It is no secret that I am a big fan of Compact System Cameras (CSC) – I love the fact that they have a large sensor in a compact body which means they have the potential to deliver image quality (IQ) equal to a DSLR at a fraction of the weight. I have used numerous systems from Micro Four Thirds to Samsung NX and now use a Fujifilm X-Pro1 system.
In September 2011, Nikon announced their new CSC called Nikon 1. Introduced were two different camera bodies (the J1 and V1) and three different native lenses. I have to admit that I did not pay much attention to this announcement as the Nikon 1 system uses a 1″ (diagonal), 10 megapixel, CX format sensor. As the CSCs I was using at the time had an APS-C format sensor (which is larger than Nikon’s CX format), I did not give the system much thought.
Here is size difference between different sensor formats:
From this diagram, the Nikon CX sensor is larger than that of point and shoot cameras, but definitely smaller than other formats.
Whilst lurking in various photography forums, I found that photographers who had purchased the Nikon 1 system were very pleased with it. Image quality was good and everyone raved about how great the Auto Focus (AF) was – it was even faster than most DSLRs. Along with a silent, electronic shutter, one could even shoot at 60 frames per second (FPS).
Maybe the Nikon 1 system deserved another look by yours truly.
Later in 2011, Nikon made an announcement that really did get my attention – it was the FT1 Adapter for use with the Nikon 1 system.
This adapter allows you to attach Nikon AF-S lenses to the Nikon 1 camera bodies and maintain both AF and Vibration Reduction (VR). This got me thinking… since these cameras have a 2.7x field of view crop (because of the CX sensor), could I use them with my long Nikon lenses to get extreme telephoto shots? My Nikon 70-200mm f/2.8G VR II (Amazon ~ Adorama ~ B&H Photo/Video) zoom would become the equivalent of a 189-540mm f/2.8 lens when mounted on a Nikon 1 body via the FT1 Adapter.
What would the resulting image quality be like with this combination? I was about to find out.
Nikon was kind enough to let me borrow a V1 with 10-30mm lens (Amazon ~ Adorama ~ B&H Photo/Video) and an FT1 Adapter (Amazon ~ Adorama ~ B&H Photo/Video) for a recent assignment to Iceland. Since there are many migratory birds that nest in Iceland during the summer, my original goal was to use the V1/FT1 combination plus my long Nikon lenses to photograph them.
BTW, all images presented from the Nikon V1 in this article were shot in RAW (NEF) and processed in Adobe Lightroom 4.
After unboxing the V1 kit, I was quite pleased with the build quality – it is excellent. The camera is lightweight (295 grams), feels solid in your hand and is quite comfortable to hold whilst being compact. After having used a DSLR for a while, the controls on the V1 were small in comparison. After an hour (or so), it was easy to find my way around the camera and its menus.
The menu structure is logically laid out and items are easy to find. One thing that did frustrate me – there were no external controls for ISO and White Balance (WB). You have to dive into the menus for that. If I could suggest one improvement for the Nikon 1 system in the future – perhaps have a programmable function button that can be assigned by the user. Just a thought …
I requested a V1 from Nikon as I really wanted to use a camera that had an Electronic View Finder (EVF) – the J1 does not have one. The V1’s EVF is clear and crisp and there were no issues with the refresh rate. I do not like composing an image on the rear LCD of most cameras, so the EVF was a must. I am happy to say that the EVF on the V1 is extremely good.
AF with the 10-30mm (27-82mm equivalent) lens is freakishly fast – it is even faster than my D800. Wow. Nikon has implemented both PDAF and CDAF into the camera and I never had to wait more than a fraction of a second for the camera to focus. Impressive.
You also have the choice of a mechanical or electronic shutter. I chose to use the electronic shutter as it is silent. There is even and “electronic high” shutter which can allow you to shoot at up to 60 FPS. Believe it or not, it actually works and it works well.
Nikon chose to use an EN-EL15 battery (Amazon ~ Adorama ~ B&H Photo/Video) in the V1 – the same one found in the D800 and D7000. THANK YOU NIKON. It is great that my D800 and V1 share the same charger and battery, which is great for a photographer who travels a lot. BTW, the whole time I was in Iceland, I took about 600 shots with the V1 and never had to charge the battery – it did not drop below 50%.
The FT1 is also very well built, nicely finished and matches the V1 perfectly. When attached to the camera body, the menu system changes to reflect some of the limitations the V1 has when the FT1 is attached.
