This is an in-depth review of the new Nikon 1 10mm f/2.8 CX pancake lens, also known as “1 Nikkor 10mm f/2.8” 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 10mm f/2.8 is a consumer-grade pancake lens designed for the new Nikon 1 camera system. Designed to be an ideal companion for the compact Nikon J1 and V1 camera bodies, it is currently the smallest and the lightest lens from Nikon. With a fixed focal length of 10mm on the Nikon 1 CX sensor (2.7x crop factor), its coverage is equivalent to a 27mm lens in full-frame format.
In this review, I will provide a thorough analysis of the Nikon 1 10mm f/2.8 lens, along with image samples and comparisons against other Nikon 1 lenses.
1) Lens Specifications
- An elegant and thin wide-angle lens with super portability, perfect for daily casual snapshot and spectacular landscape
- Superior portability from a stylish, slim wide-angle fixed focal length (prime) lens with a maximum length of just 22 mm
- Metal mount adopted for increased durability, and a metal exterior for an elegant feel
- The perfect lens for those who want a lens that can easily be taken anywhere to capture snapshots with superior image quality
- Two aspherical lens elements
- Mount Type: Nikon 1
- Focal Length Range: 10mm
- Lens construction (groups/elements): 5/6
- Angle of view: 77°
- Number of diaphragm: 7 (rounded diaphragm opening)
- Minimum f-stop: 11
- Minimum focus distance: 0.2m/0.7ft from focal plane
- Maximum reproduction ratio: 0.06x
- 35mm equivalent ratio: 0.16x
- Weight: Approx. 77g/2.8oz
- Dia. x length: Approx. 55.5 x 22mm (distance from camera lens mount flange)
- Filter-attachment size: 40.5mm
- Lens cap type: Snap-on
- Lens hood: HN-N101 (optional)
- Lens case: CL-N101 (optional)
- Hood cap: HC-N101 (optional)
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 10mm is a very solid lens, despite its compact size. It has a metal barrel with two metal rings – one threaded ring to help mount and dismount the lens and another one for aesthetics. Here is a comparison of the lens with other 1 Nikkor lenses:
As you can see, the Nikon 1 10mm is the smallest in the group, roughly twice smaller than the compact Nikon 1 10-30mm VR lens (when collapsed). 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 buttons and switches have been completely eliminated from the lens. Even the manual focus ring has been removed to simplify lens operation. 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 the camera setup menu, which shows what firmware the lens is running on.
Just like the rest of the Nikon 1 lenses, the Nikon 1 10mm has a metal mount for better durability. Unfortunately, the rubber gasket on the lens mount that Nikon has been putting on all new DSLR 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 10mm f/2.8 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 ultra compact size, the Nikon 1 10mm sports an impressive optical design with 6 elements (2 of which are aspherical) in 5 groups. 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. In addition, the lens features Super Integrated Coating (helps reduce lens flare and ghosting) and Rear Focusing (only the rear lens group moves for focusing, resulting in faster AF).
Unfortunately, Nikon does not ship the Nikon 1 10mm lens with a lens hood. It can be purchased separately, although I do not see much value in getting one – it would only make the lens larger, plus 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 all 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.
I had a very positive experience with autofocus performance and accuracy of the Nikon 1 10mm lens. It truly does acquire focus very quickly and most importantly, accurately. Wide angle and large depth of field due to the small 2.7x crop factor sensor do contribute to a much larger depth of field, making it easier to get subjects in focus. However, I have used other compact cameras with even smaller sensors in the past and had a lot more focus issues in comparison, so the combination of rear focus and the hybrid AF system surely do their magic. As for AF noise, the Nikon 1 10mm f/2.8 is unfortunately not equipped with the same Silent Stepping AF Motor (STM) that is found on 1 Nikkor zoom lenses like the 1 Nikkor VR 10-30mm f/3.5-5.6, so AF operation is louder in comparison. I would say very comparable to the AF noise we hear on most AF-S lenses.
