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Friday, 06 December 2013 13:05

Why I bought a Nikon One for video

Written by Mike
The full Nikon One kit - camera, microphone, lenses, flash, filters - the lot.  And it weighs just 2.7kg... The full Nikon One kit - camera, microphone, lenses, flash, filters - the lot. And it weighs just 2.7kg...

I’d had a growing itch to play with video.  I’ve shot stills for almost 50 years, but as you look around, the future is video.  At that time, my DSLR workhorse was a Nikon D700, and a very fine camera it is.  But it won’t shoot video.  So how could I add a quality video capability?

The answer was a Nikon One Series V1 (and if I was making the choice again today, it would be a V2).  How did I come to that choice?

Small and light

There’s an old saying that the best camera is the camera you’ve got with you.

The Nikon D700 is a very fine camera, but team it up with 17-35, 28-70 and 70-210 f2.8 lenses, a flash and the other odds and sods you take along, and I was looking at a rucksack weighing about 15kg.  In other words, something you have to consciously decide to take with you.  That’s great for a planned outing, but it’s not so great for the impromptu opportunities that crop up as you’re out.

There is of course a camera I’ve always got with me, and that’s my phone.  In my case, a Windows Nokia 925.  Nokia do bang on about the high quality video and stills the 925 can create, and with some justification.  The results are perfectly usable for a lot of the quick opportunities that spring up in front of you.

But that left a big hole in capability for something that will go most places, most of the time, and produce top notch results – both still and video - all the time.  The answer was a Nikon One.

Nikon One

“Never miss a moment with our advanced interchangeable lens cameras” is how Nikon describe the One Series.  I wouldn’t go that far, but I am mightily impressed.

For some reason, the Nikon One Series has had a very bad press.  I’d say with no justification whatsoever, and usually spouted by people who’ve never seen one, never mind about having tried one.  The reality is this is a very good camera indeed.  For serious work forget the Nikon One J series, get the V series.

Yes it’s got a small sensor.  But at the same time, Nikon have done a brilliant job to extract every last piece of goodness they can from the sensor.  And they’ve done so in a way that’s blazingly fast.

Focus speed is right up there with the Nikon D700.  The Nikon One focuses so fast by instantly switching between a 73-point phase-detection AF system and a 135-point contrast-detect AF system.  It rarely misses in any light.

It’ll capture full-resolution images at up to 15 fps while continuously focussing, or if you focus on one spot, it’ll capture full-resolution images at up to 60 fps.  Show me any DSLR that comes close. For a guy who shoots high speed trains and high speed motor sport, this is awesome.  I ALWAYS get the shot in exactly the right place – how could I miss when shooting at those frame rates?

If you want all the fancy ‘Scene’ modes, chose a J Series.  But as a photographer, all you really want is Program / Shutter Priority / Aperture Priority or Manual.  And with the V Series, that’s what you get.

Interchangeable lenses

Lenses are interchangeable.  I use two lenses with my Nikon V1.  The wide angle zoom is a Nikkor VR 6.7-13mm f/3.5-5.6 (approx. 18mm-30mm) and the telephoto zoom is a Nikkor VR 10-100mm f/4.5-5.6 PD-Zoom (approx. 28mm-280mm).  In terms of optical performance, both are very good.  The 6.7-13 is possibly the sharpest lens I’ve ever used.

The 10-100 telephoto is especially interesting in that it has a powered zoom to make smooth video zooms.  Nice…

Every camera has its Achilles Heel, and with the Nikon V1, it’s low light performance.  Or maybe I’m just ultra-critical after the D700 which excelled in this respect.  Don’t mishear me.  The V1 isn’t bad - it will deliver nice pictures and video in low light.  You just need to work a bit harder to make it happen.

The best bit?

It’s small!  Very often I carry just the V1 body with the 10-100 lens attached.  There’s not much that body/lens combo won’t deal with.  And it’s small enough and light enough to go with you most places without hassle.  The reality means it tends to come along too, much more so than the Nikon D700 ever did.

When I do want the full set up, it all fits nicely into a LowePro Slingshot 101AW.  And I mean the full set up comprising camera body, RODE microphone (that’s pretty much as big as the camera), two lenses spanning 18mm to 280mm, flash, grad filters and all other odds and sods that find their way into a camera bag.  And you can even hang a little tripod on the side of the bag.

Then sling it over your shoulder and off you go; small, accessible and just 2.7kg.  That setup goes many more places than the D700’s 15kg setup ever went…

Get pics where you shouldn’t

The Nikon D700 looks every millimetre the professional camera it is.  While the Nikon One looks like some sort of inexpensive point-and-shoot.  That has both downsides and upsides.

The downside is its difficult doing a professional shoot with the client present with the Nikon One.  They look at your little camera and think it’s a point-and-shoot too, and so your skill as a photographer is instantly called into question.  They expect to see big, black and complex, and that’s what they’re happy to pay for.  So in those circumstances I use the Nikon D700 (but often only when they’re watching).

The upside is you don’t look like a photographer.  Earlier this year I was shooting pictures at a railway location considered a bit sensitive with lots of signs clearly forbidding photography.  But nobody batted an eyelid at the tourist with his point and shoot and I got all the pictures I wanted with no hassle whatsoever.

Video

I wanted a camera to shoot video, and the Nikon One does that beautifully.  In fact it can produce so much quality that you end up with humungously large files - files so big that my previous laptop didn’t have enough horsepower to do anything with them.

Subsequently I’ve found a compromise between ultimate video quality and buying a new, more powerful laptop that means I get files that are easier to manage and edit.

In some ways this reminds me of stills.  People go out and buy a 20 megapixel camera because they want quality.  But then they want to put their pictures on a website.  So a (say) 4,000 pixel wide file is instantly reduced to (say) 800px for the website – and in the process 80% of the data is thrown away.

There’s a parallel with video.  People go out and shoot 1080p video at 60fps, and then upload the video to YouTube where people tend to watch it at 480p or maybe 720p at about 30fps.  The size reduction is chucking away 80% of the ‘quality’, the speed reduction a further 50% of the ‘quality’.  So when watched by the typical YouTube surfer, only 10% of the ‘quality’ of your original video is actually being used.

I put copies of my videos at full resolution on my tablet so that I can enjoy them to their utmost whenever I want and also share them with people I’m with.

We’re drifting off subject here, the bottom line is the Nikon V1 is a very capable video camera indeed.

Expensive?

The so-called experts say the Nikon One series is expensive.  Maybe they're falling into the trap of thinking that because its smaller it should be cheaper, but I think they''re wrong.  For me, the V1 represented excellent value for money, in comparison with what else I might have bought at the time.

As a headline comparison, as I write one of the leading UK retailers is offering the Nikon 1 V2 with 10-30mm and 30-110mm lenses at £799.00.  Compare that with a Nikon D7100 DSLR and AF-S DX 18-105mm lens at £952.00.  When you take emotion out of the equation, the Nikon One represents good value for money.

Conclusions

My initial drive was to shoot video.  As I started to research how best to achieve that, the Compact System Camera approach made a lot of sense.  Nikon’s Compact System Camera in the form of the Nikon One Series is a truly great camera that’s small enough and light enough to go most places. (And I am a Nikon Fanboy).

The outcome in the form of pulling together my own Nikon One ‘system’ to suit my photography has ticked all the boxes.  All I need to do now is master how best to exploit video as a medium.

Mike

Mike

Mike McCormac has been a photographer since about ten years old.  He's a Fellow of the Royal Photographic Society, and splits his time between living in Olney in the United Kingdom and a village in the hills near Paphos in Cyprus.

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