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Nikon J1 Optics

Kit Lens

The Nikon J1 is sold in three different kits, which differ in their choice of bundled lenses. The most affordable of these includes a 1 NIKKOR 10-30mm f/3.5-5.6 VR zoom lens, at a suggested retail price of around US$650. Alternatively, there are two twin-lens kits, each of which supplements the 10-30mm VR zoom with either a 10mm f/2.8 pancake lens or a 30-110mm f/3.8-5.6 VR zoom lens. Both twin-lens kits are priced at around US$900. The optical tests below apply to the main 10-30mm kit lens.

All three kit lenses feature 40.5mm filter threads, a nice touch since that means they can all share the same filters, and their lens caps are interchangeable. The trio also have 7-bladed, rounded apertures for pleasing bokeh, and their front elements don't rotate when focusing or (for the zooms) when adjusting focal length. (The zooms are internal focusing, and the prime is rear-focusing.) In all three cases, there's no physical focus ring, though, and so manual focusing must be achieved from the camera body. Both zooms have collapsing designs that greatly reduce overall size, and which lock in both the retracted and extended positions to prevent accidents. All three lenses are available in a choice of colors to match the Nikon J1 camera body. Choices for the trio include black, white, silver, and red, and the zooms are both available in pink, although this isn't an option for the 10mm prime.

Optical construction of the 10-30mm kit lens consists of 12 elements in 9 groups, with 3 aspherical elements. Minimum focusing distance is 20cm or 7.9 inches for a maximum magnification ratio of 0.57x or 1:1.75 equivalent at 30mm. Optical zoom ratio is 3x, with rotary zoom action. Length is 42mm or 1.7 inches when the lens is retracted, while maximum diameter is 57.5mm or 2.3 inches. Weight is about 115 grams or 4.1 oz.

For the 30-110mm kit lens, the optical formula is 18 elements in 12 groups, including two extra-low dispersion glass elements. Minimum focusing distance is 1m or 3.3 feet, and optical zoom ratio is 3.7x, with rotary zoom action. Length is 61mm or 2.4 inches when the lens is retracted, while maximum diameter is 60mm or 2.4 inches. Weight is about 175 grams or 6.2 oz. List pricing for this lens is $250 when purchased separately, and it effectively costs the same when bundled in a twin-lens kit.

Finally, the remaining kit lens (and the only 1-mount prime to date) is the 10mm. Its optical formula is 6 elements in 5 groups, including two aspherical elements. Minimum focusing distance is 20cm or 7.9 inches. Length is 22mm or 0.9 inches, while maximum diameter is 55.5mm or 2.2 inches. Weight is about 77 grams or 2.7 oz., making this by far the smallest and lightest 1-mount lens yet announced. List pricing for this lens is $250 when purchased separately, and again, it costs the same when bundled in a twin-lens kit.

Lens Compatibility

Nikon's new 1 System cameras debut a new mount dubbed the 1-mount, designed to accommodate a CX-format (1"-type, 15.86mm / 0.62 inch diagonal) image sensor and the reduced backfocus distance of a mirrorless design. As noted, all Nikon J1 kits in the US market include a 10-30mm f/3.5-5.6 stabilized zoom lens. This lens will yield 35mm-equivalent focal lengths ranging from 27 to 81mm, due to the sensor's 2.7x "crop factor". Two other optional 1-mount kit lenses were announced alongside the Nikon J1: a pancake prime, and a stabilized zoom. Starting with the prime, the 1 NIKKOR 10mm f/2.8 pancake prime lens offers a 27mm equivalent focal length, at a price of approximately US$250. For the zoom, the 1 NIKKOR VR 30-110mm f/3.8-5.6 lens will provide focal lengths from 81-297mm equivalents, and carries a pricetag of approximately US$250.

Finally, the 1 NIKKOR 10-100mm f/4.5-5.6 PD-ZOOM lens is the only 1-mount lens that's not available in a kit, and will offer an even wider 27-270mm equivalent range. It's clearly going after a different market, with a $750 list price. This lens has a Power Drive zoom motor, voice coil AF motor, and Vibration Reduction system that are all said to be silent, making them well-suited to movie capture. The optical formula is 21 elements in 14 groups, including two aspherical and three extra-low dispersion glass elements. Minimum focusing distance is 30cm or 1.0 feet at wide angle, and 85cm or 2.8 feet at telephoto, while the optical zoom ratio is 10x. Length is 95mm or 3.7 inches, and maximum diameter is 77mm or 3.0 inches. Weight is about 515 grams or 18.2 oz, making this by far the largest and heaviest 1-mount lens.

