Lens Features and Optics
The Nikon 1 10-100mm f/4.5-5.6 VR features some of the best lens features and optics found in modern Nikon lenses, which is expected, given the size, weight and price of the lens. It sports the latest generation of Vibration Reduction (VR II), Super Integrated Coating (SIC), Internal Focusing (IF) and Voice Coil AF Motor (VCM). 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 extend or rotate when the lens focuses. And finally, Voice Coil AF Motor is a brand new motor specifically developed for this lens, which allows for super fast and near-silent autofocus + zoom operation.
The Nikon 1 10-100mm f/4.5-5.6 VR has a complex optical design consisting of a total of 21 lens elements (in 14 groups), 3 of which are Extra-Dispersion (ED), 2 are Aspherical (AS) and 1 is a High Refractive Index (HRI). Extra-Dispersion lens elements help reduce chromatic aberrations and other optical problems and increase the overall sharpness and contrast of the lens. Aspherical lenses greatly reduce spherical aberration, which also increases lens sharpness and overall performance. High Refractive Index lens compensates for field curvature and spherical aberrations. With so many correcting and enhancing glass elements, no wonder why the Nikon 1 10-100mm VR is so big and heavy.
The lens is shipped with the HB-N102 Bayonet Lens Hood, which not only helps eliminate ghosting and flares in daylight conditions (blocking sun rays from reaching the front lens element), but also helps protect the same front element. Similar to other Nikkor lens hoods, it can be mounted in reverse position for more compact storage.
As for its video capabilities, here is a video I shot at Bosque del Apache that demonstrates the silent zooming and AF capabilities of the lens:
As you can see, the zoom action is indeed very smooth and you cannot hear the motor at all in the video. VR works great for video recording, but you have to be careful when panning the camera with VR turned on, because it will occasionally bump the camera up or down, as seen in a couple of spots in the video. This is normal VR behavior and the same thing would happen if you were to pan while taking stills. Here is another one shot in slow motion with the Nikon 1 V1 camera:
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. Similar to the “Silent Stepping AF Motor” (STM) on the Nikon 1 10-30mm VR lens, the Voice Coil AF Motor seems to be as fast in acquiring focus in daylight conditions. In low-light conditions, AF speed definitely takes a hit, not because of the lens, but because the camera automatically switches to contrast-detect only mode. The biggest difference between the STM and the VCM motor, is that the latter is silent. Yes, you heard it right – it literally focuses without any noise whatsoever. I even tried putting the lens right next to my ear while half-pressing the shutter and I still could not hear a thing.
Overall, I had a very positive experience with autofocus performance and accuracy of the Nikon 1 10-100mm VR lens. It truly does acquire focus quickly, silently and most importantly, accurately. I shot several hundred images with the 10-100mm 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.
The Image Stabilization / Vibration Reduction technology found on the Nikon 1 10-100mm f/4.5-5.6 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.
Lens Sharpness, Contrast and Color Rendition
As I reveal in my sharpness tests later on in this review, the performance of the Nikon 1 10-100mm f/3.5-5.6 VR is excellent throughout the focal length of the lens and its aperture range. You can see many examples of lens sharpness taken in a controlled environment, along with comparisons against other lenses.
A quick note on lens sharpness that generally applies to all Nikon 1 Nikkor lenses. Due to the small size of the sensor and the nature of compact optics, an aperture of f/5.6 is rather small and often represents peak lens performance. While diffraction negatively affects images on DX and FX sensors above f/8-f/11, it greatly impacts lens performance at anything smaller than f/5.6 on CX sensors. In the case of the Nikon 1 10-100mm lens, its maximum aperture of f/5.6 on the long end means that you are at its peak performance when it is wide open and stopping down the lens only decreases image quality. This is yet another negative consequence of a small sensor camera design.
Isolating subjects from the background with a small-aperture zoom lens is a challenge due to its larger depth of field. This becomes even a more difficult task on Nikon 1 cameras, because of their small 2.7x crop factor sensors. While depth of field and the size of background highlights depend on multiple factors such as focal length, aperture, camera to subject distance and subject to background distance, the quality of Bokeh largely depends on lens optics. If you are able to get close to your subject while keeping the busy background further away from the subject, you can get a decent-looking bokeh, as long as you are shooting at maximum aperture and zoomed in to telephoto range (above 30mm, preferably close to 100mm). The 1 Nikkor VR 10-100mm f/4.5-5.6 lens is equipped with a rounded 7-blade diaphragm, which helps in obtaining circular bokeh highlights. Here is an example of bokeh quality shot at approximately 70mm:
Once Nikon releases fast f/1.2-f/1.8 prime lenses, I will look into their bokeh performance in more detail.
As for vignetting, the Nikon 1 10-100mm unfortunately shows vignetting at most focal lengths and apertures, with least amount of vignetting at 30mm and most at 10mm. In some cases, even stopping down the lens to f/8 does not get rid of vignetting, as shown below:
RAW shooters will see more vignetting in their images, because vignetting is automatically reduced on JPEG images by camera firmware. If vignetting is an issue for you, it is easy to fix in post-processing, so I would not worry about it. Adobe has not yet added a lens profile for the Nikon 1 10-100mm f/4.5-5.6 VR into Lightroom or Camera RAW, but we should be seeing it in upcoming updates pretty soon. Once it is added, you will be able to get rid of vignetting with a single click through the Lens Corrections sub-module in Lightroom / Camera RAW.
