I had to run over to Precision Camera to buy some "fashion grey" background paper yesterday. When I got to the store Gregg, the sales manager walked up and handed me the Nikon Series One 10-100mm zoom lens. "This came from the Nikon rep with a note to give it to you." He said. I asked him for details and he just shook his head and said, "She told us you could use it as long as you wanted to, but eventually she'd like it back…" Sounded reasonable to me. Of course, when presented with a new state-of-the-art toy my first inclination is to drop everything and start playing but life interceded and I remember that I needed to pack, help Ben with some math and post process my Mexican Chef image.
This morning I was up early getting ready for EMP attacks and heading to the Renaissance Hotel to photograph execs with the regal and competent Amy. In fact, it was nearly 5 pm when I finally had the time to put the lens on the front of a Nikon V1 camera and direct the ultra-high performance, F1-ready Honda Element and head downtown. I needed a walk and the lens needed a rational for existence.
First, a bit of information about the lens. What many people don't understand is that the Nikon Series 1 cameras are designed to be incredible video cameras. The throughput from the sensors and related processors is faster than just about anything short of a Red Scarlett and the camera's ability to do beautiful video is amazing. Nikon must have rationally decided that, with a camera that is so outstanding in its video capabilities a fairly large number of people would flock to it to do video production. And to better serve that market it would be really smart to create a technically advanced optic to serve that market in a way that would be familiar to them. So they designed a lens that does these things well: It zooms without shifting focus. Try that with your still camera zooms. I bet you'll be surprised at how enormous the focus shifts are. It has a power zoom setting with three sensitivities. When you zoom you can create ultra smooth video zooms just by maintaining a consistent pressure on the zoom toggle button to maintain the same zoom speed. And, finally, it should be pretty darn sharp across the wide range of focal lengths.
It's not a fast lens since it starts just under f5.6 but it remains there over most of its focal length range. Let me just say, after having shot movie film and video for over twenty years now, this is a production lens. You could use this lens alone, and a V1 body to shoot a movie, a TV program and ANYTHING that is destined for the web. The plus is the fast and sure AF in reasonable light. Down low, all bets are off.
But, what this wide zoom range and tight focus control really means to photographers is that compromises had to be made. In this regard Nikon chose to let distortion take the hit. And that's probably a wise decision since most filming is of three dimensional subjects and not flat walls. I found that, even with the corrections profiles in RC Lightroom 3.6 there was still lots of geometric distortions, even in the middle focal ranges.
I'll make my first totally declarative statement on the lens: If you shoot architecture this lens is not the lens for you. Look else where. In fact, the whole system seems to currently be based on this compromise. The other lenses are sharp and well controlled in every other aspect other than geometric distortion.
The first two images below show you the range of the lens. The top is at the lens's full extension of 100mm which relates to the same field of view you would get on a full frame cameras at approximately 280mm. (The camera sensor is approximately 1/4 the size of a 35mm sized sensor). I assume that you know you can click on each frame and enlarge it to its full 1600 (long side) uploaded size....
The next frame is shot at 10mm and shows off how much is included in the 27mm equivalent frame.
Part of my reason for walking and shooting the same route is to give you, the gentle reader, the chance to go back and compare frames with other cameras and lenses that I've shot with and displayed over the last three years (and nearly 800 posts). Another reason is that it's a nice two mile loop with good coffee at one end and great food at the other end. I wish I had stocked my studio with super models this afternoon to show off how that would look but we just didn't have the bandwidth...
The Nikon V1 generates interesting raw files which can now be read and converted in Adobe Lightroom release candidate 3.6 and in ACR. The files are a little flatter than I like but that means they handle contrast correction well. The camera also tends to create, in AWB, files that are a bit warm. Again, not an issue.
The pluses for the lens are:
1. Incredibly long focal range. Analogous to 27-280mm on a traditional 35mm film camera.
2. Very, very, very good image stabilization. Handholdable at full extension down to 15mm. And you know I'm a regular coffee drinker. In fact, I'm working on my black belt in coffee....(insert nervous muscle tremor..)
3. No focus shift over most of the range. Fairly small aperture shift as well.
4. Big enough to hold on to. In fact, you'll quickly decide to hold the lens instead of the camera for maximum stability.
But there are some downsides. Or cons. Or forum fodder "fails."
1. It renders the camera ===== unpocketable. Sniff. (tear falls down face). I tried to shove it into my slim cut, size 30 Levi's but the lens was just too big. My pocket ripped open and, quite by accident, I spilled several thousand dollars of loose pocket change onto the street. Now that was embarrassing... All kidding aside it's just a bit smaller than a Coke can. Which is funny because some person, in response to my column on "pocketability" stated that he routinely puts his money in his front pants pocket and then shoves in a Coke can to defer thieves when he shoots on the streets in Rome. He fears the "gypsy kids" the way the Seinfeld character, Kramer, fears clowns.... Seriously, if you are walking around Rome trying to photograph with one third of a Coca-Cola six pack shoved down the front of your pants you are already asking for trouble. Really.
2. The lens is approximately $750, street (as they say). That's a lot of money when you consider that what still photographers want in a lens is quite different that what digital video producers might want in a lens.
3. My biggest gripe with the product though is the bad placement ( for my hands, at least ) of the zoom toggle switch. It is too far forward and I missed it every time I reached for it.
So, what's my recommendation? Well, when I read about the lens I was very intrigued. Lots of juicy words light "aspherical" and "ED Glass" (Which does NOT stand for erectile dysfunction glass...) and promised of internal focus and all the usual "buy me" optical terminology. I felt like this one should be special. And I would buy one in a minute if I ever decide to shoot a commercial video project with the Nikon Series One cameras. But as a still photographer I think I'm better off with the two standard zooms. They cover slightly more focal lengths and, even taken together, are smaller and lighter than the PD10-100mm. In fact, you can also throw in the 10mm and still not upset the scales of optical justice.
You also give up at least a stop of aperture at nearly every focal length.
Near the end of my walk the sun had set, the afterglow had faded and the sky was in the deep blue state it affects just before it turns to black. What a glorious time to test both the camera's ISO 3200 capablities, its dark scene focus capabilities and it's resistance to flare from hard light sources in the scene. The photo above and the photo below tell you what you need to know. Not state of the art. But not bad.