4) 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 10mm f/2.8 is very good in the center throughout its aperture range, even wide open. The corners suffer from some chromatic aberration and vignetting, especially wide open. 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 10mm lens, try to shoot at apertures between f/2.8 and f/5.6 for optimal results and do not stop down beyond f/8 or you will see a very heavy loss of resolution and contrast due to heavy diffraction. Unlike some other 1 Nikkor lenses, the lens minimum aperture is limited to f/11. This is yet another negative consequence of a small sensor camera design.
Due to the wide-angle nature of the lens and its short focal length, obtaining good bokeh would require you to shoot wide open at f/2.8 and stay very close to your subject. Again, the tiny CX sensor has a negative impact on depth of field, so if you shoot portraits and your goal is to better isolate subjects from the background, you will be better off with a longer focal length lens like the 1 Nikkor VR 30-110mm, or you might want to wait until Nikon releases a fast prime lens. If you are very close to your subject and the background is not too close, you can get a relatively good-looking background when shooting wide open at f/2.8. The lens is equipped with a rounded 7-blade diaphragm, which helps in obtaining circular bokeh highlights.
As for vignetting, there is a very noticeable amount of vignetting wide open at f/2.8, which is greatly reduced when the lens is stopped down to f/4. Unfortunately, a slight amount of vignetting stays visible at all apertures:
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 10mm f/2.8 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.
7) Ghosting and Flare
Thanks to clever lens design and Super Integrated Coating, the Nikon 1 10mm f/2.8 lens handles flares and ghosting quite well – one of the reasons why Nikon did not include a lens hood. Here is a sample image with the sun right in the frame:
If you see the effects of flare and ghosting in your images, 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.
8) Chromatic Aberration and Distortion
As I have already pointed out, the Nikon 1 10mm f/2.8 suffers from some chromatic aberration in the corners. The type of chromatic aberration I saw in my lab tests is green on one side and magenta on another. The good news is that this sort of chromatic aberration is absent in the center and is only pronounced in the extreme corners when shooting at a close distance. I went through many image samples that I shot outdoors and I could not find any images that showed this kind of aberration, which means that it is generally not an issue.
Some visible barrel distortion is present, which is very typical for a wide-angle lens. It is slightly less pronounced compared to the Nikon 1 10-30mm VR at 10mm, plus you can easily get rid of it using the Lens Correction module in Lightroom/Camera RAW. The latest version of Lightroom and Adobe Camera RAW fully support the Nikon 1 10mm f/2.8 lens.
Let’s now move on to the good stuff – Sharpness tests.
9) 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/2.8, f/4.0, f/5.6, f/8.0 and f/11.0
- Nothing was moved during testing
10) Sharpness Test – Nikon 1 10mm Center Frame
The wide-open performance of the Nikon 1 10mm in the center is superb and stopping down the lens does not seem to noticeably improve sharpness or contrast:
Lens sharpness drops a tad at f/5.6 and gets worse by f/8, due to diffraction:
Diffraction is pretty bad at f/11 as can be seen below:
The Nikon 1 lenses should never be used at such small apertures – I would not recommend shooting beyond f/8. The sweet spot for this lens seems to be at around the f/4 mark.
11) Sharpness Test – Nikon 1 10mm Corner Frame
Let’s see how the lens performs in the corners. The lens would have looked much sharper, if it wasn’t for some chromatic aberration that is visible in the extreme corners. Heavy vignetting is also quite noticeable at maximum aperture, but gets much better when stopped down to f/4:
The sweet spot in the corners seems to be at f/5.6, although stopping down to f/8 does not seem to hurt the image as much either:
Again, stopping down further to f/11 significantly impacts image sharpness due to diffraction:
The Nikon 1 10mm seems to perform best at f/4 in the center and at f/5.6 in the corners. The wide open performance is superb and I would not recommend shooting at f/11 due to heavy diffraction. Let’s see how the lens compares to other 1 Nikkor lenses.
Compared to Nikon 1 10-30mm f/3.5-5.6 VR
The Nikon 1 10-30mm f/3.5-5.6 VR is currently the standard kit lens that comes with the Nikon 1 V1 and J1 cameras. Let’s see how the 10mm pancake lens compares to the Nikon 1 10-30mm VR lens at 10mm.
