This is an in-depth review of the new Nikon 1 10-30mm f/3.5-5.6 VR lens, also known as “1 Nikkor VR 10-30mm f/3.5-5.6” that was announced on September 21, 2011 specifically for the new Nikon 1 system, together with three other lenses and the new Nikon V1 and J1 cameras. The Nikon 1 10-30mm f/3.5-5.6 VR is a general-purpose consumer-grade lens designed for the new Nikon 1 camera system. It is bundled with the Nikon 1 V1 and Nikon 1 J1 cameras as a standard kit lens and cannot be purchased separately. With its focal length of 10-30mm on the Nikon 1 CX sensor (2.7x crop factor), its coverage is equivalent to a 27-81mm lens. The variable aperture of f/3.5-5.6 means that its maximum (largest) aperture changes between f/3.5 to f/5.6, depending on the focal length. It is a very lightweight lens, and similar to interchangeable lenses from other compact mirrorless camera manufacturers such as Olympus, the lens is collapsible, which also makes it quite compact for travel and transportation.
In this review, I will provide a thorough analysis of the Nikon 1 10-30mm f/3.5-5.6 VR lens, along with image samples and comparisons against other Nikon 1 lenses.
1) Lens Specifications
- Compact and lightweight with 3x standard zoom lens to cover practical focal length
- Retractable Lens Mechanism increases portability
- Design elements, colors, and materials are carefully chosen for the camera body design
- Vibration Reduction (VR) enables sharper pictures when shooting telephoto subjects, dimly lit scenes and other handheld situations
- Minimum focus distance of 20cm from focal plane at all zoom positions
- Three aspherical lens elements
- Mount Type: Nikon 1
- Focal Length Range: 10-30mm
- Zoom Ratio: 3x
- Maximum Aperture: f/3.5
- Minimum Aperature: f/16
- Format: CX
- Maximum Angle of View: 77°
- Minimum Angle of View: 29°40″
- Lens Elements: 12
- Lens Groups: 9
- Optical Conversion Factor: 2.7x
- Compatible Format(s): CX
- VR (Vibration Reduction) Image Stabilization: Yes
- Diaphram Blades: 7 (rounded diaphram opening)
- Aspherical Elements: 3
- Autofocus: Yes
- Internal Focusing: Yes
- Minimum Focus Distance: 0.66ft (0.2m)
- Filter Size: 40.5mm
- Accepts Filter Type: Screw-on
- Lens Barrel Retraction Function: Rotation of zoom ring
- Dimensions: (Approx.) 2.3×1.7in. (Diameter x Length), 57.5x42mm (Diameter x Length)
- Weight: (Approx.) 4.1 oz. (115g)
- Supplied Accessories: LC-N40.5 Snap-on Front Lens Cap, LF-N1000 Rear Lens Cap
Detailed specifications for the lens, along with MTF charts and other useful data can be found in our lens database.
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.
5) Lens sharpness, contrast and color rendition
As I reveal in my sharpness tests in the subsequent sections of this review, the performance of the Nikon 1 10-30mm f/3.5-5.6 VR is very good 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 effects 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 10-30mm 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.
As variable aperture zoom kit lens, I would not expect the Nikon 1 10-30mm VR to have great-looking bokeh. Subject isolation with a small sensor and such slow aperture values is a challenge in itself. However, if you are very close to your subject and the background is not too close, you can get a relatively good-looking background. The lens is equipped with a rounded 7-blade diaphragm, which helps in obtaining circular bokeh highlights, especially when shot wide open. Once Nikon releases fast f/1.2-f/1.8 prime lenses, I will look into their bokeh performance in more detail. Here are a couple of image samples that show the bokeh performance of this lens:
As for vignetting, the Nikon 1 10-30mm has some vignetting wide open at 10mm, which is greatly reduced by f/4 and completely gone by f/5.6. At 14mm there is still a very slight amount of vignetting present at maximum aperture of f/4 and anything beyond that in focal length shows practically no visible vignetting:
RAW shooters will see more vignetting in their images, because vignetting is automatically reduced on JPEG images. If vignetting is an issue for you, it is easy to fix in post-processing, so I would not worry about it. Adobe has already added a lens profile for the Nikon 1 10-30mm f/3.5-5.6 VR into Lightroom 3.6 and their Camera RAW 6.6, so you can easily remove the effect of vignetting with a single click through the Lens Corrections sub-module in Lightroom.