This last model is Nikon's first power-zoom lens model. Power zooms are something that's come back into fashion of late, thanks to the rise of video capture in interchangeable-lens cameras. Mechanical zooms make it harder to adjust the focal length without shaking the camera during video capture, where a power zoom can make it relatively easier to do so. Panasonic recently announced a selection of power zoom lenses for its mirrorless cameras, and Nikon becomes the second system camera manufacturer to identify (and answer) videographers' needs in this area.

In addition to the dedicated 1-mount optics, a Nikon FT-1 F-mount adaptor will be offered for the J1, allowing the camera to accept F-mount lenses. Autofocus and autoexposure are fully supported with Nikkor AF-S lenses. Pricing and availability for this item have yet to be disclosed.

Image Stabilization

All current 1-mount zooms, including both the 10-30mm and 30-110mm kit lenses, include Nikon's "VR" (Vibration Reduction) optical image stabilization, which the company states offers up to 3 stops of correction to combat blur from camera shake. That means you can shoot at shutter speeds 8x slower than you can normally hand-hold without VR. Image stabilization comes in very handy for low-light shooting without a tripod, especially at telephoto focal lengths where camera motion blur is magnified, and where the lens is "slower" at f/5.6 (captures less light) versus wide angle at f/3.5 for the 10-30mm, f/3.8 for the 30-110mm, and f/4.5 for the 10-100mm lens.

An option in the Shooting menu allows image stabilization to be enabled or disabled, for lenses that support the function. The same option also lets you select between the Normal mode, which is suitable for levels of shake you'd expect when standing still, and an Active mode (if supported by the lens, as both kit zooms do), which provides a greater range of correction suited to shooting from a moving vehicle or while walking.

Autofocus

The Nikon J1's focus "servo" modes include Single AF (AF-S) which locks focus when the shutter button is half-pressed, Continuous AF (AF-C) which focuses continuously when the shutter button is half-pressed, Full-time AF (AF-F) which focuses continuously without having to half-press the shutter, Auto-select AF (AF-A) which automatically switches between AF-S and AF-C depending on if the subject is still or moving, and of course Manual focus (MF). In AF-C and AF-F modes, the shutter can be released whether or not the camera is able to focus, but in AF-S and AF-A modes, the subject must be in focus for the shutter to release.

The Nikon J1's hybrid AF system is swift. (We measured only 0.094s lag with Single-point AF -- that's faster than almost all professional DSLRs we've ever tested!) The speed of the AF system comes thanks to the fact that, unlike competing mirrorless cameras which rely solely on contrast detection to determine focus, the Nikon J1 has a hybrid system that combines both phase-detection and contrast-detection capability from the imaging sensor. The detection mode is chosen automatically as appropriate to the shooting conditions, and a generous array of 73 phase detection AF points are available.

The Nikon J1 offers three AF-area modes: Auto-area, Single-point, and Subject tracking. Nikon specifications state that 135 focus areas are available in Single-point AF mode, and 41 focus areas in Auto-area AF mode. We're not sure how the 135 and 41 figures relate to the 73 phase detect points and are currently seeking more information on the J1's hybrid AF system.

AF Assist

To help with focusing on nearby subjects in low ambient lighting conditions, the Nikon J1 includes an AF assist lamp which can be disabled in the Shooting menu.

Dust Reduction

Unlike the Nikon V1 which vibrates its sensor's low-pass filter to remove dust each time the camera is turned on or off, the Nikon J1 has no active dust reduction system, relying instead on a fixed glass dust shield in front of the sensor. Since the J1's imager needs to be exposed for full-time live view, dust could be more of an issue than with a DSLR employing a mechanical shutter that is normally closed. We haven't yet seen an automatic system capable of removing all dust, but with the J1 lacking even a basic cleaning system, its users are even more likely to have to either learn how to clean their sensor, or send the camera in for cleaning.

 

Nikon J1 Optical Test Results

Kit Lens Test Results

Zoom
A typical 3x kit lens zoom range, with very good performance.

10mm @ f/5.6 30mm @ f/5.6

As mentioned above, the Nikon J1 is offered with the 1 Nikkor 10-30mm f/3.5-5.6 VR kit lens, possessing a typical optical zoom range of about 3x. The 35mm equivalent focal range is about 27-81mm, because of the J1's 2.7x "crop factor". Sharpness and contrast across most of the frame are quite good at 10mm and f/5.6, however there's moderate chromatic aberration and strong blurring visible in the extreme corners. Results at full telephoto are excellent with very good sharpness and contrast across the frame at f/5.6, and lower levels of chromatic aberration.

Macro
A small macro area (for a CSC kit lens), with good detail in the center. Flash throttled down well.

