Denver and the Nikon 1 System

Downtown Denver

I spent a few days on a trip to Denver, Colorado recently, and I took my Nikon V1 kit with me. Walking around downtown with the V1 reminded me how much I really like shooting with it. Having that much hands-on time with the V1 gave me the time to crystallize some of my reactions to the announcement of its successor, the Nikon 1 V2.

I hope the V2 is as good or better in the very important, but extremely subjective feel department. The thing that, above all, makes me like the V1 is its speed of operation: power-on, autofocus, frames-per-second, menu system–they’re all quick. The form factor changes in the V2 do seem to address some popular complaints about the lack of grip and the aforementioned control changes, so I’m optimistic on this front.

My very first reaction when I saw the picture of the V2 was “man, is that ugly”. I know that’s a superficial way to react to a camera, and ultimately much less important than almost any other metric you could judge a camera on, but it’s like they didn’t even try to make it look good. The V1’s looks were polarizing, but I like the V1’s simplicity and low-key, matte black appearance. On the other hand, I was glad to see that the V2 wasn’t another reissue of the V1, similar to what Nikon did with the J2.

The Delectable Egg

So, what did they change and, more importantly, did they implement any of the things I most wanted to see in the V2? So far, and I’ve not had my hands on one, the answer appears to be that they did fix some of the items, but not a lot of them.

The one that jumped out at me immediately was the change to the mode dial. The new mode dial is on the the top deck of the camera, and reportedly is more resistant to accidentally being changed. This was a big weakness in the V1–I can’t count the number of times I brought it to my eye to shoot, only to find myself in some damn not-photo mode. Since I was walking around with the camera in my hand a lot of the time, this happened too frequently past few days and every time it did, I hoped it’s really better in the V2. They added PASM to the mode dial, which is another big win, since one has to go into the menu system to change these basic modes on the V1.

Another change, which gets a lot of attention for the wrong reasons in my opinion, is the new sensor. Most of the reports focus on the increased resolution of the V2’s sensor, while what I really want to know is: Is it as good as the widely acclaimed sensor in the Sony RX100? I guess we’ll have to wait until the camera is generally available to find out.

What about the rest? GPS? Goddammit, no. I don’t want that stupid accessory on top of the camera! Especially on the top of the heinous bulb that was added to the viewfinder to support the flash I wish you hadn’t added. Grrr.

Speaking of flash, there’s a new Speedlight unit coming out at the same time as the V2, but I’m not sure what it brings to the party that the neat little SB-N5 doesn’t. The new model requires its own batteries, and while I guess that’s OK since the V1’s battery life is pretty abysmal, I rather like that I don’t have to worry about checking the battery in the flash. It doesn’t seem like they added what I’d consider to be the most desirable feature: a Commander mode that can trigger other Nikon Speedlights. I know I’m in the minority, but I’ve used the SB-N5 for no other reason than to trigger off-camera flashes via slave, and it would be great if they’d have made the new unit a Commander, so the system could do TTL with remote flashes like the big brother cameras can.

Adding to the battery note, another change I’m mixed on is that they changed the type of battery the V2 from the V1’s. As I said, I’m not a fan of the V1’s battery life. I have two batteries for the V1. I left for four days and figured that 2 batteries would be enough (hell, my D700 almost seems like it never needs to be charged, let alone go to the fallback battery), so I didn’t pack the charger. They were enough, but barely; the second battery died just as I was getting ready to head home. So why am I mixed on the change, other than I already have 2 of the old ones? Well, I did like that Nikon was using the same battery in the V1, the D800, and the D7000. I’ll have more to say about this soon, but I have a D800 on its way to me, and I’m looking forward to having a few batteries that can be used on either camera. Since I don’t have a V2, I still will, but that’s a minor negative nonetheless.

Back to the camera body: what about my other wishes? How about integrated VR? No, but I didn’t really expect that they would. Nikon is invested in lens-based VR, even though they’re not putting it in the anything except the slow-ass zooms. At least there are some signs of life from Nikon on the lens front, with some fast primes coming out in the near future.

Union Station, Denver

Along those lines, walking around and shooting, the biggest bummer is the lack of fast glass, especially in concert with the low shutter speed/Auto ISO problem. It’s a real drag to compose a scene only to find that I have to mess with the ISO because the slow zoom is at f/5-something and the camera has allowed the shutter speed to go to 1/15 instead of raising the ISO to a reasonable, available level. I managed to have a packing failure that left me without the 10mm f/2.8, which would probably have been on the camera a lot if I’d remembered it. (While we’re at the fast prime thing, how about a 10mm that’s at least f/1.4? Hell, bring on the f/1.0-1.2!)

I did manage to pack the FT-1 adapter and my F-mount 50mm f/1.4. That combo saw quite a lot of use, and since that’s essentially a cheap, small, blazingly fast 135mm on the V1, it was a go-to combo for low light. Here’s another place where I wish for the VR, though. This effective focal length really exacerbates the above complaint about shutter speed. In any case, I’m really hoping that Nikon has changed this behavior. While I’m on about the FT-1, I’m also hoping (although haven’t found an evidence that this is the case) that the V2 will allow AF-C mode and perhaps allow other focusing modes that the center point. (I almost always have the camera set to center point focusing anyway, but I was using that combo indoors at a convention, and being able to have the focus track the speaker’s face would have been welcome.)

I’ll have to wait to find out if they’ve fixed some of the other niggles I have with the V1. There’s a bunch of wishes I have for the Auto ISO mode: a sane way to set minimum shutter speeds in Auto ISO; adding Auto ISO 1600; showing the actual current ISO in the viewfinder instead of the current maximum that’s set. I’d also like there to be a histogram available while shooting. I’d love for the back LCD to show the image review as I’m shooting and leaving the EVF focused on the scene. I don’t think any of these things are in the V2, but we’ll see.

So, am I going to buy one? No, not yet. I’m interested, but if some of those items I’ve listed above aren’t fixed, I can’t bring myself to spend a bunch of money supporting Nikon’s endeavors here. In fact, I’m considering canceling my pre-order of the new lenses until I get some hands-on with the V2. If the V2 is a big disappointment, I may get out of the Nikon 1 system despite how much I like shooting with it now. The competition is just too stiff to keep investing in a system from a company that isn’t listening like Sony, Olympus, Panasonic, and Fuji appear to be. I just don’t need the things they seem to be more focused on, like the best shot selector and other gimmicky modes.

Contrasting Buildings