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Old 10-26-2012   #1
xpanded
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Please wait responding until THE END post have been uploaded. There will be at least 11 parts.

UPDATE ON 9mar2013: I had not noticed before, but someone (the mods? me?) has edited this into only two parts, so do not look for the missing nine parts. It makes it less readable than the original, so I cannot quite fathom why it was done. Still, it was, and the wording and formatting is the same.


Thanks in advance.

/Xpanded

A few days ago the Nikon V2 was announced just about a year after the Nikon V1. On the face of it some of the problems of the V1 get quick fixes but not all. It does however retain the relatively high price and that leaves the dwindling supply of V1s at half the original price or so worth a second look. I bought a cheap V1 last week (with 10-30mm kit lens) and have shot (for me) unusually many pictures with it since – enough to form an opinion. And although I can find plenty to criticize I write this to help people like me who might… for a long while, and then did not. It is about last chance and it really is a camera worth owning. All comments below pertain to raw shooting.

Disclosure: The only affiliation I have to Nikon is as a customer who has been treated with respect for 10 years [by Nikon DK in particular as well as Nikon UK].


Half Volvo, half Lada
Physically and visually the Nikon V1 body and lens combination feels like a 1980ties design child of Volvo philosophy and Lada looks with modern innards. Actually it feels like everything I had ever wanted from a mirrorless camera but were afraid to ask… More than anything it reminds me of a Contax G1 although the sensor is significantly smaller (but reusable). Compared to the first generation mirrorless cameras from the other manufacturers it is obvious that Nikon spent far more time designing this camera than is usually devoted in this day and age. This is a good thing and it mostly shows. In part 2 below I will illustrate where the camera excels and where not and then go into some detail. For the record the camera is loaded with firmware A 1.20, B 1.20, L 1.10.

The ultimate Nikon V1 review is already written by Brad Hill. He is a pro with corresponding skills and vision where I am an amateur with shaky hands and a love for odd cameras like the Sigma DP-series. But the V1 is mostly not odd. Come to think of it the V1 is just about the exact opposite of the Sigma DP2 in every aspect.

The V1 is well suited to shooting animals and if it were (why not?) to be likened to a furry four legger it is a bit like an old hyena with arthritis. It is not the biggest, fastest, or strongest animal on the savannah (the DSLRs are), but most other species will think twice before taking it on cause when warmed up and hungry it is a fierce beast and it can easily catch up with people running away from it. Well, let me try to explain based on three different shooting scenarios.

SITUATION 1: You walk with your V1 in a park on a sunny autumn day and see a group of trees with wonderful colours. While moving the camera up to your eye, you turn the lens barrel, so that the camera powers on. Your average sized hands send a quick message to your brain recognizing the most comfortable camera body they have ever held. The heft is reassuring with a sense of solidity without being heavy. You forget there is an EVF, because it just feels natural looking into it. You zoom, frame, and as the AF springs into action, you are a bit unsure if it actually focused, because you have turned off the confirmation beep, and the green square seems to come from nowhere. As you press the shutter down relishing its smooth movement, the mechanical shutter emits the best sound you have ever heard from a camera. There is a quick review of the picture in the EVF (if it annoys you just press the shutter and it immediately disappears and the camera is ready for another shot – and yes, I agree, it should be possible to turn it off) and you are pleased knowing that the V1 has once again delivered. You walk on with plenty of room left on your card and the capacity of the battery still at 270%. You think of the V1 as a camera that enables you to express your vision without intruding.

SITUATION 2: A few minutes later you see a dozen or so squirrels performing an Irish dance on the foot path. Joining the rapidly enlarging popular movement of people questioning your sanity, you bring the camera to your eyes and… nothing. You depress the shutter half way, sense a glow beneath your nose as the screens lights up, and finally get the view in the EVF. Being a somewhat untalented but keen group of dancing squirrels it is difficult to predict their movements. You remember that the V1 has not only class leading but peerless (in the mirrorless segment) AF performance when tracking moving subjects. You have to dive into the menus and when you finally get all the bells and whistles on, the troupe has moved into the shadow (possible scared by the bells and whistles). Too dark! Oh, no, there is no built-in flash and the SB-400 in your pocket is useless. Must change ISO. Again you jump into the menus and change the ISO. Curtain. While you consider if a video would be a better option, remembering that the V1 can shoot full size 16:9 stills without interrupting the video, you are finally ready to capture what you know will bring you eighteen different international wildlife and press photography prizes, pilot you to instant fame, and maybe even allow you to buy a second V1 as a backup body at full price! Yet the squirrel face tracking, super fast AF-system set at 60 fps falls on a snail. The squirrels are already in the shower. You reach the conclusion to only shoot Chippendale (furniture, not scanty clad men) in dark, English rural cottages in the future, but then you remember that the V1 is not compatible with Nikon’s world leading flash system and will probably not focus inside the little house on the moor.

