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: