I’ve been continuing my field work for my hands-on review of the Nikon 1 V3 and spent some time capturing images of birds-in-flight at Grimsby Harbour. This has been a particularly severe winter and some of the Great Lakes have frozen over completely. This is only the fourth time in the past 40 years that this has happened. As you can see from the image below, Grimsby Harbour is frozen solid out past the lighthouse. This made for some interesting captures of birds-in-flight.
When I went out first thing in the morning it was still somewhat dull and grey. This made trying to capture any images of gulls a bit difficult so I initially concentrated on ducks and geese as they provided more contrast.
I used my Nikon 1 CX 70-300 f/4.5-5.6 VR lens for all of the bird images in this article, using f/5.6 for most of the photographs.
After ensuring that the Nikon 1 V3’s battery was fully charged, I attached the EVF and grip. To see how many images I could capture on one battery charge I shot all day only using the EVF, even for reviewing my photographs. I did not use the rear screen of the camera at all during the test period. I shot Jpeg fine + RAW all day long, using both AF-S and AF-C 20 fps.
After filling the 32 GB microSD card, I downloaded all of the files, formatted the card, then I reloaded it back in the camera and kept shooting until I had completely drained the battery of the Nikon 1 V3. I was simply astounded with the number of images that I was able to capture on one battery charge: 2,730 images! If I had not done this test personally I would have never believed that this was possible. Those of us that were worried about having to constantly take the grip off the Nikon 1 V3 in order to change batteries can put some of our fears to rest…at least when the EVF is used exclusively.
As expected the Nikon 1 V3 autofocus performed better as the light improved. I was able to capture some useable images during the partially overcast conditions, but the number of keepers improved with better lighting.
As the light improved I was able to capture a number of long AF-C runs of 20 or more images. The buffer did take quite a while to clear since I was shooting in Jpeg fine + RAW, in large size files. As long as I didn’t make any mistakes the camera was able to keep AF-C focus throughout most of the runs. I did have some AF-C runs where I missed my focus point, but that was not the fault of the camera.
My Nikon 1 CX 70-300 f/4.5-5.6 worked well with the Nikon 1 V3, feeling nicely balanced. Most of the time I had the focus limiter switch set to ‘limit’ as the birds were usually out over the ice and not that close to me. Focusing was pretty fast and accurate, and improved with the lighting. The more I use this lens the more I love it. Since buying the CX 70-300 lens a few months ago I’ve only used my FT-1 adapter with my Nikkor 85mm f/1.8G once. My Nikkor 70-200mm f/4 VR hasn’t been used with the FT-1 at all.
The gulls were tricky to spot against the snow when they were flying in low and the V3 struggled to attain focus under this specific condition. I was able to capture a few images of gulls with their wings nicely spread as they flew up higher, even though the background was a dull grey sky.
At times the action got a little hectic with a number of birds in flight at the same time as in the image above. In these instances I tried to pick out the bird closest to me and focus on it so the image would have proper depth perspective.
Since the harbor had quite a few snow drifts on the ice, it helped create some added contrast with some of the birds allowing me to capture some interesting wing positions as ducks were coming in to land.
When larger groups of ducks came in, or were leaving the area, they sometimes assembled in artistically shaped formations that melded nicely with the shapes of the snow drifts on the harbour ice.
At other times it really looked like the ducks needed some kind of formal air traffic control.
The best captures of gulls tended to be when they would circle around, showing the grey backs of their wings. This created nice contrast against the snow.
The AF-C of the Nikon 1 V3 did a good job with ducks approaching the camera head-on and I was able to get a number of useable images, as well as some nice AF-C runs of this nature.
While I don’t usually use burst shooting when using my D800 I find that the fast frame rate of Nikon 1 cameras is ideal to try and capture precise moments or wing positions, like the duck that is just about to touch down in the image above, and the dramatic wing position in the image below.
Overall, I really enjoyed using the Nikon 1 V3 to capture images of birds-in-flight. While the camera’s AF-C is a bit challenged in dull, overcast conditions it does a very good job in good lighting and the fast 20fps AF-C rate can capture some very unique and interesting moments.
Technical Note: All images were produced from RAW files processed through DxO OpticsPro 10 with PRIME noise reduction. A DNG file was then exported into CS6 and Nik Suite for additional adjustments as required.
