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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
I just tried out the system, and so far i don’t have too good results. I start to get, that if i wan’t to get something nice, then there is no way RAW and post processing. Generally i don’t find the jpg having to much details. But i think i can not really use the focuse. When i tap the screen or move the focuse field, it is fast and pretty much OK. But in case moving object i don’t have good results. I tried diferent settings Auto af selection with continous AF single af etc. Can anyone suggest a setup what proved in life? Seems to be i didn’t find the good settings, and weekend is coming it would be good to start experimenting with better settings. Thanks very much in advance.
Shooting in RAW and doing some work in post will produce better results for you. You’ll need to make sure that you are shooting at a fast enough shutter speed, e.g. 1/1600, when shooting birds in flight. I’d suggest using continuous auto-focus (AF-C) with subject tracking. This should also help with birds in flight. Another approach you can use is to pre-focus your lens at the approximate distance at which you are trying to capture birds-in-flight. All of these things when used in combination should help produce better results for you.
I’d also change the Sharpness setting in your picture control to 7. All too often Nikon defaults this to 3.
Ok I talked to Sigma, and they returned back to me with that (they allowed me to quote it)
In my mail I was asking about compatibility with 50-500, 150-500, 150-600, and the longer macro lenses.
“Sigma Japan have stated that although our lenses are specifically designed for F mount cameras and we do not guarantee functionality with mirrorless cameras, we are aware that if the lenses have the latest software then there should be no compatability issues with the lenses mentioned.
If you find they do not function correctly please contact the Sigma service centre in Ireland from the following link:
They emphasised that no guarantee. But as I see they see the problem, and did their job to let those lens to work with the system. So i guess it is working, and they are using the no guarantee just to be on the safe side.
By the way Sigma: i had very polite and very fast responses, despite theyhad to forward my mail to Japan. Congratulation for them, this is how customer service/support should be!
Thanks for the update Zoltan!
Really impressive pictures, and nice article. I am kind of in the same shoes. I want to birding, but don’t want to spend 5 grand just for lenses. I have used a sony hx400v but i would like to have a bit more detailed pictures, and higher ISOs. So I picked the Nikon 1 j5 – i guess my battery time will be limited as i have no evf option, but i have heard its picture quality is better then previous Nikon 1. So this article calmed me down, that probably i made a good compromise between portability, usability and picture quality and price.
Regarding the article, You mentioned because of the fast exposure times you switched of the image stabilization. It is ok, i guess here in Ireland i won’t have that much light, but does it effect the picture quality? Is it worth to switch it off when it is possible?
Other question, i got the feeling you created jpg not RAW. But did you try its raw, does it worth to bother with the conversion, etc, or you can not get too much benefit from that?
Thanks very much,
The Nikon 1 J5 has a noticeably better sensor than the previous Aptina sensors used in other Nikon 1 models so you should see better dynamic range and colour depth. Turning off image stabilization is helpful when shooting at fast shutter speeds when capturing birds-in-flight as it is more likely to frame the subject in the frame. For static subjects shot at slower shutter speeds VR is certainly recommended. All of my articles use images produced from RAW files and to get the most out of your Nikon 1 camera I would suggest shooting in RAW. Since RAW files contain much more digital data you should see an improvement with image quality, assuming of course that you have good software and are proficient using it.
Since I wrote this article on Photography Life I have stopped using the FT-1 adapter with F-mount lenses as I’ve found that I much prefer shooting with native Nikon 1 lenses. Here is a link to one of my recent articles on my blog: tomstirrphotography.com/photo…th-nikon-1
If you can afford it the Nikon 1 CX 70-300 is a wonderful lens for birding.
Thanks for the quick response! I have checked the recommended site. I can hardly wait the j5 to arrive :) I wanted to ask if you managed to try out the ft1 – sigma 150-600 or the 50-500 combo, but according that, you have better experiences with the 70-300. To be honest i am not happy about that.I am a bit worried about nikon is not really active around nikon 1. So in case they abandon the nikon 1 line, after heavy swearing but I could transfer those lens to their normal mount. In that case the dear cx lens is wasted money.
