Nikon 1 V1: after one day

Nikon 1 V1

These notes are from someone who’s long used film and digital SLRs. Folks considering moving up from a point and shoot camera may or may not find them useful.

Some more or less random comments after spending yesterday experimenting with my new camera. This is not intended as a full-out review; it’s just my first impressions–and these opinions may well change after I’ve had time to better acquaint myself with the new system. Since I took over a year to get comfortable with my D300, it may be months before I’m satisfied I understand this camera. It’s perhaps useful to know that I’ve so far used mostly the 10-30 mm lens and have only used the V1 in Still Camera mode. I took a few more than 100 photographs yesterday.

First thing: In use, the camera feels like a miniature (D)SLR. The miniature part of that sentence is important because the size will require some adjustments to my habits; the SLR part’s important because that’s what I was hoping it would feel like. (In contrast, Joan’s J1 strikes me as a big point-and-shoot, even though they’re incarnations of the same basic design.) I’ve had prior experience with small SLRs, as my primary camera was a Minolta Zoom 110 for a year or two; my brother owned a (much more capable) Olympus OM-1 at the same time and used it to take excellent photographs.

Second thing: The V1’s capable of taking fine photographs. I was experimenting yesterday, so taking quality shots wasn’t my first concern, but I was quite satisfied with a few of the pics.

The V1’s electronic viewfinder’s impressive–bright and surprisingly sharp–but has two or three quirks. The more important quirk is that it doesn’t get along with my sunglasses, which make the image look like a failing television. While I’ll certainly adjust, that’s annoying. A lesser annoyance is that the finder goes to preview mode immediately after taking a picture (pressing the shutter release clears this). The viewer also turns itself off if you stop taking pictures, which is an entirely new viewfinder experience. All three quirks have the potential to cost me an occasional photograph. The viewfinder displays a whole lot of nicely-arranged icons reporting the status of nearly everything, which I trust I’ll find useful when I stop complaining about the sunglasses. (In real life, though, I only occasionally check those on the D300, though I’m certain others find them essential. I may decide mostly to turn them off.) Of course it’s also possible to use the LCD “monitor” display as a viewfinder; I was doing that to frame flower shots yesterday, and will likely continue to do so.

On the fly camera adjustments will require relearning a bunch of habits. In particular, changing the aperture (or shutter speed) with a switch seems quite odd, but is something I can learn. I’m definitely not yet comfortable enough with the camera to discuss the overall competence of the controls, but it’s already clear enough that the design assumes I’m moving “up” the Nikon product line from a P&S, not “down” from a DSLR. They perhaps don’t understand this part of the market.

Joan and I have contrasting viewpoints about the Nikon 1 menu system. To Joan, coming to the J1 from a point-and-shoot background, the menues seem long and complicated. Compared to my D300 the menues seem abbreviated and occasionally disappointing. I already know I’m going to miss my D300 presets. (I’m old enough to remember IBM’s PCjr. Some of Nikon’s design decisions have that feel.)

Just holding the camera’s going to require some rethinking. Using my left hand to hold the lens and brace the camera just isn’t going to work the same as has been my practice. Not only is the lens too small for that approach to be realistic, but the camera’s so light that it may be counterproductive. I’m still playing with that.

I’ve long used a wrist strap–mine wraps around my hand, more or less like a glove–to hold my camera, both because I dislike shoulder straps and because the hand strap helps to stabilize the shot. My strap is part of the reason I can successfully hand hold a long lens under ballpark lights. (Yeah, this is a personal quirk.) Finding a similar solution for this camera may be a challenge–particularly since the shutter trigger’s right next to the strap connector on the Nikon 1 body. At the moment I’m using a simple wrist strap I borrowed from an old P&S, but that’s not where I want to get. The borrowed strap will work for now, and I’ll experiment until I’m happy. Or at least satisfied that I can’t fix this.

