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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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:
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:
Sharpness Test – Nikon 1 30-110mm VR @ 60mm Center Frame
We start to see some loss of sharpness at 60mm in the center:
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:
Sharpness Test – Nikon 1 30-110mm VR @ 80mm Center Frame
Very similar results as 60mm at 80mm in the center:
Sharpness Test – Nikon 1 30-110mm VR @ 80mm Corner Frame
With much better performance in the corners wide open at 80mm:
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:
Diffraction is again affecting both sharpness and contrast at f/11:
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.