Using third party lenses with a Nikon 1 camera and FT-1 adapter is a bit of a ‘hit or miss’ deal. I have three Nikon 1 V2’s and none of them will recognize the Tamron 150-600 or the Sigma 150-500. I could get the 150-600 Sigma Sport to work somewhat but it is such a large, heavy lens that it is difficult to use without a good tripod with a gimbal head, or at least a monopod. You may want to look at the Nikkor 200-500…although you’ll need to check to make sure it is compatible with the J5 and FT-1. A Nikon dealer can give you insights on that…or check on the Nikon site.
Buying a camera is always a bit of a risk these days as one never knows what the future may bring. I love shooting with Nikon 1 gear and now shoot with it exclusively, even for my client video work. I bought some additional V2 bodies on sale, or used, to help ‘future proof’ my system for a few years just in case.
Hm, well, from the price of an ft1 i can buy a used v1 maybe a v2 :) Maybe even for macro it is better to have a native lens, with attached raynox macro lens.
Thanks very much, you cleaned up the fuzzy parts of this system for me!
Buying a good, used V1 or V2 (my preference would be a V2 btw) would help to ‘future proof’ you system for at least a few years. Plus, you’d have the benefit of the new 20.8MP BSI sensor in your J5, plus having an affordable Nikon 1 body with an EVF for birds in flight and similar types of images. For macro-type shots you can consider an inexpensive set of extension tubes. For some ideas on the types of images you can do with that set-up you can look under the ‘macro’ heading on my blog. My favourite lens to use with extension tubes is the Nikon 1 30-110mm. You may be able to pick one of these up for a decent price as well.
The J5 has this weird, unaccountable, restriction for use with the FT-1 as follows – I wonder if due to Sony on-sensor PDAF differences from Aptina?
The following NIKKOR lenses cannot be used with Nikon 1 J5
AF-S NIKKOR 500mm f/4E FL ED VR
AF-S NIKKOR 600mm f/4E FL ED VR
AF-S NIKKOR 200-400mm f/4G ED VR II
AF-S NIKKOR 200-500mm f/5.6E ED VR
AF-S NIKKOR 200mm f/2G ED VR II
AF-S NIKKOR 300mm f/2.8G ED VR II
AF-S NIKKOR 400mm f/2.8E FL ED VR
AF-S NIKKOR 400mm f/2.8G ED VR
AF-S NIKKOR 500mm f/4G ED VR
AF-S NIKKOR 600mm f/4G ED VR
AF-S NIKKOR 800mm f/5.6E FL ED VR
AF-S VR Zoom-Nikkor 200-400mm f/4G IF-ED
AF-S VR Nikkor 200mm f/2G IF-ED
AF Nikkor 300mm f/2.8 IF-ED
AF-I Nikkor 300mm f/2.8D IF-ED
AF-S Nikkor 300mm f/2.8D IF-ED
AF-S Nikkor 300mm f/2.8D IF-ED II
AF-S VR Nikkor 300mm f/2.8G IF-ED
AF-I Nikkor 400mm f/2.8D IF-ED
AF-S Nikkor 400mm f/2.8D IF-ED
AF-S Nikkor 400mm f/2.8D IF-ED II
AF-I Nikkor 500mm f/4D IF-ED
AF-S Nikkor 500mm f/4D IF-ED
AF-S Nikkor 500mm f/4D IF-ED II
AF-I Nikkor 600mm f/4D IF-ED
AF-S Nikkor 600mm f/4D IF-ED
AF-S Nikkor 600mm f/4D IF-ED II
Nikkor 500mm f/4 P IF-ED
Zoom-Nikkor 1200-1700mm f/5.6-8 P IF-ED
Thanks very much for adding all of this detail regarding the J5 – this is very important information that Nikon 1 owners need to know! It does seem strange that there are no restrictions on some of the shorter focal length F-Mount lenses. I wonder if this is a firmware issue…? Tom
Hehe, I was checking this list yesterday. To be honest for me it makes the same sense as for Thomas. Basically all high quality long focal lens are restricted. Interesting that none the short ones are affected, even from the same lens family. For me it is definitely looks like an artificial limitation built into the firmware, not a real hard limit. With those lens J5 would be a cheap super nature photo purpose camera. Cheap is relative of course. But we could get longer reach then any of the nikon dslrs, with not much worst IQ.
