1 Nikkor 10mm f/2.8: A Sizzling Pancake


1 Nikkor 10mm f/2.8

1 Nikkor 10mm f/2.8

Nikon’s flat lenses for full frame cameras have been legendary. Can they replicate the magic with the 1 Nikkor 10mm f/2.8 meant for the Nikon 1 system of CX format cameras? K Madhavan Pillai finds out.

Ultrathin lenses have an extremely interesting history, with the very first Tessar ‘pancake’ produced by Zeiss in 1902. Nikon too made several iconic pancake lenses, all for analogue 35mm cameras, from 1968 to 2005.

With the emergence of smaller mirrorless cameras, pancake lenses have seen a revival over the last two years with Panasonic and Olympus releasing their first pancakes for the Lumix G and PEN series of cameras. At 22mm, the 1 Nikkor 10mm f/2.8 is not the thinnest Nikon pancake. Surprisingly, the full frame Nikkor AI-S 45mm f/2.8, released in 2001, was just 17mm thin.
The 1 Nikkor 10mm f/2.8 was one of the four lenses announced with the Nikon V1, in September 2011.

Additionally, it remains the only prime in the lineup of Nikon 1 lenses, with 10mm being a focal length offered by two of the three zooms.The reason I was extremely keen on testing this lens is because I have used Nikon’s very first pancake, the Nikkor GN Auto 45mm f/2.8 with an old Nikkormat. I don’t recall having as much fun with other lenses, as I did with the pancake.

On mounting the 1 Nikkor 10mm f/2.8 onto the Nikon V1, I knew that I was going to enjoy the experience of using it. The only question that remained was whether it performed well.

The 10mm is currently the smallest and the lightest lens from Nikon. It offers an equivalent focal length of 27mm (Nikon’s new CX format sensor has a 2.7x crop).

It features six elements in five groups (including two aspherical elements), a seven-bladed, rounded aperture and an aperture range of f/2.8–f/11. It sports a non-rotating front lens element with a filter thread of 40.5mm. It has quite a good minimum focussing distance of 0.2 meters or about 8.4 inches from the focal plane.

Over the four weeks in which I tested the Nikon V1, I ended up using the 10mm pancake most of the time. Along with the V1, this lens makes the whole unit so wonderfully compact that it becomes a pleasure to carry around just about anywhere. I ended up carrying it in a shoulder-slung Kata pouch that I normally use when I am testing a compact camera.

The 10mm feels solidly built with a metal mount and barrel. There are no rings or controls on the lens. The serrated front edge of the lens does not rotate, but it offers a good grip when changing lenses. Manual focus is actuated through the camera body with this lens. While this is not my favourite method of using manual focus, I hardly ever needed to do this anyway.

A large part of the AF performance of a lens depends on the camera. With the V1, the AF is quick and locks without hunting. It is not perfectly silent though. In video shooting, you can hear the focus motors. However, it is quiet enough to shoot without being noticed.

The joy of a lens like the 10mm is with street photography. I have always lamented the lack of the DOF scale on newer lenses, and the 10mm falls into this category. While a distance scale is available on the LCD of the V1, setting hyperfocal distances can be quite a cumbersome process. I wish manufacturers would provide an automatic hyperfocal distance mode within their cameras, especially for lenses like the 10mm.

In terms of optical quality, this lens was unexpectedly good. Flare is very well controlled. Barrel distortion is visible at the edges but it is minimal and can be easily corrected in porstprocessing. Slight vignetting is visible at f/2.8 , but it disappears when the lens is stopped down to f/4, and this too can be easily corrected.

The lens shows impressive sharpness at f/5.6. As expected, sharpness drops slightly at the edges of the frame, at either extreme of the aperture range, but on the whole, the 10mm is a solid performer.

At an MRP of Rs. 8450, if you own a Nikon 1 system camera, this lens must feature at the top of your list of things to buy next. Apart from its performance, the pleasure of using the V1 or the J1 with the 10mm is truly worth experiencing, especially at this price. 

I was quite surprised to find that flare from the hurricane lamps was rather well controlled. Exposure: 1/80sec at f/3.2 (ISO 400). Photograph/K Madhavan Pillai

I was quite surprised to find that flare from the hurricane lamps was rather well controlled. Exposure: 1/80sec at f/3.2 (ISO 400). Photograph/K Madhavan Pillai

Final Ratings
Tiny, f/2.8, good minimum focusing distance

Good control over flare, quick AF

Build Quality
Metal lens mount and barrel, solid build

No DOF scale or focusing ring

Warranty & Support
Two-year warranty, six master service centres

Value For Money: 4/5 stars

Who Should Buy It?
Anybody who plans to buy aNikon 1 V1 or J1 or already owns one of them.

The fun in using a small 10mm fixed lens is quite unique. It performs well and is built solidly. Most importantly, Nikon has priced it reasonably well in India.

Tags: K Madhavan Pillai, nikon, april 2012, 1 Nikkor 10mm f/2.8, pancake lens, cx format, nikon 1 system