Time to stop messing about - The Nikon 1 system.


First off, a link I would recommend that regular readers might think something of a surprise. http://www.stevehuffphoto.com/2013/07/22/the-nikon-1-system-nikkor-32-1-2-lens-review/
This is well-written, restrained and makes lots of points that I have been making. And credit where credit is due, Steve Huff was championing this system (as indeed was Thom Hogan) way before I put my prejudices to one side and joined the party. 

As you will be aware I have been doing lots of tests on the new firmware for the Fuji X-E1 I have. About halfway through yesterday afternoon when I shot yet another series of tests and checked them out on the screen to see if I'd got the point of focus spot on, I suddenly thought to myself 'Why on earth am I doing this?'  And it was indeed the case that I was yet again 'fiddling with a Fuji!!' I further thought, Fuji continue to make life difficult for me. Why does everything with their cameras take twice as long to get decent results as anything else? Much as like their cameras, and I really do, lifes too short to be continually doing this. If its not rattling aperture blades, its colour smearing. And now to top it all they have just released a firmware upgrade for the X Pro1 that they have immediately withdrawn because its faulty! And how long did it take for them to get this wrong? They pre-announced it for Gods sake, didn't somebody check it was working properly?

All of this is in complete contrast to my experiences with the Nikon 1 system. Its fast, its reliable, results are great and fit in perfectly with my workflow. In almost every way its the complete opposite of my experiences with Fuji X cameras. I've written about the Nikon 1 smile that I have when I use either of my little V1 wonders. I've also written about the gorgeous little lenses that are apparently designed to produce optimum results wide open. And I've written about how the images upsize beautifully and about how on my recent trip to Sussex, this together with the Leica X-Vario was the camera I wanted to use.

So yesterday I ordered the 32mm f/1.2.







All images - Nikon 1 V1 10-100mm power zoom.


As you can see the heatwave continues. Another day of temperatures close to 30 degrees selsius and like the rest of this week with high humidity. Despite this tiring weather, and it is tiring walking in this heat, I'm shooting lots of images. And this is causing a problem. When am I going to edit and upload all this stuff? And more to the point, how long is it going to take? If I am going to take advantage of this weather and have the opportunity to take pictures that show the UK looking like Provence, what is the best and most time economical way of doing this? Forecasts indicate that this may last all summer, so I'm going to be busy. Yesterday I decided that Fuji X series cameras may not be the best system to do this with.

Now this is nothing to do with the quality of my Fuji X-E1 images, nor the fact that I enjoy the camera, but with the two different software packages and the nature of the X-E1 files it means that every one of the files I edit takes pretty much twice as long as an V1 file. Now as you will be aware I do edit each image singly and from raw. I've tried batch processing, I've tried jpgs. but neither of those allows me to get the best out of every individual file. And cross to bear it may be but I will continue to process and edit every image I take one by one. So the Fuji X-E1 doesn't work for me, purely because of workflow and not for any other reason. Incidentally this also applies to the Nikon D800E. Those files take an age even just to convert from camera raw into Photoshop. If I select a whole batch of files to open up for editing, I usually go and do something else for a while since it takes so long. Plus when they do all eventually pop up in Photoshop, they take up so much memory that even my i7 Macbook Pro struggles.

So these are negative reasons to use Nikon 1, what about the positives?

Before doing that however lets get one thing out of the way first. Nikon 1 files from my V1's are good, surprisingly good considering the pixel count and the size of the sensor. But I would never try to argue that they are even as good as my other cameras. Close-ups may look great but distance landscape shots just don't have the resolution of the Fuji, Leica or Nikons. They are sharp, yes, great colour, yes and they will take some upsizing. 18MP for most shots, 24MP for really sharp closeups, but there is a limit to what technology can do with a sensor this small. However despite this there is no doubt that the files will go to A3 with little problems, which is pretty much the high limit for who I sell to. So despite the (slightly) reduced resolution and fine detail they are perfectly acceptable for my purposes. I have been through this many times before and of course I wouldn't be using these cameras to make my living if I wasn't sure that they would do the job. 

The other failing, again because of the sensor size, is high ISO noise and I keep the ISO setting locked on ISO 100. Even at that setting there is some luminance noise, and though I (and Steve Huff) try to make a virtue out of it with "its just like film' comments (and it actually is) it is still there. And this is where fast lenses, the 18.5mm f/1.8 and 32mm f/1.2 lenses come into their own. As does the excellent image stabilisation on the zooms and the rather wonderful little SB-N5 speedlight flash, which is great for indoor shots. (I would mention here that I'm going to do a piece on small flash units, since I currently have three. This one for the V1, the built-in unit for the Leica X-Vario and the EF-X20 which I've just bought for the Fuji and which also doubles a slave, are all really very good indeed and much better than these types of units used to be.)

I've spent years working with small cameras and small sensors to get images that can stand comparison with higher specified DSLR's, m4/3 in particular, so right from the start I was able to get acceptable images from the V1. Its been a bit of challenge to get seriously upsized files from it, without increasing the noise and degrading the image, but with a lot of experimentation, I've just about succeeded. Its only happened in the last few days, but I suddenly starting looking at my recently processed V1 files at 100% on my monitor and saying to myself, 'These are really rather good'. I think you will see from the examples above that Nikon 1 files are certainly punchy with good saturation and contrast and one of the great things with this sensor and in-camera processing is how the dynamic range is well controlled. Since all my pictures are bought after seeing thumbnails, its not that important at this initial stage how they look at 100%. However neither I nor the picture libraries who sell my work want clients ringing up saying 'This full-size file isn't good enough quality.' So I'm always careful to make sure that ALL my Nikon 1 files are very carefully processed and capable of the most demanding reproduction. Most of my sales require nothing like this and in fact are quite small reproductions, but then I never know what might be required.

The real advantages of Nikon 1 are size, weight and above all speed. The system is just so quick at getting the image onto the card. AF is like lightning, and also I would say incredibly reliable. If you look at what they do, they are incredibly well-specified cameras. I also like the inclusion of many features I would expect from a 'professional camera, including the powerful DSLR battery for the V1 (same as in my D7100 and D800E) with of course a battery meter that tells me how much 'juice' is left. It is one of these instances where a small mirrorless camera can, in many circumstances, outperform a DSLR. Don't forget the V1 can shoot full-size images at 60fps!!! There is also the electronic shutter for totally silent operation, great build quality, built-in EVF and the ability to shoot very impressive video. So why this system is the butt of negative comments is beyond me. Perhaps like me, previous prejudices come into play, but looking back at my posts on the system before I bought into it, there are several comments that indicate I was pretty impressed with the image quality.

In a previous post I wrote about how the Leica X vario makes me slow down and be very considered about when I press the shutter. Nikon 1 is the complete opposite. This is pump up the adrenaline time. The V1 is a camera that makes me want to work quickly, to experiment and move out of my comfort zone. And just as I like my X-vario way of working, I like this way too and its great to have the different options at my disposal. 

For me however the real jewels in the Nikon 1 system are the lenses. They are just so good, so well made and (with the exception of the 10-100mm power zoom for video) really small. The 10mm pancake is for example not much bigger than a lens cap, and a lot better than that nasty little Olympus thing. Spend a lot of money on an Olympus camera and then stick a 'lens' on the front that makes your pictures look like a years old mobile phone is not something I readily understand, but there you go. Nikon have been pretty quick in getting a lot of lenses out very quickly. The kit zooms are very good, particularly the 30-110mm which is just so small and light and is the best telephoto zoom I've ever used and there is the 6.7-13mm wide-angle zoom which provides DOF from the tip of your nose to the moon and the nifty little 18.5mm f/1.8. And of course what should be arriving early next week, the 32mm f/1.2. I was hoping that I wouldn't be seduced by this. I've tried to convince myself that either the Sigma 30mm f/1.4 or Nikon 35mm f/1.8 lenses I have used via my adapter (another advantage of course of the Nikon 1 system, fast AF telephotos using Nikon F-Mount lenses) would do the job. Unfortunately Steve's rave review plus another he published http://www.stevehuffphoto.com/2013/07/15/the-nikon-32mm-f1-2-lens-is-a-bargain-by-joe-marquez/ have convinced me otherwise. The main reason for this is that execellent though the above Nikon primes are, they aren't that great wide-open, whereas all my Nikon 1 lenses are. I mentioned it in passing before, but I have read that all the Nikon 1 lenses are optimised for being used wide-open and I've seen figures that say the widest aperture is the best for IQ. Plus I must say I also really like what the 32mm f/1.2 samples show in terms of depth of field. The framing equivalent of a 85mm lens on a 35mm camera with the DOF of a 32mm lens. Now you're talking!

