Nikon V3 and AW1 and Floating Lanterns by Joe Marquez


Nikon V3 and AW1 and Floating Lanterns

By Joe Marquez – 

I took a Nikon V3 and 32mm f1.2 lens and Nikon AW1 to the Lantern Floating Hawaii Ceremony at Ala Moana Beach Park in Honolulu. This event has become a Memorial Day fixture in Hawaii and is attended by nearly 50,000 people.

The ceremony is quite beautiful and culminates at sunset with the placing of approximately 6,000 candlelit floating lanterns in the calm water along the beach. Each lantern contains a handwritten personal message to deceased loved ones from family and friends. This is a very emotional event – and a beautiful one to photograph.

Photographically, the ceremony presents several challenges. First of all, some of the best photo ops are in the water so one has to be quite careful with expensive camera equipment. Secondly, the wind direction determines whether lanterns congregate near shore or float away toward the ocean – so some years longer reach is quite useful. One year I used a Nikon 200mm f2 lens as the wind whisked the lanterns away. Finally, over the years more and more serious photographers attend the event – and along with the improved low light capability of all cameras and even cell phones, many more casual photographers and attendees are in the water jostling for position to get the very best angles. For this last reason I stopped attending years ago.

However, this year at the very last moment I decided to photograph the event. Unfortunately, the forecast was 50% chance of rain and I didn’t want to risk a DLSR (D4, Df, D800), so I thought this might be an opportunity to test my newly acquired Nikon AW1 and 11-27.5mm lens. Unfortunately, the waterproof 11-27.5 (30-74mm equivalent full frame FOV) is only f3.5 wide open so I wanted something faster and longer. I decided to take my V3 and 32 f1.2 (85mm equivalent full frame FOV) as well.

In my Think Tank Mirrorless Mover 20 bag – which is absolutely superb – I carried the V3/32 combo and extra batteries in waterproof pouches and the AW1. Fortunately the V3 and AW1 use the same battery. How did that happen Nikon? My plan was if it rained I would only shoot with the AW1, if it didn’t rain I would carry the V3 around my neck and the AW1 with a wrist strap.

I arrived quite late, just as it began raining so out came the AW1. The menu is quirky and the ergonomics are poor, but it was wet and this is why I bought the camera. I struggled with the menu but eventually found the right settings. Took a few photos then the rain stopped. Turns out no more rain the rest of the evening. I took out the V3/32 combo and snapped away. This combo is blazing fast and at the beginning of the ceremony there was plenty of light.

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I worked my way through the crowd, into the main staging area where people were writing words, drawing pictures and decorating their lanterns and eventually arrived at the shore. Conditions changed quickly as bright sun turned to dark cloud cover.

As quickly as light conditions changed so did the mood of the crowd. When I arrived, most people were enjoying Memorial Day cooking, eating, swimming, playing sports, listening to music and talking story. However, as the sun went down and the ceremony began, the mood changed to quiet somber reflection and lots of flowing tears.

At sunset, the lanterns are placed in the water in one of two ways: by individuals at the shore or by volunteers on a fleet of outrigger canoes which each carry hundreds of lanterns. Each lantern has a personal hand written message – all of which are quite heartfelt. My wife cried when she read some of the messages in my photos. Very powerful, very emotional.

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Throughout the fast-moving ceremony I continued taking photographs at the shore, pretty much using the AW1 for wide and the V3/32 for reach. With my Nikon DSLRs I would shoot manual knowing I had lots of leeway in post processing if my settings were off. However, I know the V3 and AW1 do not have anywhere near the same leeway as a full frame DSLR so I was hoping the camera would properly expose as I was shooting in all directions under rapidly changing light. I set both cameras to aperture priority and auto iso. This turned out be a mistake because quite often the camera would drop shutter speed too low instead of increasing iso. Furthermore I had max iso at 800 instead of 3200 for much too long. Consequently, I ended up with lots of blurry images. My bad.

The lanterns floated out to sea fairly quickly so there was only a brief opportunity to get some angles I wanted. I was forced to wade out belly-button deep in order to get the shots. I tightened the camera bag close to my neck, held the V3 high in my left hand secured by a neck strap and the AW1 in my right hand secured by a wrist strap. I alternated between the EVF and tilting LCD of the V3 and dipped the AW1 in the ocean as needed. I don’t think I would be so audacious with my D4.

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Other than my auto iso mistake how did the cameras do? Well, I’ve included images for you to examine and here are some thoughts.

