On the streets with Nikon 1 primes / Why do I like the Nikon 1 SO much?




























All images - Nikon 1 V1 - 10mm f/2.8 and 18.5mm f/1.8 

Since I don't shoot weddings, events, portraits or performing arts anymore, every now and then I go out to make sure that my observational, anticipation and reactive skills, such as they are, haven't completely disappeared. Yes its my take on 'street photography', usually undertaken in the tourist town of Stratford-upon-Avon, as are these pictures. 

Yesterday I went out with two Nikon 1 V1 cameras, one fitted with a 10mm f/2.8 and the other with an 18.5mm f1/.8. And yes I have a picture of advertising hoarding eyes following passers-by. Result!

No matter what people say about the Nikon 1 system, few can deny that its amazingly fast. Probably the fastest reacting out there. As an example, the shot of the barefoot cyclist was taken just after he approached me. After passing me I spun round, brought the camera to my eye and got off a couple of shots. The cyclist has been captured, the focus is spot on and the V1 had the image in the can almost before I realised what I was doing. It is certainly the fastest reacting camera I've ever used and of course by using the electronic shutter, completely silent.

There is also this depth of field thing again. Reading on forums, there are lots of posts that pretty much say, 'The Nikon 1 is rubbish because it has too much depth of field. f/1.8 isn't f/1.8 its x, y or z blah, blah, blah.......' Constantly comparing it to 35mm of course, which seems to be the standard by which all other camera systems are judged. Well, anticipating the second part of this article, one of the reasons (probably the main one) I like the Nikon 1 system is that IT ISN'T 35MM!!! However before we get to that, most of these pictures were taken at wide apertures with fast shutter speeds. The second to bottom shot of the half-timbered house with the woman on the mobile was taken wide open on the 18.5mm f/1.8 lens. However, unlike systems with larger sensors, despite the fact that she is out-of-focus its still possible to make her out and what she is doing. It is also possible to make out the building at the end of the street. For me, all of this is far from a problem, in fact I see it as a huge positive. 

Its well known by now that I'm not a fan of very limited depth of field. I find it unrealistic, creating images that are more about the lens and how you take pictures rather than the pictures themselves and again, as far as I'm concerned almost always the instant way to create pointless pictures. Whether or not you like them or not, all the above images have a context. There aren't any images that have something in sharp focus with everything else rendered as a syrupy mush.

So, why do I like the Nikon 1 SO much? As I indicated above, because it isn't 35mm. Now it is perhaps understandable why 35mm is taken as the base point for everything, because since the 1920's when Leica introduced the concept, it has been the best selling and most used camera system in the history of photography. However does that mean that we have to worship it? Does that mean that the dubious and innacurate accolade of 'full-frame' is applied to it? Does that mean that we assume that everything 35mm is right and all other systems and sizes are inherently inferior to it? Well, for me none of that holds true. The way our cameras look is already totally dominated by 35mm., DSLR's, compact cameras and rangerfinders (and faux rangefinders) are virtually all clones or copies of 35mm camera designs. In fact currently, the more retro it is, seemingly the better. 

Despite all the this, the most used system / size in enthusiast digital photography is APS-C. The size of a much-maligned and unsuccesful film system. And for photography in general the most used sensor sizes are very small, in 'point and shoot' cameras and mobile phones. A few years ago m/43 appeared, and was of course soundly rubbished by those who used a 35mm sized sensor (not many of those however) and by those who used APS-C, which in truth isn't that much different. Over time m4/3 has gained more respect and is (almost) accepted as a workable and quality camera system. However in the tradition of the English male public school the first years who were bullied on their arrival, upon reaching their second year take out their revenge on the new intake. So the 1" sensor of the Nikon 1 has to take its turn at being slapped about, often by the m4/3 fans. By now of course the APS-C users are basking in the glory of semi-respectability. All this reminds me of the John Cleese, Ronnie Barker, Ronnie Corbett 'I know my place' sketch. (If you take Cleese as 35mm, Barker as APS-C and Corbett as 1" and below, you'll see what I mean.)

I would recommend a piece by John M Flores from his excellent What blog is this. I've taken the liberty of including two quotes which I think relevant and would agree with. However do read the whole thing and the rest of his blog. Like me, he believes that photographic blogging / punditry and thoughtful, open-minded writing shouldn't be mutually exclusive.

'But the Nikon 1...ah the Nikon 1. Loved by few, but a disappointment to many. Many pre-judged the cameras on the basis of its sensor size alone (I posit now that megapickle war has been replaced by the sensor size war and that one of these days we'll all come to our senses, but I digress), and no amount of FPS or AF performance was going to sway hearts and minds.'

From the comments section:-
'I'm actually optimistic about the 1" sensor. It could very well take over the world.'

In time of course the 1" sensor may well become accepted. To a certain extent it already has with the praise heaped upon the Sony RX100. This to my mind is an inferior camera in almost every way, which makes the rubbishing of the Nikon 1 even stranger to me. 

The other main reason I like the Nikon 1 SO much, is that it opens up possibilities for me and allows me to do things that I want to do. I remember when I was using my Olympus E10 all those years ago (and it was the re-editing of those pictures that led me to the 1) and thinking 'Yes I would like more pixels and better quality, but wouldn't it be great if I could keep this amazing depth of field.' And in effect its taken until now for me to get that. 

The Nikon 1 V1 also gives me a camera that reacts as fast as my brain, and in reality sometimes faster!! (Not difficult these days) It also does it in a quiet unobtrusive way. If I'd taken the barefoot cyclist shot with one of my Nikon DSLR's he might well have had an accident since firing that shutter usually makes all the birds in the vicinity scatter! You certainly can't miss the fact that somebody is taking a picture. So its nice and quiet and modest. I used both of my V1's yesterday without straps and when I saw a picture brought it to my eye, took the picture and carried on walking. I contrast this with other cameras I've used which would still have been deciding about what to focus on or going through some shutter open/shut/open/shut take the picture routine. No names here, but you know who you are! So I could write that the Nikon 1 V1 is a great 'street camera' but then no-one will probably take any notice. 

Finally - 'He's in one of his super-enthusing modes and will move on to something else soon', is probably the reaction of many readers but regulars may have noticed something. This 'hyper-enthusiasm' is going on longer than usual and seems to be getting more intense over time rather than lessening as is usually the case. So is this the 1? (Sorry about that) well yes I think it may well be. I've used nothing before that gives me so much of what I want and suits me so well. I'm getting almost 100% acceptance for my upsized V1 files, the smile on my face when I use the camera is getting bigger and I seem to be encountering less of those little operating irritations than usual. The lenses are gems, the whole system oozes class (I can't wait to get my hands on the 32mm f/1.2) its fast, reliable, has an incredible battery life for a small camera, is light, small and inconspicuous and (mostly) inexpensive. What's not to like? The Nikon 1 system is almost a perfect match for what I want to do, and yes this may well be the real thing, not just infatuation.