Nikon 24-200mm f/4-6.3 Lens Review

bythom nikon 24-200mm

What is It?

While the 24-200mm isn't marked as an S-line lens, it does have a dust and drip resistant build. Also, strangely it has both Arneo coating inside and fluorine coating on the outside, all traits typically found in S-line lenses.

Unlike some of the non S-line zooms, the 24-200mm doesn't require you to to extend it into shooting position before using it. It collapses down to the 24mm focal length to reach a somewhat short 4.5" (114mm) minimum (and packing) length. The lens extends during zoom by 2.5" (63mm). Nikon has placed zoom markings at 24mm, 35mm, 50mm, 70mm, 105mm, 135mm, and 200mm. Rotation from min to max is about a quarter turn of the zoom ring. There's also a lock switch for the zoom, though I didn't detect any real need for it.

This lens has VR built- in, with a claim of 5 stops CIPA performance. There's no VR switch (or other switches) on the lens, though. VR must be controlled from the camera's menu system. 

The optical design seems a little simple for today's superzooms: 19 elements in 15 groups. Nikon put in two aspherical, 2 ED, and one Low ED glass elements into the mix. Up front, the lens takes 67mm filters, so if you're getting the impression that for its focal length it's reasonable compact, that's correct (though again, at 200mm the lens extends considerably). 

Apertures are controlled by the camera, and run from f/4 to f/22 at 24mm, and f/36 at 200mm. Obviously, there's no aperture ring, though the focus-by-wire ring can be reprogrammed on all the Z bodies to allow that. There's no focus distance or DOF markings on the lens. 

The variable aperture impacts work out like this:

  • 24mm — f/4
  • 35mm — f/4.8
  • 50mm — f/5.6
  • 70mm — f/6
  • 85mm+ — f/6.3

Focus is via Nikon's now usual STM mechanism found on all the Z lenses (some with multiple motors; the 24-200mm has only one motor). Focus is internal, so the filter ring doesn't rotate. Close focus varies with zoom, from 20" (0.5m) at 24mm, to 28" (0.7m) at 200mm. Because the lens doesn't have much focal length breathing, there's a respectable 1:4.2 maximum magnification ratio, too. Even a thin extension ring would allow you to do macro with this lens. 

At 20.2 ounces (570g), the 24-200mm isn't particularly heavy, either, and most of its weight is back towards the camera body.

The 24-200mm f4-6.3 is made in Thailand, and the HB-93 lens hood is included at the US$899 price.

Source of the reviewed lens: purchased

Nikon's Web page for the lens

How's it Handle?

With lenses that extend, particularly telephoto ones, one thing to pay attention to is what happens to the center of gravity. The 24-200mm doesn't seem to move that much, which is partly due to the way the new Z mount allows for modern lens design that can balance element positioning better. Even on a Z50 body the result doesn't get overly front heavy extended.

Moreover, despite the lens extension as you zoom in, the concentric barrel design doesn't have any slop to it. On my sample, I find virtually no front jiggle when fully extended, even when trying to force the issue. That's much better than Nikon's previous superzooms, and appreciated. The zoom ring itself is an appropriate level between stiff and loose, and doesn't have a "hitch" in moving from one end to the other end of the range as do some of Nikon's lower-end optics.

One aspect of the lens that bothers me is this: while it's a VR lens, it doesn't have a VR switch. Now many of you are probably of the "always leave VR on" persuasion. I'm not. I believe VR is an effective tool to be used at the right time, not an always-on feature. Burying the VR on/off mechanism in the menus—you can promote it to the i quick menu—is not the right approach, IMHO. If Nikon wants to get away from putting switches on the lenses, then we need more direct control on the camera itself. This is actually one of the few design flaws of the Z cameras so far: by getting rid of the dedicated focus mode button/switch, you now have to assign one of the programmable buttons to that, and then we run out of buttons fast for the other things we want to do (and on top of that Nikon doesn't allow us to assign things like VR or AF-ON+Area Mode to them).

How's it Perform?

Sharpness: For a superzoom, very good performance. I've not been a fan of superzooms in the past, but this lens might change my mind some.

At 24mm the lens is very good wide open in the frame center and what I might call good in the corners, but is probably closer to fair. By f/5.6 the corners start to get into the good to very good territory (they never quite hit excellent). At 200mm the lens is good in the center wide open, but shows a bit more blur in the corners wide open, though without obvious smearing. Again, the corners get to at least very good with some stopping down. I'd call that result quite good considering the focal length on a superzoom. By f/8 the lens reaches very good throughout the frame. 

Within the 24-70mm focal range, the 24-200mm looks almost like the 24-70mm f/4 S lens, with some modest differences. I'd call the 24-200mm slightly sharper center of frame, the 24-70mm slightly sharper at the DX frame limit and outwards. But we're also comparing f/4 versus "more than f/4" once we get past 24mm, and we're comparing an S-line lens to a non-S-line. To answer your question: if absolute image quality is what you seek, yes, the 24-70mm f/4 is the better choice, but probably not by as much as you would have guessed.

For those trying to assess the lens, it's really the area outside the DX frame that starts to degrade optically on this lens. At the wide end, that degradation isn't at first obvious, but there's a fair amount of astigmatism that does come into play and impacts small detail. At the telephoto end, the degradation is more abrupt and happens further out than the DX frame, and again, astigmatism comes into play. There's some level of field curvature you have to account for, as well, so flat plane subjects parallel to the sensor may show a bit of in/out as you move from center to corner.