Only thing i don’t see in the restriction list is the 400/F4 lens. it gives ~300 extra reach compared to the 70-300 with 1 stop faster.
Here is a link about 3rd party compatibility with FT1
And on a dpreview forum I saw that sigma updates its lenses to be compatible. (New lens are supposed to be compatible, in old they make firmware update, time to time even mother board exchange. What is not clear to me if it is only supported for lenses in guarantee or even for old lenses)
Hello everyone, I hope to remain in thread asking if using a Nikon V2 (that I’d like to buy for a good price) in conjunction with an adapter FT-1 and a Nikkor AFS 300mm f/4 (that I own):
1) can I use only the central point for AF-C?
2) have I to give up higher frame-rates (20/30 fps) and shooting only sigle frames?
3) is focusing speed in AF-C good enough for birds in flight and running mammals?
Thanks for your questions….
1) Yes, when using the FT-1 adapter you will be limited to only the central focusing point for both AF-S and AF-C
2) If you have updated your firmware on your V2 you should be able to shoot AF-C at 15fps, and also at 30fps and 60 fps with only the first frame focused
3) I have never shot with the 300mm f/4 so I can’t comment specifically on how good the AF-C will be with moving subjects like birds in flight and running mammals. You will find it more challenging to use a Nikon 1 V2 to capture moving subjects than you would with a DSLR
I kinda hate you a little:-) Why can’t I get bird photos like that? I can’t even get one in the viewfinder often and when I do, it just flies out of the picture:-)
Try to pre-focus the camera at about the distance where you think the majority of birds will be flying. That will help the camera acquire focus on the subject quicker. As far as getting the subject in the frame it is a matter of practice, and keeping your focus point on the head of the bird.
Thank you for your fast, and clear reply. A few minutes ago I won an auction for a refurbished Nikon V2 :-) Now I have to find a Nikon FT-1 and run to take some pics in the field :-)
Hello Toni, I have two FT-1 adapters.Got 1 included in my V1 kit and a second included in my V3 kit.
I’d be happy to part with one. Make me an offer if you are interested. You can pm me.
Excellent shots and a very informative article. I have a question that the 2.7x crop factor on the Nikon 1 gives a EFov of 810mm with a 300mm lens thus does this extra reach come with some trade offs in the form of image quality reduction or does it give acceptable images. I am planning to try the Nikon 1 with FT-1 adapter with my Nikkor 70-300mm
The overall image quality will be the result of camera sensor performance and the properties of the lens used. I’ve certainly found that the image quality has been acceptable when using the Nikkor 70-200 f/4, even when I’ve added the Nikkor TC-17E II teleconverter with that lens. I’ve also used the V2 with Nikkor 85mm f/1.8 and found it capable of producing very good images with that lens.
I used to own a Nikkor 70-300 lens and found it to be a bit soft over 200mm when used with a D7000 but I have never shot with it on a V2 so I cannot comment on that specifically. If you search the internet you will find some people who are quite happy using the 70-300 with their Nikon 1.
The best thing is simply to give it a try and see if it meets your expectations. I’d suggest starting with static subjects as you’ll likely find trying to track birds in flight on the long end of your 70-300 can be quite a challenge in terms of just finding the subject…then keeping it in the frame.
Thank you for the reply. Yes the image does get soft beyond 200mm. Yes tracking a bird in flight on the long end of the lens will be tedious and challenging. Thus I think first I will have to try and will take a look at the images taken by people who have tried 70-300mm on the Nikon 1. Thank you for the valuable advice and I will post once I try it on my own
For those of you that may be wondering if the new Tamron 150-600 VC will work with a Nikon 1 with an FT-1 adapter I had a chance to check this out at the Henry’s Camera Exposure event in Toronto.
The Nikon 1 V2 does not recognize the Tamron 150-600 at all. A representative from the Canadian distributor for Tamron explained that the lens has been designed for Nikon DSLRs and not mirrorless cameras.
Thanks for the informative piece. I enjoyed it. I’ve tried my V1/FT1 with a variety of lenses, including my Siggy 120-300mm F/2.8 OS and Nikon 500mm F/4G. Image quality is pretty good for birds on a stick in decent light. Birds in flight are definitely a challenge because of the single point autofocus and the viewfinder interruptions caused by image review. After a lot of testing I’m comfortable with my conclusion that for roughly the same field of view I’m better off using my D7100 and cropping than the V1/FT1 — this is true for image quality and really true for autofocus and tracking in less than optimal conditions. It is also worth keeping in mind that once you have a heavy piece of glass in front of a N1 body, you no longer have a light kit — rather you have a kit that is unbalanced. I think the promise of the N1 series for bird photography will only be realized with a native N1 supertele lens.
Thanks for your comment.
Unfortunately with the V1 you are unable to turn off the ‘image review’ and that really does slow things down quite a bit. With the V2 this can be turned off.
To you point about an N1 supertele for birding….it will be interesting to see how the 1 Nikon 70-300 performs.
Thanks for your formidable review!
I’m thinking about buying a Nikon 1 V3 or a J4 …
Would you know, what I would really miss by buying the J4 compared to the V3, if I use it only for birding together with the FT-1 adapter. Do you think, the higher price of the V3 is well invested, even so I would not buy a DF-N1000?
I guess it will come down to how comfortable you are shooting without a viewfinder and if you plan on trying to take images of birds in flight. If your plan is to only take images of perched birds and perhaps use a tripod most of the time, the J or S series of Nikon 1 cameras may meet your needs.
The biggest difference between the V3 and J4 cameras is the lack of a viewfinder with the J4. Since I ‘grew up’ taking photos with an SLR, I would find it very difficult not to have a viewfinder on a camera…and I’d likely find it virtually impossible to take shots of birds in flight without a viewfinder. It may be quite different for you.
Before buying either of the cameras I’d recommend that you borrow a Nikon 1 and try to take photos of birds with it.
From a cost perspective your other option would be to buy a new Nikon 1 V2 or V1 if you can find one, as they would be much more affordably priced. The V1 is likely very hard to find, and in some countries even finding a V2 is getting very difficult. You can always look for a good used V series camera as well.
It is difficult for me to advise whether the V3 is ‘worth’ more money than a J4 as it really comes down to an individual’s needs and purchase criteria. I have ordered a V3…but my main reasons to do so are for the enhanced video capability, touch screen focusing, and the flip screen. If I was only concerned about birding images, the V2 would have met my needs.
Again, before buying a Nikon 1….I’d recommend borrowing one and trying to shoot some bird images. That will help you decide how important having a viewfinder is for you.
Thank you very much for your article! I immensely enjoyed it. In fact, I have enjoyed many of your recent postings on your expeditions and photojournalism adventures . Well done. : -)
What a superb job you did with these challenging action and still shots of these lovely birds, in particular with the limitations of the physical setting and of the equipment that you described. In my mind, that’s one of the many characteristics of a skilled and great photographer. :-)
Thomas, I especially want to thank you for describing your technique and pointing out the fact that you used *spot* metering for your exposures. I cannot relate to you how many times I’ve encountered beginning photographers where I live in San Diego (which is a great locale for birding, btw) and along my hiking forays around California, Oregon, and Iceland where the photographers are, unfortunately, using matrix metering for their bird shots and are baffled why their exposures are disappointing. Thomas, if you wouldn’t mind, for the sake of teaching for any beginners who read your post, would you kindly explain your rationale for your choice of spot metering (as opposed to center-weighted, or matrix)? In addition, assuming that you were using an automatic exposure setting on your cameras (i.e., aperture priority, shutter priority), would you also comment on your exposure compensation settings? With the exception of your still of that lovely cardinal, it would be safe to assume that you used anywhere from +1 2/3 to +2 exposure comp.
