Nikon 1 Accessories

I was really intrigued by the accessories that Nikon showed off at the introduction of the Nikon 1-series. They released several of them at or near the launch of the cameras, and I’ve acquired a few: the SB-N5 Speedlight, the GP-N100 GPS unit, and the FT-1 mount adapter. They really add quite a lot of fun to the camera.

SB-N5 Speedlight

The SB-N5 is a really, really tiny speedlight, with a head that swivels 360° around and also 90° up. This allows for bouncing the flash off of ceilings and walls in order to make more natural looking flash-lit pictures. The flash is powered from the camera itself, which helped keep the unit so small, and it makes the combined camera and flash light. Like most of the Nikon 1 line, it’s expensive for what it is, but I’ve had a blast with it.

I spent some of the holiday season with my family and friends, and had many occasions to use the V1 with the SB-N5 attached. Bounced, it really helps offset the dreadfully slow lenses in darker indoor settings, and I was pleased with the results I was seeing. One location, was particularly large and dark on one side of the room and brightly window lit on the other, and I wanted to use off-camera flashes to help light the environment. I had two Nikon SB-900 speedlights with me, so this should have been no problem.

Christmas Eve Dinner

The SB-N5, unfortunately, isn’t compatible with Nikon’s Creative Lighting System (CLS), which allows a camera to control the settings of remote flashes and trigger them (called “acting as a Commander” in CLS parlance). This is really too bad, since this feature would really have made the SB-N5 worth the $150. Maybe they’ll release a separate Commander unit, although I doubt it, given the limitations they’ve imposed on these cameras to appeal to a certain market. In any case, I set up the SB-900s in “SU-4” mode, which enables them to be triggered by any other flash, the SB-N5 included. This, of course, precluded using TTL flash for the 900s, but that worked out fine. Check out some of the images here.

One negative I’d note is that metering with the SB-N5 directly lighting a subject tends to overexpose. TTL should ensure a decent exposure, even if on-camera flash is usually harsh and unforgiving. I found that the V1 usually hit the subject with far too much light, blowing out the subject when I tried this. Luckily, I don’t shoot this way often, and I’ll certainly avoid it even more knowing this. The V1 does allow for flash exposure compensation to be dialed in, something that was a pleasant surprise given how Nikon chose to keep most controls that an “enthusiast” would want to a minimum. I’ll take what I can get though! It was pretty easy to dial in -1.7 stops or so and use the SB-N5 as a fill flash.

Overall, the SB-N5 is a good addition to the Nikon 1 lineup, and I’m glad to have it. I’m very happy that it’s a separate, more capable unit compared to whatever they might have done to cram a flash in to the V1’s body. It’s not a powerful flash unit, but it’s better than built-in, and the ability to bounce is greatly appreciated.

GP-N100 GPS Unit

The GP-N100 adds what I wish was built-in to the V1 (and every other camera from here on out, for that matter): a GPS receiver. When attached to the accessory port on the V1, the camera adds GPS information about the location of each shot to the EXIF data for that image. This is fun and just plain useful. Given that they can cram such a thing into just about every phone made, it feels usurious to have to have the relatively big, expensive unit glommed on to the outside of the camera. That said, it’s worth it to me for this camera, since it’s my walkaround camera and the one in intend to take mountain biking with me most often. My current process of using a Lightroom plugin to match up my GPS track from the bike to the camera using timestamp information feels like a painful hack.

The unit takes a few seconds to lock on to the GPS signal when the camera is first powered up and it keeps track of where you are for up to three hours after the camera is powered down, as long as it stays on the camera; like the other accessories, it’s powered by the camera and doesn’t have its own batteries. Its “interface” consists of a light that blinks red when it’s trying to obtain a lock, and green when it has one. There is also a “GPS” indicator on the LCD/viewfinder when it has a lock. Easy.

FT-1 Mount Adapter

I’ve saved perhaps the best for last. This small, light adapter allows certain Nikon F-mount lenses to be mounted on the 1-series cameras. When attached, most things work: AF-S lenses can autofocus, VR works, and the camera can use whatever data the lens sends to it. Some lenses can work on the camera, but only in manual focus. There are some limitations, such as only being able to use the center focus point, but there’s only one I really find disappointing: the camera can only focus in AF-S. That means no tracking of moving subjects. I’m not sure what the reason is for this limitation, but I really hope they find a way to remove it. There was a new firmware update for the camera to enable the use of the FT-1, and I hope that a future update will enable AF-C continuous focus.

In any case, mounting high-quality optics really shows what this camera will be capable of when the lens line-up matures. Mounting sharp lenses like the 50mm f/1.4 or the 28-70mm f/2.8 really shows off the V1’s speed. It’s truly impressive to get the 70-200mm f/2.8 on there and see the V1 drive it super-quickly and have the VR do such a wonderful job. I even tested my Zeiss ZF 35mm f/2 and it worked well. In fact, it’s actually easier to manual focus indoors on the V1 than on my D700 because the electronic viewfinder on the V1 is brightened up beyond room brightness. When a manual focus lens like the Zeiss is mounted, or manual focus mode on G-series lenses is enabled, hitting the “OK” button zooms the screen or EVF in to assist in focusing, but I found that the EVF was sharp enough that I could manually focus well. That’s a big win over the Panasonic GF-1 I used prior to owning the V1; I could never effectively focus that damn thing manually with that viewfinder. The only “lens” I have that didn’t really work is the original Lensbaby. That wouldn’t make too much sense on the V1 anyway, since taking only the center of the image circle reduces the effect the Lensbaby gives too much anyway.

More to come…

Nikon showed a lot of other accessories and lenses that they’ve got planned, like a macro light and a video accessory kit. I’ve got the remote control on its way, and I’m sure I’ll pick up other interesting accessories as they are introduced. Fun stuff!