Low light photography with the Nikon V3
By Aspen Z
Hi Steve and Brandon, it’s great to be here again! The last time I posted was when I took the V2 to South Africa where it did the entirety of the trip. Since then, I’ve done many more excursions with it and from the tone of that post it shouldn’t be a surprise that I upgraded to the V3 as soon as it was out.
Most recently, I embarked on a solo trip to Norway with the primary intention of seeing (weather/solar activity permitting) the auroras- a phenomenon I’ve always been fascinated with since young and somewhat sceptical of. Dancing lights of varying colours? Hmm…
There was just a single snowy day spent in Stockholm mainly for ease of flights, but it turned out to be very interesting a place and I’m definitely gonna give it a proper visit someday. For some reason, none of the locals knew where the Nobel Museum was and I found it in a square after crossing a secluded alleyway in Gamla Stan.
Arriving in Tromsø, with skies deep blue, I was abruptly reminded of the possible challenges ahead; polar night just ended and there was no true day to speak of. It meant working with ISOs I’m not usually comfortable with on the V3. I’d admit that there were at least two occasions before the trip I hesitated getting another camera (namely D750) so that I wouldn’t need to fret about noise. Besides, I’ve never photographed the auroras before and common advice online suggested full-frame cameras, fast lenses and possible weather-proofing. There was no telling if the V3 would fail me on multiple levels.
I did learn a few things, some are tips from the perspective of a first-time aurora shooter, others just discoveries in general.
1) Unofficially, the V3 handles up to -16°C or heavy snow with no problem. I frankly believe most modern cameras can perform in conditions beyond their ‘limits’, much like how the Galaxy S5 can go underwater but isn’t given a special mention for it likely due to unnecessary warranty claims.
2) Test run a shot, i.e. do the highest ISO possible on your camera with a shorter shutter speed and adjust as needed. Suggestions of ISOs, exposure times and other aspects vary wildly from site to site and there’s no telling what light conditions were present or lens they used for such settings. Unfortunately for the V3, the sightings were during the new moon so the landscapes were very dark. Worse still, there’s not a fast ultra-wide lens for the N1 and it meant working with a relatively slow f/3.5. 90% of my shots warranted 15-30 seconds shutter speed with ISOs 1600/3200. These settings are typically not recommended due to noise (and they’re referring to full-frame!) but I knew trying ISO 800 and pushing up exposure was much worse in the V3. My focus was manually adjusted to infinity dialled back a notch. Be sure to check beforehand how long a shutter speed you can pull off before star trails become a problem.
2) The V3’s virtual level was immensely helpful (note: not the same as grid lines!). Except for the occasional compositional advantage, I couldn’t afford to crop with such light conditions/settings and wasting it on straightening horizons is entirely avoidable! Also, the tiltable touchscreen meant easy adjustments and no need for remote shutter.
3) The batteries drain faster but no faster than constantly using AF-C for motorsports/birding (in terms of duration). Warming up a frigid battery did restore some of its charge. I got through a night with two batteries, each left with the final bar of charge.
Autofocus, as with its predecessors, was a joy to use and very swift even in poor light. At no point did the V3 falter and the magical twilight colours of Tromsø were captured accurately. The N1 lenses in general have stunningly good stabilization (rivalling IBIS?) and typically give you 5 stops of advantage (with the infrequent 6-7 stops from time to time on telephoto lenses). Viewing Tromsø after a cable car ride, I decided to settle with the 32 prime for composition, forcing ISO 6400 due to no stabilization, and it was then I really missed the lenses with VR. Reine was my last destination and I was greeted with much milder weather. The days were just a bit longer and the bright red Rorbu cabins with seaweed sprawling along the intertidal zone lent contrast to the dull light and snowy mountains.
The auroras were indescribably amazing, with many colours in every form and shape, and they would disappear, capriciously, at times, only to reappear with greater intensity than before. They renewed in me a sense of awe so rarely experienced after childhood. My photos might have been better with a full-frame camera but I’m pleased with the V3’s output and glad that it shared such an experience with me.
More photos to be found here: