This is an in-depth review of the new Nikon 1 30-110mm f/3.8-5.6 VR lens, also known as “1 Nikkor VR 30-110mm f/3.8-5.6” 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 30-110mm f/3.8-5.6 VR is a consumer-grade telephoto lens designed for the new Nikon 1 camera system to complement the Nikon 1 10-30mm f/3.5-5.6 VR kit lens. With its focal length of 30-110mm on the Nikon 1 CX sensor (2.7x crop factor), its coverage is equivalent to a 81-297mm lens in 35mm format. The variable aperture of f/3.8-5.6 means that its maximum (largest) aperture changes between f/3.8 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, 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 30-110mm f/3.8-5.6 VR lens, along with image samples and comparisons against other Nikon 1 lenses such as Nikon 1 10-30mm f/3.5-5.6 VR and Nikon 1 10-100mm f/4.5-5.6 VR.
1) Lens Specifications
- A 3.7x telephoto zoom lens that covers the 30–110-mm range of focal lengths
- A compact, lightweight telephoto zoom lens that offers superior portability with a retractable lens mechanism
- Equipped with vibration reduction (VR) mechanism
- Support for a wide variety of scenes, from portraits to sports scenes
- Metal mount adopted for increased durability
- Design elements, colors, and materials are carefully chosen for the camera body design
- Two ED (Extra-low Dispersion) glass elements
- Mount Type: Nikon 1
- Focal Length Range: 30-110mm
- Zoom Ratio: 3.7x
- Maximum Aperture: f/3.8
- Minimum Aperature: f/16
- Format: CX
- Maximum Angle of View: 29°40″
- Minimum Angle of View: 8°20″
- Lens Elements: 18
- Lens Groups: 12
- Optical Conversion Factor: 2.7x
- Compatible Format(s): CX
- VR (Vibration Reduction) Image Stabilization: Yes
- Diaphram Blades: 7 (rounded diaphram opening)
- ED Glass Elements: 2
- Autofocus: Yes
- Internal Focusing: Yes
- Minimum Focus Distance: 3.3ft.(1m)
- Filter Size: 40.5mm
- Accepts Filter Type: Screw-on
- Lens Barrel Retraction Function: Rotation of zoom ring (manual)
- Dimensions: (Approx.) 2.4×2.4 in. (Diameter x Length), 60×61 mm (Diameter x Length)
- Weight: (Approx.) 6.2 oz. (175g)
- Supplied Accessories: LC-N40.5 Snap-on Front Lens Cap, LF-N1000 Rear Lens Cap, HB-N103 Bayonet Lens Hood
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 30-110mm VR is built very well, despite its relatively compact size (for a telephoto lens). 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, one of which has focal length markings on it. The top of the lens has another metal ring, which is there for aesthetics. The lens employs a retractable lens mechanism, similar to the 1 Nikkor VR 10-30mm f/3.5-5.6, which reduces the size of the lens to approximately 61mm and locks it in place when fully retracted. Here is a size comparison between 1 Nikkor lenses:
The barrel is fully extended at 110mm focal length, 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). 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 on the Nikon 1 30-110mm VR lens and released a firmware update.
Just like the rest of the Nikon 1 lenses, the Nikon 1 30-110mm has a metal mount, which is surprising, because lenses of this caliber from Nikon typically have plastic mounts. 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 30-110mm f/3.8-5.6 VR in cold, windy and very dusty environments 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 30-110mm 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 30-110mm f/3.8-5.6 VR has a complex optical design consisting of a total of 18 lens elements (in 12 groups), 2 of which are aspherical elements. Aspherical elements 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.
Unlike the Nikon 1 10-30mm VR kit lens, the Nikon 1 30-110mm VR comes with a plastic “HB-N103” lens hood. Nikon packed the lens hood with the lens for a reason – telephoto lenses are typically much more prone to ghosting and flare than wide-angle lenses. See more info about this under “Ghosting and Flare” section further down below.
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 30-110mm lens. It truly does acquire focus quickly, silently and most importantly, accurately. I shot several hundred images with the 30-110mm 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 30-110mm f/3.8-5.6 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 30-110mm f/3.8-5.6 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 30-110mm 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 a little. The 1 Nikkor VR 30-110mm f/3.8-5.6 lens is equipped with a rounded 7-blade diaphragm, which helps in obtaining circular bokeh highlights. Here are a couple of examples of bokeh when shot at large apertures:
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 30-110mm has the most amount of vignetting wide open at the wide end at 30mm, which stays about the same at 40mm, then gradually decreases in the mid range and eventually almost disappears at around the 80mm mark. Stopping down the lens to f/5.6 or f/8.0 (above 80mm) will significantly reduce the effect vignetting, as expected:
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 30-110mm f/3.8-5.6 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.
8) Ghosting and Flare
As I have already pointed out, telephoto lenses are typically much more prone to ghosting and flare than wide-angle lenses. Although the Nikon 1 30-110mm VR features Super Integrated Coating, I would not use it without a lens hood or shoot it against the sun. You will especially see a significant decrease in contrast when the sun is outside the frame and sun rays reach the front element of the lens – a very normal occurrence on all telephoto lenses.
9) Chromatic Aberration and Distortion
Chromatic aberration is controlled well, with the highest levels of CA at 30mm and 110mm marks. There is a modest amount of barrel distortion on the widest end at 30mm, which flattens at around 40mm. From there it then switches to a very slight pincushion distortion all the way to 110mm. I would not worry about chromatic aberration or distortion, since you can easily remove them in Lightroom or Camera RAW after a lens profile comes out.
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/3.8, 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 30-110mm VR @ 30mm Center Frame
The wide-open performance of the Nikon 1 30-110mm at 30mm in the center is pretty good – sharpness and contrast do not really improve when stopped down:
Stopping down to f/5.6 does not make a difference and we start to see some loss of resolution at f/8.0:
Diffraction is pretty bad at f/11 and much worse at f/16:
The Nikon 1 lenses should not be used at such small apertures – I would not recommend shooting beyond f/8.
12) Sharpness Test – Nikon 1 30-110mm VR @ 30mm Corner Frame
Compared to the center, the corners start out comparably weaker:
Stopping down to f/5.6 significantly improves sharpness, but still relatively weak. Peak corner sharpness is reached at f/8:
Some loss of resolution at f/11 due to diffraction and much more at f/11:
A little bit of green fringing is visible in the corner crops. Because the Nikon 1 lenses show so much diffraction at f/16, I won’t provide any more samples above f/11.
13) Sharpness Test – Nikon 1 30-110mm VR @ 40mm Center Frame
Zoomed in to 40mm still produces sharp images wide open, with peak performance between f/4 and f/5.6:
We see some loss of resolution at f/8.0:
And even more at f/11:
14) Sharpness Test – Nikon 1 30-110mm VR @ 40mm Corner Frame
Corners at 40mm are still pretty weak:
With the best performance around f/8.0 again:
And noticeable loss of resolution at f/11:
15) Sharpness Test – Nikon 1 30-110mm VR @ 60mm Center Frame
We start to see some loss of sharpness at 60mm in the center:
16) Sharpness Test – Nikon 1 30-110mm VR @ 60mm Corner Frame
Corner performance improves a little bit at 60mm, but still needs to be stopped down to about f/5.6:
17) Sharpness Test – Nikon 1 30-110mm VR @ 80mm Center Frame
Very similar results as 60mm at 80mm in the center:
18) Sharpness Test – Nikon 1 30-110mm VR @ 80mm Corner Frame
With much better performance in the corners wide open at 80mm:
19) Sharpness Test – Nikon 1 30-110mm VR @ 110mm Center Frame
At 110mm the maximum aperture is f/5.6, which is also its sweet spot:
20) Sharpness Test – Nikon 1 30-110mm VR @ 110mm Corner Frame
Corners seem to be the best at around f/8.0 at 110mm:
The Nikon 1 30-110mm VR seems to perform well at short focal lengths in the center, with f/5.6 being its sweet spot. Once zoomed in to 60mm, there is a slight loss of resolution. As for corners, they start out weak at 30mm and need to be stopped down to f/8.0 for best results. The corner sharpness greatly improves as you zoom in, especially above 80mm.
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 Nikon 1 30-110mm VR 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.
Compared to Nikon 1 10-30mm f/3.5-5.6 VR
Let’s see how the Nikon 1 30-110mm VR compares to the Nikon 1 10-30mm f/3.5-5.6 VR kit lens that comes with the Nikon 1 V1 / J1 cameras. Since there is only one focal length (30mm) that overlaps between these lenses, the below comparison only shows one center and one corner frame comparison.
