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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Sharpness Test – Nikon 1 10-30mm VR @ 14mm Corner Frame
Sharpness Test – Nikon 1 10-30mm VR @ 18mm Center Frame
Again, don’t stop the lens down beyond f/5.6:
Sharpness Test – Nikon 1 10-30mm VR @ 18mm Corner Frame
Sharpness Test – Nikon 1 10-30mm VR @ 24mm Center Frame
Sharpness Test – Nikon 1 10-30mm VR @ 24mm Corner Frame
Sharpness Test – Nikon 1 10-30mm VR @ 30mm Center Frame
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.
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