The AW1 was surprisingly effective. I was able to shoot in the rain at the beginning and dip the camera into the ocean to get some unique low angle shots. If it had rained at the event I may have been one of the few photographers (other than those with GoPros) capable of taking decent photos. The menu and ergonomics are quirky and frustrating but ultimately the AW1 was able to get the job done. Overall it kind of reminds me of the V1 in that you set up the camera and trust it to get the shot.

I’m a big fan of Nikon’s 32 lens and love shooting wide open at 1.2. The lens is small, fast, sharp and renders well. It will never replace my Nikon 85 f1.4 but it can certainly produce gorgeous images with surprisingly shallow DOF on Nikon’s tiny CX sensors. It did not let me down at the ceremony.

Obviously this is not a V3 review. However, I’ve been using the V3 for over a month and for me it is a worthy upgrade to the V1 (never owned the V2). More pixels, tiltable rear LCD, assignable function buttons are improvements I wanted and got. There are things I don’t like such as the switch to microSD and the limitation of 40 shots when shooting at high fps. Nevertheless, I’m pleased with the V3 because of its speed, accuracy and reach in a small, lightweight, silent package (can’t wait for surf season on the northshore). The V3, just like the V1 (and V2, I presume) is simply the best mirrorless camera I’ve ever used to capture a fleeting moment. This may be true in good light, but what about bad light?

This ceremony turned out to be an opportunity to test the V3/32 combo and AW1 in poor light. As darkness fell, both were able to focus well enough, however the V3 produced images much noisier than I expected and noisier than the AW1. Could it be the denser pixel count of the V3 18MP sensor or the result of Lightroom 5’s current lack of support for the V3? As of today LR5 uses a beta profile for the V3. I really don’t have an answer. I know these cameras with their tiny sensors are weakest in poor light, but sometimes out of necessity capabilities are pushed to and beyond the limit.

In summary, the image quality of the V3/32 combo and AW1 will never match that of a DSLR or mirrorless camera with a larger sensor – particularly in poor light. But how important is image quality and what is good enough? I tried to capture the mood and feel of the ceremony along with a few special moments. I certainly did not have the ideal setup and I made some mistakes. I leave it to viewers of my images to decide if I succeeded or not.

Beyond the technical aspects of the shoot what I remember most was the ceremony concluding and the sky having that last glimmer of light. As I stood waist deep in water, I looked out at thousands of beautiful lanterns in the ocean, took in a deep breath – and simply savored the moment.

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  1. Being almost a year of you owning the Nikon 1 V3, do you still like it? I have a D4s and a D810 but my longest lens for those is currently the 70-200 VRII. I like that I can get to 810mm with the Nikon 1 NIKKOR VR 70-300mm f/4.5-5.6 Lens on the V3 which would be awesome for some birding or catching my sons sports action way across the field. I am thinking of adding the V3 to my bag for not only the long reach of the 70-300 lens but also just to have a nice, small compact camera for walking around when I do not want to lug my heavy gear. Have you printed very large images with the V3?


  2. Joe, stunning images. I replaced my OMD EM5 with a Nikon V3 and 32 1.2 recently and really love the combo. Nikon really did some magic with the 1 series the color and tone is simply stunning in raw.

  3. Evocative images, individually and especially as a set. You captured the feeling, almost like what you, yourself, experienced when you simply put the cameras down and took it all in. I’m wondering if by chance the very things you might think are less than perfect in image quality for pixel peepers don’t in this case become a plus for mood. Doesn’t matter. Your photos carried me briefly away to a powerful scene. Thanks for sharing.

    • Carol, what a thoughtful post. I am most appreciative of your kind words. I agree that sometimes the less than perfect image can be quite evocative. Thank you.

      • Joe, you do yourself down. Your images are PERFECT in capturing the scene and mood of the event. It may be a cliche, but in photography, the image is everything. Subject, mood, atmosphere have nothing to do with the technical ability of the camera, but of the seeing eye of the photographer behind it.

  4. I think the photos, at least here at web size look amazing. I have the 32mm F1.2 and use it with my V1. It’s an incredible lens, you can see the quality in the photos. They made me get tears in my eyes as well, even though I didnt’ read the messages the photos had emotion and beauty and that what matters. The V3 and AW1 and you of course did very well to capture that.

  5. Nice job as usual Joe . Joe gets a lot out of the 1 series, bookmarked his page long ago . Beach & Surf photos are great .

  6. I enjoyed the photos and the subject matter. The technical quality of the shots was unimportant, especially at “web” size.

