Nikon 24mm f/2.8 AF-D vs Nikon 24-120 f/4 lens comparison

As I stated in my previous post, I am looking for a replacement for my 18-200mm lens on my D610 (Full Frame).

In this post I compared the Sigma 24-105mm f/4 to the Nikon 24-120mm f/4, but I was not convinced the image quality of these two zooms was good enough for me.

Another option was to ‘go’ for three primes (24mm, 50mm, 85mm) and I was curious about how the Nikon 24mm f/2.8 AF-D performed (especially comparing it to the Nikon 24-120mm).


Build quality
The 24mm f/2.8 feels rather heavy (especially having the 50mm f/1.8 as my ‘main’ lens now) and solid.

It features a 52mm filter (nice and cheap) diameter, so it can take the same filters as my 50mm f/1.8 AF-D.

Autofocus
AF worked pretty well, and silent also. Much better than my 50mm f/1.8 AF-D.
It was not the quickest, but good enough for me.
On the D610 it missed focus on a couple of shots, but I noticed when reviewing the image so I could make a second attempt.

Manual focus
There is no ‘instant override’ on this lens, so you will have to set your body to MF, but when I am taking the time to focus manually anyway this should not bother me too much.
The focus ring is much smoother than on my 50mm f/1.8 AF-D and I could make small adjustments without any problem.

General feel
Overall the 24mm f/2.8 AF-D feels like a decent lens. It seems rather small especially considering the fact you are dealing with a 24mm (I know, that does not make sense, but still)….

I was eager to test this lens, as I supposed it would be ‘better’ or at least equal to the 24-120 (one of the other options I am considering) and cheaper.
At first all seemed ok, but looking at 100% on my screen I was not completely happy.
As with the last post, the weather was not too good, but the D610 gave me no problem with it’s good noise performance.

Sharpness
I am not too convinced here. Mainly because I was expecting a very sharp lens (being a prime, I expected it to be very good at the one thing it should do).
It was not too bad, but I still wanted it to outperform the 24-120mm so I screwed that one on also.
Back home I could compare the shots (not taken with a tripod, so they shift somewhat) and that confirmed that the 24-120mm was actually a bit sharper (as far as I could see).

The 24mm f/2.8 at 1/125 and a crop, looks a bit soft.

The pictures below link back to their Flickr location, so you can view them 100%. If you hover your mouse over the picture, you will see a second one. The first is the 24mm f/2.8.

The 24mm f/2.8 seems a bit softer


Center part, the 24-120 seems sharper


Upper left part, again the 24-120 seems sharper


Center sharpness on the 24-120mm, about 1 meter is a bit better than the 24mm f/2.8


Upper left corner, here there is not much of a difference

Distortion
Very good with the 24mm f/2.8 (especially compared to the 24-120mm) as I could not see distortion in the pictures I took.


The 24mm f/2.8 and the 24-120mm, the second shows much more distortion


The 24mm f/2.8 shows very little distortion and vignetting

Vignetting
The 24mm f/2.8 showed little vignetting. It became less when stopping down to f/4 or f/5.6. So here the prime performed better than the 24-120mm.

Flare
What I did not expect (and did not like) was how the lens handled lens flare (coma).
The shop I was testing had this bright lights and as soon as they hit the lens from a certain angle (so it seemed) I got some ugly spots.
Here are some examples (not the worst, I got awful flare when shooting directly into the spotlights, but that I would not do normally).

I did ask for the 24-120mm (again) and tested with that one also, but here I could not find the same problem.

The 24mm f/2.8 shows more flare


A crop from the same picture

The flare and reflections were very visible in the viewfinder, you could see them appear as light started to hit the glass from a certain angle.
In the next picture you see a light area, caused by the square fluorescent lights above (the 24-120 did not have this problem), and there is also a number of flares visible here (f.e. in the red box).

Lots of flare and a white haze caused by the lights with the 24mm f/2.8

Bokeh
Being a wide lens, Bokeh is not the most important property for me. I will mainly use the wide lens for landscapes etc. where I would want large DOF.

I did take some shots where you can see the ‘Bokeh’ and it seems ok for me.

Both lenses perform equally here, notice the flare spot on the first (24mm f/2.8)


Too bad…
This won’t be an easy choice for me.

I must say I liked the small size of this lens as well as the smaller price, compared to the 24-120mm. Although I have to invest in a medium tele lens also (like the 85mm f/1.8).
But, the optical performance was not as good as expected. Especially lens flare and sharpness seemed worse than the 24-120mm.
I know about all the things that affect sharpness, but I was expecting an easy victory here.

Since this lens has been around for quite some time, I think that the lens production methods have improved in this period (mainly coatings) giving the zoom the advance when it comes to sharpness and flare performance.

Summing up (24mm f/2.8 compared to the 24-120mm):

Pro

  • Small + light
  • ‘Cheap’ (although I will need a medium tele also)
  • Little vignetting, little distortion

Con

  • Sharpness not as good as expected
  • Lots of flare and haze

Maybe the 24-120mm is no bad choice after all, although I must say the Nikon 20mm f/1.8 seems like a very good lens also…..

To be continued.

2 comments:

  1. Nikon 24-120 f/4 is a terrible lens. I had it and got rid of it. According to DXO Mark, the sharpest lenses for your D610 between 24 and 200 mm are: 1) Sigma 50 mm f/1.4 2) Nikon 24 mm f/1.8 and 1 zoom: Nikon 70-200 f/4. If you want more sharpness, you can upgrade to D750 and then you’ll gain a couple of perceived MP on each of these. At one point, I used a Sigma 35 mm f/1.4 and it was extremely good but occasionally had problems with auto-focus.

    1. Sergei, thanks for your comment.
      I must say that I did buy 4 primes indeed.

      • 20mm f/1.8
      • 35mm f/1.8
      • 50mm f/1.4
      • 85mm f/1.8

      All Nikon.

      So when I need the best performance, I will take these four out in the field 🙂
      But, after about a year of intensive shooting, I also got my hands on a second hand 24-120 that was cheap enough to buy.

      The choise (as always) is ease of use vs image quality and on some occasions I choose the first.
      Another reason for taking the 24-120 with me is when I’m shooting a lot of video and a tripod is not an option.
      The VR really makes my footage much more usable.

      I did not dare to choose other brands, just because of the focusing issues.

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