The odd but brilliant Nikon 32mm F1.2.

As you may have read in my previous posts on the subject I’m a bit of a fan of the little Nikon V1 compact system camera. With the rumoured release of the new V3 I was quite excited, and depending on the specification I was even willing to consider using one as an official “back up” to my professional DSLR system. However, Nikon have done some very strange things with the V3 spec including removing the built in EVF (now an optional extra), and they didn’t include a standard hotshoe which was my pre-requisite for it being possible to use one as an official back up. As it is I still shoot a lot with my D800 as main camera and the V1 as an unofficial second camera. I now keep a Nikon D7000 as an official back up but it rarely goes out with me these days.

So, a little disappointed with the V3 spec I decided that my gear acquisition syndrome (G.A.S) was not going to make me press that “preorder” button at least not until the prices come down and I’ve had a chance to try one and decide if it’s really worth the upgrade or not. A far better idea entered my head, having read a lot about the Nikon 32mm F1.2 1 system lens and seen some fantastic pictures taken with it  I started investigating. This lens, as a solely 1 system lens is not cheap, far from it, costing around £650 brand new it’s in the territory of even decent full-frame DSLR glass. However reading more the reviews are all excellent and, well it is an F1.2 and if there’s anything the 1 system can benefit from its fast glass, very fast glass preferably.

Nikon 32mm F1.2 on Nikon V1I managed to find a used but as-new one for £550 and I pressed that buy button… a little scary since it’s an expensive and exclusively 1 system purchase. The one I bought is in silver, I always wanted silver as I think they look great on the black V1, my silver 10mm pancake looks awesome and I prefered the shiny 32mm to the rather dull looking black one as it makes it look more like it is… special.

First impressions when opening the box and unwrapping the lens were very, very good. It has a gorgeous shiny metal surface, it feels solid and extremely well made. All the Nikon 1 lenses are good lenses and have decent build quality but this is something else. It feels easily good enough to sport the pro-level gold ring like my Nikon 24-70 or 70-200 lens. If anything, being a prime, it feels better.

This is the only 1 system lens that features a full time manual focus ring. It’s very smooth, nicely weighted and feels gorgeous in use. The lens also features the pro-spec Nano crystal coat. Basically you get what you pay for, but half of me can’t believe that Nikon would make something so nice just exclusively for the 1 system!  It’s kind of a shame that the plastic lens hood doesn’t quite live up to the rest of the lens quality.

In use it certainly does not disappoint. I got this lens more than two weeks ago and only took it off the V1 for the first time yesterday to mount the 10mm as I needed a wider angle.  It is simply divine.

My first use of the lens was on the day I got it. I was shooting some night landscapes down in London. I took the V1 and 32mm F1.2 with me and snapped some handheld nightshots while my D800 was chomping away on long exposures. I was extremely impressed, this lens resolves so much detail it’s more than a match for the 10mp sensor on theV1 and I would think easily resolves more than enough detail for the new 18mp sensor in the V3 and J4.

This is one of the first snaps I got with it before it got dark, handheld at  F4 1/250 sec ISO 125.

London Cityscape

 

Soon the light faded much more and I tried it out for a few more handheld shots.

1/250, F3.2 ISO 140

 

Big Ben

 

 

1/320 F1.2  ISO 1600

Big Ben

This next shot is one of my favourites. It looks almost like daylight but it was actually quite dark.  I have put the NEF file on dropbox if anyone wants to take a look at the RAW and see what you think.  The settings for this one were 1/60, F1.2 ISO 1100.

London Eye

Considering the highish ISO I think the lens has resolved a very decent amount of detail zooming in to 100% I can almost read the gold writing on the side of the statue, almost but not quite – I reckon with the V2 or V3 or any of the other higher mp sensors it may well be readable. With about 25% colour noise reduction in Lightroom you’re just left with the characteristic film grain -like soft luminance noise that is characteristic of the 1″ sensor and to be honest I like the look of the “noise” on this sensor I’ve seen far worse. To be fair it could have been shot at lower ISO which would have made the picture look more like it actually looked in real life.. much darker!

So my first impressions when I saw the files from that night on my computer were VERY good. In fact I liked many of the V1’s shots more than the long exposures I got on the D800.

32mm BokehWho says you can’t get soft blurred backgrounds on the 1 system…?? You can and it’s relatively easy with the 32mm. It’s obviously not going to be as blurred as using a 85mm F1.2 on a full frame sensor, but it does provide some very nice soft background bokeh which is smooth and pleasant looking.

 

The AF performance of this lens is outstanding. The 1 system cameras are very good in this respect anyway but I decided to test the system in video mode, using AF-A and full auto focus. I recorded some video of a complicated subject and I also left the face detection mode on which I thought might fool the system, and just let the V1 do it’s thing. I did not press the shutter button or manually intervene to change the focus I just pointed the centre point at what I wanted the camera to focus on. It did, it did quickly and very accurately and I was very impressed, the focusing was also completely silent and did not interfere with the video sound at all.  See what you think in this short video I made shot at F2.0.

 

My next proper go with the 32mm was on an outdoor location shoot with a model. I shot about 1/3 of the frames from the shoot with the V1 and 32mm and the rest on my D800. Here are some shot on the V1. All the shots I got with the V1 are extremely sharp with this lens and resolve a very nice amount of detail on the 10mp sensor. I’m just totally in love, the images are punchy, contrasty, detailed and the V1 nailed the focus every time with Face recognition switched on. I didn’t have to focus/recompose or shift focus points around which made the shoot actually easier than with the D800 where I was jockeying focus points around as I like to shoot wide open and I’m so conscious that the beast will punish you big time if you miss the focus even slightly, as so much is resolved by it’s unbelievable 36mp sensor!

The next opportunity to use my 32mm was at a 1-2-1 training day on outdoor portraiture and photographic business practise. I took along my D800 and V1 with 32mm. I got the V1 out, just thinking I’d take a couple of shots on it and ended up taking all the shots from the session. Only getting the D800 out for a single shot when I needed to use bounced flash!! I think my D800 is going to get jealous of this little upstart taking it’s business!

Natural Light

The Nikon 1 system isn’t really best designed for portraiture, it’s more of a sports/action/ capturing the moment type camera, but having said that I will certainly be using it again in tandem with the D800 for portraiture as with this 32mm and also with the 18.5mm F1.8 it gives very pleasing results and that last strength “capturing the moment” is invaluable also for portrait work to catch that fleeting moment/expression.

So in conclusion I’m extremely happy my G.A.S. made me purchase the 32mm F1.2. It’s just an extraordinary lens for Nikon to drop on the 1 system and a very welcome addition to the family.  when I say “odd but brilliant” in the title I don’t mean the lens itself is odd, i just think it’s very existence is quite odd. This is obviously a very well engineered and very high quality optical piece and Nikon have made it exclusively for the 1 system I can only think that this shows that they have faith in their choice of the 1″ sensor.. despite all the detractors out there. I can see that this superb lens will rarely be off my V1! If you are thinking of buying one you won’t be disappointed.

I’m off to a studio shoot tomorrow, I’ll definitely be taking my little V1 and 32mm along side my D800 and big glass. I can’t wait to get it going in the studio assuming I can trigger the lights using my little SB-N5 – it’s worked before and hopefully will again though still my little bugbear about the 1 system, no standard hotshoe.