Note also that this lens seems almost anti-Nikon in performance. Typically, Nikkors perform better at shorter distances than infinity. This lens is definitely better at distance than at or near its close focus point. 

bythom z5 24-200mm small

At 24mm, a very nice rendering at f/8. I see no real issues with the lens here. CA is gone, sharpness extends well across the frame, linear distortion is corrected.

bythom 24-200mmat200

At the telephoto end at f/8, same thing: no real issues. Moreover, look at the lower left corner at 100%:

bythom 24-200mmat200 lowerleft

A little bit of blur, but no real smearing. This could probably be tightened up with some careful extra sharpening.

Chromatic Aberration: Lateral CA is visible at 24mm in small quantities. Not quite enough to ignore, not quite enough to always be concerned about (particularly given the ability to remove this type of aberration easily in post processing). But you'll definitely see it on high contrast edges at the wide end. At 200mm, lateral CA is minuscule and probably invisible to most. Over the focal range, the wide end is the worst, the middle range better, the telephoto range best. As we usually expect from a slower zoom lens, longitudinal CA is not really present at a level that you'd see, let alone want to correct.

Linear Distortion: You can't turn off the corrections in camera for JPEGs, and you'd need a non-Adobe converter to do it for raw. So let's deal with what the corrections show: slight barrel distortion at 24mm, no meaningful distortion at 200mm. 

Vignetting: Worst case is at 24mm wide open. From 35mm onward, the vignetting lessens, and at those focal lengths stopped down at least a stop, the dimming falls to the level I consider negligible. 

Flare: If the lens has a defect you want to be careful of, it's probably flare. I can make the lens show colored flare balls as well as contrast ghosting when the sun is in the frame, and particularly on diffracted rays. 

Bokeh: Obviously, this isn't a fast lens, but you can provoke strong out of focus areas because of the telephoto aspect of the lens. Overall, I see many problems: bright edges on highlights, not quite round aperture diaphragm distorts blur circles a bit, and as you move towards the corners you see clear cat eye clipping. Onion skinning is present, but not objectionable. You also need to be careful with VR. Mid-range out of focus has the usual tendency to make for a too busy look when VR is active and moving elements, and coupled with electronic front curtain shutter, you get an ugly bokeh. All that said, the transition from focus plane to out of focus is like most recent Nikkors: very natural and doesn't call attention to itself.

Final Words

This lens gets more praise than I think it deserves. It's a quite good lens, but not a great lens, and one with a bit of weakness at both ends when wide open (more chromatic aberration at the wide end, less sharpness at the telephoto end). On the other hand, as superzooms go, the 24-200mm is quite good, among the best you'll find (and probably the best of its focal length designation). Stopping down a bit makes for quite good results.

As an all-around walkabout lens, yes, I can certainly see the appreciation some have for this lens. It doesn't have a glaring fault, as do most superzooms that try to do it all but then fail miserably at something. The 24-200mm doesn't have much focal length breathing, either, so unlike a lot of superzooms it does manage a compelling telephoto angle of view.

But I'd be remiss not to point out that this lens is not up to the extremely high optical standards Nikon has been setting with most of their Z mount lenses. Which brings me to the price. At US$900 the 24-200mm is neither inexpensive nor overly expensive. Indeed, sold on its own, the 24-200mm is a bit less expensive than the 24-70mm f/4. Which I think leads us to its main appeal: since in the 24-70mm focal range there's not a lot that sets these two lenses apart—don't get me wrong, the f/4 zoom is better, but not by a lot—the pricing makes it look a bit like you get a more-than-adequate 70-200mm f/6-6.3 lens for free. Yes, f/6 to f/6.3 in that range. 

The 24-200mm f/4-6.3 matches up best with the Z5 owner, methinks. The Z5 isn't quite as good as the Z6 in low light (in all aspects), so someone buying a Z5 is probably more a "fair weather shooter." And not likely one to quibble about smallish differences. Well, the 24-200mm f/4-6.3 isn't as good in low light as the 24-70mm f/4, either, it has some small differences in optical quality, so we have a match: Z5 + 24-200mm. 

Nikon's going to try to stuff another mid-range zoom into the mix in 2021, the 24-105mm (I think f/2.8-4, which seems cruel, as the basic specs will almost certainly make it difficult to compare to the other four [f/2.8, f/4, and two f/4-6.3]; not that Sony's any better with f/2.8, f/4, f/4, f/3.5-5.6, f/4-5.6, and f/3.5-5.6 in the wide-to-tele range). I'm still of the opinion that the Nikon 24-70mm f/4 S is excellent, particularly when bought at a camera+kit lens price, and the 24-70mm f/2.8 S is phenomenal, if you can afford it. The 24-200mm isn't going to knock either of those off the podium. For the moment, it's a respectable third. 

So, if you can live with the compromises, you might find the 24-200mm f/4-6.3 to be exactly what you want, and for once from Nikon, at a reasonable price. Apparently more of you are higher on this lens than I, as it has been a sell-out from day one, and continues to be back-ordered everywhere here in the US.

I'd be remiss if I didn't point out that Nikon has once again missed a mark: the 24-200mm would be an appropriate lens for a two-lens DX package, only Nikon hasn't gotten around to making a 10-24mm Z DX lens (buzz, buzz). Sigh, this buzz, buzz thing is getting old. As is Nikon's blindness to opportunity.  

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