Shooting Experience

By Eugene Lee

The 1 V3 takes the biggest step in making the 1-series a tool for advanced photographers rather than solely for beginners by making the operational ergonomics more focused on direct control and customization. Now most key shooting adjustments can be made through dials and buttons instead of diving into the menu system.

However, to get the best experience out of the camera, figure out if you're more of an PASM or Auto mode shooter. There's nothing wrong with either one, but the camera behaves differently depending on your approach and it will set up your performance expectations. If going the PASM route, the V3 allows you to use the physical controls like a traditional DSLR, whereas using Auto will direct you to change settings via the menu system like a point-and-shoot.

PASM Mode

ISO 160 F1.2, 1/16000, 1 Nikkor 32mm F1.2 lens

Speed is what the V3 is all about. Since the V1, Nikon's decision to use a 1" sensor for faster readout helped give the 1-series one of the fastest AF systems found on any mirrorless camera. It's only now with the Sony a6000, Fujifilm X-T1 and Olympus OM-D E-M1 larger sensor rivals are coming close to matching the V3's performance and closing the gap with DSLRs. With 171 contrast-detect and 105 phase-detect points, the Sony a6000 is the V3's closest competitor in this respect.

I've always wanted to get a shot of my sons racing their bikes, and the mirrorless cameras I've used recently just couldn't lock focus fast enough. Now enter the V3. In the example above, I waited for the boys to come into the frame and shot a 29 frame sequence at 20 fps as they sped toward me. By the time they were ready for a water break, I'd shot more than 750 frames of them whizzing by at various angles in single-point, continuous AF mode. Using aperture priority mode to take advantage of the unusually shallow depth-of-field lens, I was surprised by how many images were in focus considering I was shooting fast moving, unpredictable subjects on a mirrorless camera.

The twin dials and function buttons on the V3 (I have one set for white balance and other for ISO) also allowed me to change most settings by feel instead using the menus. With all V3's direct control ability, it's a shame the command dials aren't customizable. There is no swapping of functions if you prefer the aperture and shutter on different fingers, or changing the dial behavior such as setting one for direct exposure compensation. You're stuck with what you get out of the box. This is a notable omission since it's something found on every enthusiast oriented DSLR from Nikon.

The AF speed and direct controls really shifted my expectations from seeing the V3 as a souped-up point-and-shoot 'soccer mom' camera to something more for enthusiasts. And with a $1,199.95 price tag it seems like a more appropriate framework for comparison.

ISO 200 F8, 1/1250, 1 Nikkor VR 10-30mm F3.5-5.6 PD-Zoom lens

Shot-to-shot speed is also very quick. I didn't have to change shot timing to compensate for AF acquisition. Walking around downtown Seattle on a rare sunny day, I found an interesting shadow to frame people walking by. I was then able to compose the scene and fire the shutter as I would on a DSLR when my subjects were in the right place. I was never waiting for the camera to acquire focus before capturing the image - it's nearly instantaneous.

On rare occasions, the V3 can frustratingly slow down, especially when you're waiting for images to write to the microSD card. For example, a few times I wanted to shoot back-to-back 20 fps bursts, but I had to wait more than 44 seconds for the 40 frame buffer to clear to make full use of a second blast (I was shooting RAW+JPEG Fine). It's not an unreasonable situation to find yourself in since it only takes 2 seconds to pop off 40 frames. Also, video recording and some of the creative modes are unavailable while the camera is clearing its buffer. So you can't shoot a multi-frame sequence then, a few seconds later, shoot a video clip or capture a panorama. Not a big deal, but something to note if you have the camera set to one of the continuous shooting settings.

ISO 160 F3.5, 1/400, 1 Nikkor VR 10-30mm F3.5-5.6 PD-Zoom lens. Here the V3's tilting LCD screen helped me easily compose a shot with the camera down low near the grass.

Auto Modes

For all the enthusiast oriented controls on the V3, there are also a host of fully automatic scene modes and menu driven exposure controls. I found some of these built-in modes made using the V3 quite cumbersome. But again this perspective is about expectations, I prefer shooting in PASM and using dials and numbers to change settings, while others may not.

