I am so confused. I must be doing something wrong. All the lenses I buy, which have reputations for softness, are far too sharp and detailed for my liking. Example: Nikon 24-120mm f4 G.

It was a holiday here in my country so I decided to do something different today and go for a walk in our ever growing downtown. Astute readers will remember that I bought a Nikon 24-120mm f4G lens about a week and a half ago. I almost didn't buy it because even though the long range of focal lengths and the relatively fast, constant aperture made it look great, on paper, I read many reviews which would have left a saner man running in the opposite direction from this product.

The two biggest knocks against this lens are that it is a crazy basket of distortions and that it's just not very sharp in the corners or at the longer focal lengths. Of course I have two replies. The first one is a quick acknowledgement of the fact that the lens has geometric distortions across the frame at different focal lengths. It's most pronounced at the widest setting. Most of the lenses people shoot with these days have the same kinds of distortions to some degree but the relevant thing is that the distortions can be automatically corrected by the camera, if you are shooting Jpegs. If you are shooting raw files the correction is one mouse click away in Lightroom or PhotoShop. Problem solved. Moving on.

The sharpness thing has me baffled and it may be that I'm just not keen enough to see it or smart enough to know what I should be looking for. I used the lens this afternoon to shoot lots of pretty pictures and I came back to the studio to fix them up and play with them on my computer. No matter what focal length I used to shoot the images they all looked sharp to me. And by "sharp" I mean they resolved lots of detail and that the transition between tones has high enough edge acutance to show off the detail in a convincing (and satisfying) way. I was using the Nikon D810 at ISO 64 and I don't think that's cheating. The camera can only pull as much detail out as the lens puts in. Right?

Stop reading lens reviews and test the lenses you are interested in for yourself. You might be surprised to find that most modern lenses are pretty good and that there's more to a lens than extreme corner sharpness. I hate corner sharpness. I put clear filters on my lenses and rub vaseline into the edges so it softens my corners up nicely. That way a file with too much sharp detail won't harm my eye with over sharpness.  (kidding. Just kidding).

But seriously, if you are a Nikon user, try whatever lens might suit you for yourself and ignore the internet experts. They are aiming for something different than you and I and it probably isn't the happiness of making nice photographs.

Happy Fourth. Independence can even extend to lens evaluations. Fun/Fireworks.

Too much fun playing with filters in SnapSeed......


  1. Obviously you are a lens whisperer. I am sending you this terrible zoom I inherited for your sharpening treatment. Please return the lens, sharpened, with an invoice.

  2. I have the 24-120 f4, but I am selling it as it hasn't been used in over a year – since I sold my last DSLR in fact (a D800E). It is a very competent lens, although I wouldn't call myself a lens expert or sharpness junkie, but it doesn't play nice on my F2 or FM3A! (I'm still keeping my Zeiss and AIS lenses for that.) I feel like this may be the photographer's equivalent of regression to childhood! Of course, if it feels like things are getting out of hand, I pull out the Oly EM-5 and take some pictures with it to reassure myself that the new technology can produce results that are every bit competitive with the old technology.

  3. When I was shooting Nikon (D700 and D600)the 24-120 f/4 was the only zoom lens I had in the box. I shot primarily with primes, but over time came to use the 24-120 more frequently. I'd learned that it is a very useful lens with near ideal range of focal length. I shoot almost everything in RAW and, as you say Kirk, I simply click "lens correct" in LR and any distortion is instantly corrected. It's a terrific lens that produced terrific images. Sharp with excellent dynamic range. I don't understand some of the criticisms either, but then some folks feel the need to be critical or risk not being considered objective, or being seen as "soft" themselves when performing equipment reviews.
    And I like over-processing skies also. It's my picture so I make it what I want. Most seem to approve. Besides, it's our art right?
    ~ Ron

  4. Kirk, I have a similar problem. I have been using a wide-to-short-tele kit lens for another system that is downright "bad", according to many who post messages in the DPR forums. I have gotten many sharp photos and video clips from that lens. Of course, it doesn't help that I actually go out and take photos and video clips with the lens, ensuring that I carefully compose photos and use exposure, ISO, and focusing settings that maximize image quality.

  5. Craig, doesn't that always seem to be the case? So much good, actual work done with supposedly mediocre gear while so little work really seems to be circulating from the "premier" stuff. I guess collectors don't have time to shoot.... And I.T. guys don't have inclination to produce the proof.

  6. Kirk, what about the 24-85mm VR zoom? How did it's sharpness compare to the 24-120mm? When I look at photos taken with supposedly soft lens, I am with you, I can not tell the difference especially after running them through lens corrections in lightroom and adding some sharpening.

  7. Hi Frankb. The 24-85mm VR zoom is another one that's supposed to be "better than a kit lens" but that statement implies that the lens is not as good as a premium lens. I think it's great. I still have mine. Not enough trade in value to offset is smaller size and weight.


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