Jul 152015

Sun Bum catalog shoot 2015 in Cocoa Beach, Florida. Photo ©2015 Craig Litten/All Rights Reserved

Sunning it up with the Sony A7s and A7II

by Craig Litten

Hey Steve & Brandon,

And hello to all of the followers of Steve Huff Photo! I’ve totally switched over to the Sony system late last year, and have been loving the system since then. I have your review of the A7s to thank for getting me really interested. I have now shot about four big jobs with the Sony’s, and they have performed nearly flawlessly so far. I own the A7s and the a6000, but have rented the A7II and the A7r trying to decide which body if a good fit, and I may just go with the newly announced a7rII. Attached are a few shots from my latest shoot with my Sony a7s and a rented Sony a7r along with the Sony/Zeiss FE 35mm f/2.8 and Sony/Zeiss FE 55mm f/1.8. lenses. I really love the size and rendering of the FE 35mm f/2.8!

Sun Bum catalog shoot 2015 in Cocoa Beach, Florida. Photo ©2015 Craig Litten/All Rights Reserved

I also like to keep it simple: two bodies, two lenses, a bunch of batteries and memory cards and normally zero lighting. But this shoot was different. It was a catalog shoot for Sun Bum (www.trustthebum.com); makers of sun products and a hot new company who is sweeping the industry. The company started in surf shops, but are now nationwide in Target as well as other stores. I shot their last catalog two years ago…

… and the photos from that shoot can be seen here on my website: www.craiglitten.com/galleries/#sun-bum

Sun Bum catalog shoot 2015 in Cocoa Beach, Florida. Photo ©2015 Craig Litten/All Rights Reserved

Sun Bum catalog shoot 2015 in Cocoa Beach, Florida. Photo ©2015 Craig Litten/All Rights Reserved

Sun Bum catalog shoot 2015 in Cocoa Beach, Florida. Photo ©2015 Craig Litten/All Rights Reserved

Since Sun Bum is a sun-based company, the plan was to shoot all day in the bright sunlight, but the weather wasn’t cooperating and we had two days of rainy weather as a big storm passed by in the Atlantic off the coast of Florida. We had models coming in from everywhere, and Sun Bum staff members coming from California (the company is located in Cocoa Beach where we did the shoot), so scratching the entire shoot would have been very expensive. Besides, we also rented a house on the beach, so we had to improvise. My background is as a newspaper photojournalist (since 1991), so part of that job description was to make something out of nothing daily.

Sun Bum catalog shoot 2015 in Cocoa Beach, Florida. Photo ©2015 Craig Litten/All Rights Reserved

Sun Bum catalog shoot 2015 in Cocoa Beach, Florida. Photo ©2015 Craig Litten/All Rights Reserved

I also hate using strobes, and no longer own any lighting gear, but prefer to shoot in natural light. So one of the assistants went to Home Depot to purchase a couple sets of 500 watt halogen lights costing $35 each. These are the kind of lights that you utilize while working on a car in your garage or use at a construction site, but they were a perfect solution and created what I call “liquid sunshine” giving the gloomy day the warmth it needed. We still have to reshoot to supplement these photos with “fun in the sun” photos, but they were pretty happy with the results.

Sun Bum catalog shoot 2015 in Cocoa Beach, Florida. Photo ©2015 Craig Litten/All Rights Reserved

Sun Bum catalog shoot 2015 in Cocoa Beach, Florida. Photo ©2015 Craig Litten/All Rights Reserved

Sun Bum catalog shoot 2015 in Cocoa Beach, Florida. Photo ©2015 Craig Litten/All Rights Reserved

Sun Bum catalog shoot 2015 in Cocoa Beach, Florida. Photo ©2015 Craig Litten/All Rights Reserved

Sun Bum catalog shoot 2015 in Cocoa Beach, Florida. Photo ©2015 Craig Litten/All Rights Reserved

Sun Bum catalog shoot 2015 in Cocoa Beach, Florida. Photo ©2015 Craig Litten/All Rights Reserved

Sun Bum catalog shoot 2015 in Cocoa Beach, Florida. Photo ©2015 Craig Litten/All Rights Reserved

Apr 212014

Learning to See Again With the Leica M8

by Craig Litten


I started shooting with a pseudo-rangefinder camera, the Fuji X-Pro1, in 2013, and shed the weight and bulk of my DSLR’s forever. I love and still use the X-Pro1, but I’ve wanted a Leica M6 rangefinder for over 20 years. The problem is, the M6 uses film. Film is wonderful, but it’s no longer convenient, nor is it cheap. True, you can buy a lot of film for the price of a digital Leica M, but don’t forget about the inconvenience of film. Pro photo labs have disappeared for the most part, prints are no longer done in the darkroom–and if they are, you must pay an extraordinary premium. I say “extraordinary” because it used to be fairly cheap to get a high-quality, fiber based B&W wet print (made in a real darkroom), but not any longer. There is also no lab to process the film. For years I processed my own B&W film, but I no longer own the tanks and reels, nor do I really have the time.


So a few months ago, I purchased a used Leica M8 (M8.2 to be exact) from a friend who has since upgraded to the Leica M (Type 240)–Leica’s latest. Now I have a true rangefinder, and I’m enjoying the total rangefinder experience: manual focusing, manual exposure, a real shutter speed dial, a real, mechanical aperture ring, and a real rangefinder window. And believe it or not, once you learn how to use it, you can do things like exposure and focus faster and more accurately than with all-electronic cameras. I’m not quite there yet, but it gets easier every time I use the M8. With the Leica, I can always see what shutter speed and aperture I have set (even when it’s off), and the camera is always ready. It’s small, built like a M4 Sherman tank, and it’s incredibly discrete for street photography. So far, the only people who have noticed me while out shooting are people who know what a Leica is, and then they strike up a conversation. Otherwise, I’ve never been so ignored in all my years of street photography. Being ignored while doing street photography is a good thing.



This brings me around to the main point of this article: learning to see again. As you can clearly see, not one photo above has people in it. Ninety-five percent of what I normally shoot, whether for work or personal use, has people in it. I’m a people shooter; yes, I shoot people. But since I got the M8, it has changed the way I feel when photographing, and the way I am seeing the world around me. Everything around me has become art. Rangefinder cameras by nature force you to slow down and think. You cannot focus as close as with a DSLR or mirrorless camera, and you no longer look through the lens, so there is a thing called parallax error at certain distances (in other words, your subject doesn’t always line up exactly where you framed it). I call this serendipity and I love it. I feel like I have too much control over my frame anyway, which comes from years of photojournalism training and thousands of assignments, so less accurate framing of my subject is fine with me. The camera is also much slower to write images to the card, which is also perfectly acceptable because I shoot far fewer shots with it. Sometimes I only shoot one frame of a given scene, whereas before, I usually shoot several.



Surprisingly, for a camera as old as the M8, the image quality is astonishing. Leica lenses, which are second to none, might have something to do with that of course. Color can be a bit tricky, but when you nail it, it’s stunning and very Kodak Kodachrome looking–the best color film ever made. And the black & white produced from the M8’s sensor is very film-like. Grain starts to show up at ISO 320, which is great because I love grain. High ISO is basically non-existent, but so what, some of the world’s best photographers survived their entire careers shooting Tri-X, which is ISO 400 film.

Give one a try! The Leica Store Miami has a test drive program that is very reasonable. Ask for Peter; he’ll be glad to help you. If you’ve never shot with a rangefinder such as a Leica M, be prepared for a learning curve, but it gets easier, and it’s a lot of fun. Finally, when out shooting on the streets, don’t forget to “see” what else is around you. Don’t be so focused on looking like Winogrand and miss the Sam Abell moments all around you.

