Second draft 30.06.2007
Nikon's autofocus (AF) Zoom Nikkor 24-120mm f/3.5~5.6D IF wideangle-telephoto zoom lens
Year introduced: September, 1996; Discontinued: November, 2002
Each time, when Nikon prior to release a flagship professional system SLR camera, the corresponding Nikkor lens group will be delivering some pleasant surprises. There were four fast speed Nikkor telephoto lenses being introduced in 1996, namely AF Nikkor 85mm f/1.4D as well as three prime super telephoto with a new Silent Wave Motor ("SWM") lens technology, AF-S Nikkor 300mm f/2.8D ED-IF, AF-S Nikkor 500mm f/4D ED-IF and AF-S Nikkor 600mm f/4.0D ED-IF - all the four fixed focal length lenses were obvious carried with an objective to supplement the exciting Nikon F5 and appealed to professional photographers that Nikon was back to support their demanding needs.
Amidst some of the eye catching official releases with the large aperture prime/zoom lenses, Nikon also had updated the previous AF Zoom Nikkor 24-50mm f/3.3~4.5S with an AF-D lens configuration to enable the zoom lens to be 3D Matrix compatible. Although within the AF Nikkor lens group, Nikon already had an ultrawideangle zoom AF Zoom Nikkor 20-35mm f/2.8D IF (introduced in 1993), but the 24-50mm zoom was also among one of the widest zoom lens available and acted as a more affordable alternative to the 20/35. But generally, the wideangle zoom lenses segment in the Nikkor lens family was still considered to be quite "fragile" in choices and varieties. While most people just thought that was it - Nikon sprung a surprise to the photo community with the debut of this ultra-wide to telephoto zoom - the AF Zoom Nikkor 24-120mm f/3.5~5.6D IF. Along with the incredible feature lists of the Nikon F5, some of the exciting zoom lenses that followed during this period were seemingly also aimed to re-brand the traditional conservative image for the lack of innovation in their optical products, in particularly with zoom lenses.
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The famed Nikkor lens family may has been started way before the Nikon reflex SLR days and over the years, it has developed into a huge standalone system for Nikon photographers. It took a long while to see a realization of a workable solution in single zoom lens package for general photographic needs. The debut of this 24-120mm with an amazing 5X zoom ratio came close to this ideology. The primary focal lengths provides can easily satisfied 90% of most people needs, extensions on either end of the 24-120mm zoom by another prime ultrawide or a telephoto/tele-zoom is able to extend the reach to cover the last 10% of other needs. For those who may have specific interest on macro photography beyond 1:4 and feels the 24/120's primary 1:4.8 is not sufficient, you can just supplement it with a dedicated Micro-Nikkor lens. Basically, what I am trying to suggest is, the AF Zoom Nikkor 24-120mm which has a very usable 84° (24mm) - 20° 30' (120mm) picture angles as well as other lens features, covers some of the most frequently used focal lengths for general photography and it may be readily used as a center piece to setup a system before an assignment.
Ideal as it may seem to be, the surprise debut of this new exciting zoom lens has been fueled by initial good reviews and did sparked off exciting responses commercially for Nikon. It has sold very well in numbers. Officially, the zoom lens had an official product cycle for 8 years between 1996 to 2002; but it was also easily can be ranked as one of the most discussed AF Nikkor zoom lens with differing degree of user experience.
Cable Cars trail up to the Genting Highland resort, Malaysia.
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Interim photo ONLY. Waiting for suitable / usable images from contributors.
On paper, the AF Zoom Nikkor 24-120mm f/3.5~5.6D IF is indeed a very attractive single zoom lens package. It has a versatile 5X zoom ratio, practical focal lengths from ultrawide to a medium telephoto; a reasonably high built quality with a metal rear lens mount; a rather short rotation for focusing with an IF (Internal Focus Design) which helps focusing faster. Optically, it uses two Aspherical lens element in its 15E/11G composition to minimize distortion; although its dimension is slightly larger than most standard zooms, but overall, it is still considered to be very portable and practical zoom lens for a wide varieties of usage. Lastly, it is a native AF-D zoom lens which enables full system compatibility with virtually all Ai-spec manual and/or old / newer autofocus Nikon SLR cameras, which includes the digital format Nikon SLR bodies.