Ghosting and Flare
Despite advanced lens coatings, the Nikon 1 10-100mm f/4.5-5.6 VR lens does not handle flares and ghosting very well, especially when the sun is out of the frame – that’s where you will see a significant drop in contrast. There is a reason why Nikon supplied this lens with a hood. Make sure to keep it on all the time and use your hand to block additional light if it is still reaching the front element of the lens. Here is an extreme example of ghosting and flare when shooting with the sun in the frame:
Ghosting and flares are not always bad though. In some cases, you might want to use them creatively like this:
It goes without saying that the size, color, amount and shape of lens flares depends on a number of factors, including types and number of optical elements, lens aperture, focal length and the location of the light source in the frame.
Chromatic Aberration and Distorion
It is hard to keep chromatic aberration under control at all focal lengths on superzoom lenses, despite the fact that the lens sports ED, Aspheric and coated lens elements. There is a modest amount of chromatic aberration at the shortest end (in the corners, high-contrast situations), which is greatly reduced between 30mm and 50mm, then kicks back again at longer focal lengths all the way to 100mm in high-contrast situations. Here is an example of chromatic aberration that is visible at 10mm:
As for distortion, unfortunately, there is quite a bit of barrel distortion on the wide end at 10mm, which gets better by 30mm. From there on, pincushion distortion takes over all the way to the 100mm mark. These optical issues are expected for a superzoom lens like the 10-100mm though; if you look at other superzoom lenses like the Nikon 18-200mm VR, they also exhibit similar chromatic aberration and distortion problems.
Click here to download the full size version of the above image.
Let’s now move on to the good stuff – Sharpness tests.
Sharpness Test – Nikon 1 10-100mm VR @ 10mm Center Frame
The wide-open performance of the Nikon 1 10-100mm at 10mm in the center is pretty good – sharpness and contrast do not really improve when stopped down:
Signs of diffraction are visible at f/8 and get worse by f/11:
At f/16, diffraction is so bad that I would not use this aperture on the Nikon 1 sensor at all:
The Nikon 1 lenses should not be used at such small apertures – I would not recommend shooting beyond f/8.
Sharpness Test – Nikon 1 10-100mm VR @ 10mm Corner Frame
Corners are also good wide open with visible signs of vignetting:
Again, diffraction starts affecting resolution at f/8 and worsens by f/11:
I would not shoot at f/16, because diffraction is at its worst here:
Some green fringing is visible in all corner crops – typical zoom lens performance. Because the Nikon 1 lenses show so much diffraction at f/16, I won’t provide any more samples above f/11.
Sharpness Test – Nikon 1 10-100mm VR @ 14mm Center Frame
Zoomed in to 14mm does not change much – the wide open performance is still as good as f/5.6:
Sharpness Test – Nikon 1 10-100mm VR @ 14mm Corner Frame
Corners at 14mm look pretty good as well:
Sharpness Test – Nikon 1 10-100mm VR @ 18mm Center Frame
Sharpness Test – Nikon 1 10-100mm VR @ 18mm Corner Frame
Corner performance remains the same:
Sharpness Test – Nikon 1 10-100mm VR @ 24mm Center Frame
Not much change at 24mm, the image is still very sharp and has great contrast:
Again, diffraction negatively impacts the performance at any aperture smaller than f/5.6:
Sharpness Test – Nikon 1 10-100mm VR @ 24mm Corner Frame
No change in corner performance:
Sharpness Test – Nikon 1 10-100mm VR @ 30mm Center Frame
Not much change in center frame performance at 30mm:
Sharpness Test – Nikon 1 10-100mm VR @ 30mm Corner Frame
Corners are still as good:
Sharpness Test – Nikon 1 10-100mm VR @ 40mm Center Frame
No changes in center performance at 40mm:
Sharpness Test – Nikon 1 10-100mm VR @ 40mm Corner Frame
The same with the corners:
Sharpness Test – Nikon 1 10-100mm VR @ 60mm Center Frame
No changes in center performance at 60mm:
Sharpness Test – Nikon 1 10-100mm VR @ 60mm Corner Frame
At 60mm, we start to see some heavier signs of chromatic aberration in the extreme corners and sharpness is definitely affected:
Sharpness Test – Nikon 1 10-100mm VR @ 80mm Center Frame
Center performance at 80mm is still good, but starting to lose resolution:
Sharpness Test – Nikon 1 10-100mm VR @ 80mm Corner Frame
Even more visible chromatic aberration at 80mm, this time with signs of purple fringing as well. Wide open performance at f/5.6 is rather weak now because of it:
Sharpness Test – Nikon 1 10-100mm VR @ 100mm Center Frame
Again, looks like zoomed in to 100mm we are seeing even more loss of resolution, which is typical for a superzoom lens:
Sharpness Test – Nikon 1 10-100mm VR @ 100mm Corner Frame
At 100mm we see a rather heavy amount of both green and purple fringing in the corners and there is a rather heavy loss of sharpness at all apertures:
The Nikon 1 10-100mm seems to perform well at short focal lengths in the center, with f/5.6 being its sweet spot. Once zoomed in beyond 60mm, there is a slight loss of resolution. As for corners, they start out pretty good at 10mm and get progressively worse, especially beyond 60mm due to chromatic aberration. Peak performance seems to be at around the 30mm mark.
One important fact to note here, is that due to the smaller size of the camera sensor and its pixels, all 1 Nikkor lenses, including the 10-100mm are sharpest at around the f/5.6 mark. Anything smaller than that, especially above f/11 severely impacts image quality due to diffraction. This differs from the typical f/8-f/11 aperture range you might be used to on DSLR lenses. If you shoot in Aperture Priority or Manual modes, try not to go smaller than f/5.6, if you want to get the sharpest image. It is OK to stop down to f/8 to get more depth of field, but definitely not a good idea to go any further. You will just end up degrading image quality too much.
Let’s see how the lens compares to other 1 Nikkor lenses.
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