Please come join me for a street photography workshop this year. Go to http://www.street-photography-workshops.com for more info.

Apr 192013

Craig Litten’s Daytona Bike week images..

A few weeks ago I posted about a workshop with Craig Litten at Daytona Bike Week and while I was not able to attend I heard it was one of the best Bike Weeks ever. Craig, like me is a big believer in the little Nikon V1 camera and he shot with it pretty much exclusively from what I understand and every image below was taken with that little $300 powerhouse. :)

I was sad to miss this workshop as I feel it would have been fun and challenging at the same time but I am 90% sure I will be at his next event, Biketoberfest! In fact, I am hoping to buy my flight next week to lock it in. Anyway, I asked Craig if I could post his shots from the event and he was all for it so enjoy!

ALL SHOTS below are by Craig Litten!

BTW, Fuji X20 1st look coming Monday, Nikon Coolpix A first look coming Wednesday and another Zeiss ZM lens for Leica refresh! Also have a great Olympus article coming later today. Stay tuned!







Bike Week 2013











Mar 282013


The Leica Monochrom at Daytona Bike Week by Roger Goun

NOTE: I attended Bike Week as part of Craig Litten’s Street Photography Workshop. I really enjoyed shooting with Craig and I recommend his workshops to anybody who wants to learn more about street photography!

Bike Week is an incredible, mind-blowing experience. It’s wall-to-wall people, noise, drinking, events, and of course, motorcycles. In photographic terms it’s a very target-rich environment. The Monochrom is a nearly perfect camera for Bike Week. It’s unobtrusive, it has a beautiful optical viewfinder that lets me see what’s going on beyond the edges of the frame, it stays out of my way, and it can shoot in the dark. Most of these images were shot with a Leica Summicron 50mm f/2 (Type 3). The wider ones were with a Voigtlander Ultron 35mm f/1.7, and the cabbage wrestling was shot with a scary-sharp Leica 135 mm f/4 Tele-Elmar that I happened to find used at a camera store in Maine the week before. The day shots are at base ISO. The photos at night were shot in “available darkness”, mostly at ISO 5000.

Coming from a Leica M8.2, I’m still getting used to the Monochrom. I tend to overexpose in tricky light. I’m amazed, though, by how many daytime shots come out of the camera with a histogram that stretches perfectly from end to end without spilling over either edge.

I’m a wheelchair user, so the perspective in my shots is generally different from most people are used to. Whether that’s an advantage or disadvantage I don’t know. My mobility is somewhat limited, so when I find a good a scene I tend to work it more than other shooters might before moving on. I do think that’s good for my photography. Best of all, no one considers me a threat, and no one has ever gotten angry with me for taking a photo, so I tend to be fairly aggressive about getting in people’s faces. People are usually quite nice – sometimes too nice. One girl in Daytona Beach tried to take the Monochrom off my neck so her friend could take our picture together. I quickly handed her my cell phone instead and tried to control my sudden panic.

Hope you like the photos.

Roger Goun






Coleslaw wrestling

Iron Horse

on Saturday, March 16, 2013.

on Saturday, March 16, 2013.

on Saturday, March 16, 2013.

Update on Daytona Bike Week workshop with Craig Litten – March 14th-17th

 News, Workshop  Comments Off on Update on Daytona Bike Week workshop with Craig Litten – March 14th-17th
Feb 132013


Update on Daytona Bike Week workshop with Craig Litten – March 14th-17th 2013

Hello to all! Some of you may remember that about 2 weeks ago I posted about an upcoming March workshop in none other than Daytona for the crazy and action filled “Bike Week’ with Craig Litten. Craig has been documenting Bike Week since the 90s and he knows his stuff. Some of you have signed up and I guarantee you will have one hell of a time at this workshop. You can read about the workshop HERE and I highly recommend this for anyone serious about learning, and shooting in a crazy hectic environment. This will be filled with so many opportunities and will also serve as a great ice breaker. In other words, you will be forced to break down any barriers you have and go out there and get the shots you want.

As for the update, I was originally going to be there with Craig but recently found out that during that week I can not make it due to a family obligation I was not aware of and have no way around. I was crazy excited about this one as it would be a killer way to get out and shoot with a certain new camera but I will def hit the next one in 2014. :)

I still highly recommend anyone looking for an amazing workshop… a real workshop and one that you will come away with being thrilled with your experience and results..well, this is THE one to sign up for.

All you need is a camera, a laptop and a desire and passion to shoot and learn. It’s about a month away and is going to ROCK.

Read more and sign up here at Craig’s Workshop site!


Dec 052012

1 Nikkor 18.5mm f/1.8 lens for CX format Lens Review

By Craig Litten

See his website HERE



I’ve been looking forward to getting this lens ever since it was announced. Primes are always welcome, and I hope the Nikon will keep them coming. If you’re a regular reader of Steve Huff Photo, then you probably know that I’m a big fan of the Nikon V1. To keep it in perspective though, the Nikon 1 system has its place. It is not necessarily to be used as your main camera, but rather for specific purposes or shoots. But if you’re a street photographer or you travel a lot, the Nikon V1 could very well be your main camera, it’s that good. As much as I wish there was a one-camera solution for every situation, there isn’t. The Leica M has its place, the Canon EOS-1D X has its place and the Sony X100 has its place. All vastly different cameras to fill different needs or desires. The world would be a very boring place if everyone drove the same car wouldn’t it? But we don’t park next to someone at the mall, get out of our cars and ridicule them for choosing to drive a Nissan Cube do we (I think the Cube is cool by the way)? So Nikon 1 naysayers can look elsewhere because you cannot, nor ever will, be convinced. Secondly, the images in this lens review are not a portfolio, but they are meant to show a variety of situations, angles, f-stops, etc. to give you, the one who is considering a purchase of this lens, an idea of what the lens can do. I see so many poor sample photos shot with new lenses on the Internet than I can hardly believe, which is one reason why I personally come back to Steve’s reviews. If he says it’s good and gives it a thumb’s up, then I don’t think twice about it.

So whether this lens is for you or not, you’ll have to decide. But like the wildly popular Nikon AF-S Nikkor 35mm f/1.8 DX lens, it checks all the right boxes. It’s cheap, light, fast, sharp and a great bargain. When it was announced I immediately pre-ordered it at B&H Photo, but I probably didn’t need to since I don’t think it will be a hot seller like the Sony 24mm f/1.8 E-Mount Carl Zeiss Sonnar lens or other lenses like it, so it should always be in stock. This lens is not exotic, but more of a utility lens that can be used in almost every situation, everyday and especially in low light. As of writing this, B&H has all three colors, black, silver and white, in stock HERE. So, to summarize the above paragraph: if you are a Nikon 1 hater, please be kind or stop reading now. I’ve always been a fan of the underdog, and that’s exactly what Nikon has here in the Nikon 1 System. It’s a camera that caused a big stir, but then was soon forgotten. But at its current price, $299 HERE at B&H, it’s an absolute steal. Yes STEAL! You can revisit my review HERE or other reviews by Colin Steel HERE on this very website. Maybe now that the price is reasonable to the masses, you may reconsider. Plus you can pick up this fantastic, tiny wonder-of-a lens for under $200. (The V1 Ultimate Kit is now half off as well at B&H)


Immediately after taking the lens out of the box and handling it, I noticed how light it is, it’s a featherweight. It feels almost hallow like the lens consists only of the outer lens barrel, the mount and the front and rear elements but is empty inside. But unlike its DX counterpart, it has a metal mount–a must for any lens I own period. So even though it’s light, it seems to be well built. Not Voightlander well built, but this new-day-of-digital-cheap-lenses well built. I also examined it to see if the lens barrel was metal or plastic. Yesterday I concluded it was plastic, but today I think it may be metal, but I’m not 100% sure and Nikon doesn’t say. I did compare it to my 1 Nikkor 10mm f/2.8 lens, which has a metal barrel and seems heavier and much denser. After having the lens sit on my desk overnight, the barrel is slightly cold to the touch, like the 10mm, which makes me wonder if it is metal after all. I also own the Panasonic Lumix Leica D Summilux 25mm f/1.4 for the Four Thirds system, and it has a metal lens barrel, which seems very cold to the touch. Plastic never feels cold to the touch though. Even though all the 1 Nikkor prototypes were in shiny metal, I have a feeling that this lens is plastic. If anyone can verify this, I’d love to know. No matter, it’s still well put together and you can read about the usual specs at Nikon USA.