8) Ghosting and Flare
Thanks to clever lens design and Super Integrated Coating, the Nikon 1 10-30mm f/3.5-5.6 VR lens handles flares and ghosting quite well – one of the reasons why Nikon did not include a lens hood. Here are some image samples with the sun in the frame:
If you find yourself shooting at angles where the sun hits the front element of the lens and produces flare/ghosting effects, then simply use your hand to block the incoming light rays. I have done that a few times when shooting on the field and it worked great.
9) Chromatic Aberration and Distortion
As expected for a kit lens, there is a modest amount of barrel distortion on the widest end between 10mm and 14mm. Anything above 14mm is controlled very well and is practically distortion-free, which is great news. I could not see any pincushion distortion at short distances either. Chromatic aberration is also handled quite well, thanks to the three aspherical elements.
Let’s now move on to the good stuff – Sharpness tests.
10) Sharpness Test
Some Technical Info:
- White Balance: Auto, changed to “Custom”: 4750 Temp, +18 Tint in Lightroom
- ISO: 100
- EXIF information is preserved in the images
- Lens was mounted on Nikon 1 V1 Camera and Gitzo tripod
- Focusing was performed with manual focus assistance
- High ISO NR: Off
- Long Exposure NR: Off
- Active D-Lighting: Off
- Image Format: RAW
- Lightroom settings: Default settings
- Lightroom export: sRGB JPEG Quality 80
- Testing was performed at f/3.5, f/4.0, f/5.6, f/8.0. f/11.0 and f/16.0 apertures
- Nothing was moved during testing
11) Sharpness Test – Nikon 1 10-30mm VR @ 10mm Center Frame
The Nikon 1 lenses should never be used at such small apertures – I would not recommend shooting beyond f/8.
12) Sharpness Test – Nikon 1 10-30mm VR @ 10mm Corner Frame
The corner performance at large apertures is very good, slightly worse than what we see in the center. The lens peak corner performance is again at around f/5.6 and it starts to worsen when stopped down to f/8.0:
Again, stopping down further to f/11 and f/16 significantly impacts image sharpness.
A small amount of chromatic aberration is visible in all corner crops – typical zoom lens performance.
13) Sharpness Test – Nikon 1 10-30mm VR @ 14mm Center Frame
Again, peak performance is reached at around f/5.6. Stopping the lens down further to f/8 and f/11 degrades image quality due to diffraction:
I won’t post any f/16 crops, because they look terrible, as in the case with 10mm.
14) Sharpness Test – Nikon 1 10-30mm VR @ 14mm Corner Frame
15) Sharpness Test – Nikon 1 10-30mm VR @ 18mm Center Frame
Again, don’t stop the lens down beyond f/5.6:
16) Sharpness Test – Nikon 1 10-30mm VR @ 18mm Corner Frame
17) Sharpness Test – Nikon 1 10-30mm VR @ 24mm Center Frame
18) Sharpness Test – Nikon 1 10-30mm VR @ 24mm Corner Frame
19) Sharpness Test – Nikon 1 10-30mm VR @ 30mm Center Frame
20) Sharpness Test – Nikon 1 10-30mm VR @ 30mm Corner Frame
The Nikon 1 10-30mm seems to perform well at all focal lengths, with f/5.6 being its sweet spot. The wide open performance is very good, but I would not recommend shooting at apertures smaller than f/8.0 – diffraction severely impacts sharpness and contrast at f/11 and f/16. Let’s see how the lens compares to other 1 Nikkor lenses.
Compared to Nikon 1 10mm f/2.8
The Nikon 1 10mm f/2.8 is currently the smallest and the lightest 1 Nikkor lens, known as a “pancake” lens. Its optical characteristics greatly differ from the Nikon 1 10-30mm VR lens – it is a fixed focal length lens, its maximum aperture is much larger at f/2.8 versus f/3.5 (and minimum aperture is limited to f/11) and it has no vibration reduction (VR). Let’s see how the 10mm pancake lens compares to the Nikon 1 10-30mm VR lens at 10mm.
