Sunday, February 19, 2012

Nikon V1 field report: Part 1

Today I got the chance to give the Nikon V1 a real spin by attending a local Mardi Gras parade.  Because I would be shooting moving objects, I decided to take the V1 over my Nex-5N. I had come to mostly appreciate the V1's autofocus performance, so I figured it would outperform the NEX-5N, even if I would be using AF-S.  I'll take PDAF over CDAF almost any day of the week.

For anyone that has never been to a Mardi Gras (pronounced "mardy grah") parade, here's a basic rundown: you stand on or near the edge of a road and yell at people driving or walking by, hoping they'll throw you worthless foreign-made plastic necklaces. If you're lucky, you get a semi-rare necklace that is usually more ornate than the typical necklace, though those types of necklaces are also net worth $0.

Spoils of war

There are also candy and minor toys thrown. Usually lots of drinking and eating are involved, but since this was a family-focused parade, there was only the minor eating, the beads and candy and beat other people to the goodies that land on the ground.  All in all it was a fun time for both myself and my wife and two young children.

What I brought, and my logic behind it all.

Naturally, I brought the V1 rental.  The choices came down to lenses.  I had available to me the 10-30 kit and three F-mount Nikkors - the 70-300 f:4.5-5.6 VR, the 105mm f/2.8 VR Macro and the 35mm f/1.8 DX.

I went with both the kit lens and the 35mm f/1.8 (with tag-along FT-1 adapter for it).  My reasons were so:  I know the V1 just can't obliterate backgrounds like a full-frame can with a fast wide-angle, so I figured I would shoot more intimate, portrait-type shots.  Get in close, try to capture the energy of the parade, while cutting out all the extraneous distractions in the shot.

First, I really wish I would have rented the 30-110 lens - I knew the kit 10-30 was going to be too wide, but I brought it just in case there was the off wide-angle shot that I wanted to get.

Then it came down to deciding F-mount lenses

V1 10-30 kit, 35mm f/1.8 DX, 105mm Micro, 70-300 VR

In a normal circumstance, I would have brought the 70-300 - While a bit unwieldy on the V1, the short end of the zoom (around 70-100mm) would have been great for those long-range, really tight shots.

These weren't normal circumstances, though - I had a 3- and 5-year old in tow, so I was going to need one hand free at all times to either corral my children or catch flying necklaces.  That quickly narrowed the F-mount lenses down to just the petite 35 1.8

Nikon V1 with FT-1 and 35mm f/1.8 DX 

The V1's performance

First, the good news - the V1's image quality was very good.  I shot the day in RAW+JPEG mode, and most of my keepers are actually slightly processed JPEGs.  I had customized the "Standard" picture mode in the camera to have a bit more sharpness and contrast and maybe a nudge of saturation - nothing over the top, as you want to be careful with JPEG.  I then just touched them up to taste in Lightroom 4 and was done.

A man and his cart.

Most of my shots were with the 35mm 1.8 mounted - It gave me just a wee bit more reach than the 10-30 kit, and it allowed me to hit f/1.8.  I couldn't get much background blur, but I was taking anything I could get (though usually I was stopping down to f/2 or so to compensate somewhat for shooting moving objects in AF-S).  Again, I really needed the 30-110 for this situation, but alas we work with what we have.

Autofocus performance was generally good too - mostly.  There were a few times the autofocus messed up, but nothing out of the ordinary, except for one annoying tendency:

I was shooting down the street, toward the approaching floats, when I noticed a man in the crowd on the side of the road taking a photo.  I wanted to focus on the man, having the floats in the background, so I placed my center AF point on him and initiated AF - and the camera gave me a lock.
I could clearly see, though, that the man wasn't in focus - not even close.  I released then reengaged the half-shutter and again I got a false lock.  Finally, I moved my center AF point a bit around on his body and finally got a lock.  

I had maybe four instances of this out of about 230 exposures, so it wasn't anything too serious, though I've noticed this a few other times in the few days of shooting - I wonder if it's the not-so-uncommon scenario where one's indicated AF box is slightly larger than the actual AF sensor.

What bothered me about this scenario with the crowd-man, though, was that he was a very suitable target - no distracting background to false lock on, very high contrast, etc.  If fact, if you can imaging a man standing in the middle of a light-grey street wearing a black long-sleeved shirt with his elbow pointing out, you've got my target - My AF box was smack-dab half on his elbow and half not, (which should have been easy to hit), yet it didn't.  I'm not sure what happened, but oh well - the photo I did manage to get wasn't that great anyway, so no big loss.

Marching band

Overall, though, I was pleased with the V1's performance.  I used the 10-30 for a few shots too, keeping the AF to auto-area and I was hitting many shots no problem (of course with such a deep DOF, it wasn't exactly an impossible feat!).  Facial recognition even kicked in a few times on the floaters, so that was pretty neat.

The troupe

The V1's handling

If you've read my earlier posts regarding the V1, you know I'm not a fan of some of Nikon's decisions with the V1, and boy oh boy did those inadequacies really rear their head today.  If you're a V1 fan, either start composing your hate mail now or go click some other sight, because this ain't gonna be pretty.

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