There’s not much else to say. It comes with the usual 5-year Nikon USA warranty, which is great. It’s solid, light and doesn’t rattle or move when you shake it. It takes the usual 40.5mm filters, which are slightly hard to find, and the plastic Nikon HB-N101 lens hood fits snugly (I can’t say that about all lens hoods for other systems), looks cool and works perfectly.


First off, those reading this review that are not familiar with the Nikon 1 system may not know exactly what this lens is. The 1 Nikkor 18.5mm f/1.8 lens is for Nikon 1 CX format cameras only. The Nikon 1 camera has a small one-inch sensor that you must multiply a given lens focal length by 2.7x to figure out the exact focal length. So this 18.5mm lens is a 50mm equivalent standard f/1.8 lens.



The lens is slightly smaller and lighter than the standard 10-30mm kit zoom, and balances perfectly on the V1. It has just enough size, protruding out from the camera body, to hold comfortably. And it’s light enough not to be noticed.

1. Focus

Focus is instant and silent just like the 10mm f/2.8 pancake lens. It locks on instantly and rarely racked. The focus did rack (back and forth once not multiple times—in other words, it did not hunt) only a few times, and I shot hundreds of photos, but it always locked on immediately afterwards. But mostly because I was putting the lens through it’s paces shooting every type of situation I could think of. The Nikon 1 system is known for it’s incredible fast and accurate focus, and the 18.5mm f/1.8 was in line with the already existing lenses. I did notice that the 18.5mm racked a bit more than the 10mm pancake though, and it could be because the elements have to travel further, I’m not sure. But it is nothing to worry about or even give a second thought. I was a Canon shooter for 11 years and the Canon lenses rack like crazy (sorry Canon shooters, but it’s true), so even top pro systems and L glass rack focus.

Focus is also very accurate. Only on one or two shots did focus not lock into place, and I didn’t notice until I got back to the computer to edit. I don’t look at every photo I shoot while out in the field. I haven’t used the 10-30mm kit lens a lot, but I feel that the focusing on the 18.5mm lens is better that that of the 30-110mm telephoto 1 Nikkor zoom lens. It was able to focus, in complete darkness over a completely black body of water on a string of lights running across the center of the frame. The string of lights was so small in the frame that they almost couldn’t be seen. The auto focus auto point selector picked it out and instantly focused on it. Amazing. One of the shots included in the article was shot on a pier at night under incredibly low light. The focus didn’t hesitate at all and locked in on the subject immediately. So, in conclusion, the focus is both fast and accurate and in line with the Nikon 1 system and the other 1 Nikkor lenses.

2. Handling

The lens handles perfectly. Again, it’s small and super light, so you hardly notice it, which is one of the pluses of the Nikon 1 system. The lens never gets in the way of itself.

3. Sharpness

I’ll let the test images speak for themselves. I have included several full size copies for you to download and examine. NO sharpening has been applied during processing or in camera. All photos were shot RAW+JPEG, but the samples where from the RAW processed though Lightroom 4. There are many samples shot at f/1.8, an f-stop most of us want to know about to see if this lens is worth the asking price. These are sharp, very sharp. Plus there are also samples at f/2, f/2.8, f/4, f/5.6 and f/8. I’m a photographer who makes 100% of my living at photography, not a lab technician of a test chart shooter. But I’m personally impressed with the output of this lens. Both wide open and stopped down. I really didn’t notice much difference, but also didn’t spend hours pixel-peeping the files. To me, they look good. This lens, even wide open at f/1.8, is good enough for paying gigs. Enough said.

4. Distortion

In practical use, shooting people and most subjects, you will not notice much if any distortion. But when shooting a horizon such as at the beach, you will notice a slight bend downwards. Also when shooting near a wall. In the photo with the white egret on the black fishing nets you will notice the slight curvature in the barn siding to the bottom left of the frame. You can also see slight rounding on the top and bottom of the night photo of the wooden fish sign shot through a window. Notice the “Bridge Tender Inn” sign at the top and the “fresh fish” sign at the bottom, both have a slight curvature. On the other hand, Vignetting is very slight but I really didn’t “notice” it during practical use. Finally, purple and green fringing reared its ugly head in one photo, the wind chime in front of a screen, shot wide open at f/1.8 and with extreme backlighting. I didn’t notice it any other time though, and don’t think it’s anything to worry about.


If you’re a Nikon 1 owner (whether the J1, J2, or V1, V2) this lens is a no-brainer, just buy it. For $186.95 it’s well worth it. It finally gives Nikon 1 owners a fast option for low light. Although I think files out of the V1 are very pleasing up to and including ISO 800, and sometimes even ISO 1600 if exposed correctly, this will give users an option to shoot at much lower ISOs in a given lighting situation, and as you can easily see from the sample photos, some fairly nice bokeh. If you are not currently a Nikon 1 owner, maybe this lens and the currently ridiculously low price of the wonderful V1 will push you over to the dark side. Since I am a photojournalist by profession, I shoot almost exclusively with zoom lenses or I wouldn’t be able to compete. There simply is not enough time to change lenses in this fast-paced profession. So I found it a real pleasure to shoot with a 50mm equivalent prime lens. It is a great focal length and always seemed to be ‘just right.’


As I’ve already mentioned, the Nikon HB-N101 lens hood, designed for the 1 Nikkor 10-30mm kit lens, works perfectly on the 18.5mm lens. But the Nikon HN-N101 metal lens hood, designed for the 1 Nikkor 10mm f/2.8 pancake lens, works well too with no vignetting in the corners. The metal hood is very low profile and will most likely not give you the coverage that the plastic bayonet hood will. I use the metal hood exclusively on my 10mm pancake, and have never had any flair issues. This entire review was shot with the metal hood on my 18.5mm lens that I borrowed from my 10mm pancake. I just ordered a second one that will live on the 18.5mm lens. I love it because it can also be fitted with a screw-on metal lens cap (which I also own), the HC-N10, to make it a tiny, low profile package but still offering the protection of a lens shade. Nikon also makes a very nice, inexpensive lens pouch, CL-N101, that will easily hold the 18.5mm, the 10mm pancake, the 10-30mm kit zoom and even the new 11-27.5 pancake zoom with hoods attached. It features a stiff, padded bottom, a drawstring interior, and a Velcro flap. It’s also very soft, flexible, easy to store and comes in red, black and white. But for some reason the red and white versions are more expensive.

Craig’s Website is HERE

Craig’s Street Shooting Workshops can be found HERE

Oct 012012

Olympus E-5 User Review

By Craig Litten – His website HERE

I’ve had a love affair with Olympus cameras for as long as I can remember. Don’t ask me why tough because I cannot tell you really. It may go back to the days when Olympus was heavily advertising the OM-10 on TV with super model Cheryl Tiegs.

