Most photographers that are serious about their hobby/profession strive to use the best possible equipment, and we are are no different. However, apart from the high cost of such equipment there are times when brilliant equipment are simply just not the best.
You may wonder what am I talking about, how can modern high-end equipment not be good enough? Well it’s like this – there are occasions when such equipment are certainly good enough for the task at hand, but not necessarily the most suitable, and in some cases even a blatant overkill.
Now the cameras and lenses that Jaunine and myself use are pretty hefty pieces of equipment that weigh in the region of about 2kg in hand – that’s a lot to handle and carry around. We don’t mind the bulk and weight, but it does get to you if you lug this around for an extended period of time when something smaller and lighter could have been equally suitable. Sure, when we do a serious shoot (whether for money or for pleasure) then we use the big guns, but it’s a lot of camera to carry with you just in case you may want to take a shot. It is for occasions like this where a small, light, and reasonably good camera is better to have with you than a serious machine.
It is with this purpose in mind that I started considering available options some months ago, I wanted something that I could take with me wherever I go without it being a burden. Now I know most cellphones currently available have a built-in camera that are able to take pretty decent images, I have one myself. In fact, I also have a small P&S (point and shoot) camera that fits into a shirt pocket and produces good images, however I have a problem with these solutions – they are notoriously slow to operate and… they don’t have viewfinders! For most people that have never used a DSLR these are non-issues and hardly a consideration in their quest for a camera, but for me these were important considerations since my eyesight is not what it used to be, and I got spoilt by the responsiveness and sheer competence of a good DSLR.
My search for a lightweight camera thus started with the following criteria that I deemed necessary:
- It needs to be considerably smaller and lighter than a DSLR, something that can be kept with me all day without becoming a nuisance or hindrance.
- It needs to be responsive, easy to operate, and capable of good image quality.
- Very important – it needs to have a decent viewfinder, either optical or electronic.
- It needs to attract little attention and operate quietly, DSLR’s are notorious attention-grabbers and noisy
- It should cover a respectable focal range suitable for everyday use.
I found that there were many cameras that satisfied most these needs except for a crucial one – very few non-DSLR cameras had viewfinders, a feature that I was not willing to compromise on.
Enter the small, cute, but pricey Nikon V1 !
Here was a camera that appeared to fulfill (even exceed) all my needs. Extensive research on the web and on photography forums convinced me that it was quite suitable for what I had in mind, the only fly in the ointment being it’s hefty price-tag. I left it at that and continued my research. Fortunately after some months an updated model (the Nikon V2) was announced which caused the V1 to go on special at some camera stores. I immediately grabbed the opportunity and got one at a vast discount.
The controls of the V1 are quite simple to use. Images can be framed by using the rear LCD screen should you wish, or the LCD gets blanked out when you put your eye to the viewfinder which then gets switched on, showing the view seen through the lens and also showing all important shooting parameters – exactly like a DSLR does. After a shot was taken the image can be reviewed on either the LCD display, or the viewfinder – very handy in bright, sunny conditions.
The camera support interchangeable lenses in the same fashion as a DSLR. A very handy feature (for Nikon shooters) of this camera is that there is a lens adapter available which enable one to use normal Nikon DSLR lenses should you wish to do so. Nikon does however offer a range of lenses native to the Nikon 1 system.
After some use (albeit not enough to my liking) over the past couple of months I am very happy to say that this little camera has met all my expectations, even exceeded some of them! Some of it’s characteristics that I’ve come to appreciate are :
- Excellent electronic viewfinder that makes shooting a pleasure
- Very fast and accurate autofocus. It’s really as good as it gets and might put some much higher-priced cameras to shame.
- Excellent and accurate light metering.
- Reliable and accurate white balance – you can just leave it in auto white-balance.
- Fast operation – you never have to wait for the camera.
- Very useable in poor light, better than I expected.
- Very good image quality.
- Extremely quiet operation due to it being mirrorless, completely soundless if the electronic shutter is employed (it has two shutters, one conventional mechanical shutter and the other completely electronic – which allows shutter speeds up to 1/16000 of a sec.).
- Surprisingly good and easy to use HD video capability, it even offers slow motion and records sound in stereo. I don’t like using video, but I might use it on the odd occasion.
- Very fast continuous shooting rate – up to a staggering 60 frames per second when the electronic shutter is employed in high-speed mode !
Below are a few images shot with this camera, nothing spectacular yet, but I aim to get to that soon!
Does the camera have any shortcomings? Yes it does, just like any other camera that I’ve ever used. The most annoying characteristic of the V1 (for me) is the forced image-review after a shot was taken, which means that the image is displayed immediately after the shot was taken and preventing you from immediately taking a second shot. A quick half-press of the shutter-release will cancel the image review, but it’s still a nuisance. You can however switch the camera to continuous mode which will allow you to rattle off shots in rapid succession by pressing and holding the shutter-release.
It also does not come with a built-in flash, but that is less of a bother to me since these built-in flashes on small cameras are not particularly effective. It would’ve been handy to have though for triggering off-camera flashes, but there are small flashes available that can be mounted on the camera.
Last but not least, it would’ve been nice to have some external buttons to control often-changed parameters, such as the ISO setting. As it stands you need to go into the menu to change that, but fortunately the camera has a useful auto-ISO setting that works reasonably well enough to make this less of a hassle.
Finally – will I buy this camera again if faced with the same situation ?
Oh yes, without a doubt !