SITUATION 3: Somewhat subdued but compelled to bring home some wildlife you fall to your knees having doubts whether to frame the snail in a 6:6 or 16:9 format. Then you remember that these framing options are not available for stills in the V1 (or at least I cannot get the 16:9 format other than in stills shot during video). As you wander home tear drops fall on the camera. Although it is not weatherproofed it seems to take the human rain in a stride. But the autumn trees pictures are brilliant.

So is the V1 a bad camera? NO, not at all! But it is a camera made unnecessarily difficult to adjust settings on and if you are used to shooting with a Nikon it seems implausible that something this dual faced actually passed the design stage. Let us try to deconstruct the squirrel story by connecting the spots on the hyena.

AF is very fast (in good light) and only slows down when focus is swiftly moved from close to far away. The tracking system is very good (in good light). I tracked a young swan and when it left the frame and its twin like sibling entered the frame, the camera automatically tracked that instead (they also looked identical to me). The camera screams for a few custom modes on the dial to switch seamlessly between different setups though.

Moving the AF point around is very easy (press OK button and move with four way controller, then press OK to confirm), but there is no quick way to return to default, i.e. centre point. Press and hold OK button for two seconds? Nope. Please Nikon!

IQ at base ISO is very good. If you find Nessie in your 4 by 4 feet decorative garden pond in very poor light you can dial in -3 EV at ISO 6400 and get a publishable B&W photo after some noise removal. The .nef raw files are much better when developed in Capture NX2 than in LR though, so if you switched fully to LR you may grumbling reconsider using the Nikon software. If you ever only view and/or publish on screen/online this camera does the job – full stop. Or at least semicolon. If you are very much into IQ it may not satisfy you above ISO 400.

Manual focusing on the V1 has got a bad reputation, but at least with the standard lenses it is not too difficult and it works even with lowish light. Other mirrorless cameras with focus peaking and/or adjustable magnification ratio do much better though. If you want to shoot legacy lenses with manual focus buy an Olympus E-M5 with 5-axis IBIS.

Flash Dance. Did you consider a dose of flash on the squirrels? Forget it. There is no built-in flash [V2 got it] and your perfectly sized and powered SB-400 flash does not fit [and still does not on the V2]. Nikon, oh, Nikon. There are now two expensive dedicated Speedlights that can be used with nothing else. Yes, Nikon, it is a unique selling point having a proprietary hot shoe. Just ask Minolta…

The matrix metering is less precise than I would expect from a Nikon being more fooled by the sky than its bigger siblings. Still, it is fooled by a consistent amount, so that helps a bit. Luckily it is very easy to dial in exposure compensation and you can recoup quite a bit from raw files. It may be the same problem that occasionally pops up in Nikon cameras where the system puts too much bias on the light level inside the focus point (which is quite big in the V1) and less on the scene as a whole. It is unknown if this is bettered in the V2.

Handling is mostly out of this world. It is by far the best camera body I have ever used although that BEEP mode dial does rotate [fixed on V2]. Since I carry the camera from a dangling shortened camera strap it only very rarely happens, but still. If you have big paws you may not like it at all or will invest in the ludicrously expensive grip or the cheaper one from Richard Franiec. The switch used for adjusting aperture is great but adjusts in the wrong direction. Bigger apertures are reached flipping the switch up. Most people born before console gaming killed reading are far faster flipping down on a switch than up and honestly, if you are in a hurry to adjust apertures it is to get more, not less light. And unusual in a Nikon body you cannot tailor the direction of dials/switches. The camera also operates okay with light fleece gloves on.

The EVF is brilliant with and without glasses (I prefer without) and the diopter adjustment wheel does not rotate by itself. To my eyes the EVF is less susceptible to be washed out by side lighting than the Olympus VF-2 and the integrated design protects the EVF from coming off if banged against something. It also keeps the profile low and makes the camera look smaller. This is the viewfinder one expects to find in a Nikon and I really do not need any better.

The screen is typical Nikon, they got that right years ago, but it does not swivel which is a bit of a letdown.
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Last edited by xpanded : 03-09-2013 at 06:32. Reason: 9mar2013: avoiding misunderstanding of missing parts
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Old 10-26-2012   #2
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Battery wonderland. Belgium recently drew up a contingency plan if the Winter becomes harsh to ensure electricity. That was before I bought the V1. Now all it takes is hooking the battery into the network and voila! Well, sort of. It is simply wonderful to have loads of power and precise knowledge of the remaining power and the state of the battery (life time). It also charges quite fast. And no, it does not go to 270% but it feels like it compared to other smallish digital cameras.