Hey, I was young and influential. It was the camera, really! I just thought it was so cool the way it looked and sounded. I was 14. It was then that I knew I wanted to be a photographer. For some time after this I begged my parents for the Olympus OM-10 specifically. It is the only camera I knew of really. I knew little of Nikon and almost nothing of other brands. My parents would not buy me the OM-10 though; which was probably wise now that I look back. They would say to me, “How are you going to pay for the film and developing?” I agree that an SLR camera is a pretty expensive investment for a young teenager who’s interests change daily. Instead, they bought me a Kodak Ektralite 10, 110 camera. For those of you who do not know, it was a very basic point-and-shoot 110-film camera that fit into your shirt pocket. The 110-sized negative was very small; think the size of a cheap digital point-and-shoot sensor. I shot a lot of film with it though, and it was then that I discovered that I had a natural eye for composition. My interest has never changed; it has always been photography.

By the time I got out of college auto focus cameras were starting to show up. I bought a slightly used Minolta 9000 (professional) with a 50mm f/1.7 Minolta AF lens during my fist semester of photo school. Somehow I lost touch with the OM cameras, and nobody I knew recommended or talked about them. Not too much after that Canon launched the EOS 650, which changed everything (kind of like the 5D many years later), and made the Olympus OM cameras basically obsolete. Nikon followed closely behind with the Nikon 8008, which was also auto focus. It was a new generation for SLRs. So my love for Olympus cameras was buried, but still alive.


Fast forward to 2005 during the time I was working as a staff photojournalist for my third newspaper. I was using Canon digital gear (since 2000) at the time, with all the wonderful L-Series glass, etc. A few years prior to this Olympus launched the E-1 and advertised it as the only camera built for digital from the ground up. It caught my attention, but I was never able to try one. One day I was at Colonial Photo in Orlando, Fla. (the biggest camera store in Florida) and the Olympus rep was in the store that day. Since I had a good relationship with the store, he let me take an E-1, a 14-54mm lens and a 50-200mm lens home for two weeks to try out. I fell in love with that camera, but ultimately didn’t buy one. I think at the time the real deal killer was the auto focus. A few years went by again and Olympus launched the E-3. Again it got my attention, but I was deeply into the Canon system by then so I just let it go by. A few more years passed and Olympus launched the E-5. Again it got my attention but by specs alone, it wasn’t all that impressive. As time went by I kept reading, mostly here on Steve Huff’s site, about the incredible Olympus jpegs and Olympus signature color, etc. I also read about how great the Zuiko Digital lenses were. Most think that it is advertising jargon I suspect, but as I recently found out, it is not! There is more to the Olympus E-5 and the E-System than pure specs alone (which unfortunately for Olympus, many people tend to pre-judge and immediately dismiss).

I finally got to test an Olympus E-5 with the wonderful Zuiko Digital ED 12-60mm f/2.8-4 SWD (for those of you who don’t know, the Four Thirds sensor—just like the Micro Four Thirds Sensor–is a 2x crop factor. So you must double the focal length to get the full frame equivalent, which makes this lens a 24-120mm), the Zuiko Digital ED 50-200 f/2.8-3.5 SWD, 100-400mm equivalent and the Olympus FL-50R Speedlight.

Just what is the Olympus E-5? This Camera’s Old isn’t it?

The Olympus E-5 is the latest Olympus professional DSLR (2010), and is part of the Four Thirds system (not to be confused with Micro Four Thirds or m43). The sensors are basically the same size, but the lens mount is different. Conceived by Olympus the system was to be designed-for-digital instead of just adapting a digital SLR body to existing lenses like the other camera companies. According to Olympus, it’s a better way to go for sharper digital images, better lens design, smaller camera bodies and lenses, etc.

An OOC JPEG with the fantastic Olympus 50-200

What’s the Big, Fat, Harry Deal Anyway?

First, for me anyway, one word, well two really—O.K., four:

1. Weather Sealed and Tough!

With the kind of photography I do, and living in the rainy state, I mean sunshine state (Florida), I constantly worry about getting my cameras wet. Many cameras are tough, but not many are water resistant. I remember shooting along the shoreline a few years back with my (then) new Canon 5D, and a tiny lick of a wave hit the camera and shut it completely down. It did recover, but I constantly worried. This was one of the big attractions to Olympus for me.


2. Cheap(er) Price, but Not Cheap(er) Quality!

There are plenty of used and refurbished Olympus products around if you just look. With the set-up mentioned above (E-5 body, two lenses, flash and a battery grip), I saved OVER $2,000 off the retail price. That’s a pretty good chunk of change don’t ya think?


3. Lenses, lenses, lenses!

If you are one who loves prime lenses, then the Digital Zuiko family of lenses may not be for you. Primes are wonderful in many ways, but as a working photojournalist, it’s almost impossible to use only primes. I was able to find and read about nine (9) different Digital Zuiko lenses with ratings of 5 stars. That is simply amazing. And after shooting with the E-5 for a about a month now, I see why. They, combined with the amazing E-5 sensor, are RAZOR SHARP like I’ve never seen. Again, I’ve had access to every Canon L-Series lens from the 14mm f/2.8 to the 600mm f/4 and everything in between. Those lenses are great, but I was never blown away. The Zuiko lenses blow me away! Besides that, where else can you buy a (equivalent) 28-70mm f/2.0 and 70-200mm f/2.0 zoom? Nowhere!


4. Incredible Anti-Dust Filter!

No dust bunnies on your sensor, what more can I say. Canon and Nikon’s are pretty good now too, but don’t forget who invented it, Olympus.


5.Supurb Wireless Flash System!

This one surprised me because I didn’t know anything about Olympus’ flash system. I first read about it on Robin Wong’s blog. He was one of the first in the world to really test and write about the Olympus OM-D EM-5 (that name just makes me chuckle). During his review he did a lot of wireless, off-camera flash in bright sunlight. I was impressed and intrigued. When I began testing the E-5 with the Olympus FL-50R (the flagship model flash), off-camera and in bright Florida light, it worked flawlessly. One of the very reasons I left Canon and switched to Nikon was the very unpredictable and frustrating Canon flash system. I would put the Olympus flash system on par with Nikon, but with a more intuitive user interface (it’s less complex). I was able to set the flash and camera within 5 minutes and take perfectly exposed, off-camera flash shots. I even included a Nikon SB-700 as a second, slave flash unit and it worked perfectly. One thing I really liked was the fact that the pop-up, on-camera flash fired the FL-50R, but did NOT flash itself, and it did it automatically. The flash settings were done through the camera on the back LCD screen too. It was a cakewalk and I loved every second of it. I’m not a fan of using flash, so the easier and more mindless, the better.


6. Buttery, Smooth-As-Silk Shutter!

Well if that title doesn’t set your imagination to flight, nothing will. The shutter is quiet, smooth and simply wonderful. As much as I loved my original Canon 5D, the shutter sent chills up my spine and made people look at me. The Canon 5D MKII wasn’t much better. The shutter sound and feel is important to me with the work I sometimes do. I remember back in 2005 when I was testing out the Olympus E-1 I had the privilege to shoot the London Symphony Orchestra live for several nights in a row. The E-1 shutter was so quiet that I didn’t need a sound blimp (a cover used to dampen the sound of a camera shutter). Making noise while photographing an LSO performance is, in some small countries, considered a crime. Not really but they would throw you out in a heartbeat.


7. Best Auto White Balance of Any Digital Camera I’ve ever used!

I’m very impressed with the clean output and neutral color of the Auto White Balance. I’ve tried specific setting under specific color temperatures of light, but the AWB does such a great job I feel that I can just leave it set there for 95% of what I shoot.


