2) Lens Handling and Build
If you have used Nikon Nikkor lenses in the past, you will not be disappointed with the new Nikon 1 lenses. The Nikon 1 10-30mm VR is built very well, despite its compact size. The base of the lens barrel seems to be made with the same tough plastic Nikon uses in its DSLR lenses. The thick rubber zoom ring with a plastic base has pretty good traction to easily zoom in and out with fingers and sits in between two thin metal rings. The top of the lens has another thicker metal ring, which is there for additional protection and aesthetics. The lens employs a retractable lens mechanism, similar to the Olympus Zuiko 14-42mm, which reduces the size of the lens to approximately 42mm and locks it in place when fully retracted. Here is a comparison of the lens with the Olympus Zuiko 14-42mm and Nikon 50mm f/1.4G lenses:
As you can see, the Nikon 1 10-30mm VR is the smallest in the group, although considering CX and Micro 4/3 sensor differences, the Nikon 1 10-30mm should have been even smaller.
The barrel is fully extended at 10 and 30mm focal lengths, which almost doubles the length of the lens, so it is definitely nice to be able to collapse it when not using it. Nikon put plenty of thought into the new Nikon 1 lens line-up and developed the CX mount from scratch. Compared to the current Nikon DX/FX mounts with 8 contacts, the Nikon 1 lenses and cameras have a total of 12 contacts, which allows for more communication between Nikon 1 cameras and lenses. As a result, many of the lens functions are now controlled by the camera, so all the extra buttons and switches have been eliminated. Even the manual focus ring has been removed to simplify lens operation. There is only one button on the lens located on the zoom ring and it serves a dual purpose – it is used to collapse or extend the lens and to turn the camera on. I really like that the camera turns on when the lens is extended – one less thing to do when taking pictures. Sadly, collapsing the lens does not turn the camera off, which would be great if it did. Obviously, this behavior can be easily overridden by the camera on/off button. Another positive outcome of the new CX mount with extra contacts is the ability to upgrade lens firmware through the camera, which has never been possible before. Now you see an extra “L” firmware in addition to the traditional “A” and “B” under “Firmware version” in camera setup menu, which shows what firmware the lens is running on. Nikon has already identified and resolved a serious problem with Vibration Reduction (read on this below) on the Nikon 1 10-30mm lens and released a firmware update.
Just like the rest of the Nikon 1 lenses, the Nikon 1 10-30mm has a metal mount. This is surprising, because kit lenses of this caliber from Nikon like the Nikon 18-55mm typically have plastic mounts. Even the Olympus Zuiko 14-42mm has a plastic mount. This is great news for the Nikon 1 system owners, because it means that all future CX lenses will most likely have metal mounts as well, even on cheap zoom lenses. On the other hand, the rubber gasket on the lens mount that Nikon has been putting on all new AF-S lenses is absent, which could make the lens and camera more susceptible to dust. As of now, none of the Nikon 1 system components (including all current lenses) are weather sealed. On a positive note, I have used the Nikon 1 10-30mm f/3.5-5.6 VR in cold, windy and very dusty environments (Great Sand Dunes and White Sand Dunes in November) and I did not have any issues with dust specks making their way into the camera or the lens.
Despite its compact size, the Nikon 1 10-30mm sports impressive optical features such as Vibration Reduction (VR), Super Integrated Coating (SIC), Internal Focusing (IF) and Silent Stepping AF Motor (STM). Vibration Reduction is Nikon’s term for image stabilization, which is a very useful feature in low light situations, where camera shake and slow shutter speed can cause images to be blurry. Super Integrated Coating helps reduce lens flare and ghosting. Internal focusing means that the lens barrel does not change when the lens focuses. And finally, Silent Stepping AF Motor is a brand new motor specifically developed for the CX lenses, which allows for super fast and near-silent autofocus operation.
The Nikon 1 10-30mm f/3.5-5.6 VR has a complex optical design consisting of a total of 12 lens elements (in 9 groups), 3 of which are aspherical elements. Aspherical lenses greatly reduce lens aberrations such as Spherical and Chromatic Aberration and significantly increase lens sharpness. Even the Nikon 50mm f/1.4G does not have a single aspherical element by comparison.
Unfortunately, Nikon does not ship the Nikon 1 10-30mm kit lens with a lens hood. It can be purchased separately, although I do not see much value in getting one – you can always use your hand to block off the light, if it impacts your images.
3) Autofocus Performance and Accuracy
As I have already pointed out in my Nikon 1 V1 Review, the new autofocus system on the Nikon 1 system is phenomenal when compared to other mirrorless competitors. It is very fast and accurate, thanks to the hybrid autofocus system that Nikon specifically developed for the Nikon 1 cameras. Hybrid autofocus is a combination of phase and contrast detect AF that work together to obtain quick and accurate focus. For the much faster hybrid autofocus operation, Nikon had to develop a brand new AF lens motor called “Silent Stepping AF Motor” (STM). Compared to the “Silent Wave Motor” (SWM) that Nikon uses on its latest AF-S lenses, STM is much quieter and quicker.
I had a very positive experience with autofocus performance and accuracy of the Nikon 1 10-30mm lens. It truly does acquire focus quickly, silently and most importantly, accurately. I shot several hundred images with the 10-30mm lens and I had a hard time finding images that were out of focus. Large depth of field due to the small 2.7x crop factor sensor surely plays a role here, but I have shot with point and shoot cameras with even smaller sensors before and managed to get a lot more out of focus images.
4) Vibration Reduction
The Image Stabilization / Vibration Reduction technology found on the Nikon 1 10-30mm f/3.5-5.6 lens is very similar to the VR technology found on modern DSLR lenses – it is very effective when shot at slow shutter speeds. There are, however, some differences in the way VR is deployed on the new mirrorless cameras versus DSLR lenses. First, VR does not engage on DSLR lenses unless the shutter button is half-pressed (or AF-ON pressed). This is not the case with the Nikon mirrorless cameras – when VR is turned on in camera setup, it is constantly on. You do not have to half-press the shutter button – it will always be active. This seems to be a flaw in the Nikon 1 system design, because having VR turned on constantly will have its toll on battery life. Second, VR is no longer controlled through lens switches, but rather from inside the camera menu (as reported earlier). Lastly, for some strange reason, both the Nikon 1 J1 and V1 cameras were shipped with VR turned on in “Active” mode. This is rather strange, because the active mode is supposed to be used when a person stands on a moving platform (inside a car, on a boat, etc). Not sure if this is a firmware issue, but it would be interesting to find out exactly why Nikon decided to do that. Despite these differences and reported issues, Vibration Reduction works great. I would leave it on “Normal” mode within the camera setup and only turn it off when mounting the camera on a tripod.