  7. Very good images. The V3 seems to produce images that look different from the V1 or is it the 32mm?

    • Thanks Anders. I’m the last person in the world to comment on image comparison between cameras. I’m just not a pixel peeper. However, I think images look about the same with the real benefit of more pixels in the V3. Makes for better details and cropping option. The 32 is special IMHO. Takes the Nikon One to a different level with a unique look. Very special lens.

  8. Joe, you produce some stunning work with each and every camera you use. Doesn’t matter if its a V1, V3, GR, RX1, Df, D4 or I’m quite sure your cell phone. In a sense, it makes your “review” type post sort of meaningless because all I can take away is that its the talent behind the lens that matters, not the camera. Keeps me from buying yet another new camera thinking that its going to magically give me amazing photos LOL. Cheers

    • Thanks Jeff. That’s a very nice compliment and I wish I really was that good (is that correct grammar?). As much as I enjoy shooting with the latest and greatest cameras and lenses (within reason), I love the challenge of shooting with a camera, any camera, and trying to come up with images that work. No magic camera, just magic moments.

  9. Thanks for sharing …learning about the ceremony is very moving….love those images later into the evening
    and the low horizon from the surface of the water viewpoint …thanks Joe.

    • I actually have a few images where I placed the camera and lens below the water surface but these aren’t included in this writeup. Very cool shots.

  10. Like you I also love the V series, see my V1 articles on this site. Beautiful images and I love your last comment that you actually stopped taking pictures to take in what was happening before you. So often us photographers miss the experiences of life by being too busy recording them for others!

  11. Joe. Great article and photos. I have to say that viewing the photos on my laptop I cannot see anything to complain about…..the N1s just get on with producing the shots, but then they deprive us of the fun of fiddling with settings!

  12. Thanks QuintaQuad, Una and Zlatko. I am most appreciative of your comments. Una, glad you did a bit more digging to learn more about the ceremony. One could easily write an article on just the ceremony itself and it’s purpose.

  13. Very nice images and article.

    As a Buddhist, I recognized elements of the ceremony and clicked through to read more about the symbolism and history of the event. I’d love to see a bit more of that in the article:

    “Entrance of Lanterns: Six large Parent Lanterns carry prayers for all spirits on behalf of all people.

    Prayers are offered for victims of war, water-related accidents, natural and manmade disasters, famine and disease.

    Gratitude is offered for all – even endemic, endangered and extinct plant and animal life. These lanterns are floated with the hope of encouraging harmony and peace.”

    Peace. M.

  14. Nice work. For me the images override any technical negatives such as noise and blur issues. Your skill in framing the images and POV overcome those technical aspects and allow the emotional content to shine, once again proving it’s the photographer, not the gear. Well done…

  15. A delightful selection of images taken under difficult conditions. The cameras used were obviously right for the job. After that it is down to the photographer. Well done.

  16. Joe,

    It is often said that size is everything. You’ve gone a long way to prove them wrong.

    When we stop “talking specs” and simply take photos, then it is the photos that speak for themselves. And this is what you have achieved here, IMHO. A very evocative set of images and well executed. Many thanks for sharing them.

  17. I browsed this set on your Flickr stream lately Joe and remember thinking ‘Wow!!!!!!’

    Great work!

    With the AF and lens selection I’ve always felt that the Nikon1 is really geared toward ‘reportage/documentary’ work and I think it ‘really shines’ for that type of photography (at least, in capable hands such as yours!)

    Looks like the 32mm performed spectacularly here. I agree about Nikon’s auto ISO implementation – could be much better on the Nikon1.

    Awesome shots!

  18. You knew what you wanted going into such a shoot and it shows…leaving aside the gear you were using and just considering the images captured…I would say you pulled powerful and evocative images from the event. Good to see the work of a fine photographer at work. Thank you.

  19. Great job Joe.I have the V3 and it doesn’t replace my X-T1 or RX1, but it does do a very good job for those quick fun shots. Small and mighty,I find the set-up and feel with the grip much more pleasing to me than the V1 or the Sony 6000 . Waiting on the 70-300 lens soon to come out. Remember this is the camera (V3) that got snubbed by Steve.

    • What I aid about the V3 was that it was not worth the cost upgrade from the V1 or even V2 as you lose the integrated EVF for an add on, get a smaller cheaper build, and it went to MICRO SD, which was the deal breaker FOR ME. Paying a premium for a camera that I did not like as much as my $230 V1 was a no go for me, but that does not mean it would be for you. IQ wise, all of the Nikon 1 cameras are VERY similar. Same color, same grain, same look. To me, the V3 was not enough to warrant that much of a price jump from the older models. To Joe it was. Everyone has their likes and dislikes but for me, no go on the V3. Still have my V1 and will get a V2 soon (maybe). Maybe even the silver AW1 as I held and messed with it and it felt amazing.