8. Amazing Olympus Color!

Again, this is something I’ve read about but never really experienced first hand. It’s true; Olympus sprinkles magic dust on their sensors to produce amazing out-of-camera (OOC henceforth) color.


9. Razor Sharp OOC JPEGS!

I’m NOT picking on Canon here, but since I shot Canon digital for 11 years starting with the $15,000 Canon D2000, I’m very familiar with their digital cameras. I remember shooting for the book project America 24/7 during one full week period in 2003. The Canon 10D was just released, and because I needed higher quality camera for this project (the 10D was 6 MP), I bought one. The day I got it I went out to shot a bunch of quick test shots. When I got them on my computer I remember being disappointed at how soft the files looked. Back then nobody really shot RAW, especially not photojournalists. They sharpened up nicely though in Photoshop. I do realize that was ancient history in digital camera years, but all cameras render OOC jpegs differently. The Olympus E-5, at least with the two high-end lenses I’m using, renders razor sharp OOC jpegs.


10. Did I mention Lenses?

The two lenses I have, the 12-60mm and 50-200mm, are insanely sharp. I think the 12-60mm has the slight edge but I’m no lens tester or science lab guru, I’m a working photographer. Simply put, I’m blown away by the output of both lenses and would put them against ANY other Japanese lenses, even the Zeiss (made in Japan). As for Leica lenses, I won’t go there because I’ve never really used them (some back in the film days, but not recently), and that is Steve’s expertise. Again I think Olympus sprinkles magic dust on their Zuiko lenses (kidding).

ISO 1600 

ISO 3200

Daily Testing – Things I Like about the E-5

While testing the E-5 pretty extensively over the last several weeks, I’ve discovered many things I like. But like I mentioned in my Nikon V1 review on Steve’s site a while back, there is no such thing as a perfect camera. So, like with all cameras we have to take the good with the bad, or the positive features with the negative. Then we can determine if a particular camera is the one for us or not.

1. Info Button and Rear LCD Quick Menu

Some may disagree, but I like the menu system. One wonderful, helpful thing is the ‘INFO’ button and the rear LCD screen. It’s kind of like the Fuji X-Pro1 ‘Q’ button. Nearly everything I need while shooting is right there. In fact, I almost exclusively use the rear LCD for all my settings and changes because it’s simple and easier to see.


2. Dual Card Slots

The E-5, like many other cameras now, has dual card slots. It takes one CF and one SD. I’d prefer two CF cards, but that’s just my preference.


3. ISO 100 as Default Low ISO

Again, many cameras today do this, but not all. I’d prefer ISO 50 but ISO 100 is a must for a “professional” camera, especially with the bright sun in Florida. I hate ISO 200 as the low option, and I know many of you share my feelings on this.


4. Incredible Customization for Picture Styles and White Balance

The E-5 is very customizable from the buttons and knobs, to the Picture Styles and White Balance. By “Picture Styles” (a Canon term I believe) I mean the picture mode such as Natural (color), Vivid, Muted, Portrait, B&W, etc.


5. Excellent, Bright Optical Viewfinder.

If anyone reading this has used the cheaper, or older Olympus Four Thirds cameras, they may know that some of the viewfinders were like looking through a tunnel. Not the E-5. It’s big, bright and clear as well as 100% viewing. It may not be a Nikon D3 viewfinder, but it is very pleasing to view and usable even for manual focusing.


6. Cool Digital-Only Features

Because the Olympus E-System was built from the ground up for digital, the lenses have some unique features. One custom feature for instance is the ability to have the lens reset (back to infinity) when you turn off the camera. This may not sound like a really big deal to you, but anything that helps save a split second of time and get the shot as opposed to not getting the shot, is a worthy feature. Setting the lens back to infinity means that the next time I turn the camera on, I already know where my lens is set, on infinity.

B&W feet and ocean – showing how well the black and white shots look from the E-5

7. Very Good In (camera) Body Image Stabilization.

In body image stabilization is, in my opinion, an advantage over lens only image stabilization. Why? Because Image Stabilization works with EVERY SINGLE LENS you put on your E-5. Not only Zuiko lenses, but also third party lenses as well. I waited for several years, as did everyone else, for Canon to update its wildly popular 24-70 f/2.8 L lens. They have finally done so, but to the disappointment of many, still without Image Stabilization. Not so with the Olympus E-5 because the body, not the lens, does the work.


8. Excellent Build Quality with Full Metal Chassis

Many other cameras are also built very well, especially in this same class of DSLR (i.e. Nikon D300s, Canon 7D), but how many of them advertise that you can actually stand on it with all of your weight? With the robust build and full weather sealing (and for cold climate photographers, built to work in below zero temperatures) this is one camera you won’t have to worry about. You can find several videos on YouTube of people testing out their E-5s in crazy ways including one where four E-5’s bodies are placed under a large piece of Plexiglas and two people are standing on it.


9. Super Fast and Accurate Auto Focus (in Single Focus AF-S Mode)

This is with the SWD (Supersonic Wave Drive) lenses. I cannot speak of the non-SWD lenses. And this is for Single Auto Focus Mode only, NOT Servo Focus. Servo Focus is one of the negative points about this camera, and one that Olympus must fix in next update of E-5. I’ll get to that later. Single Shot Auto focus is also very good in very low light. It will focus in near darkness without a problem.


10. Excellent High Resolution Flip-Out Rear LCD Screen

I didn’t used to like this feature, and was glad that Nikon and Canon didn’t have it on their pro models. I’ve changed my mind. Yes, it is possible that this makes the camera more susceptible to breakage, but it also can help you get a shot you normally wouldn’t be able to get. Without it, shooting a high angle is a guessing game and a risk especially with fleeting moments. Without it shooting a low angle requires you to get down on the ground. Well sometimes the ground is muddy and I’m wearing nice dress slacks. You get the picture?

B&W shot of girl on swing. This is an off-camera flash test with the built in wireless flash system. Olympus FL-50R Speedlight off camera to the left is fired by the built-in, pop-up flash wirelessly in bright sunlight – subject is moving. Sunlight is lighting the subject to the right. It worked easily and flawlessly. I was amazed.

11. Voice Tag on Individual Photos

This one came as a very pleasant surprise actually. It’s a feature that I’ve longed for while owning my Canon 5D/5D MKII, etc., and one that I used to have on my EOS 1D and EOS 1D MKIIn. Nikon’s top pro models, D2/D3/D4, etc. have voice tags too. It’s a wonderful feature and is kind of like using your iPhone camera for a note pad. You simply press the button and speak into the camera. When you go to edit your shoot, the voice tag (what you spoke) is affixed to that single photo. It comes in handy especially for covering sporting events.


12. Totally Weather Sealed

It’s been raining every day here on the west coast of Florida for the past several weeks. Do I look worried? Nope!


13. The Ergonomics

I shoot with the HLD-4 battery grip (which holds two batteries) and it fits my (medium sized) hands like a glove. It’s weighty, well balanced and everything falls into place, as it should.


14. Quality Feel

I think that Olympus has good quality control. Nothing about the E-5 feels cheap but instead feels very well engineered, very well put together and tight. The rubber grip is tight, the dials are smooth and the buttons and knobs feel like quality even though they are plastic.


15. It’s Very Responsive

I find the E-5 very responsive. Even though the camera is now two years old, it doesn’t feel dated in any way to me personally. It’s quick to do what I ask it to when I ask it to. This is a feature that’s important to me especially with the type of work that I do. When you have to get the shot, you cannot be waiting on your camera. Even though I think the original Canon EOS 5D has one of the best sensors of any camera ever, it was a slow dog compared to the EOS 5D MK II and ultimately this forced me to sell it. It just couldn’t keep up with the demands I was putting on it. The E-5 doesn’t have that problem (NOTE: I’m not comparing the E-5 with the EOS 5D in any way–just making a point).


