Natural Art: The Photography of Brad Hill

 

Field Tests: The Nikon V1 - Fun with the V1!

I. Introduction

Post Date: December 17, 2011
Update #1: Feb 13, 2012. Minor revisions to Introduction and Chapter 1; Chapter 2 added.
Update #2: Feb 14, 2012. Minor additions to FT1 section of Chapter 2.
Update #3: March 6, 2012. Minor additions to Chapter 1 (short section called "How are the 1 Nikkor Lenses?" added).
Update #4: March 7, 2012. Minor revision to Cahpter 1; Chapter 3 added.

Going At It Backwards: My Executive Summaries:

There are two different Nikon V1's: The V1 used only with its "own" 1 Nikkor lenses and the V1 used with the F-mount Nikkor lenses. Both are good. But they're VERY different. Thus TWO different executive summaries:

Executive Summary 1: The Nikon V1 with 1 Nikkor Lenses: I really like the V1 - I think it's an excellent product and well worth the money. It meets my requirements as a walk-around camera with flying colors. And it is just a ton of fun to use. It's not perfect (as my long list of dislikes/things I'd change shows) but its responsiveness, including fast and accurate AF, high frame rate, large buffer capacity, and its far-more-than-acceptable image quality combine to make the V1 the walk-around camera I have been looking for for years. In day-to-day use I far prefer it to the only competing system I have fully tested and used myself - an Olympus E-P3 kit. In my very ordinary hands I can use the V1 to capture good images of dynamic subjects over a far wider range of actual (and unpredictable) field conditions than I could with competing products.

Executive Summary 2: The Nikon V1 with F-Mount Nikkor Lenses: The FT1 Mount Adapter that allows the V1 to be used with almost all F-mount Nikkor lenses is a complete game changer. Take almost all the positive features of the V1 and add the power and versatility of a wide array of compatible lenses and what do you get? A WHOLE lot more than just a walk-around camera. Such as a very capable wildlife camera. And a surprisingly good landscape camera. And a great macro camera, and...you get the picture! Which is the main point about the V1 - unlike many other mirrorless cameras, under a huge array of shooting situations, you get the picture.

Back to the Introduction!

Even before this camera was introduced it was generating controversy and I'm not sure I've ever seen a camera create such a polarization of views - some seem to love to hate this product (and it appears that some of the most vitriolic members of the "hate it" camp have never even tried it!) and others simply love it. I'm sure I'll be panned on some of the online forums for saying that I like this camera, but to be honest, I couldn't care less - I'm just going to call it like I see it. Oh, and for those conspiracy theorists who think that any "good reviews" of a product are driven by financial gain (and that all reviewers earn huge sums of money if they give this camera good reviews), well...just try to find a link on this review where I'm getting any financial gain from posting my thoughts (no "click thru's" or affiliate programs, or any other way for me to get revenue from this effort). I bought my V1 and lenses and all accessories associated with it, using real money! And, like with all my field tests, the main benefit I glean from these efforts is that each one forces me to methodically test and explore the limitations of the product in question - and thus I end up knowing exactly how the product will perform for me in the field. Which ultimately tells me if I can use the system both as a tool for producing images for sale and for - heaven forbid - having a little fun with!

As always, this field test is not intended as a regurgitation of the specs of the camera - it's simply intended to convey how it works for me in the field. For a spewing of the specs, go here on dpreview's website. At this point all I'll say is that the V1 is the "upper end" of the two cameras that were announced in the unveiling of the new Nikon 1 system back on September 21, 2011. The Nikon 1's feature a new "CX" sensor and lens format with a small 10.1 MP image sensor (13.2mm x 8.8mm = 116 mm²) and interchangeable lenses. There are many subtle differences between the V1 and its little brother (the J1) - one of the better summaries of the differences between the two cameras can be found here on Rob Galbraith's website. For me the MOST significant difference between the two cameras is that the V1 has an electronic viewfinder whereas the J1 has no viewfinder.

One key to understanding the Nikon 1 system (and why I think so many either prematurely wrote off this camera as "a toy" or decided to hate it regardless of how well it actually worked) is getting a feel for how small that CX image sensor really is. So...how small is it? Well, it's about 1/2 the size of the sensors found in the Micro 4/3's offerings by Olympus and Panasonic (116mm² vs. 225mm²). And under 1/3 the size of Nikon's DX sensors (116mm² vs. 371mm²). And Nikon's FX (full-frame) sensor is about 7.5 times larger (116mm² vs. 860mm²). When I first looked at these numbers I thought what many others seemed to be thinking - "...well, forget that camera - it will be noisy at ISO 100 and the images will look like crap." Oops...

PLEASE READ: Qualifiers, Caveats, and Context:

I test my gear quite extensively in an effort to discover how it will perform for ME (using my own shooting style) in a field situation. I'm not paid to test equipment, nor do I receive my gear for free. I test them under field conditions only (no lab work) and use the same techniques I'm likely to use when I'm shooting the particular item in the field. While I do some of my testing very methodically, much of it is pure "field shooting". I do not shoot images of targets under rigidly controlled lab conditions - I shoot images of wildlife (or "proxies", such as my Portuguese Water Dogs) in the field. It's not critical to me to produce results that are generalizable or that are rigorous enough to be published in a peer-reviewed journal - I care about how I can use the gear in the field and how to get the results I need to sell images! While some "lab tests" have a real-world correlate that translates into a limitation in the field, I find an increasing number of tests quite esoteric and the "differences" between two products is real only in a statistical sense (and has no real correlate in producing a quality image, which is definitely not a pure science). There are a few tests I rely on - for instance, I find dxomark.com's published values for "Low-Light ISO" performance are almost always close to what I consider "acceptable image quality" (in terms of noise), and thus they have a real-world correlate for me.

In the case of the V1...if this review is to have any value at all it's important to understand what I want the camera for and what my specific requirements for it are. I am a full-time professional nature (and specifically wildlife) photographer and I am completely equipped for my "serious" shooting. For me the V1 is intended as my "f8 and BE THERE!" (walk-around) camera - something I always have with me in the field to capture spontaneously occurring scenes, random wildlife encounters, etc. I will probably never use this camera indoors and have no interest in whether or not a flash is even available for it. Here is my "MUST" list for a walk-around camera. All 7 are critical and if any single requirement isn't met I might as well throw the camera in the garbage (or sell it as fast as I can).

1. It (the full kit - camera and lenses) MUST be small and light. Context is needed here - I'm not looking for "fits in a shirt pocket" small. I'm looking for "can fit in a small case - or two - that fit on a belt system" small. I want to be able to walk around for hours on end with the ENTIRE system on my waist and hardly notice it.

2. It MUST have a viewfinder! OK - I have tried (and tried, and tried) to get accustomed to using a LCD screen as a proxy for a viewfinder. And maybe it's just me, but I truly dislike shooting outdoor shots using a LCD screen. Ninety percent of the time I can't see anything in it (due to reflections or just overall darkness of the display in bright sunlight) and I simply don't feel part of the scene or the photographic process. No viewfinder (or at least optional viewfinder) and I don't want the camera

3. It MUST be responsive. I am a wildlife photographer that likes to shoot animals that are actually wild and free-ranging - not sitting in one place in a zoo or game farm. Overall my need for responsiveness in a camera isn't that different from a sports/action photographer. And, by responsiveness I mean fast and accurate autofocus (preferably that can do a good job of tracking a moving subject - think running deer or birds on flight) and a decent frame rate and burst size (number of images that can be stored in the buffer at any one time).

4. It MUST cover from wide angle to medium telephoto focal lengths. To work for me my small and light kit must cover the focal range from about 28mm to 300mm (in full frame terms) in one or two lenses. If I can expand on this range (while maintaining decent image quality) - all the better!

5. It MUST produce good-to-very-good quality images over a wide range of shooting conditions. Image quality is notoriously hard to define and the meaning of "very good image quality" varies dramatically between users. I have very intentionally tagged on the "over a wide range of shooting conditions" phrase on the end of this sentence - many, many cameras (even including ones with manual focus) can capture high quality images under controlled conditions. But a walk-around camera is to be used, by definition, spontaneously under diverse conditions. And, a walk-around camera being used by a wildlife photographer to "grab" decent quality shots of randomly encountered wildlife under totally unpredictably conditions automatically puts a lot of demands on the camera (including a fast and accurate autofocus system, decent ISO performance, etc.). To see what I consider good-to-very good image quality, feel free to browse any of the image galleries on this website.

6. It MUST offer acceptable high ISO performance. Ok, this is almost as subjective as "good quality images" and must be further qualified. I do NOT expect ANY walk-around camera to perform as well as a D3s at high ISO settings (at least for a few more years). But I do expect that it can capture images with manageable noise (not NO noise, but manageable noise) for the uses I expect to put the images to up to about ISO 800. "Uses I expect to put the images to" includes web use (up to 1200 pixels wide), inkjet prints up to about 20" (50 cm) on the long axis, and images up to about 8.5" x 11" (21.5 x 28 cm) printed on an offset press (that's full page - or close to it - in most magazines).

7. It MUST shoot (and make available) raw images. I have yet to meet a camera that sees scenes and/or produces JPEG output the way my eyes do. I like to reserve the right to push that image back as close to "as seen" as my memory (and skill in post-processing) will allow. And shooting raw images maximizes the number of options I have in "shaping" my final output.

8. Video capture capabilities? Sorry - I don't care at all about the V1's video capabilities. I shoot stills, not video. I know next to nothing about video and any comments I would make on it would totally lack credibility. Those of you who will be considering and factoring video capabilities into your "purchase or not to purchase" decision will have to go elsewhere. Sorry, but the best marketing geniuses in the world wouldn't be able to convince me that video is a feature that will "complete me" (my apologies to Tom Cruise for stealing that one).

This field test is intended as a living, evolving document. It will be produced and modified over time as I learn more and more about this camera. There will be a minimum of three chapters in this story. Chapter 1 includes my early impressions of the V1 paired with two different lenses (the 1 NIKKOR VR 10-30mm f/3.5-5.6 and the 1 NIKKOR VR 30-110mm f/3.8-5.6) after using the camera almost daily for about 3 weeks. It includes only a few images. It is perhaps a tad premature, but I'm presenting it because I am receiving a lot of email asking me what I think about the camera (and I already have many thoughts about it) and because I know many are debating buying (or asking for!) the camera as a Christmas gift.

Chapter 2 will appear in early 2012 and include information about the operation and usabilty of a few key V1 accessories, including the GP-N100 GPS and the Mount Adapter FT1 (which allows Nikon F-mount lenses to be used with the Nikon 1 cameras). It will also include more images captured with the Nikon V1 using assorted F-mount Nikkor lenses.

Chapter 3 will be a candid discussion of what I think of the suitability of the V1 for the various things a nature photographer might want to use it for - first as a general walk-around camera (and my thoughts on this are already pretty clear), as a camera for wildlife photography, and as a camera for landscape photography. This update will follow hot on the heels of the update that will add Chapter 2.

Chapter 4? I'm not sure there WILL be a chapter 4 - but perhaps. Stay tuned!

II. Chapter 1: Early Impressions.

Post Date: December 17, 2011
Update: March 6, 2012. Minor additions to Chapter 1 (short section called "How are the 1 Nikkor Lenses" added).
Update: March 7, 2012. Minor revision: Executive summary of this section moved to Introduction

A. Some Early Thoughts on the Nikon V1...

Despite what most marketeeers would like to have us think, a camera is far more than a list of bullet points or a long, unweighted list of likes and dislikes. In the real world some variables are far more important than others. And, the weight or importance of the variables and/or specifications varies between users. For me (and while using the V1 as a walk-around camera) the absolutely most critical variables are size and weight of the kit, image quality, and camera responsiveness. Whizzy new features introduced on the V1 - such as "Motion Snapshot Mode" (where still images and brief movie vignettes are combined in a single function) and "Smart Photo Selector Mode" (where you're shooting "hard-to-time" shots and you just keep your shooting finger down and let the camera decide which of the shots are the 5 best and keep only those) - may appeal to some, but not to me. So I'll focus on and discuss simply those things that matter to me (hey, it's my review!):

1. Size and weight: This one's easy - the V1 is not the smallest mirrorless camera out there, but it easily fits into a small case that snaps onto my Think Tank Photo belt system and sits on my right hip. The case I use is Lowepro's Rezo TLZ 10 and it accommodates the V1 with both the GPS unit (GP-N100) and the 30-110mm zoom lens (with lens hood extended) attached. I carry the 10-30mm zoom in the very small Lowepro 1S lens pouch that sits on my left hip. The 40.5mm filter thread polarizing filter that happens to fit both zooms (yippee!) fits in a small pocket on the front side of the Rezo TLZ 10 case while in its protective case. The entire kit (including the belt system) tips the scales at 1322 gm (2 lb 15 oz). In comparison, my D3s and 28-300mm zoom (which not-so-coincidentally covers virtually the identical focal range) is 2340 gm (5 lb 3 oz) completey naked (no case, no strap, etc.). For those of you as anal as me, here's how the weights break down:

• V1 with 30-110 zoom (hood included) plus GP-N100 (GPS) attached: 598 gm
• 10-30mm lens: 130 gm
• 40.5mm B&W Circular Polarizer and plastic carrying case: 36 gm
• LowePro Rezo TLZ 10 Camera Bag: 172 gm
• Think Tank Photo Pro Speed Belt (size M-L): 290 gm

When go into the field I always have a caboodle on my belt along with this camera kit, and that includes bear spray and holster (442 gm), chalk bag filled with dog treats (160 gm) and small Think Tank Photo fanny pack with a few bits in it (244 gm). So the entire kit and caboodle weighs 2168 gm (4 lb 12 oz). I can walk around all day and not even notice this kit on my waist - after all lots of folks have at least 5 lbs of extra weight on their waist and never seem to notice it! So for me the V1 system completely meets my need for being small and light.

2. Image Quality: I won't even try to define the phrase "image quality". And, as detailed above, all I really expect or want a walk-around camera to do for me is to capture images of sufficient quality for the following uses:

• Viewing on an electronic display (images for web use, emailing, etc.) - so images that look good at up to about 1200 pixels on the long axis
• Inkjet images up to about 20" (50 cm) on the long axis and
• Images up to about 8.5" x 11" (21.5 x 28 cm) printed on an offset press (full page - or close to it - in most magazines).

After shooting and examining about 1000 images with the V1 I'm completely comfortable in saying that the image quality IS good enough to meet my demands, especially if one shoots raw images and is prepared to "work" on them a little (see below for a few sample images). Subjectively I'd rate the quality of static scenes as slightly better (especially in terms of colour) than what I was able to coax out of my Olympus E-P3. And - and I expect that many might find this next comparison interesting - they are very close in quality AT LOW ISO settings (about ISO 320 or below) to what I can produce with my D3s when paired with the 28-300mm f3.5-5.6 ED VR super zoom, which I'd describe as "a pretty darned good lens for a super zoom" (OK to quote me on that!).

What about ISO performance? Here's a place where I definitely don't want to be misquoted or taken out of context. To begin with, the V1 is no D3s. However, I have to admit that given the size of the image sensor (about 1/8 that of a D3s, 1/3 the size of a Nikon DX sensor, and only 1/2 that of my E-P3) I was pleasantly surprised with the ISO performance of the V1. After systematic testing I can see virtually no difference in ISO performance between my V1 and my E-P3 at up to ISO 3200. Depending on the scene, it is possible to get workable images up to ISO 1600 (in a pinch!) with both the V1 and the E-P3. At ISO 800 it is possible to obtain decent images over a somewhat wider range of scene types. However, in most (but not all) day-to-day shooting, I will be using my V1 at ISO settings of ISO 400 or lower (which, very conveniently, is easily done by selecting the ISO 100-400 option provided in the Auto ISO settings). It goes without saying that I'd prefer better ISO performance, but I can say the same thing about virtually every camera made, including my D3s (which has high ISO performance that still blows me away after several seasons of use). While I would prefer better high ISO performance in the V1, the reality is that in most of my walk-around shooting I am not finding then current ISO performance of the V1 to be excessively limiting.

How are the 1 Nikkor Lenses? Lens quality plays an obvious role in overall image quality. I purchased two lenses with my V1 - the Nikon 1 10-30mm f/3.5-5.6 Nikkor VR zoom and the Nikon 1 30-110mm f/3.8-5.6 Nikkor VR zoom. I have no objective or standardized way to test the lenses, but can subjectively say a few things. First, the build quality is good and they feel solid without being unduly heavy. Second, I find them surprisingly sharp at almost all apertures and focal settings, and they're quite uniform from edge-to-edge. I have the perception that the 30-110mm zoom is very slightly sharper than the 10-30mm, but can't empirically prove this. Third, both lenses seem to me to be maximally sharp at f5.6. I readily admit these are subjective impressions, but the results of more rigorous testing on slrgear.com are totally consistent with my impressions - go here to see the results for the 10-30mm lens, and here for the 30-110mm lens.

