I’m aware that my Nikon 1 Nikkor 32mm F1.2 review is very late – pretty much everyone, including Nikon, has given up on the Nikon 1 system. But on the off chance that you are one of those people, who have incurably fallen in love with the this tiny system, my findings could still be of some use to you. So, what is the Nikon 1 32mm F1.2 and how does it perform?
Nikon 1 32mm F1.2 is the most premium prime lens for the Nikon 1 system. It is also the only lens for the CX mount with an extremely large/bright F1.2 aperture and it’s pretty much your only choice if you are into portrait photography and if you, for some inexplicable reason, absolutely need autofocus. Despite being very expensive, the Nikon 1 32mm F1.2 doesn’t offer any bells and whistles, such as image stabilization (vibration reduction in Nikon speak), an aperture ring or even a very short close focusing distance. It is pretty much designed for portraiture and nothing else.
I’ve had the opportunity to shoot with it for six months and would now like to share my thoughts with you.
- Mount Type: Nikon 1
- Focal Length: 32 mm
- Maximum Aperture: f/1.2
- Minimum Aperture: f/16
- Format: CX
- Maximum Angle of View: 28°
- Lens Elements: 9
- Lens Groups: 7
- Optical Conversion Factor: 2.7x
- Compatible Format(s): CX
- Diaphram Blades: 7 (rounded diaphram opening)
- Autofocus: Yes
- AF-S (Silent Wave Motor): Yes
- Close Range Correction: Yes
- Minimum Focus Distance: 1.5ft. (45cm)
- Filter Size: 52 mm
- Accepts Filter Type: Screw-on
- Approx. Dimensions (Diameter x Length): 2.6in. (65.5mm) x 1.9in. (47mm)
- Approx. Weight: 8.3 oz. / 235g
Build quality and design
Build quality of the Nikon 1 Nikkor 32mm F1.2 can’t (or better yet “shouldn’t”) be summed up in one paragraph, let alone a single sentence. With this lens, one must make a distinction between its outer components (such as its lens tube and paint job) and its “innards”. The lens tube feels robust in use and conveys a feeling of premium quality – something the cheap- and feeble-feeling Olympus M.Zuiko 45mm f/1.8 ED’s lens tube, for example, absolutely doesn’t do. Speaking of quality, Nikon 1 32mm F1.2’s paint job is top notch as well. It is undoubtedly durable, yet feels silky smooth and very pleasant to the touch. I’m amazed by how Nikon have managed to strike such a good balance between great tactile feel, sexy looks and functionality.
But let’s now turn our attention to the “guts” of the lens. I always wanted to review this lens, but couldn’t afford it. So my friend Jan Maaso offered to send it to me for a review. I gladly accepted and kept it for way too long. I also managed to damage the lens while using it. Yes, I’m an a**hole – there, I said it! 😉 But I did pay for the repair in full. How much does it cost to repair burnt up aperture blades on this lens, when it’s out of warranty, you ask?
A LOT! 419 euro to be exact. Why so much? Well, you have to hand it to Nikon for designing a lens that is not only extremely expensive to make (or maybe it is relatively cheap to make, but they simply wanted a product with a exorbitantly high profit margin?) but also stupidly expensive to repair. What you have to know, is, that you can’t just tell them to replace a single part inside the lens, like the AF motor or the aperture module. NO, the entire rear element group and god knows what else has to be replaced as well – read also this thread on dpreview by another unlucky 32/1.2 owner. That’s how you end up with a bill of 419 euro for a repair of a single component on a lens that sells brand new for €750. Honest question: would you be pissed if a mechanic told you that you have to pay 15,000 bucks for a transmission repair on your Ford Fusion, which you bought for $25,000 three or four years ago?
At this point you might be wondering, whether the inner components of this lens are truly prone to failure or whether I’m just some careless nitwit. Well, I’ve been into photography for more than ten years now and aside from this unfortunate incident I’ve never managed to burn the aperture blades on any of my lenses or damage them in any other serious way. And it’s not like I only had a handful of lenses in all this time. Check my about page for a list of gear I currently own. Note that I’ve owned and used at least twice as many different lenses and cameras over the years. Those I didn’t like or I’ve used far too rarely, I ended up selling.
So how could something like this have happened? Well, after close inspection, it turned out that Nikon used a very thin almost aluminum foil-like material for individual aperture blades. Compared to my other modern lenses (Oly 45/1.8, Pana 25/1.8, Nikon 18.5/1.8), the blades are half as thin or thinner still. You have to know that you absolutely can burn the aperture blades of some lenses, like for example wide-angle lenses. Imagine using one of those on a tripod to capture a landscape. You could end up with burnt aperture blades if you stop down the aperture and, while the sun is in the frame or close to it, leave the lens/camera on a tripod for a prolonged period of time. But would you do something like that with a super-fast portraiture lens? I know I wouldn’t and I didn’t. So it must be that the material is simply not strong enough to withstand even being pointed towards the sun for a very short amount of time. How much time do you need to shoot a casual portrait shot, a flower shot or a portrait of a cat? I know that I shoot pictures like these in less than a minute and I’m rarely pointing into the same direction for the entire time. Those image quality comparison pictures in the “image quality” section were also shot in a swift manner. Camera on a tripod, lens cap offf, snap, snap, snap, lens cap on! In under a minute!