The Lenses

Again, the lenses I’m talking about are the two mentioned above.

Football Action – Again, this camera’s continuous auto focus system is not geared for this type of fast action. But it can capture it if you know what you’re doing and shoot enough. It was a real challenge to get this shot even in bright noon, Florida sunlight.

1. Zuiko Digital ED 12-60mm f/2.8-4 SWD (24-120mm equiv.)

I really love this lens! I’m used to using the 24-70mm focal length, so I love having the extra reach. I almost never shoot wider than 24mm either. Compared to a 24-70mm f/2.8, this lens is much smaller and lighter. It’s the perfect sized everyday or walk around (as they say) lens. It has a great range and focuses incredibly close (I believe 2:1 macro). I do prefer a constant aperture zoom lens though, but it is still bright (f/2.8) at the wider end and the aperture closes down very evenly as you zoom out. It’s also completely weather sealed. But the best thing is that it’s razor sharp! Razor sharp like I’ve never seen before. I don’t know if it’s just the lens, or a combination of the lens, the E-5 sensor and the magic of the Four Thirds system light gathering angle (stuff I don’t understand), or maybe the Zuiko magic dust. I’m not into pixel peaking either, but almost immediately while using the E-5 and these two lenses, I noticed that the images are sharper than what I’m used to seeing. I’ve been using only digital cameras for 12 years now, and when I look back at old images I’m sometimes surprised just how unsharp many of them look straight out of the camera. I just thought that’s the way they all looked until now. If you were considering the E-5, the 12-60mm would be the first lens I recommend buying. Both the mechanical focus ring (not focus by wire) and zoom are smooth and well dampened, and the lens is well built. It’s also made in Japan.


2. Zuiko Digital ED 50-200 f/2.8-3.5 SWD (100-400mm equiv.)

It’s amazing just how fast this lens is starting at f/2.8 and ending at f/3.5 at the long end. The other system’s offerings for this range end at f/5.6 at the long end, a full stop and a half darker. You would have to spend thousands and thousands more to get this speed in the Nikon range, and you’ll need a monopod to use it. This is another advantage of the Four Thirds system. Even though this lens is no real competition to the $6,750 dollar Nikon 200-400mm as far as continuous servo auto focus speed, I’m willing to bet that it’s nearly as sharp. This is just my opinion not a scientific test. Remember I’ve regularly used all of the Nikon and Canon super telephotos (up to the 600mm f/4) over the years. This is not a slam against either Nikon or Canon (both wonderful systems) but a vote for the underdog. This is a lens that wont break the bank (that most can afford), has an extended range of 100-400mm, is completely weather sealed, is well made in Japan and one that you can easily carry around. It’s also fast so you can shoot at lower ISO settings too. It’s very well balanced, well made, has smooth mechanical focus ring (not focus by wire) and is tack sharp even wide open. The zoom is not as smooth as I’d like, and I believe it’s because of the weather sealing. It feels as though maybe a rubber gasket keeps it from being silky smooth like a Nikon zoom, but it also blows a lot of air when zooming in and out. As for smoothness, neither lens compares to say the Nikon 24-70mm f/2.8, which is like melted butter for both focus and zoom. The lens hood on the 50-200mm has a cool little feature for those who use polarizes. It has a tiny door that lifts up so that you can access and turn your polarizer filter.

Full size JPEG worked lightly in Lightroom 4 – NO sharpening applied

B&W of boy’s face – This was an accidental shot while testing the off-camera flash actually, but it is so incredibly sharp that I wanted to use it as a full sized ‘sharpness’ sample. NOT sharpened but it is converted from RAW.

The Sensor

I’m sure many of you are dying to know about the sensor. First off, I’ve read that the sensor was already two years old when the camera was released in 2010. I don’t know if that’s true or not. I’ve also read that this is the same sensor that is in some of the Pen cameras. This may be true but I don’t really know, nor do I care. What my eyes are seeing is all I need to know, and I like what I see very much. This sensor on the E-5 produces wonderful, rich, signature Olympus colors. The OOC jpegs are amazingly sharp and robust to work in Lightroom or Photoshop. I owned an Olympus E-PL2 for several months and felt ultimately some of the images from it looked digital or plastically. I don’t think that of the E-5. Whether it’s the same sensor or not, the processing of the image is different. Again, Olympus puts their magic dust on the E-5 sensor. The images look incredible up to ISO 800 and very good up to ISO 1600 and even ISO 3200. Don’t expect silky smooth high ISO shots as with a full frame Canon sensor because you won’t get that. You will see grain, but it’s very nicely rendered (in my opinion up to ISO 1600). The images look super sharp and clean even up to ISO 3200 but if you have say a deep blue night sky (such as the sky at dusk), or a solid dark background, you may get some banding at ISO 3200. The latest trend is to talk about high ISO performance. For me high ISO is pretty important and a necessity, but for most people it is not. If you’re regularly shooting action in low light, high ISO performance is key, but if you’re not, there is not too much you cannot do at ISO 1600. I do not recommend ISO 6400 on the E-5. It’s usable for gritty journalism images, but not if you want to frame photos to hang on your wall or sell in a gallery. The replacement of the E-5 will have (most likely) at least an OM-D E-M5 sensor in it or newer, and I’ve heard wonderful things about that sensor even at ISO 6400.


Daily Testing – Things that Could Improve on the E-5


1. The Continuous (servo) Auto Focus

Olympus really needs to get this figured out if they hope to compete. Now that they have the wonderful sensor technology in the E-M5, this is (again in my opinion) the one and only thing lagging behind the competition in the Four Thirds E-System. The single shot auto focus is as good as any, and better than many, but the follow focus or continuous auto focus is not. It is very fast, but it won’t ‘lock in.’ The best way I can describe the continuous auto focus is that it’s “squirrelly.” It zips around really fast (at least with the SWD lenses) but won’t lock in and actually stay with the action. The result, as much as I hate to say it, is an accuracy of about 60%. I’m not going to say it’s the world’s worst continuous auto focus, but it could be. How can Olympus not figure this out is beyond me? Auto focus continuously gets better and better, but it’s been around for several decades. I very much hope that Olympus comes out with a successor to the E-5, but it must, must, must have competitive continuous auto focus.


2. Faster Frame Rate (frames per second continuous shooting).

For a camera in this category (pro or semi-pro) the frame rate at 5 fps is surely lagging. It should be at least 7 fps if not 8. To be truly competitive in sports photography, you need at least 8 fps.


3. Larger RAW buffer.

The jpeg buffer on the E-5 is unlimited I believe, but the RAW is not. At this level, I think it should be at least 60 at the fastest frame rate the camera can shoot. The Nikon 1 is a perfect example of this. If Nikon can do it in a tiny, mirrorless camera, Olympus should be able to in its flagship model.


4. Buttons and Dials

Some of the buttons, although well placed for the most part, could be slightly larger (they are all pretty tiny) and slightly more spaced out. This is especially true on the top left side of the camera. Also, I think Olympus should do away with the multi selector with four arrows and replace it with a wheel similar to the one on the new Canon EOS 5D MKIII.


5. Ergonomics

Although the camera feels really good in my hand, and I like the design very much, when compared to the original Olympus E-1 it could stand some improvement. Some places on the camera are a bit blocky. The E-1 was like a sculpted work of art perfectly fitting the human hand in comparison. Also, the rear of the HLD-4 battery grip is somewhat blocky. This is the most minor of my complaints about the camera, but one that I feel should be addressed.