Article and all images Copyright Thomas Stirr. All rights reserved. No use, duplication or adaptation of any kind is allowed without written consent.
Nice stuff here.
I’m curious if you think your D800 would do any better with AF under the conditions you shot these. One of the biggest hypes of the N1 system was it’s AF capabilitites. Do you consider it better or lesser than what you get from your D800?
Hi Spy Black,
This is a bit of an apples and oranges comparison. The D800 has better overall AF in a wide range of lighting conditions and if I was shooting only birds-in-flight in a mix of lighting conditions a DSLR would be my first choice. The D800 is also better under low light conditions.
Under good lighting conditions the AF-C with the V3 is a very unique and powerful capability. No other mirror-less camera or DSLR of which I am aware can deliver 20fps when shooting AF-C. In addition, Nikon 1’s can shoot at 30fps and 60 fps with the first frame focused. This can deliver astounding results in specific types of shooting situations such as capturing a bird landing at its nest.
The D800 and Nikon 1 V3 are very different tools and like all cameras each has its trade-offs to consider.
Thanks for your reply. I may have not been totally clear I’m my question. You mention how the V3 AF was having a hard time at it under some of the flat lighting conditions of that day. I’m curious as to how you would think the D800 would handle AF under those same conditions. The N1 system as I had mentioned had big hype about it’s AF, and if it was choking there, would the D800 choke more or less? I’ve yet to work with a camera that doesn’t choke under those conditions, so I’m not trying to nail the V3 to the cross. I know my D600, D5100, and RX100 III would choke under flat lighting. If you think the D800 would be better at it, then one could suppose that perhaps a D750 may be better at it yet. I’m really just trying to get a better handle of what different AF systems may or may not be able to do under challenging conditions.
Hi Spy Black,
I think the D800 is better under challenging flat lighting conditions than the Nikon 1 V3. As you mentioned, tough lighting is hard on all cameras.
Really beautiful Thomas. Thank you !
Glad you liked them Kafkiano!
I really like the photos. I especially like #6, #12, and #15. These results are quite a bit better than I thought these cameras were capable of before you started writing about them and showing images.
I have started taking a lot of wildlife pictures with m4/3 cameras (OMD-EM1) and their new 40-150mm 2.8 lens. I am using a 1.4 TC to get greater range. So far, I am pretty happy. My intent is to get their announced (no shipping date or price…yet) 300mm lens and use it with the 1.4TC giving 840mm equivalent. My hope is that with after considerable practice I will be able to roughly match the results from APC DSLR’s. When I say “match” I mean good enough for professional work. Your images give me hope that I can get what I want from a smaller sensor mirror-less camera. I think you are where I want to be in terms of refining your technique to get these results.
I am convinced that the Prime noise reduction is a big part of your results. I like what it does so well that I purchased it just for that feature, and I know it is helping with my existing images.
I am not yet convinced I can do without a Nikon DSLR/system for wildlife, but I would sure love to be able to settle on one system for all my needs….who knows, maybe Nikon will step up to the plate and make an APC mirror-less system that will take all the nice glass I have and give me the lightweight I want…
Thanks very much for your positive comment! Your plan re: 300mm sounds like a very interesting option to use with your OMD-EM1. If ‘location, location, location’ is the mantra for real estate, then its ‘reach, reach, reach’ for wildlife photography!
Like you, I really like using the PRIME noise reduction function in OpticsPro 10, so much so that I now apply it to all of my Nikon 1 files regardless of the ISO at which they were shot. I think that one feature is worth the price of OpticsPro.
Having said that, the more I use OpticsPro 10 the more I respect its capabilities, and these are not limited to PRIME. Smart Lighting, ClearView and the DxO Lens Softness functions are all great. While OpticsPro has some shortcomings like not allowing spot adjustments, it does a terrific job as a RAW processor. It is now so integrated into what I do I simply would not consider buying a camera if I could not use OpticsPro with it. To me our choice of software is just as important as selecting a camera body and lenses.
I still shoot all of my client work with my D800 as my primary camera and I’m not sure if that will change any time soon. In the meantime I love the flexibility that my FX/CX sensor pairing gives me.
