on November 9, 2012
I have owned the Nikon V1 wide angle kit for some months now. I shoot candid photos, and landscape panoramics. This machine was designed to perfection for my needs. It's very simple looking black body does not disturb people, and they relax very quickly after noticing it. Maybe it looks enough like a cell phone with the very small 10mm prime lens attached.
I chuckled about it's manual shutter until I tried it. The sound and slight vibration of it's operation give me valuable tactile input. It also seems to give better results. The 5 frames per second continuous mode is about right for gentle action like rock climbing or changing facial expressions.
I have been shooting raw frames, and am very satisfied with the sharpness and color saturation that the cx sensor is capable of. The kit lens has some distortion, which can be removed easily. The 10 mm prime lens captures images that are good right out of the camera. Also, this prime lens has no moving parts on the outside. It is suited to our desert air, which is burdened with dust. It does not change length, so once it is attached [hopefully, in a clean location], it has no way to draw dust into the body.
The 10 megapixel limit of the sensor can be daunting. I shoot my landscapes with 3 to 30 overlapping frames, ending up with a huge image that can be printed out mural-sized. So, the 10 mp frame is plenty of resolution. I benefit from the speed of the camera, because I have to pivot the camera on the tripod, and trigger it multiple times with the remote, all before the clouds move very far. If you must do this with a single frame, you will have to spend quite a bit more for the body and lenses.
As far as build quality, this model is very strong. It looks simple and pretty, feels like a little brick of solid metal in the hand, and operates like a miniature professional camera. The electronic viewfinder is perfect for eye level operation in all conditions, and the screen works very well when holding the camera at arms length, or using it on a tripod. I have never once wished for the screen to tilt, or accept touch commands. I prefer sturdy build and simplicity to wealth of features.
The menu system works well once you find everything. I was pleasantly surprised by the ease of full manual operation. Shutter and aperture each have a control. There is an exposure indicator, but the live view does not reflect the exposure chosen. You have to snap one to see where you are at. It is better to use manual focus for low light landscapes to prevent focus seeking. Then, you must remember to switch back to auto, or all subsequent shots will be blurry. There is a warning in the evf and on the screen than you are still in manual focus mode, but there is no external switch to remind you.
The external flash is a must if you will face low light, and it works really well without requiring it's own batteries. It swivels in many directions, and throws enough light for nighttime gatherings and to provide fill flash of flowers and portraits and pets. The 18.5 mm f1.8 lens with the small 'innie' hood works very well with the flash, as the coverage is very even at this focal length, the focus assist light is not blocked, and enough light hits the sensor to focus easily. I am glad that Nikon did not include a pop up flash on this model.
In short, if you like simple, durable devices, and you do not require more than a 10 mega pixel sensor, this little camera [and it's surprisingly sharp lenses] might be for you.
update after one year:
I have been shooting the V1 pretty constantly for the last year. I learned a lot about the wonderful machine, and do not regret my choice in any way. I have added the 30 - 110 mm zoom, and the 18.5 mm f1.8 prime, and really can't say enough about the sharpness and color and contrast of these optics.
The long zoom has uncanny ability to cut through distance haze, and remains contrasty and crisp in difficult lighting conditions like strong backlight. The huge lens hood is an absolute must for anything but night shots. And, as i feared, the lens's huge range of expansion brings dust into the interior, where is makes the action raspy. I have not noticed reduced optical quality, but i think that primes will last much, much longer than zooms in dirty or damp environments.
The 18.5 is the perfect normal lens, and I am never tempted to attach the 10 - 30 mm kit lens with the 2 primes in my bag. The exception is macro stills and video, where the kit lens focuses well, and the active Vibration Reduction compensates for hand shake or tripod jiggle. An example is: [...] is a 4 minute beekeeping documentary that i shot with the kit lens and a spindly tripod.
I have not dropped the camera onto a hard surface, but have used it for roped shooting of rock climbing in high winds, and rainy hikes. It has taken many blows without any complaint, and has worn 2 system bags to tatters! i get lots more usable video footage and sharper stills than with other camera models that I have tried. [And, i get less tired holding it!]
As far as processing is concerned, The lens profiles are available from adobe, by downloading the newest dng converter. One should not even look at the raw images [especially those of the crazy sharp 18.5 mm] without applying the lens corrections. Once corrected, images from every lens are evenly lit and free of distortion and fringing. They are very suitable for automatically stitching together. You will have to use this technique to print huge images from this small sensor. holding the camera vertically, and shooting 3 overlapping shots left to right gives you a single horizontal composite image that could have come from the D 800 E.
I have ordered the 20 dollar fotodiox f mount adaptor, and plan to experiment with legacy glass next. I have the 75 - 150 zoom, and will order the renowned 50 mm f1.8 manual focus prime as well. Sports should be quite impossible with manual focus and exposure, but the sunsets and night shots are already done using a tripod, and with manual settings. I will order a set of extension tubes with the 50 mm lens, as these old optics might make pretty good macro lenses. You will see a detailed update to this review after my experiments.