I’ll also need to figure out how to pack this camera. My D300 lives in a Tamrac holster, and I hang a spare lens and other gear off the sides of the bag. With this lightweight camera I’ll likely do something simpler. (I go through this routine every time I buy a new camera. We’ll have to see how things shake out.)

Finally, I’ll be upgrading my software to support the new camera. It looks like Photoshop Elements 8 doesn’t support this camera’s RAW (NEF) format, and although Bibble 5 does support the camera, the product’s been sold to Corel and Bibble will not be getting further updates. Whether I just make the obvious upgrades (PSE 10 and Corel’s AfterShot) or switch to something else remains to be seen. This is complicated, slightly, because I’m simultaneously moving my computing from a Mac to a PC.

Last words: It’s too early to tell, really, but so far I like the camera. It remains to be seen whether the transition’s going to be painful or joyful. I expect compromises; the ultimate question is whether the design is too compromised for my comfort.

Revised on 3/18: Mostly I just polished the language a bit, but I made a significant change to my description of the Viewfinder behavior.

Understanding Exposure by Bryan Peterson: a review

Before cameras became automated, photographers needed to understand their camera’s controls, and the way they interacted, in order to take pictures with any pretense to sophistication. While modern cameras offer programs which can control these interactions, many photographers would benefit by investing a few hours in this book.

This is not exactly a beginner’s text. The expected reader has some familiarity with photography and wants to better understand and master their camera. Advanced users may find the book useful as a review, and may find a tip or two they’d not previously seen, but may find some of the explanations annoying. That’s OK, as they’re not the intended audience.

This book does not get into great technical detail, but does explain the controls and their relationships, and makes suggestions about ways the photographer can benefit from their interactions. The author advocates a specific photographic manner (style, perhaps, is too strong a word) which readers can use for a practical foundation until they develop their own habits and preferences.

Finally: The author assumes your camera gives you full manual control of exposure–that you can set ISO, aperture, and shutter speed. If you own a camera which doesn’t give you that much control, you may find this book frustrating.

This review was originally published on LibraryThing.

The Photoshop Elements Book for Digital Photographers by Scott Kelby: a short review

A book full of useful hints about using Photoshop Elements. The book’s organized for reference–this is how to fix [whatever] problem–without a lot of explanation about why the tricks work. This is useful if you find yourself stymied by a problem with a particular photograph; it’s less useful for other purposes.

Kelby’s prone to cute jokes, which is occasionally annoying; most of that can be avoided just by ignoring the chapter introductions. But the material’s useful and presented well.

This short review was originally published on LibraryThing.

The Wall

Ward One, 71st Evac, PleikuThe Vietnam Veterans of America have (has?) published a twenty-fifth anniversary commemoration of the opening of The Wall; it appears that this is a special issue of the VVA Veteran, the organization’s magazine, though it’s not labelled as such.

It’s an interesting document, with lots of articles directly on-topic, an excerpt from Tim O’Brien’s novel The Things They Carried, and some articles less directly about the memorial.

Quonset Hut One of the articles is by Lynda Van Devanter, who was a nurse at the 71st Evacuation Hospital in Pleiku; these photographs, both of which were taken at the 71st, are among the illustrations. (This article, too, is a book excerpt, from Home Before Morning.)

My office phone rang. Since it was an external call, and I didn’t recognize the number, odds were it was either a vendor or a wrong number. Nope; Lauren Morgan introduced herself as an editor with Boston Publishing, and she was working with Vietnam Veterans of America on a magazine issue. They’d found a couple of my pictures on Flickr, and wanted to use them to illustrate an article. I asked which photos they were planning to use, which she described, and I said sure. We talked about some details for a few minutes, and the conversation ended.

She called again last week, asking where to mail the complimentary copies. Those showed up yesterday. They’re really quite beautiful; much higher quality than I anticipated. I do find it odd that she contacted me at work; while I’ve always known it was possible (I’ve had the same work phone number for 20 years, and it’s available on the web), I’m reasonably certain it’s easier to find my home number, which is where I usually field out-of-the-blue calls.

