Mar 252014


The versatile Nikon V2 does South Africa!

By Aspen Z

Hey guys, greetings from Singapore. I’d first like to thank Steve for this opportunity and for having one of the most interesting and useful photography website around. Qualitative websites displaying such passion and enthusiasm (albeit too much at times, haha) for photography are difficult to come about and it’s really quite something.

When I first had serious interest in photography, I decided then to pick up a mirrorless camera in hope that it’d ease me into the bulky DSLRs someday as I acquired and honed my technique. Fast forward a year and a half and I’ve 5 native CX lenses and 2 DX/FX lenses, with no intention to ‘upgrade’ to a bulky DSLR. In fact, the latter two were bought solely for use on the V2 (previously V1) since I don’t own any other camera system. The V2 has shown time and again that it’s the only camera I need and its being mirrorless has no bearing on the type of photos since it handles any situation thrown at it well!


Naturally, you can imagine my disappointment as I waited, fingers crossed, only to see no mention of a V3 in the pipeline as Photoplus and CP+ wrapped up. Swarmed by doom and gloom threads alongside bleak prophecies gleaned through the careful choice of words from Nikon executives, I still took comfort in a fact- the V2 produces decent photos for my use and until it runs its course in shutter actuations, there’s no need to panic sell or even decide on further action, be it a change of systems (Sony Ax000, perhaps? Waits to be seen.) or getting another Nikon 1 camera. (UPDATE: The V3 has been announced)

To date, the V2 has covered more scenarios imaginable within the scope of a single camera, from landscapes to indoor performances, birds in flight (minimally, since I can’t seem to find an adequate birding location in Singapore!) to the F1 night race and more recently, the entirety of my South Africa trip.


I admit to being a bit paranoid, fearing that I’d miss out on shots unless I’ve all my lenses (minus the 10-30mm kit lens) with me. Fortunately for me the Nikon 1 lenses are small and lightweight; the 18.5, 32, 6.7-13mm and 30-110mm combined weigh a mere 20 grams more than just the 595 grams 85f/1.4! Every little bit helps, since all 6 lenses plus accessories become a noticeable 2.5kg that I’ve to lug around from my shoulder all day. If you don’t know what it’s like to walk about in an oppressively muggy climate all year round, let me assure you that any amount of mental preparation and fortitude can be worn thin by a grating load on your shoulder. It’s only so lucky that I don’t have to bring out the DX/FX lenses all the time. Granted, the South African summer was pleasantly warm and dry, with nary a cloud to be seen for most days, and that became less of an issue.


What did become an issue was the unrelenting UV, making photo composition from the LCD screen downright impossible. At times, I found myself instinctively lowering my eyes to the viewfinder, only to realize there wasn’t one since I was helping my friend take a family photo with the dreaded EOS-M. To those saying autofocus speed doesn’t matter, imagine a situation where a group of people are (im)patiently waiting in eye-watering sunlight for the shutter to go off and heaven forbid someone blinks or moves and I’ve to go through the arduous process again. Really makes me miss the V2- eye to EVF, compose, snap and there you have it, with the only limiting factor being me. Oh, and, because our families decided on joining a group tour, time actually is limited. The insanely speedy autofocus in both AF-S and AF-C makes the V2 a joy to use and you’d likely never experience the sinking feeling of uncertainty (will I miss the moment?) when a difficult situation presents itself. At times, it certainly feels like you can’t do any better with DSLRs apart from professional models.



Detractors of the Nikon 1 cameras are always quick to point out how limiting a small sensor can be but sometimes those claims are downright specious. Pointing out the supposedly atrocious dynamic range is a favourite, but in practice I’ve found it more than capable of handling a midday sun landscape scenario. The 6.7-13mm captured the Union buildings in Pretoria just right, showcasing the blend of colours from the ochre steps in shadow to the puffy cumulus clouds. Table mountain posed an even greater challenge as the featureless skies did nothing for the immense amount of sunlight. As most of the best views featured the glaring sun in them, I was forced to crop out huge swaths of details ruined by flare and burnt highlights. Even the ocean was affected and it wasn’t a pleasant sight despite recovering quite a fair bit of details in post-processing. Nevertheless, areas of the photos unexposed to the sun directly in them had a lot of headroom in terms of post-processing, and I was quite pleased with that. Dynamic range isn’t what you can get with the likes of D800 but it is in no way bad. Better yet, I’ve seen people with so much to say only to offset the difference by pumping contrast or saturation sky high. Surely that’s wastage of dynamic range?




The 1/16000 shutter also came in very useful, since it negated the need for ND filters while shooting wide open with the 18f/1.8 and 32f/1.2. Which brings me to the point of DOF equivalency. People lament that you can’t get enough subject separation but really, is it always that the ultra-shallow centimetres deep DOF turns out desirable? Most primes for bigger sensor cameras need to be stopped down to be sharper anyway, and in comparison, the 18.5f/1.8 and 32f/1.2 are tack-sharp even wide open, especially the latter. If you do portrait/model shots often, you’d realize the benefits of a full-frame camera but in general cases background distances and focal lengths have bigger bearing on DOF.