21) Nikon 1 30-110mm VR vs Nikon 1 10-30mm 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.
22) Nikon 1 30-110mm VR vs Nikon 1 10-30mm 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:
23) Nikon 1 30-110mm VR vs Nikon 1 10-30mm 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
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 30-100mm 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.
24) Nikon 1 30-110mm VR vs Nikon 1 10-100mm VR @ 30mm Center Frame
Again, I won’t be providing any f/16 crops, since image quality is very poor at the minimum aperture.
25) Nikon 1 30-110mm vs Nikon 1 10-100mm VR @ 30mm Corner Frame
26) Nikon 1 30-110mm VR vs Nikon 1 10-100mm VR @ 40mm Center Frame
27) Nikon 1 30-110mm VR vs Nikon 1 10-100mm VR @ 40mm Corner Frame
28) Nikon 1 30-110mm VR vs Nikon 1 10-100mm VR @ 60mm Center Frame
29) Nikon 1 30-110mm VR vs Nikon 1 10-100mm VR @ 60mm Corner Frame
30) Nikon 1 30-110mm VR vs Nikon 1 10-100mm VR @ 80mm Center Frame
31) Nikon 1 30-110mm VR vs Nikon 1 10-100mm VR @ 80mm Corner Frame
32) Nikon 1 30-110mm VR @ 110mm vs Nikon 1 10-100mm VR @ 100mm Center Frame
33) Nikon 1 30-110mm VR @ 110mm vs Nikon 1 10-100mm VR @ 100mm Corner Frame
34) Nikon 1 30-110mm VR vs Nikon 1 10-100mm VR Conclusion
As you can see from the above image crops, the Nikon 30-110mm VR starts out sharper in the center and weaker in the corners, then catches up in the corners towards its longest focal length. Overall, I would say the differences are rather small when both lenses are stopped down to the same aperture, which is disappointing for the 30-110mm lens. I guess I just expected a little more out of a dedicated telephoto lens. At focal lengths below 60mm the Nikon 1 30-110mm has a 1 stop lead, but it also has a weaker corner performance. In terms of other optical performance differences, the Nikon 1 30-110mm has much less vignetting at f/5.6 throughout its focal range. The 30-110mm has more barrel distortion at 30mm, but less pincushion distortion above 60mm. Both lenses are equally allergic to flare and ghosting, which is why Nikon provided lens hoods. AF speed seems to be about the same on both lenses. As for lens build, the Nikon 1 30-110mm feels a little “plasticy” compared to the all-metal Nikon 1 10-100mm. Each lens has its advantages and disadvantages. The clear advantage of the 30-110mm is its compact size and light weight, while the 10-100mm is a much more versatile lens that almost packs the performance of both the 10-30mm kit and the 30-110mm telephoto lenses into one lens.
The 1 Nikkor VR 30-110mm f/3.8-5.6 is a great compact telephoto zoom lens for the Nikon 1 camera system. With its collapsible barrel design, compact size, low weight and a great optical design with integrated VR, it nicely complements the 1 Nikkor VR 10-30mm f/3.5-5.6 kit zoom lens to extend the range of the Nikon 1 cameras at a low cost. Optically, it is a sharp lens with good contrast, colors and bokeh, and its performance is pretty good in the center at all focal lengths, while the corners start out somewhat softer at 30mm and significantly improve towards the long end of the lens. It has very little chromatic aberration issues and while distortion starts out a little strong at 30mm, it pretty much goes away from 40mm onward. While the Nikon 1 10-100mm VR in some regards shows better optical performance, the Nikon 1 30-110mm VR is more compact; plus it weighs and costs 3 times less, having a great price to performance ratio. Overall, the Nikon 30-110mm is a great telephoto zoom lens for the Nikon 1 cameras. I really enjoyed shooting with it while testing the Nikon 1 V1 and J1 cameras.
36) Where to buy and availability
The Nikon 1 30-110mm f/3.8-5.6 VR lens is available from various local and online retailers like B&H in multiple colors either as a secondary lens kit with the Nikon 1 V1 and Nikon 1 J1 cameras, or can be purchased separately for approximately $249 (as of 12/24/2011).
37) More image samples
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Nikon 1 30-110mm VR
- Optical Performance
- Bokeh Quality
- Build Quality
- Focus Speed and Accuracy
- Image Stabilization
- Size and Weight
Photography Life Overall Rating