6. Double Tap Delete

I simply love the way Nikon does their delete button. When you’re playing back a photo and want to delete it, you simply double tap the delete button and it’s gone. It’s fast and efficient. With the E-5 it’s still very fast and easy, but there is an extra step.


7. Two Compact Flash Cards

I’d prefer to have two of the same memory cards in the camera. I feel that compact flash is superior and would prefer to have two instead of one CF and one SD. It’s faster, easier and doesn’t require you buying and carrying two different types of memory cards and two different types of card readers. Again, efficiently is the name of the game when making a living at photography.


8. On/Off Switch Relocated

Although I’ve never accidentally turned off the E-5 (like I did a zillion times on my original Canon 5D) by having it rub against me while carrying it, it could happen. I’d prefer that the camera turn on like the Nikons and Sony cameras on the top around the shutter button. It prevents accidentally turning off of the camera and it’s much faster and more intuitive turning it on.

Band Photo of Hands – Shows that even with the small sensor of the Four Thirds, it still is capable of shallow depth of field, plus the sharpness of the 50-200mm lens. 


I’ve said a lot, but I feel like I haven’t really said anything. Using any given camera is largely personal preference. The Olympus E-5 is very enjoyable to use, in fact, it’s a pleasure to use. Don’t be fooled by specs on paper alone, or from lab results by those who are taking measurements but not really using the camera in the real world (this goes for any camera). The E-5 is a camera I want to take with me when I leave the house. This is a first for me with any professional tool I’ve owned or used while on staff at different newspapers. I’ve always shot when not working, but rarely with the large, bulky pro gear that I used for my job. It just isn’t any fun for me. The E-5 is different. Since I’ve been testing it, I’ve wanted to shoot with it every single day. I’ve even wanted to go out and play (shoot) in the rain. Don’t discount Olympus because the specs don’t measure up to the big boys. There is a lot more to this camera system than specs alone. As Robin Wong said, “The Camera Has a Soul.”

Guitar – First flash test of a simple still life. Shot with Olympus FL-50R flash off camera and behind the guitar lighting the curtain. To the left of the guitar also off camera was a Nikon Speedlight SB700 in simple slave mode. Both were fired by the E-5’s built-in, pop-up flash wirelessly. Total set up time including learning how to work the camera and flash system was about 10 minutes. It is that simple

Craig Litten



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Jul 162012

Camera Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop worrying About the Sensor and Love the Camera – by Craig Litten

A user report on the Nikon V1

Lightening the Load

I’ve always loved small cameras. Back in the early 1990’s while attending my second photo school I wanted a Leica M6 with a 35mm Summicron (f/2.0) lens, but unfortunately it was way out of reach for me. Many years later, while a staff photographer at my second daily newspaper, I purchased the amazing Contax G2 with the Zeiss Biogon 28mm f/2.8 lens. But unfortunately by this time digital photography had already begun to take over—all of my newspaper gear was already completely digital (the lovely tank-of-a-camera 2.2 megapixel, $11,000 Canon D2000). Back then we never even imagined that digital would be as good as it is now, and that film would all but disappear within 10 years.

I took a photo trip to Alaska back in the early 2000s and agonized for weeks over what gear to bring along. I finally settled on the Contax G2 with the 28mm lens and nothing else, not even a back-up body. My friend took all of his pro Canon gear (film) complete with a 500mm f/4.5L (big white) lens. He struggling the entire trip carrying all his gear, and I never regretted my decision. My love affair with small cameras was solidified.


Who am I Anyway?

Hello, my name is Craig Litten and I’m a freelance photojournalist and documentary photographer from the Tampa Bay area in Florida. I’ve had a camera in my hands since I was 15-years-old, and have been shooting professionally since 1991. I have been a staff photographer for four different daily newspapers, have won state, regional and national photography awards, taught workshops and lectured to college photography students, been published in several hard cover books including America 24/7 and Florida 24/7 by Rick Smolan, have shot for major U.S. and international clients, have photographed U.S. presidents and movie stars, and have covered more than 7,000 photo having over 10,000 of my photos published in newspapers and magazines (not including the Web).


Prelude to the Nikon V1

My first compact digital camera was the Canon G2. Many of you are familiar with the Canon G series; now up to the G12. When the newspaper I was working for bought it, I quickly latched on to it. I though I had myself a Leica (tongue in cheek). Early on I took the G2 with me to a football game on the road at Clemson University, and I decided to cover the pre-game with it. I know it’s hard to imagine now, but digital was still very new at the time and not many people owned digital cameras yet, let alone a smart phone with a digital camera in it. What I discovered as I shot all around the stadium, was that I was almost completely ignored. Who takes tiny cameras seriously anyway? Almost nobody. But tiny cameras are now capable of serious pictures. The G2 was small, light, fun and the image quality was “good enough.” I was hooked! Unfortunately though, I had to wait about 10 years for technology to catch up to my vision.


Along Comes the Nikon V1

Like Steve, who called his original Nikon V1 review: The Camera I Expected to Hate, I originally dismissed the Nikon V1. But I kept reading about it and was intrigued. Before purchasing the V1 though, I purchased and owned three different mirrorless camera systems, and have since sold them all. Each one had its positive points, but there was always something that I couldn’t live with. If you are looking for the perfect camera, it doesn’t exist and never will. Even the mighty Leica M9 has negative points (from what I’ve read even on this site). Is the Nikon V1 for everyone? Of course not! But it’s tiny, powerhouse-of-a-camera that is worth a second, or in this case, third look.


Nikon V1: The Noisy Cricket of Cameras (see: Men in Black)

I love the V1! It’s dynamite in a small package. It’s fast, responsive, has almost clairvoyant auto focus (really) and has a powerful processor. But most of all, it’s incredibly fun to shoot with! Fun, isn’t that why we all take photos? Since purchasing mine in March 2012, I’ve taken more than 13,000 photos with it. It hasn’t blinked, flinched, misfired or failed me once. It has served me well so far and I love it. I can honestly say it’s my favorite digital camera to date bar none, and I’ve owned and used many, many different digital cameras since 2000 when I want completely digital for work.

Not everyone’s needs are the same, but for me, I needed a digital camera that had good enough image quality to be published. Many of the current mirrorless cameras do. I also needed a camera that could perform and handle the stress that I would put it through. This is where a lot of other mirrorless cameras fall short


The features I needed most in a mirrorless camera are listed below in order of importance.

•Completely Silent Shutter – The V1 has a mechanical shutter, that has a pleasant sound and is fairly well dampened (not too loud), but it also has a an electronic shutter. Not many photography forums talk about this feature, but it is completely silent. The shutter makes no noise at all when you take a picture. For the type of photography I do, and for all of you who do street, documentary or photojournalism, this is a huge, huge plus. It allows you to shoot a scene up close and personal, and not be noticed (at least by your shutter giving you away). A silent shutter also lets you shoot more photos of any given moment without worrying that your subject will think you are totally nuts for shooting so many pictures of him.


•Incredibly Fast & Accurate Auto Focus

Steve, and many others, have already written about this, so there is no need to elaborate. The auto focus is so fast, that I thought I’d test it out on a high school football game. High school football is very challenging to photograph, especially as the light is dropping. Shooting Pro football is a total breeze next to shooting high school football (I covered NFL for 8 plus years). The V1’s auto focus kept up (not my best work but you get the point). See them here.



The V1 is super fast–pro camera fast. Enough said. It will keep up with what you shoot. It never lags behind when viewing images, writing to buffer, etc., even when shooting RAW. It’s always alert and ready.

•Small Size Including Lenses

Because of the smaller sensor size, the Nikon 1 series lenses are very compact, lightweight, but very well built.