      • Steve, on this occasion I think you made a mistake.
        My wife wanted a V3 to replace her ageing V1. After reading your negative shoot-from-the-hip comment, I offered her a Leica T as an alternative. in the end she decided on the V3 and is delighted with it for many reasons: the 120 fps slomo, the much better image quality in both video, the excellent grip, and, and, and. She is happy to stick with the Nikon1 series. Goff

        • You could have gotten her a v2 for less. My issue with the V3 (and I stated this is MY issue for MY own tastes) is that it is smaller, cheaper, no longer has the built in EVF and takes MICRO SD, which I would never ever buy a camera that took Micro SD. For me, the V3 is a fail. I’d much rather have the V1 or V2. When I shot side by sides with the small J1 and V3, I preferred the J1 every time. The V1 can be found for $150, or $1k less than the V3. To me, the V3 is not worth a $1k upgrade for the reasons I mention (smaller, cheaper build (over V1), no integrated EVF, and Micro SD not to mention I prefer the IQ of the V1 and J1 and V2 over the V3. So, no mistake on my end. For me and my tastes anyway.

          • In fairness, I think if a Leica T kit is an alternative option for someone, then saving $1000 on a v1 perhaps isn’t a huge issue. I agree though regarding the micro SD and the EVF would of been much nicer if it could have tilted, like on the RX1’s external EVF. V3 does have some nice improvements though like touch screen, tilt LCD, wifi remote control and perhaps most important for me, getting rid of that silly mode switch on the back that i ALWAYS seem to knock into the wrong position. Worth the cost ? That is subjective of course. V1 certainly has the bang-for-the-buck going for it. I think V3 ideally should have matched the Sony CX sensor as well. the RX10/100 have a pretty decent high ISO advantage over the V3, and really the V3’s 10 to 18mp jump didn’t seem to improve much in the way of IQ aside from larger files, which was sort of a shame. Great FPS, but for me, better still quality trumps a machine gun, as I simply don’t need 40 frame burst that often. Fun at first, but then you come home with hundreds if not thousands of images to wade though. Got to remember how a 1 second push of the shutter takes at least 10 times as long to edit LOL

          • Your analysis is spot on jeff. I really enjoyed the tiltable EVF of the Rx1. I’m not a burst shooter even in ballet with jetes and other fast moving jumps, but there are instances where a quick burst is quite useful. It’s like having that little extra horsepower in reserve.

  20. I enjoy reading your narrative, but most of all viewing your images. you brought me to the ceremony as well. so, more than the gears and the technicalities, I find success in your photographs as they captured the event full of emotions. thanks for sharing.

  21. Gorgeous photos and I loved learning about this ceremony. I wish I were there. I have kind of a dumb and sensitive question too: After the ceremony, what happens to all those lanterns? Are they just left to drift out in the ocean? The human part of me feels the importance of such a ceremony. The ecological part me is hoping that these lanterns aren’t just more trash for the ocean to absorb, especially in a place as beautiful as Hawaii.

    • Good question David. Volunteers in canoes retrieve the lanterns in the water and bring them back to shore. They are recycled for the following year.

  22. I like almost all the pics, even the noisier one are someway nice to my eye, good job.

    But, i don’t want to be rude, but whats the purpose in spending a lot of money for Top level cameras(like D4 and D800), if you leave it at home for some rain chance?

    • Serious downpours all weekend. Forecast 50% chance of rain. Event was possibly going to be cancelled for first time in history. My decision to not take D4 or D800.

      • I thought that Nikons top cams were weatherproof. Otherwise go for Pentax K-3 and 18-135 zoom, weatherproof both.

          • Pentax K-3 and 18-135 zoom is weather proof not water proof. HUGE difference. You can not use it underwater and such.
            You can the AW1. There was nothing bad about the images. Did You actualy saw the photos? If not mentioned they were done with the Nikon 1 series, could You even tell?

      • Didn’t want to bring non-weatherproof cameras and lenses. But then brought a non-weatherproof V3 camera and lens after all, so I think I missed something.

        What happens to the little camera boats the next day? Do they just wash up somewhere else as beach litter, or are they contained and retrieved after the ceremony?

        • Ronin, I took the V3 just in case it didn’t rain. It was protected in a double sealed waterproof pouch. If it had rained I would have relied solely on the AW1. After the ceremony, the lanterns are retrieved by dozens of volunteers on outrigger canoes. They are returned to a staging area on the beach and recycled for the following year.

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