JPEG's vs. RAWS? I'm a dyed-in-the-wool raw shooter and have no comparative basis to judge the ability of the V1 to produce in-camera JPEG's compared to other cameras (I have never shot a JPEG with my D3s, D7000, D700, D300, etc., etc., etc.). One would have to be living in a cave not to notice that one of the trends in the evolution of DSLR's has been an improvement in the ability of cameras to produce better quality JPEG's (i.e., the gap between the quality of in-camera JPEG's and what one can do with raw files has decreased somewhat), so I decided to experiment with capturing RAW + JPEG's with my V1 (with the thought that maybe I could change my ways and perhaps that the JPEG's of the V1 would be good enough to satisfy me). My thoughts on the JPEG's? Well, in evenly lit scenes with low contrast lighting - the JPEG's seem just fine. Of the default "Picture Control" groupings of processing settings for the JPEG's (Standard, Neutral, Vivid, Monochrome, Portrait, Landscape) I definitely find the "Neutral" setting most to my liking (tho' the monochrome setting does a surprisingly good job of producing some quite interesting B&W output). But...the reality is that even with my walk-around camera I simply don't shoot many "evenly lit scenes with low contrast lighting" and I have already found that for the types of images I like (those that push the dynamic range of any sensor to the limit and often require exposure blends to extract all the highlight and shadow detail effectively) and I will soon be reverting to back to shooting only raw images with my V1.

3. Responsiveness: To me camera responsiveness refers to a combination of autofocus speed and accuracy, frame capture rate, the number of images that can be shot in a single burst, and, of course, virtually no detectable shutter lag. In the field this translates into answering the following questions with an affirmative response: Can I capture a sequence of sharp shots of a bird in flight? Can I capture sharp images of a running mammal (bear, deer, elk, dog, whatever)? Can a novice photographer capture sharp shots of his/her kids playing? The resounding answer to all these questions is YES. In responsiveness the V1 absolutely rocks! And it absolutely KICKS the competing products I've owned (Olympus E-P1 and E-P3) or used (Pansonic GF-1 and GF-3).

A few more comments on each aspect of "responsiveness"...

Autofocus (AF): To date I've used the AF system similarly to how I like to use it on my Nikon DSLR's - in Single-point AF where I am able to toggle the focus bracket all over the viewfinder (and it IS pretty much all over the viewfinder with the V1). I have used it primarily in continuous mode (AF-C) with the AE-L/AF-L button programmed to operate as focus lock only. In using the AF system in this manner I am able to compare its performance to that of my DSLR's. To be honest, it stacks up well - and it is easy to toggle the focus bracket to wherever I need it. Initial acquisition of focus is very snappy and seems on par with most of the lenses I regularly use on my DSLR's. The V1 uses both phase detect and contrast detect AF and in the crude testing I've done (the good old dimmer switch in a large room test!) the AF system seems to be pretty much comparable in focusing in low-light situations as my D3s (with a 28-300mm super zoom attached). Focus tracking of moving subjects in AF-C mode seems good to very good - in my standard "fast dog running directly at me at full gallop" test a high rate of images were perfectly sharp. At this point I haven't done enough systematic (and comparative) testing of the AF tracking to really say how it stacks up against my DSLR's in terms of ratio of sharp:soft sequential frames (using that same running dog test) but I can already say that in focus tracking the V1 is at least as good as moderately priced DSLR's. My one complaint with the AF system pertains to the size of the focus brackets - they're a little large for my liking (as they are in the competing cameras) and thus can limit the precision of the placement of your focus point.

At this point I have not experimented with the Auto-area AF and associated functions (such as Face-priority AF) sufficiently to comment on their performance. Auto-area AF doesn't have much value for me (and likely not for other advanced shooters using this camera as a walk-around camera) but I acknowledge that such camera-controlled functions can be very important to the success that novices will have with the V1.

Frame Rate and Buffer Size - Capturing Action! The V1 has both a mechanical and electronic shutter and the user can choose between them. When using the mechanical shutter the maximum frame rate is 5 frames per second (fps). At 5 frames per second the user maintains full control of the camera, including AF settings, focus tracking, exposure compensation, etc. Shift to the electronic shutter and you can choose between 10, 30 and 60 fps. BUT, you begin to lose control of the camera at frame rates above 5 fps. At 10 fps the camera automatically switches to Program exposure mode, unconstrained Auto ISO, a single AF point (the central one) and with no exposure compensation. Opt for 30 or 60 fps and focus and exposure are determined by the initial exposure and remain fixed for all remaining exposures in the burst. This behavior of the "camera taking over" and operating under a reduced feature set doesn't render the 30 and 60 fps frame rates useless, but does limit their usefulness in day-to-day shooting. In most situations I simply select the mechanical shutter and "live with" the 5 fps. And 5 fps is STILL quite impressive in a compact camera! And, I have found the lowest of the electronic shutter "Hi" frame rates (10 fps) does work very well under quite a wide range of conditions (assuming the scene is one which does NOT require exposure compensation, which is lost) and the autofocus system works quite well at the 10 fps frame rate.

Buffer Size? AMAZING! Up to snuff with the absolute best pro DSLR's. Shooting full size RAW + JPEG's? Well, you can hold that 5 fps mechanical shutter down for over 8 seconds (42 image buffer at that size). Shooting full size JPEG's? Almost 60 continuous frames! The V1 buffer size makes me dream about what the D4 will offer in buffer size! You aren't going to waste a lot of time sitting around waiting for the buffer to clear with the V1!

B. A FEW Sample Images.

At this point I am providing only a very few resolution-reduced sample images. Two main reasons for this. First, I'm still waiting for my preferred raw converter (Phase One's Capture One Pro) to add support for the Nikon 1 cameras. I find I can produce higher quality raw conversions and output with Capture One Pro than I can with Lightroom (which is what I used to convert the images below) and I can do it a whole lot faster. Second, I want to add some more variety to the types of images (and lighting regimes under which they were captured) before I post too many images. Full resolution Images showing ISO comparisons, image quality comparisons (between the V1, Olympus E-P3, and D3s paired with the 28-300mm f3.5-5.6 ED VR super zoom and more will appear in Chapter 2 of this field test (coming in early 2012). All the images below are conversions from raw captures, not in-camera JPEGs.

The images below typify the types of scenes that I expect a walk-around camera to handle (and the kind of scenes that I will be using the V1 for on a daily basis). All were captured within walking distance of my cabin in the East Kootenays of BC. Yes, I live in a nice place.

Frosty Rocky Mountain Sunrise. This image nicely illustrates how the V1 raw files can be "pushed" to capture scenes that span a wide dynamic range. Download JPEG (534 KB)

Foggy Sunset on Fairmont Mountain. An idiosyncrasy of the matrix metering of the V1 is illustrated by this image. Download JPEG (333 KB)

Late Afternoon in Late November in the Columbia Valley. Can the V1 be used to capture natural-looking images of landscapes that cover a wide dynamic range? I think this image provides the answer. Download JPEG (689 KB)

Good Night Kiss - Sun Bidding the Rockies Adieu. How about tricky sunsets? Download JPEG (514 KB)

Bighorn Ram Enviroscape. Curious how a web-sized 400 ISO image (with no noise reduction) looks? Check this one out. Download JPEG (873 KB)

You Looking At Me? Can the V1 - paired with the 30-110mm zoom - be used to effectively separate a subject from a busy background at "normal" working distances that most wildlife photographers find themselves at? You judge. Download JPEG (856 KB)

Jose & Friends Playing at Hidden Lake. How 'bout capturing action (running dogs, flying birds, fast-moving kids) - can the V1 handle it? Download JPEG (359 KB)

C. The Nikon V1 - Likes & Dislikes...

There are some things I really like about the V1, and definitely some things that need improvement and that I hope to see changed soon. So here are my lists of likes and dislikes - hopefully with just enough detail so you can assess if each pro or con would be important to you...

1. What I LIKE about the Nikon V1: After the first 5 or so bullet points this list becomes somewhat random in terms of the importance of any specific point...

