I ended up with a Nikon, quite by accident.

I had been a firm believer in all things Pentax, but eventually I got a bit dissatisfied. Cheesed off, actually.

The once revolutionary AF chip, used in generations of Pentax DSLRs, was getting dated, and evidently the board of directors of Pentax didn’t care much of the customers, one way or other, as the company had been making lenses with their supersonic drive motor (therefore known as the SDM) for a long time, knowing well that it was prone to failure, and just didn’t do anything about it, till Ricoh took over. If you wanted your lens repaired you, the customer, had to pay up, and then you’d get the same model of the faulty motor installed. Thus a lot of us felt screwed, in a big way, and became wise guys, quickly, either selling the lens, or selling all the Pentax gear before the company toppled leaving the customers with non-functional lenses.  At the most, me and the wife had five Pentax DSLRs, and a Pentax SLR, as well. And around twenty lenses, new and old, but only one with the dreaded SDM.

Lenses with this motor are called DA*,  like the optically superb DA*55, which have had such a lot of problem due to the SDM that it is not even available on the market, at least not here in Sweden.

My wife had another superb DA* lens, the DA*50-135, which she bought used, not knowing of the problems with the SDM. She got hers surprisingly cheap for such a quality lens, but as they have built-in failure it isn’t that surprising, after all. The previous owner probably tired after repairing it, just as my wife did!

Anyway, so the big sellers when it comes to Pentax lenses are the old FA (lenses optimised for 35mm film), as all those use the camera’s focusing motor, thus skipping the problems, totally! A bit noisy, yes, but next to fool-proof!

Quite often, over the years, the heads of Pentax have mumbled about the possibility of a full format digital SLR being in the works, which would suit these fine lenses perfectly, but as yet the most that has come out of it is a non-functional prototype, and that was years ago.

Not surprising then that quite a few Pentax enthusiasts have, eventually, moved to other manufacturers that actually make full format cameras.

You try to learn as much as you can when you dive into a new hobby, and even if this one wasn’t brand new for us, we had a lot to learn using our K-5’s, and the other Pentax DSLRs, so for quite a while I read everything I could find about Pentax, and other cameras.

That’s how I happened to start reading Steve Huff’s blog, and he opened my eyes to see the world as he does: Filled with cameras and lenses with a great potential, if you treat them right. Using all his technical know-how he manages to get magnificent results with very diverse cameras, and he has gone through a lot. His testing is the reverse of DPReview’s way of doing their testing: He tries to get the best out of the cameras and lenses, they do their testing with the cameras, and lenses, at factory reset mode, nothing fine-tuned, nothing special at all. In their tests Pentax do very well indeed, mainly due to the fact that the Pentax DSLRs need no fine-tuning to produce good shots! Not least in the form of JPEGs.

Steve Huff got me to buy an Olympus XZ-1, which under the right circumstances is a great camera, and then the Sony NEX-5N, and the Zeiss 1.8/24, a superb lens. And my wife soon got one as well! Still got them, but they are very dated by now, not least auto-focus-wise!

Anyway, after reading Steve’s writing about the Nikon V1 mirror-less camera, which he liked a lot, I decided I’d buy one for my wife, for her upcoming birthday. So I did, and paid full price, as it had been recently released in Sweden, but then Olympus launched the OM-D E-M5, which whetted her appetite even more, as she had been the owner of an E-PL1 for quite a while by then, and had quite a few lenses as well. So she gave the V1 back to me, and we bought her a E-M5.

Nikon V1, the little wonder

What makes the V1 such a special one?!

First and foremost its crop factor, having a sensor 2.7 times smaller than a full format sensor. What does this mean, you might wonder.

Well, lets take the excellent VR 30-110 zoom, which on a 35mm film camera, or a full format digital one, would equal a 189-810mm lens, which would be humongous lens, both in size, and cost, while the Nikon 1 Nikkor VR 30-110 F/3.8-5.6 costs less than $250, new!

Secondly, in difference to its J and S cousins (that use the same sensor type) it has a viewfinder, something I can’t really live without! Even my NEX-5N has a viewfinder, for a long time a totally absent essential accessory, here, or overseas.

When Nikon 1 system was launched it was laughed at a lot, as their sensor isn’t much bigger than many compact camera sensors, indeed today there are a few compacts using the same size of sensor, and a select number using even bigger sensors! What the commentators in many media didn’t get was that this little camera was lightning fast, with a electronic/mechanical shutter that could take exposures from 30 seconds, to a 1/16000th of a second, and with an auto-focus faster than any camera, bar a select few that cost ten times as much. Since its launch have other taken the championship in AF speed, just now they say the Nikon 1 V3 is the fastest!

Lenses, big and small

The first lenses that arrived on the scene was a prime, and two zooms. The 10/2.8 was the fastest lens of them all, but had no anti-shake built-in (in Nikon parlance, VR), while the VR 10-30, and the already mentioned VR 30-110 where slower, like most zooms tend to be. After while came a 10-100 motor zoom, intended for video, first and foremost, also with VR. It is costlier, heavier, and bigger, than the VR 30-110, and not quite as good optically.

