Capturing birds in flight with a Nikon 1 V2 and FT-1 adapter

For the past 8 months or so I have been shooting a lot of static and perched birds with a Nikon 1 V2, FT-1 adapter, my Nikkor 70-200 f/4 VR lens and TC-17E II teleconverter. This set-up gives me an equivalent field-of-view of 918mm @ a rather slow f/6.7. Even though the teleconverter does cause some loss of sharpness I’ve been happy with the results as you can see from the sample below.

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While successful for perched birds, this set-up has been a different story for birds in flight. I’ve found that the auto focusing hunts a great deal at f/6.7 when trying to capture birds in flight, and the EFoV of 918mm makes it extremely difficult to keep a flying bird in the frame long enough to acquire focus. My skill set is such that other than getting the odd image of a cormorant flying in the distance at a 90-degree angle to me, I was unsuccessful in getting very many usable shots.

So, I decided to leave my teleconverter at home and went down to the local harbor to see how my Nikkor 70-200 f/4 would do with a Nikon 1 V2 photographing birds in flight. This set-up has an EFoV of 540mm @ f/4, which I thought was a more realistic set-up.

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Since ducks, geese and cormorants are all larger, heavy birds that typically fly in straight lines I didn’t think that they would represent good test subjects. So instead I concentrated on terns and gulls as their flight paths can be quite erratic and require a camera/lens to focus quickly to get any usable images. The terns were especially challenging as they would often abruptly stop in mid-air and plummet straight down into the water to catch fish.

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I conducted my test over a two day period. The first was a bright, sunny day with very little cloud cover. The second was a grey, overcast day which I thought would be more challenging for the Nikon 1 V2. I took about 1,200 images during a total of 3.5 hours of shooting time spread over the two days.

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Overall, I found the combination of the Nikon 1 V2, FT-1 adapter and 70-200 f/4 to be lightweight and quite easy to use to capture birds in flight. Most of the time focus was very fast and accurate even with birds flying directly at me. I did not detect much of a difference in focusing time or accuracy between the bright sunny day and the overcast one. The fact that I was limited to one focus point in the center of the fame when using the FT-1 adapter with the Nikon 1 V2, and that I could only take single exposures, was somewhat restricting…but I was still able to get a good number of acceptable images.

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I did some test shots with rocks and other objects in the background to see if the V2 would get confused in terms of subject matter. On occasion it did lock on to the background…but this could have been as much my fault as the camera’s as I often rushed individual shots as birds were flying rapidly past me.

The only time when I consistently missed focus was when a bird was closing in on me very quickly and I had a split second to try and wheel around, get the bird in the frame, and achieve focus. Under these circumstances even the slightest hunting by the lens would cause a missed shot. Other than that specific situation I did not find any problems with focus speed or accuracy.

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I was most successful when picking out a bird that was approaching from a distance of about 60-75 feet or more, half depressing the shutter and panning with it as the bird came closer, then pressing the shutter fully as the bird began to fill the frame to a reasonable degree.

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I used spot metering for all my shots, an aperture of f/5.6 or less, and used the auto 160-800 ISO setting. White balance was set for either direct sunlight or cloudy depending on conditions. Since my shutter speeds were very fast (i.e. 1/1250 or higher for most of the images) I turned the VR off on my lens. Unfortunately, I forgot to check the image size setting on the Nikon 1 V2 I was using for this test and found out after the fact on the first day that it had been set for small image size i.e. 2304×1536. No doubt the images would have had much more detail in them if the camera had been set for large file size. I did reset the camera the following day, which as I mentioned, was grey and overcast.

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I should also note that you can really extend the number of shots you can get with a Nikon 1 V2 by keeping your thumb over the EVF sensor between shots, and by turning off the camera during lulls in the action. The battery on the V2 has an official rating of 310 images. On the first day I was able to take about 700 shots before I drained the battery completely. On the second day I took almost 500 shots and still had some charge left in the battery.

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After spot checking several hundred random images I estimate that the Nikon 1 V2 with the FT-1 adapter acquired focus at least 80% to 85% of the time with the 70-200 f/4 lens…which I thought was quite acceptable.

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If you would like to see more samples of the birds in flight images I got during this test you can view them on this YouTube video.

Using a Nikon 1 V-series camera with an FT-1 adapter and your F-mount Nikkor telephoto primes or zoom lenses is a viable set-up for birding enthusiasts. While it may not produce images of the highest professional standards when using the Nikkor zoom lenses typically owned by the majority of people, the quality is at an acceptable level, and most importantly, it is a really enjoyable and affordable pastime.

Article and all images Copyright 2014, Thomas Stirr. All rights reserved. No use, reproduction or duplication including electronic is allowed without written consent.