12) Nikon 1 10mm vs Nikon 1 10-30mm VR @ 10mm Center Frame
13) Nikon 1 10mm vs Nikon 1 10-30mm VR @ 10mm Corner Frame
14) Nikon 1 10mm vs Nikon 1 10-30mm VR Conclusion
When comparing the Nikon 1 10mm pancake lens with the Nikon 1 10-30mm VR, 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 lateral chromatic aberration in the extreme 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, although the 10mm pancake is noisier.
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 really 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 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. 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).
15) Nikon 1 10mm vs Nikon 1 10-100mm VR @ 10mm Center Frame
Let’s see how both lenses compare at 10mm wide open. With a more than 1 stop of difference, the Nikon 1 10mm f/2.8 seems to have slightly better sharpness and contrast than the 10-100mm superzoom:
Both lenses perform about the same when stopped down to f/5.6:
Then diffraction starts kicking in at f/8:
And finally, diffraction is at its worst at f/11, although the Nikon 1 10mm seems to suffer a little more from it.
16) Nikon 1 10mm vs Nikon 1 10-100mm VR @ 10mm Corner Frame
The corners, on the other hand, seem to be better on the Nikon 1 10-100mm, largely due to less pronounced chromatic aberration (although the Nikon 1 10-100mm is also showing very noticeable green aberrations:
The corner performance starts to look similar when the Nikon 1 10mm f/2.8 is stopped down to f/4:
At f/5.6, the corner performance on both lenses looks about the same:
Not much changes at f/8:
And diffraction impacts both lenses at f/11:
17) Nikon 1 10mm vs Nikon 1 10-100mm VR Conclusion
Once again, both the Nikon 1 10mm f/2.8 and the Nikon 1 10-100mm f/4.5-5.6 VR serve different purposes and have completely different optical and physical characteristics. The Nikon 1 10mm is a very compact prime lens for still photography, while the Nikon 10-100mm is a big and heavy superzoom for both stills and videos. Weighing a whopping 530 grams, it is about 7 times heavier than the 10mm pancake! When it comes to pure optical performance at 10mm, the Nikon 1 10mm shows superb center performance, beating the 10-100mm superzoom in sharpness and contrast. However, its corner performance is not as good wide open due to noticeable green and purple chromatic aberration and only gets comparable between f/4 and f/5.6 apertures.
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 10mm pancake or the 10-30mm over the 10-100mm because of this.
18) Summary and Image Samples
Despite some optical weaknesses and fixed focal length, the Nikon 1 10mm f/2.8 pancake lens is a perfect companion for the Nikon 1 cameras. While Nikon did produce some pancake lenses in the past, they were not as relevant and popular on SLRs. With the introduction of the Nikon 1 compact camera system, pancake lenses are now going to regain their popularity, largely due to their fast speed, low weight and very compact size – the three main reasons why people buy such lenses in the first place. When mounted on the Nikon 1 V1 or J1 cameras, the Nikon 1 10mm f/2.8 is a very natural fit; it easily fit my winter jacket pockets when I was travelling in New Mexico, something I could not do with the gigantic 10-100mm superzoom.
As for the optical performance of the Nikon 1 10mm, it has a very impressive center frame sharpness and contrast across the aperture range, especially between f/2.8 and f/4, progressively getting worse from f/5.6 and onward due to diffraction. Its corner sharpness and contrast are also good, peaking at around f/5.6, but generally weaker than other current 1 Nikkor lenses due to green / magenta chromatic aberration. Distortion and vignetting are tolerable, while lens flare and ghosting are controlled well. The two biggest weaknesses of the Nikon 1 10mm f/2.8 lens are rather noisy AF (when compared to the near-silent AF of the Nikon 1 10-30mm VR) and lack of image stabilization / vibration reduction. But it is understandable why Nikon designed the lens this way – those features most likely would have significantly increased the size of the lens. Overall, given its small size and low price, it is a great little lens that I would not hesitate to buy for the Nikon 1 cameras. I very much hope that we will be seeing more and better pancake lenses from Nikon in the future.
19) Where to buy and availability
20) More image samples
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Nikon 1 10mm f/2.8
- Optical Performance
- Bokeh Quality
- Build Quality
- Focus Speed and Accuracy
- Size and Weight
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