Nikon 1 32mm f/1.2 Review and Tests - Part 1 - Comparison with Nikon D800E and 85mm f/1.8

I and others have talked up this new Nikon 1 32mm f/1.2 lens somewhat, so I thought I'd start this review with a really tough comparison. How does it stand up to my Nikon D800E fitted with the 85mm f/1.8G? As you can see above, this is a bit of a mis-match in terms of size. But then size isn't everything, or is it?

First off, and as far as I'm concerned to get this out of the way, what are the depth-of-field differences between the two? They do both put pretty much the same image in the frame, but 32mm and 85mm are different focal lengths and have different characteristics, most notably how much DOF you get at any given aperture. Its not quite like for like wide open, f/1.2 compared to f/1.8 but its a useful comparison none the less. I used three apertures for this, wide open, f/4 and f/8. I've also put the exif data underneath the wide open comparison to show just what a shutter speed bonus you get from the Nikon 1 lens. The difference between the two lenses is 1.116 stops in favour of the 32mm (though this isn't a precise science since lenses do differ) but the shutter speed advantage to the 32mm is slightly more than that. Again, this probably won't happen in all cases and has more to do with the cameras metering than the lens. However, the 32mm lens is very useful in low light and will allow the ISO setting to be lower, which in the case of the Nikon 1 cameras and their small sensors is obviously a good thing to keep that higher ISO noise under control.

So its apparent that the Nikon 1 system and its lenses will always give more DOF if the same framing is used. I'm not going into the whole debate again, mostly because I think its completely pointless, but this is very much a case of neither is 'better', its simply a case of choosing whichever you want and what works for you. Personally, as I've stated often enough, in 99 cases out of 100 I prefer to have the maximum DOF I can get. Thats me, what I shoot and what I prefer. I say that without attaching any value judgement to it. It would be helpful if many of those who prefer shooting for the minimum DOF they can get, did the same!

How much value you attach to the following comparisons is up to you. Its showing the different levels of sharpness for each lens. Now there is obviously a huge mismatch in terms of sensor size, but to try and get some kind of comparison that means something, I've upsized the Nikon 1 file to 4000px longest edge and downsized the D800E file to the same. This should in fact seriously favour the D800E file. However bearing all of that in mind, see what you think.

These are both identically processed in raw, with all sharpening, noise and CA / fringing turned off. There is a slight difference in the background due to the different positioning of the lenses on the cameras and of course the significant difference in size. In reality I just didn't move my tripod.

As far as I'm concerned the D800E / 85mm shots are sharper, but then if they weren't I would want to know why! This comparison is more to show that the Nikon 1 system and this lens in particular can deliver decent results (and perhaps better than that) allowing for its size. Now I could get sharper results from both by applying some sharpening, but I thought for the purposes of these tests it would be useful to keep everything unsharpened. 

One thing that shows up nicely is that both images are nice and 'clean'. By this I mean, that even wide open, there is very little CA and fringing. It is there but takes some finding. They are both very similar in terms of colour rendition, the 85mm is slightly warmer, but thats about it. 

All of this does confirm to me that the 32mm f/1.2 is excellent optically. As I've found with all the Nikon 1 lenses I've used, f/8 is somewhat beyond their 'comfort zone' and this 32mm is no exception to that. Being brought up photographically on 'if in doubt f/8' I've had to get used to the viewfinder on my V1's showing me apertures I would normally want to avoid, and I had a similar situation with m4/3. You get better results with wider apertures on these Nikon 1 lenses and of course the same or more DOF. All of this is of course very useful in keeping shutter speeds high and ISO values low.

I would finally mention that using the electronic shutter on the V1 with its top speed of 1/16000th. of a second (yes that is 1/16000!!) if you fancy a bit of differential focus in bright sunlight, then no problem. You might want to set the camera to 60fps as well. Just thought I'd throw that in. So if you miss the shot of your offspring scoring their first goal, we all know where to put the blame!!