Another Look at the Nikon 1 System

Nikon V1

When the V1 came out a few years ago, I thought it looked good; when its price dropped drastically, it looked really, really, good, and I bought one. It came with 10-30mm and 30-110mm lenses. Since then I have added the 6.7-13mm, 10mm, 18.5mm, 32mm, and now the 70-300mm, and the FT-1 adapter. If that says anything, it says I like the system, or else I am just overly acquisitive. (I will leave you to figure that out!)

If you are familiar with the Nikon 1 system, you know it has gone through multiple iterations, and has had numerous models in the S, J, and V series. I am not sure if the S series is still in production, but the J is now up to a J-5 being released in a few weeks. The V3 is the current version of the V series, so I cannot help but wonder if the V4 will be even more interesting.

One major gripe people have about the entire Nikon 1 series is the smallness of the sensor. It falls in the 1″ (2.5cm) category. Does it really matter? Isn’t the image produced the most important thing? To me it is. It also means knowing how a system works, and to use its strengths and limitations to the best advantage. This means using it under all sorts of situations, pushing it, controlling it, whatever.

Besides the Nikon V1, I also have a D7000, and the Df, and a number of different lenses with a different F mount, from vintage lenses from the 60s, to newer ones produced in the last couple of years. I got hooked on Nikon because a friend loaned me his D70 a few years ago, and I haven’t looked back. I also have a Nikon FM2N, which is a cool film camera, and can use lenses on it, too.

So, why another look at the Nikon 1 system? It is because it has sat on a shelf for awhile, until I started seeing work done with the 70-300mm lens (officially labeled 1 NIKKOR VR 70-300 f/4.5-5.6 on the Nikon USA website). The lens becomes a 189-810mm lens on the Nikon 1 cameras. The distance that can be covered is phenomenal, and is very petite. A regular 70-300mm lens coupled with the FT-1 adapter works great – but is gargantuan. Because it is small, I went for it.

A lot of birders enjoy using the lens as it is easy to use handheld. Tom Stirr has done a great job demonstrating the quality of images, as can be seen in his work below.  He uses the V2 and V3, which are considerably more advanced than my V1, but you get the idea:

Using the lens handheld, I cannot complain. While it is still heavy (in my opinion lots of things are heavy, like national debt or guilt), the VR works well, and I have found for myself, setting it to normal in the camera, and coupling it with continuous shooting, has allowed me to move in closer to things or people or animals I would not otherwise be able to.

Another photographer whose work I like is Aurora Santiago, on Flickr.  You can find her work here.  She uses the V3 and 70-300mm for her birds, and other shots, too, I imagine.

I use this lens to photograph plants, distances, and finally, the other day, I met up with a friend to photograph birds at a lake in a local park. Unfortunately, the lake was fenced off as clean-up goes on, and reconstruction. So, the egrets I wanted to photograph seem to have decamped, but the geese, ducks, grebes, and pigeons were still hanging out. Waddling birds were easy to capture – they are pretty tame – but swooping flocks of pigeons were amazingly impossible to capture with panning. Floopity, whoosh! I wanted to see how the V1 and the 70-300mm worked together to produce good pictures, still and with my largely unsuccessful attempts at panning.

Below are a number of pictures I have taken recently, using the 30-110mm, the 6.7-13mm, 32mm, and the 70-300mm lenses on the V1.

I have found a few things out in using the V1/70-300mm combo. First, I need to up the iso. Next, if necessary, shorten the exposure time to 1/500 and leave the camera to do the rest. For panning, use the central focal point, and use the continual / burst mode of the camera. Bright daylight also helps. The pictures I like are not all crystal clear, but they are pleasing to my eye. Some might be a bit soft or show some blur. Again, the photo is most important.

Besides the quality of the photo, post production is also important. Some people believe and strive for every picture to be perfect in composition, exposure, and so on, before even taking it. Sorry, not so for me. For me, post means rendering a mood, or shifting colors to something I like. I am not a purist that way. To me, some photography is a crap shoot – point, shoot-shoot-shoot (like when panning) – and pray, pray, pray! And then, look and look again. What works, what does not? Analysis is important, and reassessment of what was done.

And finally, just have fun. I don’t make money off my pictures, and couldn’t care less. For me, the creative process and intellectual process are important, as is simply getting outdoors to enjoy the world around me, by myself, or with friends.

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