This short article outlines some of the reasons why I love shooting with one of the worst-rated cameras on the market…the Nikon 1 V2.
NOTE: Click on images to enlarge.
Using the Nikon 1 system is something that I stumbled into more than anything else. When I originally purchased my first Nikon 1 V2 with the 10-30 mm kit lens my thought was to use it as a small, lightweight video camera to supplement my Nikon D800 from time to time.
It seemed to be a perfect solution that I could use in very tight spots when shooting for my industrial clients. Plus, it had the added bonus of being able to utilize my existing FX glass by way of the FT-1 adapter. I also saw it as an inexpensive way to get more reach from my existing Nikkor FX lenses, specifically the Nikkor 70-200 mm f/4. I could also get more reach in lower light conditions when using my Nikkor 85 mm f/1.8G as it gave me an equivalent-field-of-view of 230 mm with no loss of light.
Then I started shooting a few stills with the Nikon 1 V2 – after a while that led to me buying the 30-110 mm and before long I was hooked on the Nikon 1 system. I now own three Nikon 1 V2 bodies and a collection of 10 Nikon 1 lenses, shooting with the Nikon 1 system exclusively. I sold my Nikon D800 and all of my full frame lenses back in July. Have I missed my FX gear? Nope, not at all.
Understandably one of the biggest knocks against the Nikon 1 system since its launch has been its 1″ CX sensor. One only has to look at testing done by DxOMark to see how challenged the Aptina sensors used in various Nikon 1 models have been. Make no mistake the switch to the new BSI sensor in the J5 is a significant improvement that I welcome with open arms!
Let’s have a quick look at DxO test data:
Overall score: 50 (ranked 260 out of 305)
Dynamic range: 10.8 EV (ranked 277 out of 305)
Colour depth: 20.2 bits (ranked 241 out of 305)
Low Light: 403 ISO (ranked 246 of out 305)
Obviously not great scores. Anyone looking at these DxO scores, or at most of the online reviews done on Nikon 1 models (especially some of the original reviews) likely wouldn’t give the system a second look. And, who could blame them! If we all bought cameras solely based on test scores and the opinions of reviewers we’d all likely be buying a couple of dozen different camera models and there would be a lot less choice in the market. So, other factors are at play.
What is it about the Nikon 1 system that causes me to love shooting with it?
A lot of it isn’t logical at all. I just seem to have a great connection with those little V2 bodies. I’m not sure that I would call it a ‘Zen’ experience, but I can say that unlike other cameras that I’ve used, my Nikon 1 V2’s never seem to ‘get in the way’ of my creativity or inspiration. If anything they do the opposite – they challenge me to try new things and experiment far more than other cameras I’ve owned.
I find myself continually seeing what I can do to squeak just a bit more out of my Nikon 1 images. Will they ever match the IQ of a full frame camera like my D800? Of course not – but I really couldn’t care less.
Sure, the controls are far more limited than when shooting with a DSLR, but that simplicity is one of the things that I love. I will trade the feeling of joy and creativity that I have when I hold my Nikon 1 gear in my hands over the complexity of my D800 any day of the week.
In terms of image quality my D800 was probably as close to idiot-proof as a camera could get. I could point it at anything and know I’d get a good quality image. I just couldn’t connect with it. It was an outstanding camera but it always felt cold and distant in my hands. Simply a ‘tool for work’ I suppose. My Nikon 1 V2’s by comparison are impish. Carefree. They remind me of the ‘little engine that could’.
Since I got my first V2 I’ve adjusted my shooting style. I used matrix metering most of the time at first. Now, I experiment a lot more with centre-weighted and spot metering. And, not just for shooting wildlife. I play around with metering with any kind of subject, even landscapes.
It didn’t take too long before I stopped using auto-area AF and now I typically only use single point auto-focus. The only exception being with moving objects when subject tracking makes more sense.
The auto focus performance of the Nikon 1 V2 and its sibling cameras is terrific in terms of being fast and accurate. I absolutely love being able to set a single auto-focus point virtually anywhere in the frame. Sure, I could focus and recompose like I did with DSLRs but I love not having to do that. As soon as I look at a scene or subject and I visualize the image I want to capture in my mind I can set my single AF point exactly where it needs to be in the frame, even before I bring the V2 up to my eye to compose my shot.
And, when looking through the viewfinder I can quickly adjust that single AF point to the exact position I want when photographing semi-static subjects… placing it in corner extremes of the frame if needed. This is incredibly useful when shooting macro-type images or when shooting stills of birds and wildlife using telephoto lenses.
I still shoot in aperture priority quite a bit but I am finding that I use manual more and more often, usually in concert with an auto-ISO setting. Since I’ve been using the PRIME noise reduction function in OpticsPro I really don’t think about ISO as much as I used to in the past when I’d limit my V2’s to ISO-800. PRIME gives me about 2 more stops of functionality and I shoot at ISO-3200 without hesitation.
The small size and light weight are two of the primary strengths that I have come to love about the Nikon 1 system. The diminutive size of my Nikon 1 gear makes it so much easier to shoot hand-held at slow shutter speeds. When using the Nikon 1 CX 70-300 mm I never worry about shooting a static subject at 1/60 or 1/30 of a second when the lens is fully extended. Some added concentration is needed at shutter speeds slower than that but good images are absolutely attainable at 1/15 and sometimes even lower.
I now go to client video shoots with about a third of the weight and bulk I used to lug around. What do my clients think about me shooting their safety and training videos exclusively with my Nikon 1 V2’s? More than anything they seem intrigued that such a small camera can do such a credible job for them. I see a shift happening in the market with clients caring less about ‘big and impressive’ gear to wanting to work with people who can be fast and flexible. My Nikon 1 gear helps me do that for my clients.
I just shot a meat cutting training video for one of my clients and used all three of my V2’s in concert, each from a different angle. I used a small table top tripod and two of my other tripods that have lateral capability. I was able to position these small, lightweight cameras at the full lateral extension of my tripods without fear of the assembly tipping over. That would have been impossible with my D800 or other DSLR’s I’ve used in the past.
As I noted in an earlier article about using smaller sensor cameras in lower light conditions, and other shooting considerations in terms of depth-of-field when facing tight exposure limitations, the real-life functionality of the Nikon 1 system is far beyond what most people assume.
The more I shoot with my Nikon 1 gear the deeper my love for the system grows. My client video work is becoming more streamlined and easier to do as I learn to better utilize the capability of these little gems. For my last two video assignments I didn’t even need to bring my studio lights in from the car because of the deeper depth-of-field I can attain at more open f/stops when compared to my previous D800 and FX gear.
My Nikon 1 journey has been one of learning and discovery – and continues to be so. To get the most out of my RAW files I’ve needed to experiment a lot with my post processing and I’m now settled into a nice groove, integrating the use of three different software programs. A lot of people probably think I’m nuts doing that, but I’d rather take the best functionality from each of those programs and apply them to my V2 files to make the best out of them. Realistically what other choice is there when a person consciously chooses to shoot with one of the worst cameras on the market in terms of sensor performance and wants to maximize their file output? You need to look for every advantage possible…no matter how small.
DxO OpticsPro 10 is my main RAW processor. I typically let the software do its auto corrections, then take highlights down to between -10 and -20 to help compensate for the limited dynamic range with my V2’s. I may take blacks down a bit and add some micro-contrast. I then use the Lens Softness function to add a bit of sharpness…no more than 1.20 with Global and up to 70 with details. Usually that’s all I do before I process the file using PRIME noise reduction. I use PRIME for every Nikon 1 file regardless of the ISO at which it was shot.
Then a DNG file is exported into CS6. As I’ve kept on pushing myself I find that I do more work than I used to in CS6, primarily utilizing highlight, shadow, black and white sliders. Sometimes I play around with hues, curves and levels. I’ve learned to be much more aggressive with my adjustments in CS6 with my Nikon 1 files when compared to those from my DSLR’s.
Then final tweaks are done in Nik Suite, usually using Viveza II and Color Efex Pro 4. I especially like the polarization and pro contrast functions in Color Efex when working with landscape images.
All this post processing probably sounds overly complicated. It’s actually pretty quick and simple as I only use what I consider to be the best adjustments from each piece of software and I don’t waste my time with the other ones. I can usually get a Nikon 1 image to look the way I want in a minute or two. I’ve learned that if it takes me more than that I must have somehow screwed up the original capture and its not worth my time mucking about any more with it.
Many folks have ridiculed Nikon for the selection of Nikon 1 lenses available. They go on and on and on about what they think is missing in the lens line-up. This strikes me as a terrible waste of time and energy. Nikon’s introduction of a new lens is never going to magically make someone a better photographer. The only thing each of us needs to do, with whatever gear that we choose, is strive to use what is available to its maximum potential.
My style of shooting is heavily skewed to zoom lenses. Unless I’m shooting video in low light I almost never pick up one of my three Nikon 1 primes (10 mm f/2.8, 18.5 mm f/1.8, 32 mm f/1.2). I always reach for a zoom lens when shooting stills. I’ve never felt ‘deprived’ because of the selection of Nikon 1 zoom lenses. Heck, I can shoot from 6.7 mm to 300 mm with only 3 lenses, that’s an equivalent field-of-view of 18 mm to 810 mm. All of the Nikon 1 zoom lenses I use are smaller and lighter than found with larger sensor format systems. Check out my ‘Holy Trinity’ article for more detail on the three lenses I use most often.
I’ve shot with DX and FX bodies with the Nikkor 105 Micro f/2.8 VR and I would much rather shoot macro type images with my Nikon 1 V2 using extension tubes and the 30-110 mm lens. This is simply a killer combination that provides an exceptionally easy-to-use rig for hand-held shooting.
I’m sure there are a lot of other photographers out there just like me. They shoot with gear that simply resonates with them and they don’t care about test data or reviews. There is an instant connection as soon as they pick it up. It feels comfortable and invigorating at the same time. It helps them be at their creative best. They know it and trust it. That’s what the Nikon 1 system does for me.
I hope each of your reading this article find gear that does the same for you.
If you enjoyed this article you may wish to consider our Nikon 1 eBook: The Little Camera That Could.
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