Over the past few months I’ve been getting more and more emails from people doing some investigation of smaller sensor, mirrorless camera systems like Micro 4/3 and Nikon 1. Quite a few of them are like me in that they are seniors, or soon-to-be seniors, with an interest in bird photography. Most are looking for a smaller, lighter system that they can use for extended periods of time, rather than having to lug heavy DSLR bodies and lenses around.
The majority of these folks appear to have already done some homework and certainly understand that there is a trade-off involved in terms of image quality when going from full frame gear to M4/3 or a 1″ sensor system. This article provides some insights on using a Nikon 1 V3 with the 1 Nikon CX 70-300mm f/4.5-5.6 VR zoom lens for bird photography, along with some recent sample images. My birding kit has its permanent home in a small, lightweight Ruggard Hunter 25 Holster Bag, which I reviewed earlier. First let’s have a look at my birding kit in the holster bag.
As you can see my Nikon 1 V3 with the CX 70-300mm f/4.5-5.6 zoom lens attached fits quite nicely in my Ruggard Hunter 25 Holster Bag. There is also room in this small bag for a battery charger, two additional batteries, 6 memory cards, a camera cable and camera strap…all of which are sufficient for me to do a full day session of bird photography. Ruggard makes different sizes of holster bags if the Hunter 25 is too small for your specific gear.
I typically use the shoulder strap on the Ruggard Hunter 25 Holster Bag when out in flat, easy terrain with my birding kit. If the hiking is a bit more challenging where I may need both hands to grip rocks, branches etc., and I don’t want the holster bag flopping around and banging against rocks and such, I remove the shoulder strap and wear the holster bag around my waist using my belt.
The Nikon 1 V3 has an 18.4MP CX (1″) sensor without a low pass filter. I’ve found that the image quality is quite acceptable for my purposes and it would likely also meet the needs of many hobbyists and some enthusiasts.
The somewhat limited dynamic range and colour depth of the V3’s CX sensor isn’t too much of an issue when photographing birds. For landscape images I turn to my Nikon 1 J5s and their 20.8MP BSI sensors and improved image performance.
With the EVF and grip attached the Nikon 1 V3 provides the most DSLR-like shooting experience of any Nikon 1 body with most setting adjustments accessible with external controls. I shoot birds-in-flight using Manual settings and let my ISO float with an Auto ISO 160-3200 setting. For perched birds I typically use Aperture priority with a specific ISO setting. I use VR for perched birds and turn it off for birds-in-flight.
It is a bit of a pain to have to take the grip off to change the V3’s battery. I only use the EVF and keep the rear screen turned off in order to reduce battery drain. If I’m shooting a lot of AF-C runs I can get at least 1,000 images or more from one battery charge. Micro-SD cards are small and a bit finicky, but one does get used to them.
The Nikon 1 CX 70-300mm f/4.5-5.6 is an excellent lens with very good optics all the way through the zoom range, a solid build, and very good vibration reduction. Auto focusing is fast and accurate under good lighting conditions. The V3 does hesitate a bit in dark or very cloudy conditions.
I shoot in RAW so image noise isn’t much of an issue for me and I don’t hesitate at all to use a camera setting of ISO-3200 with my Nikon 1 V3. I will push this on occasion to ISO-6400 if needed as demonstrated by the image above. I’ve found that any noise shooting at these ISO levels can usually be dealt with in post quite easily.
The Nikon 1 V3 and CX 70-300mm f/4.5-5.6 VR zoom combination only weighs about 2 lbs. (less than a kg) which makes it light enough for me to shoot all day long without any fatigue issues. When I was using full frame gear I could comfortably use my Nikon D800 and Tamron 150-600mm zoom lens for about 3 hours of intensive shooting before some fatigue would grab me.
The single frame auto-focus, and continuous auto-focus with subject tracking, are quite good with the V3 under good lighting conditions. This suits me very well as I seldom go out to photograph birds in inclement weather or in poor light. Folks who do the majority of their bird photography in darker conditions would be better served with a larger sensor camera system.
The V3 can shoot at either 10fps or 20fps in AF-C with subject tracking. The camera has a buffer size of 40 images. I recently published an article on my photography blog showing two complete AF-C image runs. One was of 22 images, the other 40 images. In both cases the V3 did a very good job acquiring and maintaining focus.
The Nikon 1 V3 can also shoot still images in full resolution at 30fps and 60fps. At these very fast frame rates the first frame sets focus for the balance of the run. These fast frame rates can be very effectively used to capture precise wing positions for bird subjects that are taking off or landing at a nest for example. The Nikon 1 V3 can shoot at shutter speeds of up to 1/16,000 when shooting at 10/20/30/60 fps. The V3 is limited to 1/4000 when shooting single frames.
Using a smaller, lighter kit can also help make it easier to capture usable images when shooting hand-held at slower shutter speeds. This is the case even when the CX 70-300mm is fully extended to 300mm, providing an equivalent field-of-view of 810mm, as you can see in the image above. This photograph was the sharpest of many attempts I tried one morning at Bird Kingdom shooting hand-held at 1/5 with the CX 70-300mm fully extended. It is a personal best for me in terms of the slowest shutter speed at this focal length which has yielded a usable image.
For perched birds I typically use single point auto-focus and capture single frames. The Nikon 1 V3 allows me to set that single focusing point virtually anywhere in the frame. This helps me get the exact focusing I want with an image without having to bother using ‘focus and recompose’ technique which I’ve always found distracting. If I’m capturing images of birds-in-flight and see a perched bird image opportunity I will do a quick single frame capture using AF-C if needed.
The Nikon 1 V3 paired with the 1 Nikon CX 70-300mm f/4.5-5.6 VR zoom may not meet the needs of every photographer interested in bird photography. For folks who primarily shoot in good light and who are looking for a small, lightweight, easy-to-handle kit, it is worth some consideration.
All images were captured hand-held in available light using a Nikon 1 V3 and 1 Nikon CX 70-300mm f/4.5-5.6 VR zoom lens. All images in this article were produced from RAW files using my standard process of DxO OpticsPro 11, CS6, and the Nik Collection.
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