Nikon 24-85mm/f3.5-4.5 AF-S VR Lens Review

Back in 2002, Nikon introduced their first 24-85mm/f3.5-4.5 zoom lens with AF-S, i.e. an AF motor built into the lens, which used to be a symbol for those exotic super telephoto lenses. That 24-85 was among the first consumer-grade lenses with a built-in AF motor, which is now available on practically all new Nikon AF lenses from the low end to the high end. At around $300, that previous version of 24-85 AF-S was an instant hit among consumer film SRL users although it was in production for about only four years as Nikon discontinued it in 2006.

Nikon FX-Format Mid-Range Zooms


Today, Nikon’s high-end mid-range zoom is the 24-70mm/f2.8 AF-S that was introduced with the D3 in 2007. As a relatively fast f2.8 for a zoom, that lens is now the standard tool for professional photographers who need low-light performance such as at weddings, parties, news conferences …. However, it is fairly big and heavy, using 77mm filters, and at almost $1900, it is not exactly affordable. Interestingly, neither Canon nor Nikon offers image stabilization on their 24-70mm/f2.8, but third-party options such as Tamron do.

As an alternative, Nikon also introduced a constant f4 24-120mm/f4 AF-S VR in 2010. With a 5x zoom range, that lens has more distortion but sharpness is still very good. The extended range on the long end is definitely a plus, and the addition of VR to some degree makes up for the slower f4 maximum aperture. However, the 24-120mm/f4 is still quite big, as it also uses 77mm filters, and too is over $1000.


The Affordable Option: 24-85mm with AF-S and VR

The new 24-85mm/f3.5-4.5 AF-S VR is essentially the re-introduction of the earlier 24-85 AF-S now with the addition of vibration reduction (VR). It is Nikon’s third mid-range zoom that covers the entire FX sensor in the last five years. The long-end of the zoom range is between the other two options’ and the maximum aperture is now variable. As a result, this third option is smaller, using 72mm filters and is priced just below $600. The new lens can cover the full 35mm-film frame (FX) and, of course, also DX (APS-C).

Lens Construction


This lens has a plastic barrel with good construction, not all that different from other consumer-grade Nikkor lenses. The lens barrel extends in two sections when you zoom from 24mm to 85mm and is sturdy enough with little wobbling. I think its construction is adequate, similar to all modern Nikon consumer-grade AF-S lenses that are on the small side. On the rear end, there is a rubber gasket around the mount to seal out moisture; that is also now a standard feature on AF-S G (no aperture ring) lenses. Both the zoom and focus rings rotate smoothly.

The new 24-85 AF-S VR comes with an HB-63 petal type lens hood. That hood extends very far on two sides. Therefore, if you mount it in reverse in the “storage” position, the hood will cover up the zoom ring to a large degree.


Optical Performance


The good news is that sharpness from this lens is excellent throughout its zoom range. I tested it on the latest and most demanding 36MP Nikon D800 and D800E bodies. Even on the extreme wide end at 24mm, wide open at f3.5, it is very sharp in the center and quite good into the corners; stopping down to f5.6 further improves corner sharpness. I have made some side-by-side comparison against the 24-70mm/f2.8 on the 36MP D800, and there is not much difference at equivalent apertures and focal lengths. Obviously the 24-85 AF-S VR does not open to f2.8 as its more-expensive sibling does.


If there is one weakness in this new 24-85’s optical performance, it is distortion, which is quite serious and is present throughout its zoom range. As expected, barrel distortion is very noticeable at 24mm, but it quickly transitions to pincushion distortion by 35mm and remains all the way to 85mm. While I would consider the amount of barrel distortion quite serious at 24mm, I tested the 24-70mm/f2.8 AF-S under the same conditions and its barrel distortion is almost as serious. Fortunately, in this digital era, this type of distortion is not difficult to reduce in post processing.


Chromatic Aberration

I would classify the amount of chromatic aberration from this new 24-85 to be very mild. I have tested this lens on a 36MP D800 capturing a wall that faces the late afternoon sun. You can see a bit of color fringing in the areas with a drastic dark-to-bright transition, but even under the magnification of 36MP, it is minor.


Similar to other Nikon zoom lenses, vignetting is quite serious wide open in the entire zoom range. It improves quite a bit after stopping down by one stop, but vignetting is still observable. After stopping down by two steps, all vignetting essentially disappears.

Variable Aperture

This new 24-85mm zoom is maximum f3.5 on the wide end (24mm) and f4.5 on the long end (85mm). By 50mm, it is down to f4.2. Therefore, it is below f4 in most of its zoom range.


Auto Focus

When used outdoors, auto focus speed is reasonably fast on this lens and it is accurate when tested on the Nikon D800 and D700. However, since it is a f3.5 to 4.5, under dim light or low-contrast situations, AF on this new lens is noticeably slower than on the 24-70mm/f2.8 and tends to hunt a little more. Therefore, while this lens is great for outdoors with sufficient light, for indoor, dim light situations, regardless of whether you actually photograph at f2.8 or not, the faster 24-70mm/f2.8 lens has its advantages. For more casual photography, this new 24-85mm VR is fine, but for professional wedding and social event photographers, the 24-70mm/f2.8 AF-S should remain the preferred lens.

Vibration Reduction

As usual, vibration reduction can provide 3 to 4 stops of shutter speed gain. For a mid-range zoom, that means you can hand hold this lens at 85mm at around 1/20 sec or so. Slower than that, subject motion becomes a concern.