The autofocus performance of the Nikon 1 Nikkor 32mm F1.2 is, like most Nikon 1 lenses, generally quite good. Having such a large aperture and front lens elements, it is bound to be a bit slower than a small and light lens, like the Nikon 1 Nikkor 18.5mm F1.8. In a direct comparison to the 18.5mm F1.8 and the Olympus 45mm F1.8, you realize that Nikon actually oversized the AF motor of the 18.5mm, while integrating a more “in line with the competition” motor into the 32mm F1.2. The latter is as fast as the Oly 45mm F1.8. I would, however, have liked the 32mm to trounce the Oly 45mm, in order to offer a justification for its high price point. Oh well, it is sufficiently fast for portraiture and other subjects one would want to shoot with it. In case you would like to see how it performs for yourself, here is a video in which I put its AF to the test in day light and low light.
In this second video I compare the Nikon 32mm F1.2 to the Olympus 45mm F1.8 in regard to AF performance.
Doubling as a macro lens
The Nikon 1 Nikkor 32mm F1.2 is not exactly a macro lens out of the box. It has a rather long minimum focus distance of 45cm or 1.5ft. There really is no way to shoot a macro shot without extension tubes or close-up lenses. Speaking of which, for the following shots I’ve attached my Marumi DHG200 and Raynox DCR-250 to the Nikon 1 32mm F1.2, in order to see what kind of results I could get.
As you can see, even with two very strong close-up lenses you can’t really use the Nikkor for serious macro work. Portraiture lenses for other systems, like the Olympus 45mm F1.8 for micro 4/3, can be used for macro more successfully and therefore offer additional value. If you are interested, read my following article: Shooting macro with a portrait lens: Olympus 45mm f/1.8, Marumi DHG200 and Raynox DCR-250 working in unison
There is nothing wrong with the image quality of the Nikon 1 Nikkor 32mm F1.2 lens. It performs well wide open. Stopped down by 2 to 3 stops it is nothing short of excellent. If you don’t have a frame of reference, such as another lens of similar equivalent focal length and brightness for a different system, you will be quite happy with the Nikon 32mm F1.2. View the following images to get an idea of its sharpness, vignetting, purple fringing and bokeh.
Sharpness is very good corner to corner throughout the entire aperture range.
Uncropped image at F1.2. You can find and download the rest of the full resolution images in this flickr set.
Crops from the middle at various apertures.
Crops of the upper left corner at various apertures.
Purple fringing is quite strong wide open. You have to stop down to f/2.8 to get rid of it completely.
Uncropped image at F1.2.
Click on the image to view it full res on flickr!
Vignetting is extreme wide open. The real problem here is not the difference in exposure across the frame, but rather the green color cast between f/1.2 and f/2.0.
Bokeh is good overall, but I’m not a fan of the almond-shaped bokeh balls or as some people like to call them “cat eyes”. I prefer perfectly round bokeh balls.
Uncropped image at F1.2.
Click on the image to view it full res on flickr!
Btw. you can view and download all of these images in full resolution. You can find them all in this flickr set.
Unfortunately (or fortunately for me?), I have another lens for another system, which performs the exact same roll in that system: Olympus 45mm F1.8. I have already written and posted a comparison of the two lenses, and let me tell you this, the Nikon 32mm F1.2 ends up losing that battle quite convincingly. Should you be interested, you can read all about it here. The “too long, didn’t read” version looks like this: both are sharp even wide open; Nikon is sharper in the middle, while the Olympus is better in the corners. In either case, the difference is trivial. Where the Nikon falters and gets beaten by a lens that costs a 1/3 as much, is vignetting (especially the hard to correct color shift in the corners), purple fringing and bokeh. Now, I would be inclined to turn a blind eye to these shortcomings if the Nikon 32mm F1.2 cost just as much as the Oly. It would be a case of “it’s harder to make excellent lenses for small sensors”. But since the Nikon costs three times as much as the Oly, there really is no excuse. It should be better than the Oly, and by a lot. The fact that it has more pronounced image artifacts and subjectively worse bokeh doesn’t make it a bad lens, but it does make it a really bad deal.
There is no doubt in my mind that the Nikon 1 Nikkor 32mm F1.2 is too expensive for what it brings to the table. AF is fast enough for most subjects you would want to shoot with a portraiture lens. Sharpness is good corner to corner throughout the entire aperture range. The lens has a strong tendency to purple fringing wide open, but this particular image artifact can be corrected in software with a couple of mouse clicks. Same goes for the dark corners between f/1.2 and f/2.8. What can’t be corrected as easily is the green color cast towards the image corners. Bokeh is good, but in my opinion it’s worse than that of the Olympus 45mm F1.8 – a lens that costs only 1/3 as much. The biggest issue I have with this lens is its dead system and the fact that you are utterly screwed should it break out of warranty. Therefore I cannot recommend this lens.
Bottom line: this lens is too expensive for what it offers and it will get even more expensive if it breaks after the warranty has expired. Buy it at your own risk!
The following are some of the better photos I have shot with this lens. You can find more in my Nikon 32mm F1.2 Flickr set.
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