The zoom lens uses a rotating zoom design with a separate manual focus ring. The lens is well illustrated with all the relevant lens features in detail. Take the zoom ring settings for an example, every popular focal length 24mm, 28mm, 35mm, 50mm, 70mm, 85mm and 120mm (24mm is marked in green; 120mm is colored in yellow) are clearly illustrated. Although this is not an important issue, but when you compare the way how Nikon omits the 28mm focal length in the comparing AF Zoom Nikkor 24-50mm f/3.3~4.5D where it shows 24mm, 35mm and 50mm only, this reflects the attentiveness to lens handling. The zoom ring is generously wide for comfort hand grip and zoom action control; considering manual focus has been relegated as a secondary feature in autofocus zoom lens, the dual row, hard rubberized covered MF ring is not the best you can wish for but it offers as an option would you require it (or for manual focus Nikon users who might fall in love with the great zoom ratio is provides and it is still there to serve). Personally, I don't quite like the feel of the zoom ring grip pattern and I thought it should interchange with the deeper pattern as used on the manual focus ring. Next, may be the choice of material has to do with this, somehow the rubber pattern on the zoom ring easily gathers dirt easily over time (on my unit which I loaned from a friend of mine, it shows). This AF-D Nikkor 24/120 AF zoom lens has a fairly large diameter with the lens tube dimension. When sets at its widest angle at 24mm and something looks like a mushroom shape. Equally, as the zoom has a 72mm filter attachment size and the large front lens element at this position makes the lens looks very appealing where it resembles the AF Nikkor 85mm f/1.8D when looks from a distance. Nikon has designed in such a way that the filter thread does not rotate during focusing but it does when zooms, so, the best way is to find the appropriate focal length and find the right composition before attaching/rotating some series of front attachment and/or filter accessories. It is not a big issue too as it is just affect sequential operation and/or effects.
During zooming, the lens tube extends physically rotates outwards and looks like a three levels lens tube. The zoom rotation angles around 60° from wide to tele and starts from left to right from 24mm to 120mm and may takes a while to use to this slight difference from some other AF Nikkor zoom lens.
The rotational torque during zooming is presence, some may like it and some may not but I think it serves its purpose to avoid accidental slide after the desired foal length is chosen. In comparison, the manual focusing ring is too loose to my comfort as it lacks a rigid positive feel (on the particular lens that I borrowed from). The AF 24/120mm uses a floating aperture design where the maximum aperture stops down to f/5.6 when reaches the longest focal length of 120mm from its maximum aperture of f/3.5 at 24mm. It works down progressively in between the focal lengths. The lens can focus down to a marked minimum distance of 0.5m and projects a maximum magnification ratio of approx. 1:4.8 and it works on all focal lengths - it can be quite useful when it is used along with the longest focal length setting as it provides a more natural perspective and working distance for close up photos.
Pumkins on the truck
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Autofocusing is generally quite fast with my Nikon F5 and the alternate tested Nikon F80 but tends to behave a little sluggish with the older Nikon F4 esp. at the tele-ends. Similarly at closest focus distance, the F4 somehow behaves to hunt for focus. I guess the different generation of the in-camera Nikon AF system may has to do with this behavior. Although it is not a particular issue with an autofocus Nikon body as the AF system handles the focusing, but when it mates with a manual focus Nikon, due to lack of lens speed - even f/3.5 at 24mm is not particularly friendly enough inside the viewfinder as the split image may darken at the other half, K screen user should consider an alternate Type B or E grid screen. Internally, the optical group consists of a rather massive number of lens elements, where a 15 elements in 11 group design with a molded as well as compound Aspherical glass lens element are deployed at G4 and 13 to minimize possible distortion. Further, Internal Focusing (IF) design is used to enables autofocusing faster (the focus rotation is a very short 45° from nearest distance to infinity setting). Color balance is a typically very Nikon and consistent throughout the entire zoom range.