Overall Image Quality: Much better than I expected, and especially with such a small-sized image sensor. Absolutely good enough to meet my needs for a walk-around camera. Lump "good quality lenses" into this bullet point as they are integral into the equation of variables that produce good overall image quality.

General Responsiveness: In most shooting situations this camera is fast enough to meet my needs of spontaneously capturing action - AF speed is excellent, as is frame rate. And both are pretty much on par with most DSLR's. As is the shutter lag - it's virtually undetectable. A few quirks (see "Frustrating Mandatory Image Review in Viewfinder" and "Slow Wakeup from Deep Sleep" in my list of dislikes) slightly impairs the overall responsiveness and ability to capture action and/or some fleeting moments - hopefully Nikon will address these issues in coming firmware updates?

Fantastic Burst Length/Duration: Imagine capturing 42 consecutive shots (full size RAW + JPEG's) at 10, 30 or 60 fps? Yep. Amazing. Matches even the very best DSLR. Capturing just JPEG's? Depending on size and quality expect to be able to capture between 58 and 100 images in a single burst!

Autofocus: Fast, accurate, easy-to-use. Maybe not perfect, but at least as good as most current mid-range DSLR's. Meets my needs far better than competing cameras I have owned or used. Nikon - kudos for a job well done.

Size & Weight: Easily meets my needs here, but not a pocketable camera so perhaps not the perfect walk-around camera for everyone.

Menu Design and Logic: Seemed extremely intuitive to me, but I speak fluent Nikon-ese so I may not be the best judge of this...

Auto Power On When Zoom Unlocked: If you're using the V1 with a zoom lens with a locking ring (like the 10-30mm or the 30-110mm), the instant you twist/unlock the zoom the camera turns itself on - there's no need to do anything else to turn the camera on. This may seem like a trivial thing, but I really like it and it can make the difference between catching a fleeting moment and missing it.

Eye Sensor LCD/Viewfinder Switching Mechanism: There's a small sensor near the viewfinder that turns the electronic viewfinder on (and turns the LCD off) when you raise the camera to your eye. Move the camera away from your eye and the viewfinder turns itself off and the LCD is turn on. Real simple, real nice.

Switch for Aperture Adjustment: This un-named thin toggle switch is positioned almost perfectly and makes switching aperture settings an almost thoughtless process.

Balance of Simplicity & Advanced Featured Set: Very well thought-out balance of simplicity and ease-of-use (important to novice users) yet with easy access to main functions and features a more advanced shooter would want. Geez, almost makes you think Steve Jobs was involved with the design of this camera!

Full Aperture Control While in Programmed Auto Exposure Mode: Read this one closely! Finally, a Programmed Auto Mode that makes eminent sense! Walk around with the camera in Programmed Auto Exposure Mode and it's always ready to shoot and capture that unexpected and fleeting moment (and, in most cases, give you a pretty OK shot) - all without touching ANY controls other than the shutter release. But the instant you want to take control of your aperture setting you simply toggle that same un-named button mentioned above that controls the aperture setting and "voila!" - the camera functionally shifts into Aperture Priority Auto (with full access to exposure compensation). Which makes this the first camera that I've owned where the Exposure Mode will be set to Programmed Auto on a day-to-day basis. The careful reader should be saying "huh?" right now as they wonder what the difference is between Aperture Priorty Auto and Programmed Auto on the V1. It's simply the aperture setting that the camera chooses when the camera is first turned on and pointed at the subject - in Aperture Priority mode the aperture will be set at whatever it was left at before the camera was turned off. In Programmed Auto mode it will be at whatever the camera decides is best (until you toggle the aperture control button, at which case YOU take over control of the aperture). Subtle difference, but it's one more smart little thing that makes this camera almost always ready to snap a good shot while still leaving creative control in the hands of the user.

Very Good Build Quality: Both the camera body and lenses have that very hard-to-define feeling of quality. No feeling of plasticky "cheapness" with this camera. Sorry I can't define this any better - but I figure if Robert Persig took a whole book (Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance) to try to define quality - and arguably failed - then I think you can cut me a little slack here. Discerning Nikon-o-philes will understand this next statement: feels more like a D700 than a D300! ;-)

Viewfinder Grid Display: This is an option in the set-up menu that when turned on produces a 4x4 grid in the viewfinder. Great for those who can't ever get a horizon level. I like this option, but wonder why it isn't a 3x3 (i..e, rule of thirds) grid...

Absolutely Silent Shutter: While this won't be my number 1 camera of choice for shooting wildlife images, I do like that you can capture still images with absolutely NO shutter sound if you do want to (select electronic shutter and toggle the sound off in the set-up menu). So when I'm 10 feet away from an adult male grizzly, I won't run the risk of having a shutter that sounds like a machine gun pissing it off! Good option for spies too!

Shifting Between Shutter Types: As mentioned previously, the V1 offers both a mechanical and electronic shutter. And, it's fast and easy to toggle between them - simply hit the Function button and then toggle the un-named toggle switch on the back of the camera (is that enough "toggles" for one sentence??). Why would you want to do this? At least in two situations: you want to quickly change the frame rate from the 5 fps maximum of the mechanical shutter to the 10, 30, or 60 fps frame rate of the electronic shutter OR you want to switch from having an audible shutter (the mechanical shutter) to a soundless one (an option on the electronic shutter).

Good Cold Weather Performance: I've been regularly shooting my V1 at temperatures down to -15C (5 F) and have experienced no problems with it. I haven't measured how the battery performance has been affected, but to date it hasn't been a noticeable problem. And, you only get comments like this in a field report when you read one written by a Canuck! ;-)

Same Battery as D7000: This is one of those things that owners of D7000's (only) will like - it takes the same battery. Which means when you go on a trip with your D7000 and your V1 you can take fewer extra batteries along and you need to have only one type of charger with you. As one who regularly travels by float plane with weight restrictions I like this.

Key Lenses - Same Filter Thread! This is another little thing that I like - the 10-30mm and the 30-110mm zooms both have 40.5mm filter threads. I only ever use one type of filter anymore (a circular polarizer), but at $100 or more a pop, it's nice that the same one fits both lenses. And, I only have to carry ONE with me. Of course, according to Murphy's Law, any new lenses that come out (like maybe a macro lens or perhaps a 200mm f4) will have different filter threads...

GP-N100 GPS (optional accessory to record and add GPS coordinates to your image files): Small, light, unobtrusive, simple-to-use (just put it on) and quickly acquires a signal. One of the things I use a walk-around camera for is documenting a lot of things (rare species occurrences, poaching incidents, Orca fin identifications, etc., etc.) and having location data included in the file is extremely useful in almost all these instances. The GPS unit is so small I simply keep it on the camera all the time...

Mount Adapter FT1 (optional accessory): This little adapter allows most Nikkor F mount lenses to be used with the Nikon V1 (over 60 lenses are supported). While the adapter has limitations (only single servo AF operation will be available; only the center focus bracket available for use; no focus-tracking) I really love the IDEA of being able to use my 70-200mm f2.8 VRII (which functionally becomes a 189-540mm f2.8 zoom) or my 200mm f2 (a 540mm f2!!) with my V1. But...how well this adapter works in reality still remains to be seen. It is scheduled for shipping in late December 2011. More info about the adapter is available here.

2. Some Things I DISLIKE (or would change) On the Nikon V1: And...there's always room for improvement - here's some of the things I'd like to see changed on the Nikon V1. The first few items on the list are pretty significant issues, after that they become arguably quite trivial and/or issues of personal preference.

Frustrating MANDATORY Image Review in Viewfinder/LCD: Whenever you are using the mechanical shutter you are forced to review the image you just captured, even if it's just for a fleeting second - and even if you're shooting action at the maximum mechanical shutter frame rate of 5 fps. The result is that you are briefly blocked from seeing through the viewfinder after each image is captured. No problem if you're shooting a static scene (tho' I have to wonder why anyone would care about shooting a landscape image at 5 fps, even if they're automatically bracketing a shot - which this camera won't do anyway!). BUT, trying shooting an action shot of a moving subject (bird in flight, running dog, playing kids) with the "forced" image review - you end up losing the subject and, depending on how large it is within the frame, it can be tough to keep it in the frame. One workaround is to use the electronic shutter - in this mode there is no image review (imagine that at 10 to 60 fps!). Good option if you're OK with shooting in Program mode and losing control of your ISO and some AF functions (depending on frame rate) and losing exposure compensation. A better solution: Nikon - please add the ability to just turn off image review when using the mechanical shutter (in a coming firmware release). I said please...

