Think Tank Photo

Thursday, October 16, 2014

A Love/Hate Relationship with Nikon 1

jcridley@gmail.com

It’s amusing when I pull out a Nikon1 J3 and stick it on my 300 f2.8…the sneers, the laughs, the “what the hell is that” remarks….but the things these little camera bodies can do…
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The Nikon 1 system is a interchangeable lens mount system developed by Nikon for its Nikon CX format mirrorless interchangeable-lens cameras. The Nikon 1 series was first introduced in 2011. Initial reaction after the debut of the system was widespread disappointment. The new cameras were quickly dismissed as glorified point and shoot cameras with a clunky interface. However, the quirky cameras’ lightning quick autofocus, high frame per second rate, and silent shutter have emerged as assets.
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When released, I initially agreed with most of the reviews, but a clearance sale caused me to take the plunge and purchase a J1 with a kit lens for $199. At the time I thought it would make an excellent time lapse device with its built in intervalometer.
However, when the camera arrived, the camera’s intervalometer wouldn’t shoot when set to shoot frames faster than one every five seconds. Turns out Nikon limited the camera’s ability to do so in the firmware, for reasons unknown. Also, there is no external connectivity with the J series, so there is no possibility of attaching an external intervalometer.
Then my thoughts turned to Nikon’s FT-1 adapter, which allows Nikon’s mainstream F-mount lenses to be attached to the CX sensor based Nikon 1 bodies. After purchasing a FT-1, I found that the ability to continuously focus on a moving subject had been disabled in the firmware.
I finally hit a home run with the tiny J1 after having it converted to infrared. Businesses including Life Pixel and Digital Silver Imaging will convert DSLR cameras to infrared for around $300-$400. After using this technician to convert a J1, I had a camera, lens AND an infrared conversion for about the same price.
"The U Statue" on the campus of the University of Miami, shot with an infrared converted Nikon 1 J1 with a 20mm f2.8 lens.
“The U Statue” on the campus of the University of Miami, shot with an infrared converted Nikon 1 J1 with a 20mm f2.8 lens.
After thinking the Nikon 1 was just going to be an infrared gimmick in my toolbox, Nikon released a firmware update to the FT-1 adapter, allowing for continuous focus. The system once again could be considered for use as an extreme focal length device.
Due to the 2.7x crop factor, a Nikon 1 body mounted on a Nikon 300mm 2.8 lens via the FT-1 adapter with 1.4x converter and lens hood attached creates an effective 1134mm f4 setup, albeit an odd looking one.
Nikon 1 J3, 300mm f2.8, and a 1.4x extender for an effective focal length of 1134mm at f4, or as I call it,  an "extreme focal device."
Nikon 1 J3, 300mm f2.8, and a 1.4x extender for an effective focal length of 1134mm at f4, creating, as I call it, an “extreme focal device.”
After purchasing a Nikon 1 J3 body to replace the converted to infrared J1, I put the above combination to the test last weekend during the Arkansas State @ Miami football game and the Brown @ Florida Atlantic women’s soccer match.
Duke Johnson attempts to elude two Arkansas State tacklers. Shot from approximately 80 yards away with a Nikon 1 J3, 300mm f2.8, and a 1.4x extender for an effective focal length of 1134mm at f4.
Miami Hurricanes running back Duke Johnson attempts to elude two Arkansas State tacklers. Shot from approximately 80 yards away with a Nikon 1 J3, 300mm f2.8, and a 1.4x extender for an effective focal length of 1134mm at f4.

Hurricanes offensive line coach Art Kehoe on the sidelines. Shot from approximately 50 yards away with a Nikon 1 J3, 300mm f2.8, and a 1.4x extender for an effective focal length of 1134mm at f4.
Miami Hurricanes offensive line coach Art Kehoe on the sidelines. Shot from approximately 50 yards away with a Nikon 1 J3, 300mm f2.8, and a 1.4x extender for an effective focal length of 1134mm at f4.

Florida Atlantic Women’s Soccer head coach Patrick Baker gives his club instructions during a break in the action. Shot from approximately 50 yards away with a Nikon 1 J3, 300mm f2.8, and a 1.4x extender for an effective focal length of 1134mm at f4.
Florida Atlantic Women’s Soccer head coach Patrick Baker gives his club instructions during a break in the action. Shot from approximately 50 yards away with a Nikon 1 J3, 300mm f2.8, and a 1.4x extender for an effective focal length of 1134mm at f4.

Florida Atlantic goalkeeper Sydney Drinkwater in action against Brown University. Shot from approximately 100 yards away with a Nikon 1 J3, 300mm f2.8, and a 1.4x extender for an effective focal length of 1134mm at f4. Florida Atlantic goalkeeper Sydney Drinkwater in action against Brown University. Shot from approximately 100 yards away with a Nikon 1 J3, 300mm f2.8, and a 1.4x extender for an effective focal length of 1134mm at f4.
Florida Atlantic goalkeeper Sydney Drinkwater in action against Brown University. Shot from approximately 100 yards away with a Nikon 1 J3, 300mm f2.8, and a 1.4x extender for an effective focal length of 1134mm at f4.
With the extreme focal length, fast responsive auto focus and rapid continuous frame rate of 15 fps the Nikon 1 J3 is rather adept at covering sports action.  At such a extreme focal distance, the biggest challenge was trying to follow a subject during play by using the rear screen as there are no viewfinders on the J series bodies. The slightest movement of the rig can cause you to lose track of the subject rather easily. A V series body with an optical viewfinder may help alleviate that challenge. This little system even came in handy while shooting my Dynamic Waterfalls project this past June. After hiking to Blue Hen Falls in Cuyahoga Valley National Park early one morning I pulled my full frame Nikon body and 16-35mm f4 from the backpack to find the lens completely fogged over. After waiting 20 minutes the fog hadn’t receded. My J1 however, with much less optic real estate, was clear as can be. Did I mention it shoots video too?
Blue Hen Falls, Cuyahoga Valley National Park, Ohio. Nikon 1 J1 + 10mm f2.8.
Blue Hen Falls, Cuyahoga Valley National Park, Ohio. Nikon 1 J1 + 10mm f2.8.
In the end, the Nikon 1 series is an asset to my camera bag as a sports shooter, giving me extreme reach in daylight sporting events to get tight shots of coaches, action on the other end of the field, tight goalkeeper shots in soccer, and tighter shots of throwers during track meets. Sure, I could switch to Canon and pick up their legendary 1200mm f5.6 behemoth, but this setup is slightly cheaper. As a landscape shooter, I now have an infrared option that is small, inexpensive, and easy to pack alongside my regular setup. As a tourist, I have a small system that is as easy to whip out of my daypack as an iPhone, with better optics. I just may get along with this system after all.
Miami Hurricanes wide receiver Phillip Dorsett celebrates with assistant coach Brennan Carroll after scoring a touchdown. Shot from approximately 80 yards away with a Nikon 1 J3, 300mm f2.8, and a 1.4x extender for an effective focal length of 1134mm at f4.
Miami Hurricanes wide receiver Phillip Dorsett celebrates with assistant coach Brennan Carroll after scoring a touchdown. Shot from approximately 80 yards away with a Nikon 1 J3, 300mm f2.8, and a 1.4x extender for an effective focal length of 1134mm at f4.