As for the built quality, as a whole, the lens has a decent built quality - typically of how a modern AF Nikkor lens feels and look physically. If you are a previous generation of MF Nikon owner, you may feel it lacks the same quality as compare to all those rigid made MF Nikkor lenses. But I guess overall, general built quality standard in modern days mid price AF Nikkor lenses is not a proprietary issue with Nikon alone and apply to the entire industry. Generally, "high end" AF Nikkor lenses still retain the high quality that we are so accustomed with but Nikon asks for premium for that. Mid range Nikkor lenses such as the AF Zoom Nikkor 24-120mm f/3.5~5.6D IF generally have an above average qualitative factor. The rear mount is still a metal piece and helps to retain certain good quality flavor.
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I do know there are/were a lot of mixed reviews on this zoom lens. Much of the criticism usually come from photographers who may had too high of an expectation and/or thinking a modern era zoom lens should rank at par with the prime in image resolution at all quarters. No. I guess you'd always have to understand simplicity is still a key for quality, to make a lens to provide continuous changing of perspective requires multiple of lens elements (the AFD 24/120 has 15E/11G). Generally, the bigger the zoom ratio the higher the number of glass elements to be deployed and each addition usually will add a little problems here and there. Neither modern manufacturing/assembling techniques today can be so perfect to match on-screen computer's ideal to reach such a perfect state. However, over the years manufacturers have been trying/applying various methods to counter optical issues such as adoption of aspherical elements (the AFD 24/120 has 2 Aspherical lens elements, molded / compound type which placed at G4/13), lens coating (NIC/SIC) and precision in polishing / assembling etc. they have improved tremendously in all aspects and nature but it real life application, you have to settle for compromises. ,However, modern days photographers are probably enjoying the benefits never before deemed possible as imagine during the old MF days. For most photographers or serious consumers, the usually yardstick is to use MTF and other optical analysis as a basis to judge quality aspect of a lens. Optically, the 24/120's light falls off and vignetting issues have been generally well suppressed and contrast is also quite high at the wideangle to short telephoto range but gradually the contrast losses towards the far end of the telephoto range where contrast still holds well at center (not the edges). This is typically an optical phenomenon common to most entry-mid range zoom lens where critical sections usually lack the "bite" and brilliance typically associating with a comparing prime telephoto. As the maximum opening of this AF-D zoom will drop down to f/5.6, stopping down the aperture to f/8 or f/11 will improve the contrast considerably but it will also raise a secondary issue of usability because it really requires a good light level to shoot handheld or else, you may just have to fight with a drop in corresponding shutter speeds. Further, manipulating depth of field control becomes more restrictive and probably it its there to serve. I guess designing a high power zoom ratio zoom lens is no easy task to maintain all levels of optimum in image resolution. Whatever it is, it is not as bad as I described but generally, for those who may be accustomed to a Nikkor prime telephoto may feel defensive with the results as it falls short of high expectation in a top quality Nikkor lens should deliver.
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Personally, before buying a lens, I usually put my priority on practicality and decide upon how to fit an investment in my current lens system for my cameras. The second element to consider is how to avoid replications in the existing hardware. The biggest attraction presents in this AF Zoom Nikkor 24-120mm f/3.5~5.6D IF is with its versatility to control a wide range of picture angles / perspective in a single lens package. It substitutes a few important and frequently used focal lengths or even can replace some moderate, older (non-D AF) zoom lenses previously owned. Assuming if you already possessed an AF Zoom Nikkor 28-105mm f/3.5~4.5D IF and/or AF 28-85mm class - there is simply no purpose to make a quick switch unless the AF-D / 3D Matrix Metering compatibility is a primary factor for your photography. For previous owners of the 35-xx or non-D versions (which may be more than a decade + old) and if the features in this 24/120 excites you, it makes some justification to do so with such a switch. From an investment point of view, as Nikon does provides other newer alternatives such as the 2000's release of the AF Zoom Nikkor 24-85mm f/2.8~4.0D IF which has a compromised telephoto end of the focal length also has an equally excellent 3.5X zoom ratio. The 24/85 AF-D Nikkor Zoom delivers an impressive macro performance up to 1:2 too and most importantly, it has a highly practical f/2.8 ~ f/4.0 maximum aperture for low available light handheld photography which offers a greater control over depth of field. But then, it has a higher entry cost and hence, the AF Zoom Nikkor 24-120mm f/3.5~5.6D IF here does provide the budget minded photographers with a parallel consideration if cost is an issue.