PS: I find it interesting that your choice of favourite photos in this article align with mine
Hi Thomas and my compliments for the fine pictures. A few questions:
Compared to V2 + CX70-300, can you expand a bit? Response of EVF? Focus performance? General handling? Will you replace your V2? I understand you plan to do a full V3 review which may cover these specifics, but I am really curious. I use the V2 (and V1) and am very happy with both. I also use DxO, particularly with the 10-100 which is still not supported by LR
I’m just finishing up my field work and haven’t made final conclusions yet…the review will be up fairly soon and I will make sure to address your questions.
Great shots, the same rig I use for birds. Could I beg you to give more details on your AF configuration? On my D810 I use back button, AF-C, 3D tracking, single AF point. I peg the center AF point to the bird and let it track while I fire off shots. I am having trouble replicating this on the V3. The tracking seems odd, forcing you to use the touch screen?? How is yours configured for birds in flight? I always look forward to your reviews. Thank you much, Matt.
I almost always shoot with single point AF with my Nikon 1 cameras and did so with the V3. I tried a few shots with AF-S, as well as some single captures using AF-C. I never use AF lock on any of my cameras, choosing to half-depress the shutter instead. Its not better than using the AF lock…just my habit. For most of the shots in this article I likely used AF-C with subject tracking. I try and get my focus point on the head of the bird….or if it is close up…its eye.
Beautiful photographs! I’m lucky to get 1 out of 5 to come out so well. I’ll have to keep working on my technique. Thanks for sharing your work.
Hi M. Hudson,
I’m glad you liked the images! Don’t be discouraged at all with your ‘keeper’ rate when photographing birds in flight. It is quite common to have the majority of images not meet a photographer’s goal…it’s something that just comes with the subject matter. Lighting also plays a big part. Under lower light conditions many cameras struggle with achieving focus.
That was one thing I noticed too, how many shots you took! I’m already disappointed if I have only a few right after maybe 200 shots:-) One of the perks of digital, shoot and erase:-)
Not to worry! Birds-in-flight always involves a lot of failed images…for all of us. I took just over 2,700 images to get the ones I used for this article.
Seriously?! What a relieve, maybe I’m not as bad as I believe then:-) On to winning that contest!:-)
I’d say my ‘keeper’ rate for the images shot for this article was probably in the 25% to 30% range tops. Keep in mind that a ‘keeper’ for me is an image that I would consider processing for an article – so I may be a bit more brutal with my images than other folks. Lots of times I may get good, sharp captures but I don’t like the wing angle, etc. so I just delete them.
I don’t have such great equipment so not many of my photos would be article quality anyway, but I’m pretty brutal too… I’ve been shooting some years now, but when I get compliments I still always say I’m in the learning phase and it’s not good enough yet. Wonder if I ever feel good enough to move on from there:-) I did get my third Mark of Excellence, so maybe I’m getting a bit better.
Congratulations on your third Mark of Excellence! I think these are great testaments to the quality of your work!
Thank you! The things I do to get approval from my dad….who used to look at my photos and all he ever said about every single one I showed him, was: yes, good photography is really hard…. It has become a winged saying in the family:-)
I’ve instinctively not considered smaller digitals for this kind of work. Now I’ll feel happy to recommend the Nikon 1 and your article to people that don’t want the weight and bulk of a larger DSLR, of which there are many!
(The video compilation doesn’t do them justice IMHO; there’s too much compression and downsizing on Youtube for quality photos!)
Question: How long does it take to process one of the RAW files (and what CPU / graphics do you use)?
Thanks for your positive comment – much appreciated!
Please keep in mind that a DSLR will do a better overall job photographing birds in flight than will a mirror-less camera under a wide range of lighting conditions. The Nikon 1 series is designed for fast focusing so it does a very credible job with this subject matter, but in lower light conditions it does struggle to achieve focus more than a DSLR would. I agree that the compression on YouTube does hurt image quality quite a bit.