I used the following two items with the V1 and FT1 Adapter:
Using the zoom lens (alone) with the V1 would give me a zoom range of 189-540mm f/2.8 and if I used TC-17e as well, that range is now a whopping 321-918mm f/4.8. Wow. The big question is how all of this would perform on assignment. I was going to find out soon enough.
The V1 has two focus modes, AF-S (stationary) and AF-C (continuous). When the FT1 Adapter is attached to the V1, only AF-S is available. Also, you can only use the centre focus point with the FT1 Adapter attached. Therefore, if your subject is moving, you are more or less out of luck. I struggled to capture birds in flight because of this, but stationary birds were fairly easy to photograph:
AF (with the FT1 Adapter and long Nikon lenses) was accurate most of the time but was sluggish compared to using the native Nikon 1 lenses.
The biggest problem I ran into was with Auto ISO – there is no way the user can set the minimum shutter speed and it seems to be “biased” towards slower values. I ended up turning off Auto ISO as it frustrated me when I used the longer focal lengths.
Something that surprised me – VR works extremely well. I would hazard to guess that VR on my 70-200mm f/2.8G lens works better on the V1 than it does on my D800. I had read somewhere on the web that VR on the D800 uses 5 AF points whereas VR on the V1 uses all of its focus points. Whatever the technical reason, this was a very pleasant surprise.
Here are a few more shots with the V1, FT1 and 70-200mm f/2.8G lens:
Even with the FT1 and these long focal lengths, if you used good long lens technique, you could retain significant detail in the images. Here is a crop of the above image:
Normally when you use a teleconverter with a lens, one can expect some image degradation, so I wanted to see how it would perform with V1/FT1 combination.
During the summer, Iceland has a large population of nesting Arctic Terns. When photographing these birds, you have to be extremely careful – they are very protective of their nests and if you get too close, they will attack you. They are small birds that have very sharp beaks. I know a couple people who have been attacked by Arctic Terns and the birds drew blood when it happened. In fact, there were signs posts along the highway warning us of this danger.
One day, I drove down a side road and several Arctic Terns attacked our rental car. They obviously aren’t afraid of really large objects either. I had a good laugh at first but then realized that since these little birds were extremely aggressive, I dare not venture outside of the vehicle. I attached the TC-17e and 70-200mm f/2.8G to the V1/FT1 and was able to get a few shots (while sitting in the car with the window rolled down) of the nesting birds:
While I was photographing the adult birds I saw a brown piece of fluff moving in the short grass. I was not sure what it was at first, but then it turned around and faced me. Lo and behold, it was one of the chicks:
This was unbelievable. Not many people get to see these chicks given how aggressive the parents are – and I did this from the comfort of my car. If you notice, this image was shot using the equivalent of a 918mm focal length. I have to say that the V1/FT1 combination literally paid for itself with this shot. I had two other camera systems with me, but I would have to heavily crop the image to isolate the chick. It was (relatively) easy with the V1/FT combination and I was able to record an image file that would make a decent print.
Since Nikon sent me the 10-30mm f/3.5-5.6 kit lens (27-81mm equivalent) with the V1, I decided to try it out during my assignment. The lens is very compact, lightweight (116 grams) and sharp, even wide open. I was quite impressed with its performance – the lens and camera made for a compact package that any traveling photographer would appreciate.
As stated earlier, AF is freakishly fast with the native lenses and I never waited more than a fraction of a second for the camera to lock focus.
Here are a few shots taken with the V1 and kit lens (the EXIF data is intact in these images):
I found that the V1’s image quality up to ISO is 400 is quite good and decent up to ISO 1000. Above that, you will need to take care with exposure as noise will creep into your images if you underexpose them and then recover the image in post processing.
I was pleasantly surprised using the Nikon V1 (Amazon ~ Adorama ~ B&H Photo/Video). With the kit lens(es), it makes for lightweight, portable package and is a serious contender if you are looking for a compact camera system. The FT1 Adapter (Amazon ~ Adorama ~ B&H Photo/Video) can extend your reach by using the V1’s 2.7x FOV crop and your long, Nikon lenses.
Anyone who currently owns a Nikon DSLR and long lenses needs to give the V1 a serious look if they are in the market for a CSC. Not only is it a decent compact camera, but by using the FT1 Adapter, the V1 becomes even more useful without adding much weight or bulk to your camera bag. Nikon has made a considerable effort to integrate Nikkor lenses into the Nikon 1 system and FT1 Adapter is a key part of that effort.
Many thanks to Nikon for the use of the V1 and FT1 Adapter.
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