So its more Nikon 1 from here on in. I was planning to sell the system and go Fuji-X, but after seeing if that system could provide me with what I need, it seems it doesn't. I was hoping for something more from the focus peaking, which was probably misguided and overly optimistic, but I lived in hope. 

Just some final thoughts on the fact that I may well end up using the two most heavily criticised cameras and camera systems on the photographic internet, the Leica X-Vario and Nikon 1. Much as that gives a perverse pleasure in that I've never been one to follow the crowd, I do find it strange and am constantly puzzled by the virulence of that criticism. So do I know something others don't? Well there is of course one obvious advantage that I have. I have actually used the cameras, unlike I suspect 99% of their critics. If you take the trouble to read reviews by people who have had a hands-on experience with either then you see lots of positive feedback, but that seems not to stop the ongoing rubbishing.

I wrote in a recent piece about the X Vario that people don't 'get' the X-vario, nor indeed Leica in general, and that could also be applied to the Nikon 1 system. Just as everybody bangs on about the X-Vario's lens, with the Nikon 1 its the sensor size. Something along the lines that 'Its smaller than m4/3!!! It can't be any good.' Often, it has to be said, coming from m4/3 owners. John M Flores, in his excellent blog has often made the point that focus has switched from MP to sensor size bragging. An example of which could be all the 35mm sized sensor enthusiasm for something that pretty much makes taking photographs more difficult (and a lot more expensive). All this has led to a sheep-like mentality from which has evolved a doctrinal set of opinions. 

A 35mm sized sensor is the 'holy grail'.
Very limited depth of field is a good thing.
Primes are better than zooms.
Fast lenses are better than slow ones.
If its got Zeiss written on it its wonderful.

OK, I threw that last one in as a cheap shot, but you know what I mean. Now I'd pretty much disagree with all of those opinions, both for reasons of taste and knowing what I can sell. I would conclude by saying that the people who buy my pictures and the people who buy photography in general, commission photographers and publish photography in both electronic and print mediums, for the most part, don't give a flying fig about what camera was used, what size sensor was involved and what lens was on the camera. They are concerned about what the picture shows, how well is it composed and exposed and how it will reproduce. My best selling pictures, again for the most part, are not neccesarily my favourites and they usually have very little 'art' or advanced technique in them. They are simple, straightforward and well-crafted images that illustrate a point, give pleasure when viewed, have a visual impact when surrounded by text and other images and are generally simple, to the point and technically excellent. They aren't meant to (and certainly won't) win camera club competitions, get lots of 'likes' on the internet or end up on a gallery wall. But many of them get bought in large quantities (I have several pictures that have sold 1000+ times) earn me money and are just what the client wants. (Or the closest they can get to that goal) I can't think of any of them that couldn't have been taken with a Nikon 1 camera and lens. And if they were then that would have most likely been achieved faster, easier, taking less time in post-processing and in a less costly fashion than with any other camera I've used. The Nikon 1 system is a fine system as well as a useful one and indeed a quality one. As far as I'm concerned (and some others too who saw the light a lot earlier than me, lets not forget) if people are prepared to put it down without trying it, then quite simply, its their loss.