21) Nikon 1 10-30mm VR vs Nikon 1 10mm @ 10mm Center Frame
22) Nikon 1 10-30mm VR vs Nikon 1 10mm @ 10mm Corner Frame
23) Nikon 1 10-30mm VR vs Nikon 1 10mm Conclusion
When comparing the Nikon 1 10-30mm VR lens with the Nikon 1 10mm pancake lens, we have to keep in mind that both lenses serve different purposes. The pancake lens is the most compact lens available for the Nikon 1 system today and it offers faster speed (larger maximum aperture), which is useful for low-light situations. The Nikon 1 10-30mm lens, on the other hand, is a general-purpose lens that offers the versatility of a zoom lens. If we are to talk purely about lens sharpness and performance, then both have their advantages and disadvantages. The Nikon 1 10mm offers superb wide open performance in the center, but suffers from rather heavy lateral chromatic aberration in the corners. The 10mm pancake also has a heavier amount of vignetting at its maximum aperture, although it seems to handle ghosting and flares a little better. AF performance seems to be about the same on both lenses.
Overall, the Nikon 1 10mm seems to offer only two advantages over the Nikon 1 10-30mm – compact size and larger maximum aperture. Performance-wise it is not better than the 10-30mm zoom (due to its rather high level of CA) and has one disadvantage – it lacks image stabilization.
Compared to Nikon 1 30-110mm f/3.8-5.6 VR
The Nikon 1 30-110mm f/3.8-5.6 VR is a telephoto lens for the Nikon 1 cameras that is equivalent to a 81-297mm lens (think of it as something like the Nikon 70-300mm lens). Due to its much longer range, the only focal length I could compare was 30mm.
24) Nikon 1 10-30mm VR vs Nikon 1 30-110mm VR @ 30mm Center Frame
Sharpness difference is very apparent, especially when both lenses are stopped down to f/5.6:
Again, diffraction kicks in at f/8 and the image quality starts to degrade on both, although the 30-110mm still looks a world better:
Stopped down to f/11, both lenses perform rather poorly, but the 10-30mm looks much worse in comparison:
Again, I won’t be providing any f/16 crops, since image quality is very poor at the minimum aperture.
25) Nikon 1 10-30mm VR vs Nikon 1 30-110mm VR @ 30mm Corner Frame
At f/5.6 the Nikon 1 30-110mm looks better and sharper:
Stopped down further to f/8, the Nikon 1 30-110mm improves even more, reaching its sweet spot. Again, it looks better than the 10-30mm lens:
And the same is true for f/11, although diffraction definitely takes its toll:
26) Nikon 1 10-30mm VR vs Nikon 1 30-110mm VR Conclusion
Both the Nikon 1 10-30mm VR and the Nikon 1 30-110mm VR lenses are for two different needs and they are meant to compliment each other – the 10-30mm lens covers wider angles and mid-range, while the 30-110mm lens covers telephoto. As you can see from the above image crops, the Nikon 30-110mm VR is much sharper than the 10-30mm lens at 30mm in comparison. This is expected, because it is a specialized lens for telephoto needs and it should perform well at longer focal lengths. As for vignetting, the Nikon 10-30mm vignettes less at 30mm in comparison, especially in the extreme corners, but don’t forget that it is also at f/5.6 vs f/3.8. Ghosting and flares are not handled well by the 30-110mm VR due to the nature of telephoto lens optics. AF speed seems to be about the same on both lenses. As for physical differences, the Nikon 1 30-110mm is a much longer lens compared to the 10-30mm, especially when fully extended.
Compared to Nikon 1 10-100mm f/4.5-5.6 VR PD-ZOOM
One interesting lens that Nikon introduced for the Nikon 1 mount is the Nikon 1 10-100mm f/4.5-5.6 VR PD-ZOOM, also known as “1 NIKKOR VR 10-100mm f/4.5-5.6 PD-ZOOM”. This superzoom is the most expensive Nikon CX lens and it is also the biggest/bulkiest of the four. Compared to the 10-30mm lens, the Nikon 1 10-100mm is equipped with a new “Voice Coil AF Motor” (VCM), which allows zooming in and out by using the power zoom switch on the lens. Its focal length is equivalent to a 27–270mm lens in 35mm format and it is also equipped with VR (plus a bunch of nice optical features from DSLR lenses). Comparing these two lenses was rather difficult, because there is no fixed position of focal lengths on the 10-100mm lens and I had to move slightly, then take a picture and check its focal length. As a result, the comparison image crops might not have the same field of view.