Macro with 10-30mm kit Lens
30mm @ f/5.6
Macro with Flash
30mm @ f/5.6

The Nikon J1's macro performance will of course depend entirely on the lens in use. With the 10-30mm VR kit lens set to 30mm, the Nikon J1 captured a relatively small (for a non-macro CSC lens) minimum area measuring just 2.11 x 1.41 inches (54 x 36 millimeters). Detail was quite good but slightly soft in the center, though corners were very soft with blurring extending deep into the frame. (Most lenses have some softening in the corners at macro distances.) The Nikon J1's flash throttled down for the macro area very well. There was no detectable shadow from the lens barrel, resulting in a very good exposure with the flash.

Geometric Distortion
Slightly higher than average barrel distortion at wide-angle, but almost no distortion at telephoto from the 10-30mm VR kit lens.

Barrel distortion at 10mm is 0.9 percent
Pincushion distortion at 30mm is negligible

The 1 Nikkor 10-30mm VR lens produced about 0.9 percent barrel distortion at wide-angle, which is slightly above average and noticeable in some of its images. At the telephoto end, there's hardly a pixel's work of pincushion distortion, which is much lower than average and not noticeable. Geometric Distortion is the tendency for the lens to bend straight lines outward (like a barrel -- usually at wide-angle) or inward (like a pincushion -- usually at telephoto).

Surprisingly for the size of the lens, the Nikon J1 does not apply any geometric distortion correction to its JPEGs, as uncorrected RAW files have the same amount of distortion. We're used to seeing very strong barrel distortion from most Micro Four Thirds kit lenses at wide-angle, often on the order of 2-3%, which is automatically reduced in-camera and by most RAW converters. Not so for the 1 Nikkor 10-30mm kit lens. Nikon has managed to keep geometric distortion low enough that automatic in-camera correction is not essential, though some users may still want to correct the 0.9% barrel distortion at wide-angle in an editor for critical applications such as architectural photography.

Chromatic Aberration and Corner Sharpness
Moderately high chromatic aberration at wide-angle, moderate at telephoto. Mild to strong softening in the corners at wide-angle, but good corner sharpness at telephoto.

Aperture: maximum
10mm @ f/3.5: Lower left
C.A.: Moderately high and bright
Softness: Quite soft
10mm @ f/3.5: Center
C.A.: Low
Softness: Sharp
30mm @ f/5.6: Lower left
C.A.: Moderate but dull
Softness: Fairly sharp
30mm @ f/5.6: Center
C.A.: Very low
Softness: Sharp

Chromatic Aberration. Chromatic aberration in the corners with the Nikon J1's 10-30mm kit lens is pretty evident (we'd call it on the high side of "moderate") at both wide-angle (10mm) and telephoto (30mm) settings.  At wide-angle, it's brighter and therefore much more noticeable than at full telephoto. Color fringing is still somewhat evident in the center at wide-angle, but very low in the center at full telephoto. It's interesting to note that the J1 doesn't remove CA from its JPEGs as do more recent Nikon DSLRs, as uncorrected RAW files contain similar amounts. The bundled Nikon View NX 2 software does however automatically suppress CA when used to convert the J1's RAW files.

Corner Softness. Wide-open at full wide-angle, all four corners were softer than the center, with the bottom corners showing the most blurring. Softness was limited to extreme corners though, and the center of the image was quite sharp. At full telephoto all four corners were pretty sharp, almost as sharp as the center, though contrast was lower.

Shading. Some minor vignetting or corner shading is, as can be seen by the slightly darker corner crops.

Aperture: f/8
10mm @ f/8: Lower left
C.A.: Moderately high and bright
Softness: Slightly soft
10mm @ f/8: Center
C.A.: Low
Softness: Sharp
30mm @ f/8: Lower left
C.A.: Moderate but dull
Softness: Fairly sharp
30mm @ f/8: Center
C.A.: Very low
Softness: Sharp

"Stopped-down" to f/8, sharpness in the corners improved at wide-angle, though bottom corners were still slightly soft. Performance at telephoto remained about the same, with corners almost as sharp as the center, with slightly better contrast. CA remained about the same as f/5.6, while vignetting improved slightly.

Overall, a very good performance for a kit lens.

 


Nikon J1 Viewfinder

 

Viewfinder Test Results

Coverage
Excellent accuracy from the LCD viewfinder.

10mm, Live View LCD
30mm, Live View LCD

In record mode, the Nikon J1's LCD monitor provided just slightly below 100% coverage at wide-angle and slightly above 100% at telephoto when using the 10-30mm kit lens, which is excellent.