Slow Wakeup from Deep Sleep: The V1 has a two-step Auto Off function - step 1 puts the camera to sleep (turns off the viewfinder and/or LCD displays) and step 2 turns the camera completely off. You can set the camera top go to sleep after 15 seconds, 30 seconds (the default value), 1 minute, 5 minutes, or 10 minutes. The camera shuts itself down totally 3 minutes after it has gone to sleep. The problem I've encountered is that once the camera goes to sleep it takes slightly over 2 seconds after the shutter button is touched to wake up. Why is this a problem? Consider that you've successfully stalked your basic mountain lion (or child, or dog, or whatever) and have lined up just the perfect shot but you're waiting for that subject to give you a quick head-turn. If you wait past the time in which the camera goes to sleep then it will take two seconds before you fire off the shot you want and by then, according to Murphy's Law, that mountain lion, child or dog has turned its head away again. The workaround? Simply extend the time before the camera goes to sleep to 5 or 10 minutes, of course. But there goes your battery life...

Mode Dial Spins Far Too Easily: The Mode Dial is the circular dial that shifts the camera between its 4 primary modes: Motion Snapshot, Smart Photo Selector, Still Image, and Movie. The problem is that the button simply moves between modes far too easily and it's super easy to accidentally shift it from one mode to another (for instance, when taking it in and out of a case, which I do ALL the time). A few obvious solutions: Nikon - please remove the silly modes (everything but Still Image) and then the dial wouldn't even be needed in the first place (am I showing a bias here?); Nikon - please stiffen the dial up or place 4 detents in it; Individual Users - just tape the button down on Still Image mode (you can still shoot movies using another button anyway).

Multi Selector Button/dial Too Soft to the Touch: The most critical control feature on the V1 is the Multi Selector dial/button - it controls about a billion (OK, not quite that many, but lots of 'em) of the camera's main functions (like AF bracket position, exposure compensation, auto-exposure and auto-focus lock, timer, etc.) and it's one of those "spin it, toggle it, push it" controls. It works well but is simply too light to the touch and, like the Mode Dial, it's far to easy to accidentally bump it and change some setting. Basically, you should have to actually PRESS or SPIN this button/dial to make it work, it shouldn't react if you simply think about pressing or spinning it! And try working a sensitive button like this with even thin gloves on - forget it.

Poor Viewfinder Display - Auto ISO Function: The Auto ISO function of the camera isn't executed too badly - it's simple and you have the option of choosing various ISO ranges over which the Auto ISO function operates, the choices being 100-400, 100-800, 100-3200 (and I wonder why there is no 100-1600 option). The problem comes in with how that function is displayed on the LCD or viewfinder - it simply tells you it's on Auto ISO and the maximum limit you've set, not the actual ISO being used. So...select Auto ISO with a range of 100-400 ISO and you simply see "ISO-A 400" through the viewfinder, regardless of the actual ISO actually being used. I like Auto ISO functions, but I do care about the ISO I'm shooting at (and want to know it).

Missing Viewfinder/LCD Displays - Shooting Mode: One of the things I've really liked on my Olympus E-P3 (and is found on MOST mirrorless cameras) is having a live histogram available through the viewfinder (or on the LCD) that shows you critical exposure data before you capture the image. The V1 does not offer this as a display option. I know the design philosophy of the V1 was to keep the camera simple, but if they added this as a shooting mode display option that is turned OFF by default, no novice would ever find it or be bothered by it anyway! Nikon - please add this in a coming firmware update (I said please again).

Missing Viewfinder/LCD Displays - Playback Mode: No highlight warning display is available (those "blinkies"). This display is ubiquitous in the digital camera world and is actually quite useful. I know, I know...the goal was simplicity. But same comment as immediately above - make it an option that is turned off by default and no one will be unduly confused by it. Nikon - please add this in a coming firmware update (note the "please" again).

Slightly Inconsistent Control Logic and Function "Memory": One little thing that makes a difference to the day-to-day usability and user satisfaction of a camera (and important if a company is trying to keep a camera simple!!) is to have consistency in the controls of that camera. This is slightly tough to explain, so bear with me. But I'm referring to situations where you must spin (or push) a single dial (such as the Multi Selector) when in different modes to "activate" different functions. The bottom line is that I expect that the same general pattern of user behaviour will activate all the functions in the same way. With consistent logic it the operation of a camera soon becomes second nature. A real world example of inconsistent logic in the V1? Consider the number of steps to change the position of the AF brackets vs. the number of steps needed to accomplish exposure compensation. To move the AF bracket to a new position you must push the centre button of the Multi Selector (Step 1 - activate the function) and then toggle the Multi Selector button to move the focus bracket to your desired position (Step 2 - make your selection). Once the focus bracket is where you want it you can simply press the shutter and the camera focuses on THAT spot - there's no need to "lock" the setting in. BUT, try operating the Exposure Compensation - to do so you must push the right hand side of the Multi Selector (Step 1 - activate the function), then spin the Multi Selector to "dial in" the amount of compensation you want (Step 2 - make your selection). But if you then press the shutter release you get NO exposure compensation. Huh? Why? Because you've missed Step 3 - "Lock in Your Selection"! What do you mean "lock in your selection"? Well, after dialing in the amount of compensation you want you must "lock it in" by pushing either the right hand side or the centre of the Multi Selector again. But why have this third step on this function (but NOT on other functions, like moving the AF bracket)? It just becomes one more thing to actively remember when shooting and can bog down the shooting process ("...oh yeah, sometimes I have to lock-in my selections and sometimes I don't). And, compare what happens between these two functions when you turn the camera off and then on again - the focus bracket that you moved into a new position has returned to the center position (and this is totally fine) BUT the exposure compensation remains at the value you set it at BEFORE you turned the camera off. Nikon - please just keep the logic consistent - it makes a huge difference to the experience of the end-user (right Steve?).

Manual ISO Settings - Increments Too Large: Want to set your ISO manually? Well you have to settle for full stop increments - so ISO 100, 200, 400, 800, etc. The competing cameras (like the E-P3) offer the ability to have those steps in 1/3 stop or full stop increments. Auto ISO increments on the V1 are much smaller - so you end up with images shot at ISO settings of 110, 160, 220, etc., but only when the camera decides to do so!

Needs One-button Return of AF Bracket to Central Position. Are you an AF bracket toggler? I am. And my Nikon DSLR's have spoiled me with optional one-button, one-touch return of the AF bracket to the central position. Comes in real handy. Please Nikon.

Poor Documentation of Features in User Guide: OK, virtually every camera maker can be faulted for this (and it keeps folks like Thom Hogan in business - no knock on Thom). But, for example, try reading through the manual and actually finding a place where it says something clear like "Face-priority AF is only available when using Auto-area AF-area mode" OR "When using continuous-servo mode (AF-C) the camera employs predictive autofocus when the subject is moving towards or away from the camera" (which it obviously does, but is said no where in the manual). So much for simplicity and having an easy-to-understand camera.

JUST BARELY Acceptable High ISO Performance: OK - the high ISO performance of this camera is fantastic given the size of the image sensor (and on par with the larger sensor of the Olympus E-P3), but in absolute terms I would love it to be just ONE stop better. I'm sure this is beyond what can be accomplished with a firmware update, so this is why I'll have to buy the V2 in 18 months or so. Sigh.

OK - after all this, what's the one-sentence summary of my early impressions of the V1? Here ya go: The V1 is not perfect, but its responsiveness, including fast and accurate AF, high frame rate, large buffer capacity, and its far-more-than-acceptable image quality combine to make the V1 the walk-around camera I have been looking for for years.

III. Chapter 2: My Thoughts on Some Key Accessories for the Nikon V1

Post Date: February 13, 2012
Update: February 14, 2012: Minor additions to the FT1 section

A. The GP-N100 GPS Receiver

The GP-N100 is a small GPS receiver that slides into the camera's hot shoe bracket. There is very little to say about it, so this section will be short! It's small - so small that I just leave mine attached to my V1 at all times. It's simple - slide it in to the hot shoe and turn your camera on and..."presto"...once the GPS acquires signals it adds GPS location data to your image's metadata. The first time I connected the unit it took a few minutes to acquire a signal (like virtually all GPS units do), but since then signal acquisition has been fast. It's accurate - I've compared the readings against those produced by my hand-held Garmin GPSMap 62st and they have been virtually identical.