The V2 is simply great in terms of handling. It feels small yet provides a firm grip with its design and doesn’t look half as ugly in real life as photos would have you believe. Unlike the EOS-M which has a slippery feel and almost feels like a handphone camera in use, you’re unlikely to drop the V2. Hell, I’ve even mastered the art of changing lenses albeit precariously (something I make sure to do often) while walking and talking, with a mere two fingers like a vice grip on the small lens when detaching and swapping over the back lens cap, all made possible by the generous grip on the V2. The menu system is uncluttered and straightforward and with the function button able to make changes to stuff like white balance and iso, you’d be done with most changes in a few short seconds. Also important is the ‘secured-ness’ of the camera. Having handled an EM-1 and the Sony A7, I found the excessively responsive shutter button difficult to half-press without accidentally triggering a shot too early and the battery compartment flap flimsy, respectively. Don’t even get me started on the many confusing dials on the EM-1, if you like that type of stuff you’d love that camera.


Desiring a do-it-all system, I picked up the 85f/1.4 as a means of fast telephoto for the V2. At about 230mm on full frame, I decided it’d do the job right for safari (then again I had two other longer telephotos ever ready). Chromatic aberrations are visible and it’s not quite as sharp as I’m used to wide open but it does the job perfectly. Focus is fast (not quite like native lenses though) and I found the bokeh pleasing, especially so for me around the foreground of the staring zebra. With a stroke of luck, a giraffe fleetingly crossed into the ‘frame’ of an arresting backdrop and I quickly snapped off shots as the impatient jeep driver decided we had one too many sightings of yet another giraffe and started accelerating. At 15fps with swift autofocus, I probably had the highest chance of nailing the shot among all those in the jeep. The generous buffer of the V2 also means there’s no need to hesitate and you can deflate the shutter button confidently at length (not that I do that often). By the way, I heavily recommend a 95mb/s sd card for V2 users for optimal performance because it is noticeable if you want the job done quick. If it seems like overkill, remember it’s a small price to pay to get the best out of the V2.




It’s not that I can’t find issues with the V2 though. I wish it has better high iso performance, because as of right now, iso 1600 and beyond requires careful post-processing to yield desirable images (for me). It’d be great to have it improved a stop or so with the next generation. At lower iso, I’ve some photos with, ironically, more noise in the final output since I cannot be bothered to reduce it after sharpening to taste. Be warned that the V2 has noise in certain lighting even at the base iso of 160 and if you’re after smooth creamy files you’re most definitely not going to get that. What you will get is a sensor that punches above its weight in details especially with ‘just’ 14mp. More importantly though, the V2 tracks well even under challenging lighting, like when I had the chance to see a performance at the Lesedi cultural village the V2 simply kept focus without fail despite erratic movements. And surely, the first half of the battle is nailing focus even before iso woes. Another thing that annoys me about the V2 is the lack of a customizable autofocus box size; I found myself sometimes focusing on backgrounds and other elements when dealing with smaller subjects due to imprecision. Finally, much can be done about the lack of bracketing and other features like focus peaking since the issue here lies with Nikon’s ineptitude.


The V2 is most definitely not a perfect camera. It has its share of problems, some of which downright avoidable, but it’s the only camera that fits the bill for my needs short of going to a cumbersome DSLR, and for that, I’d tolerate the expressed grievances without a second thought.

For more photos like these, take a look here:

Apr 102011

Here I am in my hotel winding down my two days in Cape Town South Africa. THIS has been the absolute best stop of the Seal tour over the past month, for me at least. HANDS DOWN! I mean, I could live here and be happy. The weather is gorgeous, the people are friendly and happy, the food is delicious, and the beach…WOW. The beach is incredible. Food and clothes also cost about HALF of what it would cost me back home in the USA. Yes my friends, Cape Town is a place to visit for a week or two, chill out and just unwind.

We only have 2 1/2 days here total so I am making the best of it while I can.

Seal and the guys doing sound check at the private show last night

Seal played a private show here last night so it was a very small group, and a small club style venue and stage. Even though it was a much different vibe it was still a blast! Not only did I meet yet another reader of this blog, who happened to be the paid photographer for the person throwing the party, I also met another awesome photographer who was shooting the whole event. I had a lovely time. After the show me and a couple of the guys went for a late night snack and beer, and the streets were hopping, even at 2AM.

But let me rewind a bit. Earlier in the day, after the guys did their soundcheck, we took a quick walk to the beach and I brought along the Leica M9 (In stock at DALE photo now) and Noctilux f/0.95 ASPH, as well as the Sony NEX-5 and Leica adapter.