27) Nikon 1 10-30mm VR vs Nikon 1 10-100mm VR @ 10mm Center Frame
Looks like the Nikon 1 10-100mm lens has slightly better contrast at f/4.5 than the Nikon 1 10-30mm lens is at f/3.5. The difference stays about the same when both are stopped down to f/5.6:
Diffraction starts to affect image quality at f/8:
And by f/11 it greatly reduces both sharpness and contrast on both lenses:
28) Nikon 1 10-30mm VR vs Nikon 1 10-100mm VR @ 10mm Corner Frame
The wide open performance of the 10-100mm lens is very impressive – it is sharper than the 10-30mm. Stopped down to f/5.6, the 10-100mm still seems to be superior, although it is a close battle.
Not much changes by f/8, besides diffraction:
And f/11 looks rather poor on both:
29) Nikon 1 10-30mm VR vs Nikon 1 10-100mm VR @ 14mm Center Frame
Although the performance seems to be about the same when stopped down to f/5.6:
Further f/8 and f/11 do not look as good due to diffraction again:
29) Nikon 1 10-30mm VR vs Nikon 1 10-100mm VR @ 14mm Corner Frame
30) Nikon 1 10-30mm VR vs Nikon 1 10-100mm VR @ 18mm Center Frame
31) Nikon 1 10-30mm VR vs Nikon 1 10-100mm VR @ 18mm Corner Frame
32) Nikon 1 10-30mm VR vs Nikon 1 10-100mm VR @ 24mm Center Frame
33) Nikon 1 10-30mm VR vs Nikon 1 10-100mm VR @ 24mm Corner Frame
34) Nikon 1 10-30mm VR vs Nikon 1 10-100mm VR @ 30mm Center Frame
35) Nikon 1 10-30mm VR vs Nikon 1 10-100mm VR @ 30mm Corner Frame
Even stopped down to f/8-f/11 range, the Nikon 10-100mm lens looks much sharper.
36) Nikon 1 10-30mm VR vs Nikon 1 10-100mm VR Conclusion
Without a doubt, the Nikon 1 10-100mm VR lens seems to outperform the Nikon 10-30mm lens at the center, as well as in the corners at pretty much all focal lengths between 10mm and 30mm and apertures from maximum (f/4.5) to minimum (f/16). I can’t imagine that it wouldn’t, given the price and size of this mega-lens. While the 10-100mm VR lens is designed specifically for videographers, it certainly does have very nice optical features that also make it a great lens for photography. However, the lens is too darn big! It is bigger and heavier than most Nikon DSLR kit lenses, which is ridiculous, in my opinion. It defeats the purpose of having a compact camera system like the Nikon 1. Walking around with the lens is not only inconvenient, but also painful, because it balances terribly with the V1/J1 cameras. The thin camera strap of the V1/J1 cameras quickly transferred the weight of the lens to my neck and it was a painful experience. While it may have some of the best optical designs out there with Vibration Reduction, High Refractive Index, Internal Focus, Super Integrated Coating, 2 Aspherical and 3 ED elements, it is very heavy and bulky for the Nikon 1 system. I definitely prefer the 10-30mm over the 10-100mm because of this.
As I have shown in this review, the Nikon 10-30mm f/3.5-5.6 VR is a great kit lens for the Nikon 1 mirrorless camera system. It has a very useful zoom range of 27-81mm (equivalent to 35mm), collapsible barrel design, vibration reduction, compact size, low weight and a great optical design, making it a lens of choice for everyday photography on Nikon 1 cameras. It is a sharp lens with good contrast and colors, and its performance is pretty good both in the center and in the corners. 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 10-30mm 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.
Overall, the Nikon 10-30mm is a great kit lens for the Nikon 1 cameras. I enjoyed shooting with it while testing the Nikon 1 V1 and J1 cameras and managed to take plenty of great images. I believe Nikon did a good job in picking the Nikon 1 10-30mm f/3.5-5.6 VR as a kit lens for the Nikon 1 cameras.
38) Where to buy and availability
The Nikon 1 10-30mm f/3.5-5.6 VR lens is only available for sale as a part of the Nikon 1 V1 or Nikon 1 J1 camera kits. You can purchase a Nikon 1 V1 + 10-30mm kit or a Nikon 1 J1 + 10-30mm kit in various colors from B&H and other online and local retailers.
39) More image samples
All Images Copyright © Photography Life, All Rights Reserved. Copying or reproduction is not permitted without written permission from the author.
Nikon 1 10-30mm VR
- Optical Performance
- Bokeh Quality
- Build Quality
- Focus Speed and Accuracy
- Image Stabilization
- Size and Weight
Photography Life Overall Rating