Once again, if you are worried about the postage stamp sized sensor, I suggest that you order a 300 dollar V1 body and the 18.5 mm prime lens. Give it a week or 2 to get used to it before you start forming your opinion. The menu system and the fast prime are both a little hard to use at first. To shoot single shots rapidly, you have to press the shutter halfway down when the annoying preview appears. Other times, it is relaxing to evaluate the preview for a few seconds without the hurry. You will get many many great action shots by using the 5 frame per second manual shutter and a fast SD card. The clicking of the leaf shutter in the lens seems to give a better result, and the right amount of sensory input for your timing. You will get the expressions that you have always longed for by shooting people at 10 frames per second with the electronic shutter. It is silent, and there is no hint that you are shooting. You see a sort of movie of the shots that is useful for composing, but neither subject or photographer gets much sensory input.
The One Year Verdict?
This is the best candid or street camera available for the price. One routinely gets strangely great video, and crispy, focused stills for panoramic compositions or smaller sports shots. It is a pretty good macro camera for birds and bees and such. You will be limited to about a 2 foot print with a carefully processed 10 megapixel shot. You WILL need a larger sensor to obtain the shallowest depth of field, take very long exposures [without noise], or to print out a mural from a single still. you will need the weather sealed model [the AW1], and one of the 2 O-ring lenses to go under water.
And a final warning. The lenses for this system are cost effective, but they are addictive. It is hard to stop thinking about and ordering new optics. And, you will not experience much benefit from the new lens mount if you do change the lens! This is a strong, growing system, and it appears to be here for the long haul. It is for folks that love light and photography and portability, and not so great for those that love to compare complicated gizmos. It can be with you at all times, freeing you from the agonizing 'take or not take' choice! Thanks for reading!
On using the manual focus, manual aperture lenses
I have used 3 of the Nikkor ais lenses with the V1 at this point. I have been using the fotodiox adapter, which has it's own tripod mount. The lenses can be carried in ones bag with the adapter attached and a spare series one rear lens cap to seal it up.
I have written detailed instructions for using the manual lenses with the fotodiox adapter in my review for that product. So here, I will talk about what the legacy glass does to the systems usability.
The 50 mm f1.8 ais is a must! Attached to the adapter, it is roughly the same size as the 30 - 110 mm zoom collapsed, and maybe twice the weight. The first element is deeply recessed, and can be used safely with no hood. It gets absurdly sharp images that compare favorably with those obtained using the 18.5 mm f1.8. And where that is a 200 dollar normal lens, this is a 135 mm equivalent of the same impressive speed. and, It will cost less, even with an adapter and a metal hood. I was worried about finding my own exposure without any help from the camera, but the V1's rapid shooting speed allow one to fine tune their exposure in 30 seconds or so. What you see in the viewfinder is adjusted, but the review that shows up after the shot reflects the recorded exposure. A peak at the histogram is sometimes needed. Manual focus turned out to be much easier than expected, even without viewfinder magnification. You can focus before closing the aperture for precision, or after, to control the depth of field very carefully. I get about 70 - 80 % crispy shots, so I shoot some extras.
the 75 - 150 f3.5 E lens covers the next range of focal lengths. It shoots like a fast 200 - 400 mm equivalent. Because one is only using the center, it is sharp from edge to edge throughout it's range. You would think that a lens with this much magnification would not be useful without VR, But some low light sports shots quickly cured me of that confusion. I had some blurry shots from my poor panning, and some focusing errors, and a decent percentage of crispy raw images. These early manual lenses are very small and easy to handle, and use standard 52mm filters and hoods. Once you mount the long lens on a sturdy tripod, focus carefully, and stop the lens down, every landscape shot is perfect. The sharpness and contrast are extreme, and the color is different than the 1 lenses, but great! The lack of auto-focus and auto exposure is a benefit for landscapes. The cost is a tiny fraction of what one would pay for a 'modern' lens, and the build quality surpasses any plastic lens by a mile. Get this lens for 60 dollars, and if you can not focus it, it will be the coolest paperweight that anyone has [or, you can throw it at this reviewer!]
the 43 - 86 f3.5 ais is the first compact zoom lens that Nikon ever made. It is still an amazing short telephoto on the 1 system, and a handy portrait lens on a dx or fx sensor. You get the idea. You can have a handful of the cheap adapters, and a big bag of sharp, fast manual glass for the price of a modern plastic zoom lens. I have ordered more adapters, as well as extension tubes and hoods. The next lens that i will get is either the 200 mm f4 ais or the 300 mm f4.5 ais. I will post a few full resolution samples taken with legacy glass at my picasa page.