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.

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