The NIKKOR 24-120mm f/4 is a versatile workhorse lens in Nikon’s Z-mount lineup, and it’s one of the kits lenses offered with some of Nikon’s full-frame mirrorless bodies.
But it’s worth not dismissing it out of hand as a kit lens. This is one of the better ones, and there are good reasons it has earned its place on cameras like the Nikon Z8. A giveaway is the “S” in the lens’s name. That denotes Nikon’s premium lenses for the Z mirrorless cameras. While that designation is sometimes less useful than it could be, it nonetheless does have value in helping some of the optically better lenses stand out from the bunch.
It spans a large focal length range, from wide-angle 24mm to moderate telephoto 120mm. While it’s not the fastest lens, at ƒ/4, it is still a useful compromise without stretching into significantly higher-priced territory.
A Go-Anywhere, Versatile Lens
It has a wide zoom range, with a wide-angle 24mm at one end at a lowish telephoto of 120mm at the other end. It’s only moderately fast, with a maximum aperture throughout the zoom range of ƒ/4. It’s relatively compact and quite light.
So it doesn’t necessarily shine in individual aspects. There are faster lenses in the Z-mount lens lineup that overlap with these focal lengths, such as the 24-70mm ƒ/2.8 or the 70-200mm ƒ/2.8. There are wider lenses, such as the 14-24mm ƒ/2.8 or the 14-30mm ƒ/4.
So taken individually, some of the specs look like compromises. And that’s because they are. But the virtue of this lens is in the combination of its features. That’s what gives it its value and makes it so versatile as an everyday lens.
It’s competitively priced, with an MSRP of $1099. Which is not exactly cheap but does fall in a kind of middle ground.
What’s in a Name?
Nikon hasn’t gone crazy with codes and acronyms in naming this lens, but there’s still some manufacturer-specific jargon worth knowing about this lens.
- S. The S in the name denotes Nikon’s categorizing this lens amongst their premium lenses. That means excellent optics, performance, and build quality. The S doesn’t stand for a particular word, but it’s designed to bring to mind words like “superior,” or “special,” or “sophisticated.”
- Nano Crystal Coating. This is a lens coating that minimizing ghosting and lens flare, which means that there’s less risk of problems when shooting directly toward light sources.
- ARNEO Coating. This is a more specialized type of coating. It’s an anti-reflective coating developed by Nikon and used in conjunction with Nano Crystal Coat to further reduce ghost and flare effects caused by incident light entering the lens vertically. It’s especially useful when shooting direct-on to a light source.
- AS-ED. An ED (Extra-low Dispersion) glass element that features the characteristics of an Aspheric glass element for a more compact size lens. Like Aspherical lenses, AS-ED lens elements minimize coma and other types of lens aberrations, even when used at the widest aperture by continuously changing the refractive index from the center of the lens. The AS-ED lens elements are optical glass developed by Nikon to obtain optimum correction of chromatic aberrations.
- STM. Standing for Stepping Motor, this is a kind of smooth, quiet autofocus that is better suited to video shooting.
- IF. Standing for internal focusing, it refers to lenses that do not move externally when focused. It also allows for closer focusing distances, giving this lens it macro-like features.
This lens is designed for Nikon’s full-frame Z-mount mirrorless cameras, and I’ve been using it on the Nikon Z8. You can also use it on DX-sensor bodies, in which case you multiply by the focal length factor of 1.5. That gives the equivalent view of a 36mm to 180mm would be on a full-frame body.
Build & Handling
This lens feels solid and smooth. But it’s still quite a light-weight lens and it doesn’t necessarily have the kind of solid, premium feel of some of the larger and heavier (and more expensive) professional-level lenses.
The autofocus is very good, making use of Nikon’s STM step motor technology and an internal-focusing design. But because the zoom is a telescoping zoom, where the lens barrel extends, operating the zoom isn’t as smooth and precise as it could be.
The large ring in the center is the zoom ring. One distinctive feature is that it has a locking mechanism to serves to lock the lens barrel back so that it’s not protruding. It also means that you have to unlock it, again with the zoom ring, to actually shoot (you’ll get a warning on your camera’s display to do this).
As is typical with Nikon autofocus lenses, it has a manual focus override, for which you use the medium-width ring furthest from the camera. If you have the autofocus switch set to A, you can do a manual focus override by rotating the ring while the shutter-release button is pressed down halfway. So long as you don’t release the shutter, you can then press the shutter down all the way to take the shot. If you release the shutter, it’ll reset back to autofocus the next time you press it.
And the narrow ring nearest the camera is a utility ring or, as Nikon calls it, the control ring. You can set its function in the camera’s menu system. Some obvious examples are to use it as an aperture ring or to adjust exposure compensation, but there are a number of other functions you can assign to it. The precise menu item you’re looking for on the camera can vary a little depending on the camera model, but it’s along the lines of “Custom controls” or similar variations on that. 1
There’s also a button you can assign functions to, the L-Fn button on the side. Again, the settings are controlled in the camera, using the same menu section as the control ring.
Shooting with the Nikon NIKKOR Z 24-120mm ƒ/4 S Lens
The beauty of a lens like this is its versatility. If you’re using it for general-purpose or travel photography, for instance, it might well be one of those lenses you just leave on your camera full-time.
These were all originally shot in RAW and lightly processed in Lightroom. With modern lenses, and especially on the newer generations of mirrorless cameras, there are often built-in corrections for common optical flaws. (See below for more about lens firmware updates.) And that’s true when you use this lens on the Z8. Since my objective here is to test the lens out in real-world shooting rather than to do rigorous scientific lab tests, I’ve left the corrections at their default values, and they’re applied automatically even to the RAW files. 2
You can click on each image for a full-size view for a closer look.
What’s in the Box?
It comes with:
Manual & Firmware Updates
- You can find the lens’s manual here.
- As one of the newer models of lenses with sophisticated digital controls, it comes with the ability to update the lens’s firmware. You can find official firmware updates for it here.
Things Worth Knowing
The lens hood (model HB-102) that comes with the lens is unusually flimsy. It’s plastic, which is pretty standard these days, but it’s particularly soft and feels like it would break very easily. So it might not hurt to carry a spare, or at least be prepared to replace it.
Price & Availability
Nikon uses this lens as a kit lens with some of their Z-series mirrorless cameras. But you can also buy it as a standalone lens. It has an MSRP of $1099.
Check the current price and availability at:
- Some examples are Custom controls, Custom controls (shooting), and Custom control assignment.
- You can find the Z8’s default values here, but the key ones that are relevant here are: auto distortion control: ON, diffraction compensation: ON, Vignette control: ON.