Used Nikon 24-70 VR IQ (bum lens, or am I spoiled?)

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sworden79 New Member • Posts: 5
Used Nikon 24-70 VR IQ (bum lens, or am I spoiled?)

Hi folks. This is my first post on DPReview. I teach English and photography at a local high school, and I shoot kids, family portraits, senior portraits and weddings on the side using my Nikon D810. I had been doing so with a combination of a Sigma Art 24mm 1.4, Nikon 50mm 1.4D, Nikon 85mm 1.4G, and a first gen Nikon 70-200mm 2.8VR. I was getting great shots with that combination, but I decided to ditch the primes and buy a used Nikon 24-70mm VR from Adorama. I was thinking of the flexibility, particularly for weddings. I also wanted something that could autofocus faster than my 24mm and 85mm, which really just couldn't keep up with a bride walking toward me.

The lens I chose on Adorama was described as Very Good Condition, which means there might be some scuffing on the outside but that the lens should function correctly. It arrived on Thursday, and I've spent the last few days shooting with it. I even used it on an outdoor wedding yesterday--I know, I know, never use untested equipment on a paying gig, but I also brought along my second body, a Nikon D500 and the 70-200mm lens, so it mostly worked out.

Ok, here's my question. I knew I might be sacrificing a bit of sharpness in switching from primes to this zoom, but the pictures just look weird to me. Focus is wildly inconsistent across the frame to my eyes. Some of them almost look like they were shot with a tilt-shift lens. Every once in a while I'd get a pic that seemed pretty sharp, but most of them, even images shot at 1/750th of a second, looked like they had just a touch of motion blur. (It almost looks like a still grabbed from a VHS tape if VHS were this high res.) I never dipped below 1/250, a speed at which I am able to get consistently tack sharp pics with my primes.

After the wedding I went home and did a little test. I shot my son standing against a wall at 50mm f/2.8 on both my old 50mm prime and the new lens. I tried AF fine tune on the new lens and shot about twenty images. I also tried shooting in live view, zoomed all the way in on his eye to make sure the issue really wasn't with the autofocus system. I don't think the lens is missing its focus--the quality is just soft. Not one of them was even close to the IQ of the one image I shot with the 50mm.

I'm including one of the weird wedding shots (look at their feet!) and the two 50mm tests. Any thoughts on what's going on? I have scanned these types of posts before, and the usual responses seem to favor user error or back/front focusing. I'm pretty sure neither of those issues is the case here. I spent about a month calibrating my Sigma lens with the USB dock until I could get it to focus correctly at all distances. To my mind, it must be either something to do with VR (I tried both active and normal, even though everything I read indicated I should pretty much always stick with normal unless shooting from a moving vehicle) or some kind of internal misalignment or something. Or, maybe primes are really that much sharper? I can't imagine so many pros would be using this lens, though, if the trade-off were that severe.

Any ideas? If the lens is just bad, I probably don't have a lot of time to return it to Adorama.

I don't know if you'll be able to download the full-sized images to see what I'm actually talking about. Hopefully so...

This first one is with the 50mm prime.

This one is with the 24-70.

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Nikon 24-70mm F2.8E ED VR Nikon D810
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