Ten years ago, the old 24-85mm/f3.5-4.5 AF-S (without VR) was mainly popular among consumer AF film SLR users. Today, Nikon FX-format DSLRs include the D800 at $3000 and the D4 at $6000. For those who own higher-end DSLRs, they may still prefer the 24-70mm/f2.8 AF-S due to its low-light capability. The consumer-grade DSLRs are all of DX format, on which this new 24-85 AF-S VR becomes a slight wide to moderate tele zoom. On DX, personally I prefer a zoom that begins around 16 to 18mm on the wide end for a wider coverage. Therefore, while this new lens works very well as a general-purpose FX zoom for outdoor photography, its best match could be some more-affordable FX-format DSLR in the future or the older FX-format D700, whose price varies from $1500 in the used market to $2300 new.

You can find additional images I captured with the new 24-85mm/f3.5-4.5 AF-S VR in my 24-85mm/f3.5-4.5 AF-S VR folder

Where to Buy

nikon_24-85mm-3.5-4.5g-af-s. Highly versatile wide angle to medium telephoto FX-format zoom lens with Nikon’s second-generation Vibration Reduction (VR II) technology for noticeably sharper photos and HD videos.

Nikon 24-85mm/f3.5-4.5 AF-S VR Specifications

Maximum Aperture f3.5 @ 24mm, f4.2 @ 50mm, f4.5 @ 85mm
Minimum Aperture f22 to 29
Angle of View for FX 84° to 28°30’
Angle of View for DX 61° to 18°50’
Lens Elements/Groups 16/11, including 3 aspherical and 1 ED elements, no nano coating
Closest Focus Distance 1.25 feet/0.38 meter
Filter Size 72mm
Lens Hood (included) HB-63
Dimensions diameter x length 3.1×3.2in, 78×82mm
Weight 16.4oz/465g

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    • I bought Nikon 24-85mm/f3.5-4.5 AF-S VR at my local Nikon dealer. I was lucky that the dealer got two of them and that I was allowed to try them both with my d800 camera in the vicinity of the store. I put he camera on the tripod, leveled it and took the pictures of the wall covered with travertine tiles from the distance of few meters. I was surprised at the difference between the two lenses. The one that I later bought was tack sharp almost to the extreme borders at 24 mm at f8 while the second was much worse especially in both upper corners. It was a little bit mushy even at the center. So it seams that we have consumer zoom with big variation between samples again and there will be a lot of conflicting reports about this zoom. My advice is try it before you buy it.

      Comparing the 24-85mm/f3.5-4.5 AF-S VR to the 24 mm/f2.8 AIs I would say that the zoom is not really 24 mm but rather 24.5 mm at the widest setting.

      Otherwise I agree that this is a excellent middle range zoom good enough to be used with D800/D800E.

      Regards, Marko

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    • I only got to use one sample of the new 24-85, and that one happens to be very good. I didn't compare it against my 24mm/f2.8 AF-D, but the angle of view coverage at 24mm seems to be the same as that for the 24-70mm/f2.8 AF-S at 24mm.

      Both of those zooms were test samples on loan from Nikon USA, and I have since returned them. I myself have the older 28-70mm/f2.8 AF-S and the current 24-120mm/f4 AF-S VR.

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    • Using Photo ME software I opnened EXIF data of D800 picture file taken with new Nikon 24-85mm/f3.5-4.5 AF-S VR zoom. Among manufacturer notes I found the following lines:
      Lens ID Number: 180
      Lens F-Stops: 5.33
      Min Focal Length: 24.5 mm
      Max Focal Length: 84.8 mm
      Max Aperture At Min Focal: F3.6
      Max Aperture At Max Focal: F4.5
      Effective Max Aperture: F4.5

      So it seams that Nikon used a little rounding of the parameters for the lens name but that does not change the fact that we have a compact and very useful middle range FX zoom available. 

      Regards, Marko

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    • It should also be noted that the 24-85mm VR has fairly decent manual focus. Tactile feel is acceptable and the focusing ring is reasonably smooth and not too fast the way it is on many AF lenses. 

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    • I used one on my D800 for around a year, and I was glad to finally get rid of it. It's not an altogether bad lens, but I think it is rather average. 


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    • Thanks for this insightful review. Just one question: how would you say it compares with the Nikkor 24-120mm F4 VR ? On a D800, I mean. Thanks.

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    • I purchased this lens recently as a Nikon refurbished unit, so it was about 1/2 price from Cameta Camera. As a refurb unit the focus was probably tested and adjusted by a qualified technician and this was one reason I went with a refurb.  I use this lens with a Nikon D700 FX and it is a great travel and walk-around lens. The VR makes some of my faster primes pointless!  I also have several DX bodies but see no reason to use it there. I do use the primes on DX since they give a better telephoto effect - turning my 50 f1.4 into a pretty nice portrait lens!

      One comment I do want to make is that you need to check the focus on any AF lenses that you have sitting around unused. I found that using the AF fine tune menu item to adjust for an infinity target was more beneficial than the close-up charts that are touted on the internet. The 24-85 has not needed any tinkering yet!

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    • Bob, I hope your refurbished lens works out well for you. Unfortunately, I have very bad experience with refurbished Nikon lenses. I have seen one refurbished 70-300mm AF-S VR that cannot focus at all, auto or manual focus, right out of the box, and I eventually returned both refurbished Nikon lenses I have purchased since they are not quite sharp on their long end.

      Apparently my experience is not typical, but I would test any refurbished lens very carefully and promptly.

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