I am NOT a techno guy but do exercise my logical thinking at times; i.e. if I can afford it, I will go for the said 24-85 but I do so, I may need a tele-zoom or a fixed focal length telephoto to complement it wherever I go. The 24-120mm may trim such a necessity to bring another companion lens if mobility is a primary factor. Photographic applications for this 24/120mm zoom lens can be very extensive, it can be freely used for needs such as backpacking, overseas travels/trips, fashion on location and or indoor studio shots with strobes; scenic, portraiture, street photos, journalism and even for other creative and/or general PR photography. The most important factor when using this zoom lens is to counter the lack of lens speed. Use of higher rated films/slides is always recommended (for digital user it is not that bad as it does with auto ASA), for travelers, the idea of bringing a mini. foldable tripod is a good idea.
Lastly, photography may NOT always be all about sharpness and resolution because that is simply the technical aspects of it. You will be lucky if a lens feature is there to serve and helps you capture an important moment rather than worrying what will be the resolution at the edges of the photo if I use the f/5.6 at 120mm, right ? To summarized this lens in a sentence, it is lovely AF-D Nikkor zoom lens with an ideal zoom ratio, it could have been better if the optical aspect of it matches the same ideal state.
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Technical Specification for Nikon AF Zoom Nikkor 24-120mm f/3.5~5.6D ultrawide-telephoto zoom lens:-
Type of lense: Autofocus Nikkor zoom lens with built-in CPU and a metal rear Nikon bayonet mount
Focal length: 24mm to 120mm (approx. 36-180mm for Nikon DX format Digital SLR camera); Maximum aperture: f/3.5; Minimum Aperture: f/22
Lens construction: 15 elements in 13 groups with Aspherical elements (G4 molded, 13th compound type) with close focus / IF (Internal Focus) design
Picture angle: 84° (24mm) - 20° 30' (120mm)
Focal length scale: 24mm, 28mm, 35mm, 50mm, 70mm, 85mm and 120mm (engraved circularly on zoom ring)
Diaphragm: Fully automatic,
Depth of Field Scales: NONE
Focus control: Autofocus, manual focus via manual focusing ring
Zoom control: Via a separate rotating zoom ring
Distance scale: Graduated in meters and feet/inches from 0.5m (2 ft) at normal focus to infinity (OO)
Distance information: Output into camera body with CPU interface system IS FULLY FUNCTIONAL for 3D Matrix Metering
Aperture scale: f/3.5, f/5.6, f/8, f/11, f/16 and 22 on both standard and aperture-direct-readout scales
Mount: Metal Nikon bayonet mount with CPU contacts;
Attachment size: 72mm (P=0.75mm); Meter Coupling Prong: NONE
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Diaphragm: 7 blades
Reproduction ratio: 1:4.8 maximum
Minimum aperture lock: Provided. Via slide switch design
Lens Coating: NIC (Nikon Integrated lens Coating); Possibly latter version may be treated with SIC (Nikon Super Integrated lens Coating)
Exposure measurement: Via full-aperture method with Ai cameras or cameras with CPU interface system; via stop-down method for other cameras
MTF graphs for Wide and telephoto settings published by Nikon
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Infrared compensation index: Two. Provided for the 24mm and 50m focal length settings
Standard accessories: 72mm front lens cap; Rear lens cap LF-1; Original hard lens case CL-49
Optional Accessories: 72mm screw-in filters; Bayonet hood HB-11 *; Flexible lens pouch No.62. CP 9 may also be possible
Others: Polarizer I: Possible but avoid close focusing; Polarizer II Possible even with HB-11 attached. AF-3 Possible (0); AF-4: Possible (0) even with lens hood HB-11 attached.
