February 14, 2012
Brief impressions of the Nikon V1
I’ve recently returned from my Guatemala trip, on which I carried a Nikon V1 borrowed from the Photoshop team. If you want a long & crazy-detailed overview, check out Rob Galbraith’s review. What follows is explicitly not that. Rather, it’s off-the-cuff impressions from a guy who normally carries a 5D and who didn’t have the new cam’s manual to consult.
On the whole it’s a camera I quite like. With a few improvements it could be one I love.
Highlights: Quality, silence, size.
- I found image quality to be excellent. (Here’s a totally untouched shot taken from a very bumpy van.) Granted, I was looking at reduced-res images on my iPad (making it harder to judge noise & sharpness), and I was relying on Apple’s built-in raw conversion (making it harder to judge flexibility of dynamic range), but still I was quite pleased. Even photos taken in a dark museums & caves came out well when using Auto ISO (a feature my 5D lacks) and the 10mm f/2.8 lens.
- I loved the cam’s total silence. People couldn’t tell that it was on or firing, making it great for candid shots. At one point a colleague asked me, “Are you actually going to take any photos?,” as she didn’t realize I’d been snapping away.
- The presence of a dedicated video start/stop button alongside the shutter release is a cool idea, making it easy to unambiguously capture video (i.e. no need to check or switch shooting mode first). Overall video quality is great.
Lowlights: Battery, lags.
- I found battery life on the whole to be somewhere between mediocre and awful. Even with the rear display turned off, I’d knock a fully charged battery down to 1 bar in maybe 150 shots. Unlike an SLR, you can’t just leave the cam on & ready to shoot at a moment’s notice. There’s no way to just leave it on (max setting is 10 min), meaning you can’t just raise the cam to your eye & know it’ll be ready to go. Weirdly, I found that when left on, the body grew quite warm to the touch. Even with access to my recharger every night, I stressed about battery life; without it (e.g. if backpacking), I’d have had to carry at least one or two spares.
- When you raise the cam to your eye, there’s a very slight delay before the digital viewfinder comes to life–nothing outrageous, but annoying for street photography. One can hack this by taping over the proximity sensor, but presumably that would just exacerbate the battery life issue.
- As noted in the Galbraith review, the camera insists on briefly showing the last-taken photo in the viewfinder. Again, it’s not horrible, but I often want to keep concentrating on what I’m shooting, not chimp at the shot I just took.
- Minor: I found it a bit too easy to turn the shooting mode wheel by accident. Suddenly I’d find myself in some odd burst mode, having nudged the wheel with my right hand.
For pop-up street photography, I found the Nikon 1 a good camera–just not quite a great one. Cutting out the lags, letting me leave it on, and adding a flip-out screen (so that I could compose & fire from waist height) would make it nearly ideal for the kind of work I was doing. As it was, I learned to work around the camera’s limitations, and I’m very happy with what it let me capture.
A few galleries, in case you’re interested:
- A trip to waterfalls & caves (many taken on the move or in the dark)
- Street life parts one and two
- Cemetery & vultures
Of all these, I think this is my favorite.