•Huge Battery

I can get about 800 shots, maybe more, per battery charge. This is important to me. Also, the V1 takes the same battery as the Nikon D7000 and D800 (and most likely the upcoming D600 and the rumored D400). This is very cool and very unusual. Same battery, same charger as my other gear, nice! Most of the time there is no need for a second battery.



Several cameras now have EVFs (electronic viewfinder). The V1’s is excellent, as is its LCD screen. I also like that it’s very low profile with a nice, built-in cushiony rubber eyepiece. I don’t use it exclusively, but when I need it, it’s there. I live in Florida, a state that has bright sun year round, which necessitates an EVF. An add-on EVF is too bulky and can easily get broken off. When figuring the cost of the V1, remember that add-on viewfinders usually cost about $200 and up.



It’s expandable and takes my pro Nikkor lenses (if I want it too) via the FT1 Mount adapter. Cool, shoot the moon!


The I.Q.

As you may have noticed, I never mentioned image quality. IQ is important to me but it’s not the most important thing. I’ll put it this way: the Nikon V1 is light years ahead of the $11,000 Canon D2000 camera that I used for three years a one of the newspapers I worked for. While initially testing the V1, I went back through a lot of film scans that I shot over the years to compare quality. I can honestly say, although film has a different “feel” to it, the V1 many times surpasses the film scans. What more are we looking for? Do I wish it had the IQ of a Canon 5D? Of course. But I have no problems with its IQ at all. In fact, I actually like the very tight grain that the files get at higher ISOs, it’s pretty and ‘more’ film-like to my eyes. I almost never sharpen them either, but had too on both my 5D and 5D MkII. Bottom line: The V1 image quality is very good. I shoot exclusively in RAW and the images are amazingly sharp. Also, the V1 RAW files will take just about any post processing that you can throw at them. I use Lightroom 4.

Currently I am working on a documentary photo project shot entirely with the Nikon V1 and the 1 Nikkor 10mm (27mm equivalent) f/2.8 pancake lens. I’m photographing daily life on a 100-year-old fishing pier along Tampa Bay and the Gulf of Mexico. I’m hoping to get the project published into a hardcover book when finished. I’ve shot at the pier 23 times so far since June 1st. I believe that the Nikon V1 image quality is good enough for a hard cover photo book. I’ve also used the V1 for certain daily newspaper assignments. Here is a sample. Pro golf shoot with the V1 here.

I did a V1 enlargement test on the mighty Epson 4890 Pro Photo printer. I made a 16”x20” print and the file held up beautifully. Rarely in my entire career did I ever enlarge a print larger than this. Personally I think that a 12”x18” print is the perfect size to frame and hang on the wall. So again I ask the question? “Just how large of sensor do we need?” I dare say that most of us do not print a lot of photos these days anyway, but view and share our photos on a screen. Technology is changing rapidly and it’s exciting. See: Nokia Pureview 808 smartphone or the new Sony RX100 reviews and be prepared to be wowed by small sensor cameras. Probably the one major disadvantage for the Nikon 1 for some photographers is the large depth-of-field the small sensor produces. It’s much harder to achieve nice, shallow bokeh with the one inch sensor. For the type of shooting I do I don’t mind. New, fast lenses will help in the future.


Daily Use

Believe it or not, the Nikon V1 allows me to get photos that no other camera of any kind has allowed me to get. Since I first started using auto focus back in 1986 (Minolta 9000), I have exclusively used only Center Point auto focus (the first AF cameras only had center point by the way). Even with all the pro Nikon and Canon cameras that I’ve used and owned, with their 51 AF points, etc., I only used and trusted the center point. When you make a living with photography and have to get the shot each and every time, you tend not to take many chances because it could mean losing your job. The Nikon V1 changes this. I have my V1 set to Multi-Point AF all the time with face recognition turned on. Again, it’s absolutely clairvoyant, or nearly so. Steve talked about the V1 being the only camera that he has ever tested which nailed the focus every time. This is a true statement. Can it miss? Yes, but very, very rarely.

Another thing I’ve been doing with the V1 that I have never done before is occasionally shoot without looking through the viewfinder or at the LCD. Yikes, did I just say that?! It’s true. I’ve gotten pretty good at framing without seeing. The amazing auto focus and responsiveness of the camera including the large buffer helps with this a lot. You are probably wondering why I’m Hail Marying with my V1. It’s mostly related to the fishing pier project I’m working on. The pier is not very big and has water on all sides so sometimes it’s impossible to get into position and raise the camera up to frame without being noticed. Also, if you’ve ever asked someone if you can take his or her picture, you already know that whatever moment or expression you saw seconds before has vanished. You got to be quick and again, this is where the V1 shines!

Why Shoot One Frame When You Can Shoot Five or More?

I do believe in the decisive “moment” and have made my living capturing just that. But now technology allows me to capture decisive moment(s) with my Nikon V1 (and without the distracting clanking—to the subject–sound of the shutter). When shooting in low light with my DSLRs, many times I will shoot multiple frames of the same moment to ensure that I have at least one good, sharp image. The speed of the V1 allows me to do this too. Experience has shown me that the slight movement of a hand, the mouth, eyes, body, etc. can turn a good photo a great photo. So again, the V1 shines for it’s speed and high frames per second rate to capture not only a sharp image in low light, but the decisive (peak) moment.


I love my Nikon V1 and feel that its simplicity is one of its greatest strengths. It doesn’t have some of the custom control or bells and whistles of other mirrorless cameras, but it has one of the best and easiest to navigate menu systems of any digital camera in my opinion. I purposely didn’t focus on the V1’s weaknesses though. It has a few things that a firmware update could change and make better, but none these bother me during daily use, and none of them are deal breakers. Steve’s two reviews of the V1 cover all of them pretty completely. Or you can easily find them somewhere online. I rarely bump the mode dial, nor toggle the aperture, but it does occasionally happen. My original Canon 5D wonder camera would get turned off all the time when I was carrying it, and I paid over $3,000 for it. My Canon EOS 1D MkIIn would rack focus sometimes at very crucial moments and I’d miss a touchdown play or something important like that. The RAW write times in an Olympus I once owned were excruciatingly slow. The buffer of my $11,000 dollar Canon D2000 would fill up right in the middle of a huge crash at the Daytona 500 and I would miss the peak action. My old $5,000 Nikon D2H looked horrid at anything above ISO 800. And my old top-of-the-line Nikon D4s would only take one film speed setting at a time. So when I had a roll of Fuji Velvia 50 in the camera and walked into somewhere with low light, I had to rewind the film mid-roll and put in some fast (then) ISO 800 FujiPress. Get the picture?

Full Size Samples:

1. Dusty plant shot at ISO 640. It’s an ugly pic but it shows the fine detail and sharpness at higher ISOs.

2. Greeting card shot at ISO 1600, 1/5th of a second with image stabilizer of the 10-30 lens. This is a great example of the beautiful, tight film-like grain which reminds me of Ralph Gibson’s work shot on film of course – http://www.ralphgibson.com/

ISO 640 – click it for full size

ISO 1600 – click it for full size


Chase Jarvis said “The best camera is the one that’s with you.” This is true. A former photo professor of mine, Gary Monroe, said, “You take better pictures when you’re photographing than when you’re not photographing.” Also true. I say, “There is no perfect camera” but the Nikon V1 comes pretty close (for my current needs anyway). A camera is a tool to capture the world, not an idol to be worshipped. Give it a try; great photos are waiting. Did I mention that it’s fun to use?

PS: Don’t be a hater, keep the comments positive ;-)

From Steve: Thanks Craig for this GREAT article on the V1! For all of the readers, do not forget to head over to youtube and enter my Nikon V1 set giveaway! 


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