The sound of silence. The camera is to average human ears literally silent when set to the electronic shutter and sounds turned off (but remember to turn off that AF-light…). Actually it is possible to blast 60 fps for half a second without a sound.

It is the perfect indecisive moment camera. Use the “smart photo selector” mode (it is where Custom 1 mode should be!) and the camera will capture 5 pictures before you have even pressed the shutter down fully and 15 after. Sadly the camera decides which are the five most worthy HCB moments. On the upside you can blame the missing master pieces on bugs in the firmware. I do.

The buffer and maximum fps at full resolution are to my knowledge the highest of any standard camera and that is in real terms and not in marketing speak. This is really quite impressive [the V2 takes this even further] considering it creates 10 megapixel pictures.

Gimmicks are quite limited with something called video being the most useful. Surprisingly the V1 can shoot full size stills in 16:9 while shooting video without breaking up the video footage. Oh, and the video recording button does not have a life of its own like on some competitors! The AF had no problem keeping up with my sleeping dog.

What’s on the menu?
Here is a topic where I differ from the common notion. Having shot with Nikons for a decade I still find the menus on the V1 poor. Not Sony Nex poor of course (what is?) and not Olympus m4/3 poor. The layout is simple enough, and the font easy on your eyes, but a more logical grouping would be nice. Given the relatively few external direct dials and buttons it should have been grouped much better [the V2 brings a more traditional button/dial layout and is most likely to be faster to operate with fewer detours into the menus].

The Auto-ISO is severely limited (and why is there no ISO-1600?). One cannot specify any limits on the shutter time so that it chooses a shutter time and ISO combo that actually suits you and not the non-existing average photographer. Was the firmware written in total isolation from the rest of the camera design groups? Yes, I think so. Even though a firmware update has bettered it, the shutter time choices of the camera are still occasionally too optimistic for my hands.

Darkness on the edge of sensor. The V1 is not a nocturnal animal (which somehow kills my hyena analogy) and that is to put it mildly. As soon as the light gets “low” the AF system hunts or does not lock at all even with the AF-light on. The Panasonic GF2 is much better at focusing in the dark with its AF-light.

The lenses are adequate and boring. More are in the pipeline but Nikon repeats their DSLR mistake – no VR in prime lenses. It would have created a unique selling point against the competition. No hood is including either! That is quite unNikon and too stingy. I have found the kit lens to be remarkably resistant to flare though. I have not tried the FT1 adapter, but AF-performance looks amazingly impressive online.

The Monday Morning Syndrome is prevalent. Many things about the V1 are so fast, but waking it up is difficult. The work around is to start pressing the shutter to make the camera wake up while moving the camera to your eye and then it is – more or less – awake (if still dewy eyed) when it reaches your eyes. Very unNikon. It is unclear to me if the V2 has bettered this. I sincerely hope so.

Price – even with the EVF built-in the initial price seemed like a ploy to reclaim R&D costs much faster than industry standards and the launch price was indeed far above market expectations (do read the conclusion below however). At around €400 with 10-30 lens this is a very good deal though. Why Nikon insists on keeping the high price level for the V2 is beyond me. The V1/V2 are not competing (at least in my eyes) with Nikon’s own DSLRs, so why not attack the m4/3 and Nex crowd on pricing?

The looks of the V1 are distinctive. Obviously beauty is in the skills of the photoshopper these days and some may find the V2 much better looking. To me the V1’s design set it apart from the competition (and in a good way too), and that is important in a camera, which really has only three things that are not only second to none but better than all its competitors: frames per second, AF-tracking, and battery performance.

The robustness – if the V2 (contrary to the V1?) is aimed at enthusiasts, who (like me) may see it as their bring everywhere camera it needs to be weatherproofed (as are the Olympus E-M5 and Panasonic GH3).

Night & Day. So far I have seen no evidence of the V2’s AF capabilities in less than perfect light, but this is the biggest problems in the V1. Contrary to most of the other problems there is no work around other than manually focusing as dark as your eyes allow you to go.

The missing peaking mode. Although the absence of IBIS does limit the use of legacy lenses, it would be tempting to use a fast 50mm (full frame) and get a very fast 135mm equivalent. The standard lenses are not too difficult to focus manually, but peaking mode and greater magnification would be useful.