Do I recommend it? If you have any reason to have exact image location data associated with your images (and there are countless reasons why you'd want location data associated with many types of documentary images), then I'd absolutely recommend it. It's small, it works.

B. The FT1 Mount Adapter

The FT1 Mount Adapter allows you to use most of the common F-mount Nikkor Lenses with your Nikon 1 camera (either a J1 or V1). Very few Nikkor lenses are incompatible - here's the full lens compatibility chart. I cannot express strongly enough how for me (and I suspect many users who have a nice collection of Nikon lenses) the existence of the FT1 is a COMPLETE GAME CHANGER - it converts what was for me a simple walk-around camera into a serious photographic tool. This should not be interpreted as me saying that there is anything wrong with the 1 Nikkor lenses - they are small and light and produce very acceptable quality images. But, connect the V1 to a top-notch Nikkor lens (like the 24-70mm f2.8 or the 200mm f2 VR or the 400mm f2.8 VRII) and prepare to be astounded by what the "little" V1 can do. Talk about an increase in options for the owner of Nikon lenses!

But I'm getting ahead of myself - first a quick discussion of FT1 build quality and the limitations/changes it imposes on the V1:

1. Features and Build Quality: The FT1 is solidly built and integrates very well with the V1 camera. The instant you put it on the V1 the camera automatically makes the appropriate adjustments to the camera's autofocus options (many of the V1's autofocus capabilities are lost when the FT1 is used). The FT1 has a plate and tripod socket to allow you to connect it (rather than the camera) to a tripod in cases where your Nikkor lens does not have a tripod collar (such as on the 28-300mm f3.5-5.6 zoom or any short prime or zoom lens). You can attach an Arca-Swiss compatible camera plate to the FT1 if you use this standard. In short, the FT1 is a quality bit of hardware that is built to last (and, like extension tubes, has no optical components - it simply adapts the mount and has the required electronic contacts). The host Nikkor lens's AF and VR functions work when attached to the V1 (but see the next point on AF limitations).

2. FT1-imposed Limitations: Autofocus performance. When you mount the FT1, you lose continuous AF (AF-C) capabilities, but the camera is "smart enough" to know the FTI is installed and automatically shifts the camera to AF-S mode (and even changes the menu options for AF, showing only AF-S and manual focusing options). You also lose the ability to use all focus-brackets EXCEPT the one in the centre of the viewfinder - so ONE AF bracket only. Which means for off-centre subjects, you are forced to do the old "focus and recompose". Given the camera has automatically shifted to AF-S mode, this is easy to accomplish in the field - just press the shutter half-way to focus, hold you finger down (to lock the focus) and recompose. Simple as pie. Not always optimal, but not the end of the world either...

3. FT1-imposed Limitations: Exposure Modes. I mentioned above (in the section on what I like about the V1) how much I liked the program mode and, in particular, how it functionally shifts the V1 into Aperture Priority exposure mode the minute you toggle the aperture control switch. Here's a little bad news - when you try this with the FT1 adapter on (i.e., toggle the aperture switch while in program mode) nothing happens! To adjust your aperture you need to be be shooting in Aperture Priority exposure mode. Not a big deal as this is what most cameras do, but a "limitation" imposed by the FT1 adapter nonetheless.

4. And An Inconvenient Real World Quirk: One little irritating quirk I noticed is that when using the FT1 with my 200mm f2 VR and 400mm f2.8 VRII the VR is ALWAYS active - until the camera goes to sleep (I didn't notice this on my 70.200mm f2.8 VR, but this is likely because the VR isn't as audible on this lens as it is on the 200 f2 and the 400 f2.8). I'm guessing this will be the case on ALL of Nikon's VR lenses. The only problem this presents is battery drain - powering that VR on those big lenses pulls the battery of the V1 down awfully quickly. The obvious workaround is to set the V1 so that it begins its automatic shut-down routine faster (which is configurable) so that the camera goes into "sleep" mode sooner. But the problem with this workaround is that the camera is slow to wake from its sleep - a little over two seconds once one touches the shutter release. So you face a dilemma - save battery life by setting your camera for a rapid sleep onset (and risk the chance of missing the action by a camera only very slowly coming out of its slumber) or stay ready to shoot all the time by specifying (by having a long onset to sleep) and have that VR rapidly drain your camera's battery. Methinks this problem justifies a firmware update.

5. So...How Does It Work? Just awesome - AF performance of your Nikkor lenses on the V1 is shockingly accurate - and much better than I expected. AF speed? Great - pretty much comparable to what it is on a any high-end pro body. Yep, when you add teleconverters the AF can slow down (just like when they're added to any lens) - but this is a problem with using teleconverters, not the V1 or the lens in question.

6. So...How About Some Examples? Geez, I thought you'd never ask! To date I've shot the V1 with the lenses listed below and have been thrilled with the performance in each case. Comments specific to each lens I've used are immediately below. Note that all images shown here have been reduced to 1200 pixels on the long axis but I'm quite sure you'll get a feel for their quality at this resolution. Techs and processing information are included on all the shots. Best to view these images at 100% magnification.

AF-S NIKKOR 16-35mm f/4G ED VR With the 2.7x crop factor of the V1 this lens gives you an effective focal length (EFL) range (of "field of view range" if you prefer) of 43-95mm. I've only shot a few shots with this lens/camera combination, but the results I've received are exactly what you'd expect from this lens - sharp and with good contrast. One sample image: My Backyard in in the Kootenays: Download JPEG (737 kb).

AF-S NIKKOR 24-70mm f/2.8G ED EFL range on Nikon 1 body of 65-189mm. Like many, I consider this to be an optically superb lens (but just wish it had a VR on it!). Delivers as expected on the V1 - this is one case where reduction to 1200 pixels hides the fine detail produced by this combination. One sample image: Lake Windermere: Download JPEG (640 kb).

AF-S NIKKOR 70-200mm f/2.8G ED VR II EFL range on Nikon 1 body of 189-540mm. For me, this lens, when mounted on the V1, offers some very exciting potential - a very hand-holdable high-quality 189-540mm zoom with an f2.8 aperture! And, yep, it delivers in spades - I LOVE using this lens on my V1. I suspect others may be keen on this combination too, so 3 sample images at different focal lengths - all hand-held...but, in the words of a memorable photo tour participant in 2012, "...not complete sh@*" ;-)

i. Classic Castle Mountain: Download JPEG (653 kb). A hand-held shot of one of the iconic peaks in the Canadian Rockies. Zoom at 85mm (EFL = 230mm)
ii. Poncho Reflective: Download JPEG (653 kb). Just a hand-held grab shot of one of my Portuguese Water Dogs in a rare reflective (and non-hyper) moment. Zoom at 155mm (EFL = 419mm)
iii. It's a Tough Life: Download JPEG (383 kb). Bull elk scraping out a meal. This scene covered a very wide dynamic range and required some "tricky" processing, but the raw file had the data to work with (and the lower legs of the elk appeared black in the field too!). Zoom at 200mm (EFL = 540mm)

AF-S NIKKOR 200mm f/2G ED VR EFL on Nikon 1 body of 540mm. A legendary Nikkor lens - bitingly sharp and with exquisite and buttery smooth bokeh on all Nikon DSLRs. And, it IS as good on the V1 as you'd hope for....imagine a 540mm f2! One sample image (for now, more coming in Chapter 3): Life's a Balancing Act (Red Squirrel) Download JPEG (487 kb).

AF-S NIKKOR 200mm f/2G ED VR PLUS 1.4x (TC-14EII) Teleconverter. EFL on Nikon 1 body of 756mm. The 200mm f2 VR pairs very well with teleconverters - it's one of the two lens/TC combinations that I will use in the field without hesitation. And I won't hesitate to use it with the V1 either. One sample image (for now, more coming in Chapter 3): Male Pine Grosbeak: Download JPEG (486 kb).

AF-S NIKKOR 200mm f/2G ED VR PLUS 2.0x (TC-20EIII) Teleconverter. EFL on Nikon 1 body of 1080mm. What happens when you pair the 200mm f2 with Nikon's new 2x teleconverter on a V1? Is the output usable? Well...it's not quite as good as with the V1 paired with the 400mm f2.8VRII, but not half bad! You decide if it's usable output. One sample image: A Polite Red Squirrel? Download JPEG (487 kb).

