Nikon 1’s first 50mm lens

The 1 Nikkor 18.5mm f/1.8 for the Nikon 1 Series is here, and it’s a beauty.  The much anticipated 50mm-equivalent not only adds a beloved classic frame to the 1 Series lineup, but is also its first wide-aperture lens, introducing a much needed fast option for 1 Series users and extending the range of artistic and technical capabilities available such as shallower Depth of Field and night shooting.

The 18.5mm is 1 1/4 stops faster than its sibling, the 1 Nikkor 10mm f/2.8 prime, promising more than double the low-light performance of its peer.

It’s got all the hallmarks of the 1 Series – it’s small, light, and inexpensive – but how does it stack up optically?  To begin to answer that question we will enlist the aid of Nikon’s own MTF charts for the 18.5mm, the 10mm, and the best standard comparable lens – the AF-S Nikkor 50mm f/1.8.  With the same effective angle of view and aperture ratio, and being perhaps the most popular 50mm lens, this is the lens to beat.

There are three main areas I want to draw your attention to in these graphs, which depict resolution as a measure of image quality (IQ) on the vertical axis, and distance from the center of the lens on the horizontal, for each of the three lenses: in the yellow boxes above, the first is the point at which the quality of the 18.5mm first drops below .6, a rating above which is generally accepted as “good”.  In excess of 75% of the 18.5mm’s diameter is above this level, whereas for the 10mm this is 50%, and for the traditional 50mm less than 40%.  The second and third areas are the lowest quality scores achieved by the other lenses.  The perennial 50mm had the lowest outside score of .1, while the 10mm floored at .2, and the 18.5mm did not even meet .3.

Together, this means dramatically more relative area of the lens with higher resolution, which translates directly to sharper, crisper images for you, the shooter.  Did I mention it’s less than half the weight?

These measures are not trivial, and have two major implications for the 1 Series: the first is that Nikon is demonstrating a continuing trend of improvement not only in the geometric characteristics of the lenses in the family, covering an ever-wide range of angles of view and light gathering abilities, but also in optical quality as sharpness and color transmission continue to improve.

The second, and far more important, conclusion is what Nikon is signalling to us: this lens is an affirmation of their commitment to the 1 Series, and to the fact that they don’t take their first new lens family introduction in 50 years lightly.

The 1 Series is here to stay, and it’s the future of Nikon.

We’ll keep you posted once we get one of these and have some sample images.  Until then, here’s some stock photos (be sure to take note of the excellent nighttime performance and lovely shallow DoF):

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