF-S VR is much better than its predecessor, but not by enough to make me sit up and pay attention. Personally, I wish they had added VR to the 24-85mm AF-S instead of making this lens. Even so, it has found a place in my casual travels when I want to travel as light as possible (e.g., one lens, one body, no tripod).”
Bjorn Rorslett, a well respected Nikon lens reviewer subjectively calls the lens “quite soft”.
And while Ken Rockwell argues that sharpness doesn’t matter, I believe that lenses have characteristic ways of rendering scenes. The Nikon 105mm Micro renders sharp and contrasty. There’s a beauty in the details that the lens can produce, often becoming the point of the picture. Rockwell also calls the 24-120mm “not very sharp” and would relegate it to snapshots it seems.
On the other hand, Moose Peterson is a fan:
Nikon 24-120mm f/3.5-5.6VR AF-S: “Yes, I’ve read all those ‘web reports’ reporting this or that problem. Amazingly once again the lens I purchased just works, no problems. In fact, the very first day I shot with it was for a small job and it did a great job producing a dynamite 19x print right before the clients eyes. For me, that’s all I can ask for.”
For me, I offer just this one image so far. I didn’t hit the right focus on this shot, with the foreground grass in optimal focus and the middle ground curbs are not as in focus as I’d like. On the other hand, I’ve been trying to get this shot for many months and the midrange zoom allowed me to finally frame it without laying down in the street. I agree with Moose and Vincent so far. My copy is a sharp enough lens. I need to learn how to judge what DOF is going to be when I can instantly crank the lens from a somewhat wide to normal range to telephoto. My experience is that most “sharpness” issues in real world image taking are focus or movement problems.