Much later came two more primes, the 18.5/1.8, and the 32/1.2, the latter the sharpest lens I’ve come across, ever. A heavy lump, for its size, and lacking VR, but just beautiful in every other way, an outstanding mechanical, and optical, design. The 18.5/1.8 is almost as tiny as the 10, and has a very nice close-up limit, making it excellent for photographing flowers, just as the 10 is. The 10 equals a 27, the 18.5 a 50, and the 32 a 85, a lovely portrait lens, but a bit on the expensive side.

The ‘UWA’ the ultra-wide-angle zoom lens, is the next most expensive as yet, after the 32, and combines a 6.7-13 zoom, with VR. In my book this lens, plus the 18.5, 32, and the VR 30-110 are outstanding, while many who love the 10 gladly switches to the VR 10-30 when it gets dark, thanks to its anti-shake system. The UWA equals a 18-35 lens, by the way.

A few variants of established lenses exist, like the 11-27 that is essentially a simplified VR 10-30 with better optics, but lacks the VR, and the non-powered version of the 10-100, that I know too little about to say anything about its optical qualities, but it is smaller, and lighter, than the powered version. The 10-30 comes in many versions as well.

FT1 – the adapter from heaven

But there are a few add-ons to your V1 you might like: The FT1 adapter (makes the camera accept most F Mount lenses), a GPS unit, a dedicated microphone (needs a flash shoe adapter, to mount on the camera, a very silly design), the SB-N5 flash ( a very small unit, fully articulated, just like a big flash gun — the  newer, bigger, SB-N7 flash, that was introduced with the V2, fits as well), and a grip, of course!

Sadly no Wifi adapter, but you can use an Eye-Fi card, of course!

But the FT1 adapter is the one I’ve got (in addition to the flash), and that is quite an impressive piece of kit, as with it you can use normal F Mount lenses on your V1, with fully functional VR, and auto-focus. The V1 has a crop factor of 2.7, as it has a CX sensor (also known as 1″ sensor, a name derived from the smallest radio tube it would, theoretically, fit inside). And crop factor means its sensor is 2.7 times smaller a full format, or 35mm film, camera’s sensor.

So what, might you ask, does that do for me?! Well, if you have an old F Mount kit lens, say the 18-70, which was my very first F Mount lens, it then behaves like a 48-189 zoom, and a 50 becomes a 135, and so on. Actually, it is a much more sensible way of increasing your lenses reach, than mounting a rear-end  TC (tele-converter) on your full format camera lens, as TC’s by design introduces more lenses in the light’s path from the object to the sensor, thus unavoidably softens the image quite a bit. A 2.7X tele-converter would make the resulting images so soft, that it would render the images very crappy, but in the old film days you had no other option if you needed longer reach with your lens. Also TCs make the lens slower, just a 1.4X makes you loose two steps, so unless you have a very fast lens, you soon find the AF doesn’t want to play ball no more. The ‘longer’ the TC the worse gets the problem you face.

None of that if you use a cropped sensor.

So this FT1 adapter solves all things?! Well, no. First of all the AF is, for reasons I don’t fully understand, restricted to the centre of the sensor with the FT1 on.

So BIF (birds in flight) photography is a bit of a hit-and-miss affair, unless the bird you’re after passes through the centre of the viewfinder, and the lens is set at manual focusing, and set to the right distance. Then the camera will hopefully snap a perfect shot, if you have had the trigger button pressed all the time.

With native lenses the auto-focus is next to foolproof, unless it is very dark. The longest lens, as yet, is the VR 30-110, but a native Nikon 1 VR 70-300 is soon available, and promises to revolutionize BIF!

A full format (also known as a FX) camera has a sensor exactly twice as big, as a APS-C (aka DX) camera, which is roughly twice as big as a Micro Four Thirds (MFT, or m43). A CX is then half the size of a MFT!

To begin with I got myself the already mentioned used 18-70, a 55-200 (both of these once sold as kit lenses, both DX), a AF-S 35/1.8G DX , a AF-S 50/1.4G FX, the AF-S 85/1.8G FX, an ancient 400/5.6 FX, a classic 80-200/4.0 FX, and the AF-S 70-300 VR, another cheap FX kit lens, but superbly sharp in the centre, and that’s the only thing V1 cares about. Note that the V1 only can use AF with these lenses if they have a focusing motor aboard (far from all of the mentioned lenses have this, but those with a ‘AF-S’ does)!

These F Mount lenses made me long for a F Mount camera, with more pixels if possible, so the choice fell on the D3200, which proved to be like all APS-C (aka DX) with a 24MP sensor, till then, anyway, that they needed lots of light to take really good photos, and, when it came to the D3200, the images tended to be a bit soft. A 24MP full format sensor wouldn’t have the same problems.

So that led to me selling the D3200, and getting another 24MP camera, the D600. A lovely camera, with, as expected, far less noise problems, as the sensor is twice as big. More like my old Pentax K-x, that just happens to have 12MP, on an APS-C sensor, and 2 x 12, is 24!