The M9 and Noctilux on the Beach

Next 5 shots, the M9 and Nocti/35 Cron combo on the beach in Cape Town – click images for larger and better versions

The next two shots are from the M9 and 35 Summicron

and back to the Nocti…

THE NEX-5 with Leica Glass…

We all know how good the Leica M9 and Nocti combo is, but how about the little NEX-5? I did not shoot it too much last night but did manage a few shots. I prefer shooting my M as that is what I am so used to, but the NEX-5, at $699, did a decent job. It will not..and I repeat, WILL NOT beat or even challenge an M9 file (I tried really hard) for sharpness, detail and snap but at 1/10th the cost of an M9, and being able to use Leica lenses on it, the NEX-5 is actually a tiny little masterpiece of a camera. The color can be gorgeous…

The next three images were all with the NEX-5 and Noctilux ASPH

SHOWTIME with the NEX and the M9

The show last night was intimate, personal and was also a private show for a great guy who has been a HUGE Seal fan since day one. The crowd was small but everyone had a great time. I mostly shot the M9 and Nocti as this gig was low lights. No huge stage or elaborate lighting setup so I had to go with what worked, and the Nocti just works!

I did take a few with the NEX-5 and Leica 50 Summicron and I really like the results. One thing to note…I shot the M9 and Nocti combo at ISO 2500 in B&W JPEG mode. What you see here are all OOC JPEGS that I tinted with a Sepia tone. ISO 2500, low light…where is the noise?

My goal for the night was to capture the energy, emotion, excitement, sweat, grit, and passion of the show. As I already mentioned, there were two other photographers there and I am excited to see some of their images as I always love seeing how others “see” through the lens.

Hope you enjoy the shots.

First, the M9 images from the show…

The M9 and Nocti ASPH wide open…

I always love the way the Noctilux renders every little detail.

Even though this was a small private show, the guys took this on with full energy

Sid tearing up the drums…

Probably my fave shot of the night. I went behind the drums to get this one.

Gus on guitar…

Always love taking shots of the crowd. This is a direct OOC, JPEG. Again, as with ALL of the others, ISO 2500.

This one was underexposed and I brought it out which is why there is noise in this one. With the M9, even in  VERY low light, if you expose properly you will get a semi clean file even at max ISO. Underexpose though, and you are in trouble. Even so, I LOVE this shot!

One thing I learned from shooting Leica at live performances. You do NOT always have to be up close to get a nice performance shot! If I had a SLR and Zoom I would have been trying to zoom in here. Nope, just me and a 50 is all I need to cover a full show. Bringing the audience and surroundings in to the image gives the viewer a better sense of what it was like to be there.

Audience Participation is always fun…

Mark Summerlin was rocking last night…

The friendliest, most cheerful guy I know…Steve (Sid) always has a blast when he he hams it up for me while playing.

A happy fan snaps a shot of Seal…

After the show Seal always meets with the fans.

Some NEX-5 Shots with the Leica Summicron 50, all at f2

Ok, so some of you asked for me to shoot the NEX, with Leica glass at a Seal show. I admit, I BARELY used it and of the 20-30 shots I took, I really only liked 2-3. Here they are…

The NEX does great at high ISO as well though the files are not nearly as “Robust” as the M9 files. Also, these did not look nearly as good in B&W as the ones from the M9. Why is that?

The rich color from the NEX-5 even at ISO 1600

Focus was hit or miss with the all manual Leica lens. Using the LCD magnification would have solved that but man, it’s a slow process during a live performance that would lead to many missed shots. I can focus 5X as fast (and with 98% accuracy) with the M9 as I can manually with the NEX/Leica combo. Also, with the NEX sensor, there seems to be less “WOW” than with the M9 sensor…

Thoughts on the NEX-5 and Leica combo

The NEX and Leica combo can give better color and image quality over the two Kit lenses that Sony offer BUT spending the big bucks on Leica glass for your NEX will not get you into Leica territory when it comes to flat out IQ. It’s slower to focus than an M, has less sharp and dynamic files than an M, and in all honesty, the M9 does just as good as ISO 2500 as the NEX does in the same range. Still, for $600 the NEX is a little powerhouse that is one of the coolest buys at the moment (still) for those not wanting the bulk of a DSLR and for those who do not want to spend the big bucks on Leica.

Still, I can’t see myself going out with the NEX and Leica glass when I own an M9. If I did not own an M9, I do not think I would spend $2-$3000 on a Leica lens to use with my NEX camera. I’d probably go for a Zeiss 50 Sonnar in the $1000 range instead.

I’ve written several times about this little NEX but I still enjoy it. Also, don’t forget J-Tec! They offer some unique accessories for your NEX and they are a site sponsor!

Where to next?

We are leaving Cape Town in a few hours and heading to Switzerland for 3-4 days before heading home. I will try to shoot the NEX more with the Noctilux in the next few days. Also, the Matterhorn mountain is calling my name..should be fun. Stay tuned!



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