Ant Smith


The Nikon 1 V1 In Operation

Thursday 31st May 2012 5:28pm

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My first blog post about the Nikon 1 V1 was written after a few hours of owning it and described how I made sure to capture some shots I was very happy with as my introduction to the camera. Once I felt it was a machine I could use in a day to day sense the next task was to configure it so that it would most readily bend to my will, without the need to be constantly fiddling on with menu selections etc.

I'll not run through the various controls as though the user manual were inadequate or the internet did not exist, rather I'll talk through the personal selections that I've made - my priority is to ensure the camera is ready to capture an image without the need to pour over its various control options when 'in the field'.

The V1 is a modern camera - which is to say its user interface is a hotchpotch of hardware and software compromises. Expensive but very convenient switches and dials and the likes along side cheap but fiddly soft menus. The mark of a good camera is balancing these approaches within the target budget in a way that means day to day operation is convenient. The trade-off is that less frequent tasks become more complex as you struggle to navigate through the adaptive options.

The camera operates in one of five major modes, 4 capture modes plus Review. The capture mode is selected on the master mode dial and review is accessed by the 'Play' button. The actions related to reviewing are pretty much the same irrespective of which capture mode you happened to use last - which is why they separate out the controls like this. Some cameras have a mode dial that includes a 'play back' setting, I don't like that arrangement as it means constantly switching out of your current capture mode - so 'plus 1' to the V1 on this front for me.

In terms of capture camera needs to be configured at 3 levels:

  • Initial (out-of-box) set-up, i.e. once when you buy it

  • 'Normal' (for you) pre-setting, i.e. once at the start of a given shoot

  • Per-shot tuning, i.e. prior to tripping the shutter for a given capture.

Getting the second of these right for your personal shooting style is critical to ensure the third is as swift and simple as possible.

Initial set-up is performed entirely by menu (the Settings menu). This has 21 entries and the settings can be made no matter what capture mode the camera is in (or will be in when you use it).

Actually, 2 of these items (Assign AE/AF-L button and Shutter Button AE lock) cannot be set if you happen to be in Smart Shot mode. If you set the camera up when in Smart Shot mode you wont be able to set these options. This is actually just dumb and is, I suspect, a bug in the configuration of the menu system in the firmware - maybes Nikon will fix this, but it's not a big worry. It does demonstrate though how the contents of the menus (and the actions of the hardware buttons and switches) change depending on the mode.

The full list of options and how (and why) I have set them is:

Menu->Settings->Reset Setup Options

This is one of those get out of jail free cards that fortunately I have never had use, ever, on any digital device. God help you if you ever find this useful.

Menu->Settings->Format Memory Card

I always format memory cards in the camera (never on a PC). I generally move individual images from the cards and so only reformat them every few months.

Menu->Settings->Slot Empty release lock

Set to LOCK and never changed. The shutters in cameras do not have an infinite life, there's little point allowing the shutter to fire if I do not have a card in the camera.

Menu->Settings->Welcome Screen

Set to OFF, displaying this just shows a meaningless graphic when I turn the camera on. What is the point of that? The thing is already plastered with Nikon iconography, enough is enough.

Menu->Settings->Display Brightness

Left at 0 for both monitor and viewfinder as I have no trouble with the contrast of either. Maybes I'll use this if/as/when the cataracts develop.

Menu->Settings->Grid Display

Set to ON and left ON. A bit disconcerting at first but you quickly get used to the grid lines which I find really useful in ensuring my shots are suitably square. Much better to get this right at the point of capture than to throw pixels away in a perspective correction during post. I think it's a shame there are 4 grid lines not 3 though since I'm mostly interested in composing against the cardinal points.

Menu->Settings->Sound Settings

Turned them all off. A camera should behave discretely, the less noise the better.

Menu->Settings->Auto Power Off

Set to 5 minutes, why encourage the thing to go to sleep in the middle of a shot?

Menu->Settings->Remote on duration

I've left it at default since I don't have a remote.