In terms of the time it took to process the files for this article the short answer is not much of my time…maybe a couple of minutes per image. I put all of my images through DxO OpticsPro 10. The software applies its auto corrections (this also applies to my D800 images). For the images in this article I also adjusted DxO Smart Lighting which I don’t often do. I did it with many of these images as the subjects were a bit dark and some of the shadow details were difficult to discern. This was obviously a more common issue with the duck images. Smart Lighting helps to lift shadows and better balance the dynamic range in a photo. With Nikon 1 files I always apply the PRIME noise reduction function in OpticsPro 10 regardless of the ISO at which an image was taken. The small sensors in Nikon 1 cameras have high pixel density and this is especially true of the V3. This causes some noise even at base ISO.
After the RAW file has been processed by OpticsPro 10 I export a DNG file into CS6 and Nik Suite for additional adjustments if required. The PRIME noise reduction function does take some time to process an image and it takes longer for it to process an image than I take working on it. But…it is definitely worth the wait IMHO.
This may sound strange, but I like working with OpticsPro so much that I would not even consider buying a camera unless I could use this software with it.
My techie son built my office computer and its designed mainly for video work so I’m not sure what is inside. I do know that he selected a top level I5 chip and a good graphics card capable of rendering video fairly quickly. My system is running 16 MB of DDR ram and all of my software runs on a solid state drive. That’s about all my old brain can remember!
Great, this anweres a lot of my questions about processing:-)
It’s handy to know what hardware people use as I’m considering an upgrade from a lesser than i3 quad core at 2.5Ghz. I use a D800e and DXO 10: I’m struggling to process sometimes hundreds of macro (for focus stacking) or timelapse RAW files using Prime (which doesn’t use a graphics CPU, but the rest of DXO does according to their tech support). Each file is taking 15 minutes in DXO!! I hope to get that down to under 30secs…
WOW…that is a long time processing. When I was using OpticsPro 9 a file would take about 4 – 5 minutes. Now, with OpticsPro 10 it is about 90 seconds or so.
I always enjoy your articles, Tom…. and with you using a mirrorless camera, that is even more exciting to read (I’m a dslr nikon and fujifilm mirrorless user). Please keep the articles coming. And by the way, those are seriously awesome shots….. very nice work!
Hi A. Monoang,
Thank you very much for your kind words – much appreciated! I’ve never shot with a Fujifilm camera, or any other mirror-less camera for that matter so I have no idea how the AF-C would work with them. I know that the Nikon 1 system is build around AF speed which likely helps when it comes to shooting birds in flight. Nikon 1 cameras tend to have lower dynamic range and colour depth than other mirror-less cameras as a result…as is often said, everything has a trade-off.
That is amazing! I so wish I could get shots like yours. I bought the new 18- 300mm for it, but it never seems to focus fast enough. Too bad I can’t afford this one. I’m hoping for the price to drop around my birthday perhaps… or to win the lottery:-)
Always great to hear from you – and thanks for the positive comment! I was initially concerned about the cost of the Nikon 1 CX 70-300 as well. I used to shoot birds in flight with my Nikkor 70-200 f/4 and I’ve found the CX 70-300 works better with this subject matter. With the demand remaining high on this lens I wouldn’t plan for any price drop from Nikon…but keep all of your fingers and toes crossed for that lottery win!
I just bought the tickets… seriously:-) But then I also need a new monitor, processing photos on an 11 inch laptop screen isn’t that great… and the right software, because you seem to get so much more out of your Nikon 1 photos… and then suddenly the dog needs extensive dental work done next thursday, who’s health is so much more important than my hobby, so for now the 18- 300 will have to do. It is amazingly versatile and that is a joy.
very interested in your comments regarding the 70-200f/4 and the CX 70-300. I have not used my 70-200f/4 for some time now and since I no longer own a DX camera body I was thinking of selling it. But I was not sure if I still might need it for BIF type shots (for sure all else is replaced by the Nikon 1 lens). Your experience is pushing me towards selling it. A shame. really, as it is such a nice lens. However, the CX plus DxO Prime seem to do the job now. Can you think of any situation where you might choose the FX over the CX lens Tom?
Always a pleasure to look at your photos, I am trying to do the same with my V1, but have a lot of practice to do ;-)
Thanks for the positive comment! Birds in flight is definitely subject matter than requires practice for all of us. Even though I don’t need any more sea gull images (trust me on that one!) I regularly go out and shoot this type of subject matter just to practice. When I come home I’ll go through my images quickly to check to see if I managed to capture anything unique, if not I just reformat my card.