I bought my copy of The Things They Carried shortly after the book was first published, and heard Tim talk about the book this summer at Macalester’s reunion. Delighted to share a magazine with him; certainly never expected it to happen. Haven’t read Home Before Morning, but I’ve just added it to my Amazon wishlist.

Autumn, Mulliken Road


Photo by joeldinda

Though it’s well into October, the trees remain stubbornly green. Joan and I went out looking for color on Saturday, with little luck; I got a few worthwhile pix, which I’ll doubtless post to Flickr, but the color distribution was one tree here, another across the field.

Took this on yesterday’s lunch break. Colors are finally changing….

Pergola @ Old Mission Light

Pergola @ Mission Point

Camera: Nikon D70

This pretty pergola is my favorite picture from last week’s outing; the play of light on the trellis worked very well. If the rest of the fence at Old Mission Light was this attractive, folks would stop complaining about it….

This was the last post I made to Dabbler’s Journal while I was using CityDesk to publish the journal. Reposted partly for historical purposes.

Seed and Grain

Mulliken’s elevator failed several years ago.  They began tearing the place down yesterday…. 

Mulliken Elevator

For over a century, this grain elevator was the main reason for Mulliken.  This railside complex was the farming community’s touchpoint with the larger world.  They’d come to buy seed before planting, then return to sell the grain they’d grown from the seed.  This routine made for an interesting, seasonal parade of vehicles on Potter Street.  July’s winter wheat harvest was a particularly busy time; trucks, tractors, and trailors would line Main Street day and night as the farmers and staff would struggle to get the grain from truck to hopper.

That’s gone.  A few years back, a fire gutted the office.  The owners rebuilt.  Then the contents of one of the silos got wet, rotted, and stank up the town.  They cleaned it up, but that crop was a total loss.  The business limped on for a few months after these disasters, then failed.  The place was vacant, except a few stray cats,  for a couple years; a family converted the office into a home and has now lived there for some time.  They’re now removing the ancient buildings, and the silos.

Photo taken October 5, 2003. Camera: Olympus Camedia C-50

Foul Ball: into the stands

Into the Stands

Camera: Chinon Genesis III

Fans, chasing a foul ball at C.O. Brown Stadium in Battle Creek. Summer of 1998.

This was the last entry posted to the original, Radio Userland, version of DJ. Posted mainly for historical purposes.

Camera: Olympus Camedia C-50

My newest, and lately my most-often-used, camera. At all times I carry an extra battery and about 280 MB of storage (on three cards). It lives in a fanny pack which goes many places I go, so it’s generally available if I see something to shoot….

I got some cash for Christmas in 2001, and earmarked it for a digital camera. What I wanted–a small, smart, high-resolution camera–wasn’t yet on the market for a price I was willing to pay, but it was clear that I’d find one within a year. About a year ago, I went shopping, and found this.

Things to like:

  • It’s small, & it’s light-weight.
  • It’s pretty savvy about handling light and focus.
  • It’s sturdy. I’ve dropped it several times, with no apparent ill effects.
  • It can be set up as a fully manual camera.
  • The batteries are decent. (But you really need to carry two charged batteries at all times.)
  • At its normal setting, the memory card holds about 100 pictures. This is configurable; I occasionally decide to push the resolution up.

Things that I have issues with:

  • It’s a little slow to start up.
  • It’s a little prone to argue with me about settings.
  • The LCD is pretty dim.
  • The batteries occasionally fail earlier than I anticipate. I may add a third to my normal kit to combat this.
  • It doesn’t handle high contrast particularly well.
  • It’s not a good camera for garden pictures, as the shortest focal length is about four feet.

All in all, an excellent and convenient camera. It’s a good deal less serious than my Nikon, but it’s terrific for most purposes.