Custom settings . Imagine being able to switch between “standard AF single-point at low ISO” to “fully AF-trackable electronic shutter 60 fps Auto-ISO 3200” by just turning the mode dial? But no, not even on the V2. Maybe Nikon did not really trust that the mode dial on the V2 would not move by itself…

Let there be light. The V2’s buttons should have lights like on the D4 to set it apart.

If I were to advise Nikon they should write: “I am joy!” instead of “I am changing everything” in their Nikon 1 advertisements. Because using the V1 is really joyful. It is not about great IQ in a small box (as in using a Sigma DP). It is not about using classical lenses on a digital camera with IBIS (like on an Olympus m4/3 with m-lenses). It is not about focusing with a rangefinder in aperture mode (like an Epson R-D1s or its clones).

Compromise - not compromised. The V1 is about the whole experience of shooting. It is a great all rounder, a shrunk mirrorless version of the F100 or D700, the wildest Coolpix of my dreams. Yes, it is a compromise, but most things in life that actually work are. I really like it. And I really like using it.

Nikon know how to design great digital cameras. The V1 feels very well rounded and competent and yet there are glaring misses. The V1 turns on quickly but is slow to wake up. The AF performance in poor light is sluggish and bettered by something as old as the GF-2. Sometimes it does not even get focus at all (but if there is a little light MF may help you). Why can you not customize more? And then the new flash system!

So does the V2 solve the problems? Operational speed is still unknown. A built-in flash is a good start, but still no compatibility with the SB-400. The files are bigger now (a plus for many, a minus for me). With more buttons/dials the V2 may be faster to operate but there are still no custom modes to set up the camera differently and switch instantly. As to looks the V2 is a plastic surgery operation gone wrong. At least the V1 has character like a Lada Niva. The V1 was already priced too high and the V2 carries on. Or does it? And was the V1 really priced to high?

Seen in isolation the original prices of the V1 and V2 may not have been too high. After having used it I am more doubtful than before. They both offer a lot, but so does a D3200 and whatever you have been led to believe size matters (in sensors, obviously). Both the Nex-6 (a bit) and the E-M5 (somewhat more) with appropriate kit lenses are more expensive. But the smallish sensor and poor AF-performance in the dark of the V1 keep nagging, in particular if you have tried the E-M5 (static subjects only). Nikon have not quite succeeded in telling us why the price is reasonable and the yard sale of V1s seems a bit desperate.

Yet, this is primarily about the V1 and at the reduced price the V1 is one of the best bargains out there for one simple (and very, very important) reason: despite the few but significant shortcomings it is an extremely joyful camera to use that usually gets the picture (if you are prepared for dancing squirrels, that is). It is one of the rare occasions where the camera seems to melt away and it is only you and the motif. There may be occasions where the picture is shaky, but by and large it delivers.

If I could afford it I would buy another with the 30-110mm lens. The V1 has almost instantly become my bring everywhere camera (in daylight). It is almost like Nikon finally made a modern Coolpix 4500 and I have no greater praise

/Xpanded

THE END

Thanks.

/Xpanded
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Old 10-26-2012   #3
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Cool. It'll take time to digest all of this. Once that's done, I'll share my thoughts.
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Old 10-26-2012   #4
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I came quite close to getting a V1, but didn't in the end, mostly due to the lack of a built in flash. The V2, I find fairly hideous compared to the rather demure V1, and would never buy it. I think the series has potential though, Nikon just needs to decide if they're making ugly superzooms, or a nice compact system.
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Old 10-27-2012   #5
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Looking forward.
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Old 10-27-2012   #6
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I just noticed that the V2 has a smaller battery than the V1. One step forward, one step back. I think you are right that Nikon needs to decide who this camera is for and what they are supposed to be.
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Old 10-27-2012   #7
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I'm disappointed that Nikon didn't learn from the F3's hot shoe. Sigh.
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Old 10-27-2012   #8
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xpanded,

Thank you for the write up. Helps paint a picture of the system.
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Old 10-27-2012   #9
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Thanks nlubis.
/Xpanded
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Old 10-28-2012   #10
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Huh, It was good that you said in the beginning: not paid by Nikon... Otherwise I would have thought you are on the payroll...
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Old 10-28-2012   #11
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Nope, just thinking this camera is better than its reputation. Much better.
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Old 10-31-2012   #12
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Thanks for the write up. I agree, it is a great little camera.
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Show me the money
Old 10-31-2012   #13
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Show me the money

Quote:
Originally Posted by meeker View Post
Thanks for the write up. I agree, it is a great little camera.
Thanks meeker.

I actually caved in, pawned my "photographic vision" and bought two more
One will be a spare, and the other will go to my brother.

