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I have a 17-50 f2.8 zoom (Tamron) and while it performs admirably, it is heavy. So I was thinking of a 24mm f2.8 prime, when I also read up on the 24-85 f3.5-4.5 (non-VR) AFS lens.

Here's the thing, I was interested in the 24 f2.8 because it was compact and light, but the 24-85 is also fairly compact and not heavy. And at f3.5 at 24mm it doesn't seem like a big difference to f2.8

Which would you choose in this case?

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look at this Considerations when purchasing a prime lens there is a huge debate whether prime is better than today's high tech zoom lenses or not, I would say it depends on what you prefer –  akram Jun 22 '12 at 15:53
    
thanks for that link. I've probably covered most of the points in my considerations, I was looking for other opinions based on experiences, ones that might reveal insights which aren't based on hard raw facts. For example, if the question was 85mm f1.4 vs f1.8, someone who had owned both might say "I didn't notice much difference and in the end sold the f1.4" –  blndcat Jun 22 '12 at 16:50
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1 Answer

up vote 9 down vote accepted

Honestly, neither lens is brilliant.

The 24/2.8 is one of the oldest Nikkors still being made and has some real problems, even on an APS-C sensor. The only thing it has going for it, really, is that it is very compact (and it's $2000 cheaper than the f/1.4 version). It is fairly soft by today's standards, and suffers from considerable vignetting wide open, pretty substantial lateral chromatic aberration, and some curvature of field that may or may not be problematic depending on the kinds of images you're shooting. It's really time for Nikon to update this lens, but they may see the photographer's choice as being between a zoom and their much more expensive fast lens.

The old 24-85 has been discontinued for years in favour of the 24-120, but if you can get it at a reasonable price, it's a better lens than the 24, except for a bit of extra barrel distortion compared to the prime. It's considerably more bulky than the 24 as well. It's not as good a lens in a lot of respects as more recent designs, but at the same time it is better-behaved than the ancient 24/2.8.

The newer version of the 24-85 (the one that's likely to be the "kit lens" on the low-cost full-frame D600) would probably be better in most respects (it's a new design with 16 elements in 11 groups as opposed to the 15 elements in 12 groups of the old lens) and has VR, but it's a little more expensive and, being new, will probably be hard to get for a little while.

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Thanks, I never realised that the 24 f2.8 had so many problems. I don't think I could afford the new 24-85 VR and the 24 f1.8 is just too heavy (and again out of my price range). –  blndcat Jun 23 '12 at 5:11
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+1 for predicting the future, the D600 kit lens IS the 24-85VR! You win! –  dpollitt Sep 26 '12 at 23:14
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