Shooting in the V3's full auto point-and-shoot mode called 'Live Image Control,' you can change shooting parameters such as Active-D Lighting, Background Softening, Motion Control and Brightness using a menu driven slider with the touchscreen, four-way control wheel or front dial. These just visually mimic the adjustments most enthusiasts would do with dials and numbers in one of the PASM modes - aperture, shutter speed, etc.

In Live Image Control mode sliding the yellow marker up increases shutter speed, sliding it down decreases shutter speed.

Using the V3 menus to change settings might be a pragmatic tool for those who may be intimidated or don't care to learn how aperture and shutter speeds affect images - though they might be equally-well served by buying one of the cheaper 1-series models. The other auto modes such as Best Moment Capture, which temporarily captures a 20 fps burst and allows you review, in-camera, which frame to permanently write to the memory card, are also useful for people who don't want to go through images on a computer later.

When using some of these modes I found I would often miss a moment or expression because I was looking at the LCD screen fiddling with the sliders or deciding which image to save instead of being ready to press the shutter button. So for me, these modes were a hindrance instead of being helpful.

Changing Shape

Nikon has conveniently made an optional electronic viewfinder and grip for the V3 (however US buyers can only get the kit with EVF and grip included). They both really change how the camera handles - all for the better. Since the 3" 1.04 million dot LCD is tough to see in bright daylight, using the 2.36 million dot EVF makes composing in those conditions a lot easier. The EVF has a high refresh rate so there is no image 'tearing' when you move your eye or camera around. And the automatic EVF/LCD switch is also very responsive.

With the grip attached you get a third customizable function button and shutter button with command dial below it. This really makes the V3 feel like a mini-DSLR. The additional dial is just a duplicate of the existing vertical front dial that remains active. It's not easy to reach the vertical dial when the grip is attached and it'd be nice to either deactivate it to avoid accidental changes, or assign it to something else. But this isn't possible.

The grip feels solid and well made like the rest of all-metal camera, but the lock-on screw is plastic and feels cheap. It also blocks access to the V3's battery compartment, so you have to unscrew and remove it to swap batteries. Access to the ports/memory card door is unaffected though.

Also available for the V3 is an FT-1 mount adapter that allows you to attached any Nikon F-mount lens. The usefulness of this depends on your need for extra 'reach'. The 1" sensor gives a 2.7x crop factor, making most lenses behave as mid-to-long telephotos.

Image Quality

Here's where price plays a significant factor in the expectations of how the V3 is evaluated. For me, I see the V3 as an enthusiast's camera so I compare it against larger sensor cameras in same price range. There is stiff competition here with many good APS-C and Four Thirds sensor cameras - the Sony a6000 and Olympus OM-D E-M10 with lens can be had for under $1,000. Or you can pick up Canon EOS 70D or Nikon D7100 bodies for the same price. Fujifilm's X-E2 with very capable 18-55mm lens goes for $1,399 or less.

Overall image quality from the V3 is good for a 1" sensor, but due to the size limitations it's just not going to keep up with its latest APS-C and Four Thirds rivals. However, if you're coming from a point-and-shoot or smartphone, the V3 will be a huge step up.

And to get the most out of the sensor, using the 1-system's better lenses really help. Some of the best shots I got in terms of sharpness and detail were with the 32mm F1.2 (86mm equivalent) prime. But to get that image quality, the 32mm lens will set you back another $899.95.

ISO 3200 F4, 1/60, 1 Nikkor 32mm F1.2 lens

The thing that makes the V3 a camera to consider despite the high price tag, is its small physical size with DSLR-like controls and AF performance. It's larger than the Sony RX100 III, but much smaller than any DSLR (even with grip attached). Though it won't fit your back pocket, the V3 is still an easy camera to carry with you all the time in a bag or purse.

Knowing the 1" sensor image quality is going to be better than any smartphone and most compacts, I found myself routinely carrying the V3 wherever I went. The ability to have complete control without lugging around a large DSLR, plus having built-in Wi-Fi makes the V3 a useful shooting tool. Despite this, I'm still not convinced it's worth paying the V3's steep price considering there are very good cameras with larger sensors for the same money.

ISO 160 F1.2, 1/1000, 1 Nikkor 32mm F1.2 lens