When I looked out of the window this morning I was greeted by a dull, grey day. My spirits immediately lifted – what a perfect time for an overcast birds-in-flight test with my Nikon 1 V3!
NOTE: Click on images to enlarge.
To put this article and the test in context here’s a photograph of Hamilton harbour during the morning that I did this birds-in-flight test.
This was far from ideal weather to photograph birds-in-flight, especially with a mirror-less camera, but a great day to test the auto-focusing capability of my Nikon 1 V3.
I did take a few still images to get used to the controls of the V3 as I haven’t shot with this model for well over a year.
With my Nikon 1 V2 I often shoot birds-in-flight using Manual settings and letting my ISO float with the Auto ISO160-3200 setting. Since I wasn’t sure how the V3 would behave, I decided to play it safe and shoot in Shutter Priority mode, with floating ISO.
In the case of the V3 I used Auto ISO 160-6400. I did this because there is about a 2/5th of a stop difference between the measured ISO performance of the V2 and V3. For example, when shooting at an ISO-3200 camera setting the V2 shoots at measured ISO-2416, wheres the V3 shoots at measured ISO-1750. At a stated ISO-6400 the V2 shots at a measured ISO-4973 compared to ISO-3576 with the V3. I wanted to make sure that the V3 wouldn’t ‘top out’ early on ISO.
Capturing groups of birds did not present any issues, even under the overcast conditions.
I knew the real challenge would be with individual birds so I tried a range of metering modes: spot, centre-weighted, and matrix, to see which would produce the best results under the difficult conditions.
Almost all of the images in this article were taken with matrix metering as I found this mode produced the most ‘keepers’.
I used AF-C with subject tracking for all of the birds-in-flight images. Some photographs were captured as part of an AF-C run at 20 fps, while others were taken as single images.
Two of my best images were taken as single captures while a pair of swans were landing on the water at LaSalle Park in Burlington.
My Nikon 1 V3 was able to focus quickly enough to get the images you see above in a back-to-back sequence.
The Nikon 1 V3 did struggle quite a bit more in these overcast conditions than does my V2… and noticeably so. I missed quite a few image opportunities simply because the V3 would not acquire any focus at all. It would just hunt in vain. I haven’t had this happen with any of my V2s.
Although I didn’t keep any notes, this seemed to be a bit more prevalent when trying to use spot or centre-weighted metering. When I did my review of the V3 I did notice that the camera’s AF performance under low light was not as quick as the V2.
I often use both spot metering and centre-weighted metering when shooting birds-in-flight under more favourable weather conditions. It would appear that matrix metering works a bit better in overcast conditions than the other metering options with the V3. If I knew that I was going to be shooting under these conditions and needed some keeper images, I’d likely use my V2 instead of the V3.
Realistically I’ll be using my Nikon 1 V3 for all of my birds-in-flight and nature photography. I typically only go out to shoot these types of images in decent to good lighting conditions. From a practical standpoint the weaker auto-focus of the V3 under overcast conditions isn’t something that I’m likely to face.
I had a couple of instances where the V3 would lose focus right in the middle of an AF-C run at 20 fps. This was immediately noticeable through the EVF as the image would simply drop out to a blur. This happened when I was attempting to capture swans in-flight against the dull, grey surface of the water. I’m sure the lack of contrast in the scene was the cause.
I wasn’t expecting to get many usable images from this morning’s test. While I burned through a lot of shutter clicks with unusable AF-C runs at 20 fps or subjects that were just too small in the frame to use for this article, I did get some decent captures.
Unless I was doing this test with the Nikon 1 V3 I would have never gone out to capture birds-in-flight images under these types of conditions. So, for me at least, this wasn’t a ‘real world’ test as much as it was pushing the V3 towards its auto-focusing limits to see what it would do.
I found that keeping the AF-C pre-focused by pointing it out on the water about 25 meters (~81 feet) in front of me and tapping the shutter lightly between images helped the V3 acquire focus when birds approached. As is always the case it was helpful to pick up birds at a distance, then track them with the V3 until they came within shooting range.
The Nikon 1 V3 did a credible job keeping locked onto a subject even when the bird was in traffic.
Mirrorless cameras often struggle under dull lighting conditions. While the Nikon 1 V3 wasn’t stellar in terms of its auto-focusing performance, it was decent. I will be doing another birds-in-flight test under sunny conditions when the weather cooperates and my schedule allows.
It should be noted that I took close to 2,000 images this morning during a 3 hour period and used two batteries, both down to one bar remaining. I likely could have stretched the number of images further, but I used the rear screen to check and delete many images which used up some battery life.
If you enjoyed this article and would like to learn more about the Nikon 1 system, you may want to have a look at our eBook, The Little Camera That Could. It illustrates the capability of the Nikon 1 system through hundreds of original photographs. There is also commentary and tips about the Nikon 1 system.
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