I can still remember buying my first camera, a Nikkormat, back in 1974. Since then every camera I ever owned had a viewfinder of some sort built into it. The prospect of ever owning a camera that didn’t have a viewfinder was so foreign to me that I simply dismissed buying the Nikon 1 J5 out-of-hand. Well, the combination of the delay in an updated V-Series body and the lure of improved image quality of the J5’s 20.8MP BSI sensor finally got to me and I bought one a little over a month ago. Within a week of buying the first one, I bought a second J5. What I discovered was that overcoming my ‘no viewfinder’ concerns was a lot easier than I thought it would be.
I’ve been pretty busy the last couple of weeks since my last posting on Photography Life, which has resulted in a number of articles on my blog. I thought I’d share an eclectic mix of images from those postings with Photography Life readers to help demonstrate why the majority of my ‘no viewfinder’ concerns were unfounded.
One of the biggest concerns I had when buying the Nikon 1 J5 was capturing landscape images on bright, sunny days. I really wondered how difficult glare on the back of the camera would make achieving the framing I wanted in my photographs. Especially having to deal with it on an ongoing basis rather than for just a couple of weeks when doing field work to write a camera review.
It’s one thing to borrow a ‘review sample’ of a camera from a manufacturer in order to write a review on it, and quite another to invest one’s own money in it.
What I discovered is that having a flip screen is very useful to help reduce glare and this sufficed for the majority of the landscape images I tried to capture. There were a number of situations where the flip screen was insufficient and I still had a problem dealing with glare on the rear screen of the camera. Luckily (I suppose) my head is follicly challenged and I always wear a large brimmed hat when out creating photographs in bright sun. Simply taking off my hat and using it as a sun shield on the back of the camera was a quick and very easy solution. Especially since the Nikon 1 J5 is small and light enough to shoot one handed.
My wife and I visited the Metro Toronto Zoo and I captured a number of images, including some orangutan portraits using my 1 Nikon CX 70-300 f/4.5-5.6 zoom lens on the J5. Not being able to anchor the camera against my eyebrow does require a change in technique when using a longer focal length lens. I found that the shutter speeds at which I could hand-hold a camera without a viewfinder are not quite a slow as those when I shoot with camera that has one. The difference, for me, is about one stop which is something I can live with.
When capturing some reptile images in lower light situations I found that I could hand-hold the J5 well enough to get useable images at 1/40th of a second with little difficulty.
Recently I had the opportunity to produce a garden video for a residential home owner. The project integrated video footage with some still images. Since I wanted to capture some waterfall sounds with better quality audio I ended up shooting the video clips with my Nikon 1 V2 and a shotgun mic (the J5 doesn’t accept external mics). All of the still images were captured with a J5. I found it quite easy to use the ‘non-viewfinder’ J5 to frame images, with the tilt screen and my hat handling glare issues.
I always shoot my Nikon 1 camera bodies using single point auto-focus when doing any kind of still photography as I like the precision it provides. Even when using extension tubes I found that I could hand-hold the J5 steady enough to get the exact focus point on a subject I wanted. This allowed me to capture the detail in the above image. Although the J5 has a touch screen I have it turned off on my cameras as I prefer moving a single point auto-focus point to an exact location on the rear screen. Using my finger tip to set the auto-focus point and release the shutter never seems to work out as well for me.
Part of the video project also incorporated images of some garden whimsy and sculptures.
Having a rear-tilt screen with any camera can be very helpful with these types of images as shooting from close to the ground is quite common.
I love capturing patterns of all types. The homeowner’s garden presented a wide range of opportunities for me to do that with the J5. Using the rear screen to compose images took a bit more discipline in order to keep the camera still and the shot framed correctly.
I typically capture the majority of my images without the need for any kind of cropping when using a camera with a viewfinder like the Nikon 1 V2. I now allow a little bit of ‘wiggle room’ in terms of potential cropping with my original captures when using a non-viewfinder camera body. Again, a small shift in technique.