AF-S NIKKOR 400mm f/2.8G ED VRII EFL on Nikon 1 body of 1080mm. Another of Nikon's absolute best lenses. And fantastic when paired with the V1 - I'm already using this combination a LOT, and will do so in the future. Very sweet! One sample image (for now): Bighorn Lamb: Download JPEG (509 kb).

AF-S NIKKOR 600mm f/4 ED VRII EFL on Nikon 1 body of 1620mm. Now we're getting into stratospheric focal lengths - and this shot on a bit of a wobbly tripod and in very flat light. But still arguably not pure crap...I'll definitely play with this combination again when the light is right (it shows potential). One sample image: Bull Elk: Download JPEG (416 kb).

What About Other Lenses? The lens list aboves includes some pretty top-notch glass. So a logical question is: what about other less-price lenses - how will they perform with the V1? While this is speculative, my best guess is that most Nikkor lenses will perform very well with the V1, for the simple reason that with the small CX format image sensor you're using the "sweet" spot (central region) of lenses. Generally, even less-than-stellar lenses are quite good optically near the middle, and fall-off in sharpness as one proceeds to the edges. Thus, I expect virtually all compatible NIkkors will produce pretty good results with the V1.

My Favourite Lenses For Use With the V1? Given the two ways I'm using my V1 (as a walk-around camera for hiking in regions where I may encounter wildlife and as a "must-bring" accessory for serious wildlife photography), I have currently have two lenses that I'm using a lot (and really like the results of) with my V1 - the 70-200mm f2.8 VRII and the 400mm f2.8 VRII. I'm completely thrilled with the quality of the output of the V1 when paired with these lenses.

7. And...About Those Uber-Focal Lengths? I have made this point before elsewhere, but the email keeps pouring in asking me about it - so it bears repeating here in this more permanent location (than my blog). I have received many emails asking me my thoughts on combining the V1 with a 600mm f4 lens with a 1.4x (and even 2x) teleconverter. When you use the V1 with a 600mm lens you're working with the equivalent of a 1620mm lens. Add in a 1.4x TC and you have the equivalent of a 2268mm lens in your hands. And, with a 2x TC it's like having a whopping 3240mm lens. Well, in the real world, I personally would almost never even consider these combinations. Between keeping a lens combination like that still enough for sharp results (even with a VR), huge depth-of-field issues, and even atmospheric effects, the chance of capturing anything other than very soft documentary images (of sasquatches, the Loch Ness monster, etc.) is so low that it just isn't worth the cost of the electrons to shoot those types of images (for ME). I have found the combination of the V1 with my 400mm f2.8 useful (that produces an equivalent focal length - or "field of view" if you prefer that terminology - of 1080mm, but that pretty much tops it out for me. For those of you who feel the need to have over 2000mm of focal length (presumably to document rare sightings?)...well...go for it...who am I to say you won't get results that make you happy! ;-)

My final word on the FT1 Adapter? Just this - it's a true game-changer.

C. The Nikon 1 SB-N5 Speedlight

Sorry, I am currently using the V1 as an "available light" camera and have not purchased the SB-N5 Speedlight for it (and have no immediate plans to do so). I'd recommend checking out Rob Galbraith's review for information on this accessory.

IV. Chapter 3: And Finally...The Nikon V1 as...

Post Date: March 7, 2012

When I purchased my V1 - and when I began this field test - I expected to use it simply as a handy walk-around camera for day-to-day shooting. I had no expectation that I would ever use it for "serious" photography. But over time, and especially after I received my FT1 Mount Adapter, I found the V1 could do much more and at least supplement my professional-level DSLR's for more demanding photographic tasks. So...with no further ado...

A. The Nikon V1 As a Walk-around Camera...

In a sense this entire field test has been asking (and answering) this question. To summarize, the V1 works very well for this nature photographer as a day-to-day walk-around camera. The 1 Nikon lenses currently available can meet MOST of my day-to-day needs walk-around needs. Those who own f-mount Nikkor lenses can easily "expand" the capabilities of their V1 by forking out a few hundred dollars and picking up the FT1 mount adapter.

But what about those legions of users who DON'T own any other Nikkor lenses and don't want to buy the bigger and bulkier f-mount lenses? For now they must wait and hope that Nikon quickly adds to the assortment of available 1 Nikkor lenses. My preference for would be for them to add some reasonably fast prime telephotos ot the lineup, such as an f3.5 (or maybe even f2.8) 150mm prime (EFL of just over 400mm). I'm sure others would like some shorter focal length primes, such as an f2.8 32mm (EFL of 85mm). But...at the time of this writing the system is only a few months old...patience!

B. The Nikon V1 As a Wildlife Camera...

A camera that performs well for shooting wildlife must have many of the same attributes as a sports camera, including a fast and accurate autofocus system and high general responsiveness (almost no shutter lag, fast frame rate, good burst depth). It must also have lenses that provide good "reach" - at least 300mm (and preferably more) in full-frame terms. And, while not absolutely essential, good high ISO performance is often a big asset. So how does the V1 stack up for wildlife photography? Here's where there are quite different answers for those shooting 1 Nikkor lenses and those with an FT1 Mount Adapter and an array of Nikkor f-mount lenses. So...

1. As a Wildlife Camera - with 1 Nikkor Lenses: Out of the box, the V1 has attributes that at least make one consider its appropriateness as a wildlife camera. It DOES have a very fast and accurate AF system and is very responsive. Check and check. And in terms of lens reach, the longest of the 1 Nikkor lenses gets one ALMOST to 300mm in full-frame terms (the 1 Nikkor 30-110mm lens is equivalent to a 297mm lens with the 2.7x crop factor of the CX sensor). So another check, but just barely! ISO performance? Well, in decent light you're OK, but...well, this is no D3s or D4. A pair of images shot under different natural lighting regimes illustrates some of the limitations that can arise when using the V1 for wildlife photography:

Pileated Woodpecker in Shade. Download JPEG (550 kb). This was a walk-around "grab shot" taken in Stanley Park in Vancouver. Which means I hand-held the camera. Which means I needed to bump the ISO high enough (in this case to ISO 800) to get to a "safe" shutter speed (to avoid camera shake) to capture the shot. The trade-off? Well...noise, and the resulting loss of detail associated with that noise. Compare this image to...

Side-lit Pileated Woodpecker. Download JPEG (577 kb). Shot only a few minutes later when the low, late afternoon sun came out. Obviously of much higher contrast (owing to the light) and, owing to its lower ISO and lower noise, much better feather detail. But...not perfect either. The contrasty scene pushed the image sensor a little beyond its dynamic range limits - a limited amount of highlight detail was lost in the excavation "pit" near the woodpecker's head.

But back to the current array of 1 Nikkor lenses. At just under 300mm full-frame equivalence the V1 is just there in terms of reach, and only for some subjects (not recommended for the photography of most carnivores, especially hungry ones). But, just as importantly, while a good quality lens, the 1 Nikkor 30-110mm lens somewhat lacks the ability to separate the subject from its background in most situations. With some approachable species - and with the right relationship between the distance of camera to subject and distance of subject to background, some subject isolation is possible. But not a lot...

My final word on the V1 with 1 Nikkor lenses for wildlife photography? Well...OK in some circumstances. But...don't expect to see many enthusiast and/or professional wildlife photographers replacing their DSLR's with V1's!

2. As a Wildlife Camera - with Nikkor F-mount Lenses: Now almost everything changes! Yes, the same ISO and dynamic range limitations discussed above still apply. And the autofocus "degradation" imposed by the use of the FT1 Mount Adapter does have some impact (details above in the FT1 Mount Adapter section). But now that seductive 2.7x crop factor comes in. And, as alluded to above in the FT1 Mount Adapter section, the V1 can really sing with some of Nikon's longer lenses, both zooms and primes. Here's some of my thoughts of the V1 for wildlife with assorted lenses in my collection. I don't own every Nikkor telepboto, so omission from this list means nothing more than I haven't tried it (I know I'll get emails saying "But how about the 300mm f4 with the V1?"). Sorry I don't own the 300mm f4, or the 500mm f4 VR, or...