Great job, and Cheers!
Thanks very much for your posting and very kind words…they are very much appreciated.
I use *spot* metering to try and ensure the best possible exposure on the bird as the background is secondary to the basic integrity of the shot. This is particularly important with birds in flight where there may be a bright or dark background which could then under or over expose the bird if matrix or centre weighted metering is used. On rare occasions I do use centre weighted metering for perched birds if the foliage is attractive and could add to the overall impact of the image. Overall, I would estimate that I use spot metering at least 90% of the time when photographing birds.
You may be surprised by this…but in terms of exposure compensation…I did not use any for the images in this posting….and I rarely change the exposure compensation from the default of ‘0’ when photographing birds. I have included some detail on how I typically process my bird images which may help explain why they look the way they do in this article.
I used aperture priority on my camera with settings of f/4 to a maximum of f/5.6. Most of the images were shot at f/5. This was done to get decent depth-of-field and not going over f/5.6 was to avoid diffraction setting in because of the small pixels on the CX sensor in the Nikon 1 V2.
Most of the images in the article were processed using a combination of DxOMark OpticsPro 8, CS6, and the Nik Collection (Viveza 2 and Color Efex Pro 4). I’ve found that the bird image files from the Nikon 1 V2 seem to like DxOMark OpticsPro 8 the best…so I typically initially run the images through that software first.
Every image is somewhat different but typically I let DxOMark do its initial corrections….then I apply 1 or 2 presets…i.e. under Detail Adjustment I usually use ‘sharpen fine details’. Then under ‘HDR (single shot)’ I try all three settings in turn to see if any of them enhance the overall balance of the image to my liking. Sometimes one does…and sometimes not.
Then I go to the Customize menu in DxOMark and often add quite a bit more microcontrast often up to 60. I then adjust Smart Lighting, sometimes taking the intensity right down to ‘0’ if needed. This can help to bring back highlight areas. I often then play around a bit with Selective Tone and often take Highlights and Midtones down to between -10 and -20 (which can bring back a lot more details – this can help compensate for the limited dynamic range with the Nikon 1 V2’s sensor) and I play around with Shadows, often moving that to +20 to +35 depending on the image. At this point I process the file, and save it as a TIFF.
Then I take the image into CS6 and go into Image – Adjustments., and I usually adjust Gamma under the Exposure setting (taking it to between 95 – 92 depending on the image), I usually check the Curve Options to see if any of them are to my liking. If needed, I may go to the Shadow/Highlights area and make a few adjustments there as well. I then go into The Nik Collection plug-ins and open up Color Efex Pro 4 and see if the shot can be enhanced by the use of Polarization and/or Pro Contrast. The last thing I do is use Viveza 2 and make some final small adjustments with Structure, Shadows, Contrast and Exposure.
:-)…sorry if this was more detail than you were expecting….if so…thanks for your patience in reading it all.
Thank you kindly for your discussion of your metering technique. Hopefully, it will help beginners out there learn the essentials of birding metering and obtain good exposures :-)
Wow, your discussion of your exposure adjustments is quite impressive. I’m afraid those tech details are far beyond my tether; but clearly, it gives you the results that you desire and makes you a happy photographer at the end of the day. Personally, I stick to a simplified Zone System with my exposures. But then again, I’m very “old-school”, I suppose. ;-)
Thank you again for a wonderful post! I look forward to your next one.