The last two I paid only €350 for, which is just €11 more than an Olympus XZ-1 is going for. Crazy times.

/Xpanded
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I LUV my V1
Old 11-01-2012   #14
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I LUV my V1

But, I didn't buy it until the price was slashed, although I was really tempted because it's such a great LOOKING camera. I'm not sure how low you consider "low light," but the V1 and the 10mm lens did just fine in my living room lit by LED lamps and the teevee. I do agree that the controls on the camera are not that wonderful; I also bought a teeny tiny Pentax Q and using manual mode on that thing is a dream.

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Old 11-01-2012   #15
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Thanks for the writeup, it was very interesting.

Gary
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Old 11-04-2012   #16
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Some recent V1 photos using the kit 10-30 lens:









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Old 11-05-2012   #17
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Quote:
Originally Posted by imajypsee View Post
BI'm not sure how low you consider "low light," but the V1 and the 10mm lens did just fine in my living room lit by LED lamps and the teevee.
Yeah, it is difficult to compare. I would say about the same light level as you have with a laptop substituting your TV and shooting away from the screen or to the sides.
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Old 11-05-2012   #18
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Quote:
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Thanks for the writeup, it was very interesting.

Gary
Cheers Gary - much appreciated.
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Old 11-05-2012   #19
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I really like the 1st (beautiful landscape) and 5th (what an imagination on the part of the window designer and well captured).
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A bit more on video - a sad capture
Old 11-05-2012   #20
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A bit more on video - a sad capture

Being home for a short stay I managed to shoot a video yesterday. My home town's landmark was flattened . A 108 meter high 45 year old 1800 tonnes iron structure able to hold 200,000 m3 town gas was taken out of commission a few years back and no one wanted to buy it and develop it into something useful Although our state finances are good no one in Government wanted to intervene and create a house of culture or a great climbing wall or a put and take tub

So a full ½ per cent of my country was lined around it - I at a considerable distance on an (artificial) hill. 50 kilo of explosives and 8 seconds was all it took. I could not even hear it since the standard gale was blowing away from me.

The video is pretty decent. Good IS and sound much better than I expected. If only the gas tower would actually be there after I play the movie backwards. A sad day indeed captured for posterity.
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Old 11-05-2012   #21
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Quote:
Originally Posted by xpanded View Post
I really like the 1st (beautiful landscape) and 5th (what an imagination on the part of the window designer and well captured).
Thanks. The V1 is a keeper - I will get the new 18.5mm as soon as it's back in stock.
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Old 11-05-2012   #22
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i really went back and forth before i posted this, because its not my intent to rain on anyones parade, but i bought one, very cheap, with kit zoom, but solely for use as a telephoto (2.7x) alternative to my gxr m mount. i wanted to mount RF and other legacy glass for wildlife, birds etc.

i'm sorry, but i am greatly disappointed in the IQ used this way, or in fact even with the kit zoom outside on a sunny day. ive used it with some great lenses, the cv color heliar 75/2.5, summicron 40/2 and elmar 90/4, the contax T sonnar 135/4, the konica ar 57/1.4&100/2.8 and the kit lens, in good light and got results noticeably not as good as my old and long gone olympus ep2.

now, i unapologetically pixel peep. i look at most of my work at 50-100% crop and expect subject clarity from the in focus areas. this is especially my expectation when shooting wildlife. i dont get that from this nikon, with any glass, in the best of conditions.

now maybe i'm using it wrong or i expect too much, and again, i dont mean any disrespect to those who like it. but for my purposes, if those might be shared by others thinking of this rig, i thoughti should add my opinion.

please feel free to differ if your experiemces with similar equipment for similar usage varied.
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Old 11-06-2012   #23
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Interesting read. Thanks for taking the trouble tow write it.

I'm kicking around the idea of a V1 myself as it seems like great value for a small digital option. Would anybody be willing to send me what they feel is an average RAW file to check out in Lightroom?

(I can PM you my email address).

Bob.

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Old 11-06-2012   #24
xpanded
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Quote:
Originally Posted by meeker View Post
Thanks. The V1 is a keeper - I will get the new 18.5mm as soon as it's back in stock.
Looking forward to hearing what you think of the 18½
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Old 11-06-2012   #25
xpanded
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Bobfrance View Post
Interesting read. Thanks for taking the trouble tow write it.

I'm kicking around the idea of a V1 myself as it seems like great value for a small digital option. Would anybody be willing to send me what they feel is an average RAW file to check out in Lightroom?

(I can PM you my email address).

Bob.

.
Average raws are my speciality
PM me with your address and I will send you one (or more if you have room in your email account?)
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