I found that achieving desired focus, for example on the foreground petals in the above image, was not an issue at all when using a non-viewfinder camera hand-held.
Using a camera without a viewfinder is also a non-issue with street photography, especially if it is equipped with a tilt screen. The image above was one of many I captured while strolling in Niagara-on-the-Lake, Ontario with my wife.
Capturing my typical eclectic mix of street photography images was simple and I didn’t miss not having a viewfinder. If anything I was less conspicuous capturing images.
I’ve been finding that when I go out to take some casual photographs all I take with me is a Nikon 1 J5 and the 1 Nikon 10-100mm f/4-5.6 zoom lens. It gives me all kinds of image capturing flexibility in a very small and lightweight package.
Trying to precisely square up certain types of images does take a bit more discipline as I noted earlier, and leaving a bit of ‘wiggle room’ for cropping can be helpful.
Capturing images through windows, especially if the subject material is down low is made much easier when using any camera with a rear flip screen.
Trading off not having a viewfinder to get improved dynamic range and colour depth turned out to be a very good decision. Now that I own a couple of J5s even if a V4 came out with the same 20.8MP BSI sensor I’m not sure it would make sense for me to buy one. I’d need to investigate other performance issues such as buffer size, card writing speed and video capabilities to determine if I could justify the investment for my business.
The transition to using the rear screen to compose images has been far easier and faster than I first anticipated.
Other than not using my J5s for birds-in-flight or other types of action-oriented photography I haven’t felt restricted at all when out creating images. Folks who want to use a mirror-less camera without an EVF for birds-in-flight can purchase a Hoodman, SevenOaks or other brand of viewer made specifically for this purpose. Checking camera compatibility in advance is always recommended.
It may take me a tiny bit more time to frame and hold an image motionless on the rear screen for capture, but I haven’t noticed any impediment to my creative urges.
If anything I’m finding that not restricting myself to using a viewfinder is liberating from a creative standpoint. I am now using my J5s at all kinds of strange and usual angles to capture images I likely would not have even considered in the past. I recently visited a local agricultural show in the Niagara area which featured a large selection of custom cars. Using the J5’s tilt rear screen allowed me to capture a number of interesting perspectives of engines that would not have been possible with my V2s as they don’t have tilt screens.
I could still get the precise focusing point desired in my images and frame photographs to my liking even when holding the camera inside the engine compartment.
Experimenting with how to leverage the advantages of not using a viewfinder to compose images is important. Without touching the surface of the car, I had to hunch over and stretch out as far as I could with one hand underneath the hood to capture the image above. I used the tilt screen on the J5 to get approximate framing for the image. I then squared it up in post.
Using the rear screen to switch between horizontal and vertical images has also been a very fast and simple transition for me.
I really enjoy being able to get a small, light camera like the J5 into very cramped quarters to create still images. Using the rear tilt screen at unusual angles has helped to capture the exact framing I have in my mind.
If you’re like me you may be resisting even trying out a camera that doesn’t have a viewfinder. While I can’t predict whether you would enjoy shooting with a non-viewfinder camera, I can tell you that it is worth a try.
If a Nikon 1 body with an EVF, tilt screen and the new 20.8MP BSI sensor would have been available would I have bought it instead of a J5? Absolutely. At this point only some executives at Nikon know for sure if such a Nikon 1 camera will ever actually be produced or not. Since I have an extensive photography tour planned for later this year I decided to purchase my pair of J5s to take advantage of the improved image quality of its new sensor. As the old saying goes, “A bird in the hand is worth two in the bush”.
All photographs in this article were captured hand-held using a Nikon 1 J5. The images were produced from RAW files using my standard process of DxO OpticsPro (versions 10 or 11), CS6, and Nik Suite.
Article and all images are Copyright 2016 Thomas Stirr. All rights reserved. No use, duplication or adaptation of any kind is allowed without written consent. Photography Life is the only approved user of this article. If ou see this article reproduced anywhere else it is an unauthorized and illegal use.