Dimensions: Approx. 79mm dia. x 80mm (3.14")
Weight: Approx. 550g (19.6 oz)
Usable Tele-Converters: - TC-200/201S; TC-14A (Note: MANUAL focus only); Nikon does not encourage the use of early AF Teleconverter TC-16S with this AF zoom lens.
* Circularly polarized light filter suitability for focused subjects, except when zooming,
* Other information: A. Be careful not to soil or damage the CPU contacts. Do not attach the following accessories to the lens, as they might damage the lens' CPU contacts: Auto Extension Ring PK-1, Auto Extension Ring PK-11*, K1 Ring, Auto Ring BR-4**. Other accessories may not be suitable for use with certain cameras. This lens cannot be used with AF Finder DX-1 attached to the Nikon F3AF camera. * Use PK-11A instead. **Use BR-6 instead; B.
Startup Serial Number for the Nikon AF Zoom Nikkor 24-120mm f/3.5~5.6D IF lens may have been began from:
AF 24-120/3.5-5.6 D IF 4+ 200001 < 202465 - 450039 > Oct96 - Nov02 250039 Reference: Roland Vink's lens data sheet.
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| NEXT |1/2 In 2003, Nikon had announced a revised AF-S VR Zoom Nikkor 24-120mm f/3.5~5.6G IF-ED in 2003 as a replacement for this AF-D version
Part I:- AF-Zoom Nikkor 24-120mm f/3.5~5.6D IF | Part II:- AF-S VR Zoom Nikkor 24-120mm f/3.5~5.6 IF-ED
Suggestive External Links featuring this AF Zoom Nikkor 24-120mm f/3.5~5.6D IF lens:- A review by Klaus Schroiff at Photozone with some technical analysis if you enjoy reading these stuffs; Ken Rockwell from Australia has two short summaries for the AF-D and the AF-S VR models; some debates at photographicreviews.com
Main Index Page - Autofocus Nikkor lenses
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Special Application lenses:
Micro-Nikkor Lenses - 50mm~55mm -60mm 85mm -105mm 200mm Micro-Zoom 70-180mm
Perspective Control (PC) - 28mm 35mm PC-Micro 85mm
Dedicated Lenses for Nikon F3AF: AF 80mm f/2.8 | AF 200mm f/3.5 EDIF
Depth of Field Control (DC): 105mm 135mm
Medical Nikkor: 120mm 200mm
Reflex-Nikkor Lenses - 500mm 1000mm 2000mm
Others: Noct Nikkor | OP-Nikkor | UV Nikkor 55mm 105mm | Focusing Units | Bellows-Nikkor 105mm 135mm
Nikon Series E Lenses: 28mm35mm50mm100mm135mm | E-Series Zoom lenses: 36~72mm75~150mm70~210mm
MF Zoom-Nikkor Lenses: 25~50mm | 28~45mm | 28~50mm | 28~85mm | 35~70mm | 36~72mm E | 35~85mm | 35~105mm | 35~135mm | 35~200mm | 43~86mm | 50~135mm | 50~300mm | 70~210mm E | 75~150mm E | 80~200mm | 85~250mm | 100~300mm | 180~600mm | 200~400mm | 200~600mm | 360~1200mm | 1200~1700mm
Tele-Converters: TC-1 | TC-2 | TC-200 | TC-201 | TC-300 | TC-301 | TC-14 | TC-14A | TC-14B | TC-14C | TC-14E | TC-16 | TC-16A | TC-20E
Recommended links to understand more technical details related to the Nikkor F-mount and production Serial Number:
http://rick_oleson.tripod.com/index-153.html by: my friend, Rick Oleson
http://www.zi.ku.dk/personal/lhhansen/photo/fmount.htm by: Hansen, Lars Holst
Recommended Reading Reference on Nikon cameras and Nikkor lenses | about this photographic web site
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