V1 with AF-S NIKKOR 70-200mm f/2.8G ED VR II. EFL range on Nikon 1 body of 189-540mm - with an f2.8 aperture. Cool. I love how the V1 and 70-200mm VRII pair up. And it is such a useful focal range that I now have "burdened" myself with carrying the 70-200 on my belt system on all my daily walks (I add it to my Think Tank belt system using LowePro's S&F Lens Exchange Case 200AW, which holds the 70-200 with FT1 Mount Adapter attached to it). At this point I have encountered more situations where I've used the 70-200 with the V1 for landscape shots than wildlife shots, but have had enough success with it to say that I would NOT hesitate to use this combination for "serious" wildllife work. Hand-holdable at all points on the zoom range, this is an incredibly versatile wildlife set-up. Some sample images...

Bighorn Lamb in Juniper. Download JPEG (655 kb). Not a wall-hanger, but a good test shot. Overcast skies - late day...so low light. Hand-held at 200mm (540mm EFL) with a slow shutter speed (1/50s) and higher ISO (800). And still not too bad!

Gull at False Creek. Download JPEG (435 kb). Another 200mm (540mm EFL) hand-held shot, but this time at a lower ISO (100) and higher shutter speed (1/1600s). This one pushed the dynamic range of the sensor, but all highlight and sufficient shadow detail retained.

It's a Tough Life. Download JPEG (304 kb). And yet one more 200mm (540mm EFL) hand-held shot, at a low ISO (100) and moderate shutter speed (1/320s). Again this one pushed the dynamic range of the sensor, but all highlight and sufficient shadow detail was retained (the elk's legs DID appear near-black in the field).

V1 with AF-S NIKKOR 200mm f/2G ED VR. EFL of 540mm - with an f2 aperture. OK - admittedly not a common lens. But if you have one and are looking to isolate a subject from a background (and turn that background into a buttery-smooth sea of colour)...well try this combination! But prepare to use a tripod most of the time - big lens plus little camera = bad balance! But where else are you going to find a 540mm f2 lens? A few sample images, including shots with both the 1.4x and 2x teleconverters...

Simply a Nuthatch. Download JPEG (392 kb). Kinda sharp subject, kinda soft background.

Deploy all Claws - Eat Nut. Download JPEG (468 kb). Once more - kinda sharp subject, kinda soft background.

Male Pine Grosbeak. Download JPEG (438 kb). V1 plus 200 f2 plus TC-14EII 1.4x teleconverter, for a total EFL of 756mm. Still sharp and still with a pretty soft background.

Pine Siskin on Lichen. Download JPEG (424 kb). This one with the 200 f2 paired with the TC-20EIII 2x TC, for an effective focal length of 1080mm. Not as sharp as when the 200 f2 is shot native, but not too bad either...

V1 with AF-S NIKKOR 400mm f/2.8G ED VRII. EFL of 1080mm - with an f2.8 aperture. Another not-so-common lens, but a great lens and pairs up amazingly well with the V1. Obvious decrease in portability, but if you are able to set up this combination up on a firm tripod (forget hand-holding it), this combination is really great for small birds and small mammals, and a whole lot more. I have already sold several shots taken with this combination - both for use in calendars and as gallery quality prints. A few sample images...

Chowing Down, With Class. Download JPEG (541 kb). Red squirrel with nut and, like with the 200 f2, amazing "focus contrast" between the subject and the background...

Bighorn Ewe. Download JPEG (364 kb). Wildlife portraits with the Nikon V1? Yep...

Pine Siskin. Download JPEG (392 kb). Like shooting songbirds? This camera/lens combination does a great job on passerines.

Young Bighorn Ram. Download JPEG (445 kb). If you like filling the frame with your wildlife subjects then 1080mm of reach can be a big advantage.

Just a Buncha Bull? Download JPEG (342 kb). Like filling your frame AND staying a safe distance back from your subject (you should). 1080mm helps.

V1 with AF-S NIKKOR 600mm f/4 ED VRII. EFL of 1620mm - with an f4 aperture. Can you ever have too much of a good thing? Like TOO MUCH focal length? In my opinion - yes. And in the real world, and for most uses (other than documentary images of sasquatches, mermaids, Loch Ness Monsters) 1620mm IS too much lens. Hard to hold still enough, difficult to control depth of field, atmospheric effects, etc. So I won't be using this combination much. But one sample image (shot under pretty marginal conditions)...

Just a Buncha Bull? Download JPEG (336 kb). Acceptable under less-than-optimal conditions, but I don't anticipate using this combination often.

I'm not about to suggest that anyone should sell their DSLR's and replace them with a V1 for wildlife photography. BUT, if one likes shooting wildlife images and already owns some f-mount telephoto lenses, the V1 is probably the single best accessory one could buy! That 2.7x crop factor gives more reach than a 2x teleconverter and with no optical (or aperature-reducing) compromises. I never expected to be advocating for the V1 as a wildlife camera (or accessory) when I bought it, but it has earned a spot in my camera pack on all wildlife shooting excursions.

C. The Nikon V1 As a Landscape Camera...

I'm much more of a wildlife photographer than I am a landscape photographer. But, I've been asked if the Nikon V1 is a suitable camera for landscape photography. Most professional landscape shooters would instantly say "no, of course not!" But I have a slightly different answer: it depends. And, what it depends on is what you're using the images for. If your ultimate goal is to produce (or sell) large prints or huge digital files for sale as stock images, then the V1 just won't cut it - at 10 MP there simply isn't enough resolution. But, if the end use of the image is electronic (web image, an image to email to someone, an image for a slide presentation, etc.) or even as a smaller image in a print publication, then the V1 CAN fill the bill as a landscape camera.

But...you say...you've heard the image sensor on the V1 kinda sucks - its colour depth, and particularly its dynamic range, are insufficient for landscape work. Hmmm...good point, but bear in mind that not everyone wants to look at images (victimized by excessive HDR use or otherwise) that have a huge dynamic range. Remember Velvia? Talk about narrow dynamic range! And, I saw some pretty impressive landscape shots taken with Velvia. And there are times when you can USE that limited dynamic range to produce high-contrast shots with almost a "graphic" look to them (see a few of the images below).

Are the 1 Nikkor lenses good enough for landscape photography or does one need to buy an FT1 and use f-mount lenses? I would contend that while high-end f-mount lenses DO outperform the 1 Nikkor lenses on the V1, it is less essential to use f-mount lenses for landscape work than for wildlife work. Time for some image samples...

1. Landscape shots with 1 Nikkor Lenses - All techs shown on images:

Frosty Rocky Mountain Sunrise. Download JPEG (440 kb). 1 Nikkor 30-110mm zoom @ 93mm (EFL=252mm).
Foggy Sunset on Fairmont Mountain. Download JPEG (255 kb). 1 Nikkor 30-110mm zoom @ 83mm (EFL=224mm).
Good Night Kiss. Download JPEG (421 kb). 1 Nikkor 30-110mm zoom @ 93mm (EFL=252mm).

2. Landscape shots with Assorted F-mount Nikkor - All techs shown on images:

Last Light Over the Rockies. Download JPEG (339 kb). AF-S NIKKOR 70-200mm f/2.8G ED VR II @ 70mm (EFL=189mm).
A Castle Under Shroud. Download JPEG (339 kb). AF-S NIKKOR 70-200mm f/2.8G ED VR II @ 70mm (EFL=189mm).
Classic Castle Mountain. Download JPEG (559 kb). AF-S NIKKOR 70-200mm f/2.8G ED VR II @ 85mm (EFL=230mm).
My Backyard in the Kootenays. Download JPEG (736 kb). AF-S NIKKOR 16-35mm f/4G ED VR @ 19mm (EFL=51mm).

No one will be selling their medium-format digital cameras (or their D800's) and replacing them with V1's for landscape photography. And, while the 2.7x crop factor is appealing for wildlife shooters, it doesn't help (and can even hamper) the wide angle lenses often preferred by landscape shooters. When I'm doing serious landscape work you'll see a D800 in my hands. But...sometimes with landscape photography you run into that once-in-a-lifetime lighting of a specific scene when you least expect it, and I'm much more likely to be carrying my V1 in these situations. And I won't hesitate to use it.

My FINAL thoughts on the V1? I love it.

Field Test Index


Nikon 70-200mm f/2.8 VRIINikon's Series 3 tele-converters4 Ways to 400mm
Nikon D7000 - First ImpressionsLensCoat RainCoat ProThe Nikon V1
The Nikon D800The Nikon D4Nikon AF-S 80-400mm f4.5-5.6 VR