Menu->Settings->Assign AE/AF-L button

I don't use the AE/AF-L lock button. I regain focus/exposure on every shot, it's just how I work. So I don't care about this setting.

Menu->Settings->Shutter button AE lock

I set this OFF, the last thing I want is for the camera to change its mind about exposure just as I decide everything is right and I press the release. I'd rather screw up a shot than miss one because the camera thought it knew better.

Menu->Settings->Video Mode

Set to PAL, of course - I'm in the UK

Menu->Settings->HDMI device control

I'm not connecting via HDMI so I haven't st this. Turn it on or off depending on your set-up (Hey, I know that's not exactly helpful advice)

Menu->Settings->Flicker Reduction

Set to 60Hz, set it to whatever your mains runs at.

Menu->Settings->Reset file numbering

Never! The scope for confusion is immense - I do not want raw file name clashes when I'm shuffling images around.

Menu->Settings->Time zone and date

Set to home location values and never changed. I do use daylight saving as I want the actual time, as I understand it, to be recorded. I don't change it when on holiday though - perhaps I should -


Set it to something you can understand.

Menu->Settings->Auto image rotation

I set this ON, it does mean portrait images are quite small on review but I prefer that to swivelling the camera around.

Menu->Settings->Battery Info

Read only, check it from time to time especially if the camera loses charge too quickly.

Menu->Settings->Pixel Mapping

This so sounds like a hack. I'm not doing this unless I get some serious image issues.

Menu->Settings->Firmware Version

Check against latest versions from time to time, in case an update is useful.

Normal set-up is a combination of entering menu presets and also making sure the default behaviour on various buttons has been set, so you always know how a button will react. If you change a setting for a specific shot it's a good idea to change it back straight after, that way the camera will always behave in the same way when you come to it. If you're forever changing a button setting, perhaps you've chosen the wrong preset.

There are 28 menu settings and 5 button settings related to shooting, but not all of them are available in every mode. If you work through the modes to establish the defaults then switching modes will be a lot easier, you will know how the camera is going to behave. For each setting I show which modes that can access the setting (VPSM=Video, Photo, Smart and Motion Image modes), and also the pre-set value that I am using.

VPSM|Menu->Shooting->Reset Shooting Options: As needed

Another get out of jail free opportunity, never use this in the field! You'll spend the next hour struggling to set the camera back up.

VP-M|Menu->Shooting->Exposure Mode: Aperture Priority

I always shoot Aperture priority with exposure compensation - it's very convenient and I can readily set the aperture to get the shutter speed I want - which is shown in the viewfinder. Things get a little tricky sometimes with AutoISO - which can take away control of the selected shutter speed - but if I feel that's causing me trouble I will turn AuoISO off (see later).

V---|Menu->Shooting->Frame Rate: 400fps (F Button Slow Motion)

You can only set this in video mode with SloMo selected by the F Button - I.e. this will be a fiddly set-up whatever you do, but hey, how often do you want to shoot a 2 second slow motion movie?

V---|Menu->Shooting->Movie Settings: 1080/60i

I keep this set to something that matches my Video processing workflow, I can't imagine ever having to change his - but video is just a toy for me really.

-PS-|Menu->Shooting->Image Quality: RAW+Fine

For me, the job of the camera is to get the best possible RAW recording. If I have a good histogram and a large file then I have maximum freedom in post processing. So I must shoot RAW. Capturing Fine JPG is really just a backup, but with cheap storage why wouldn't I?

-PS-|Menu->Shooting->Image Size: Large

As above. Why let the camera use less than it's full sensor size? If I want to crop I'll make that decision in post processing, not in the field. After all, every pixel has been paid for

-P--|Menu->Shooting->Continuous: Single Frame

I rarely use continuous shooting so I set this to single. If I want to continuous shoot I'll just have to dip in to the menus.

-P--|Menu->Shooting->Shutter Type: Mechanical

There's not a lot to choose here. Electronic shutter allows faster flash synch and I may switch to that as the default. This is a pretty odd config though I doubt I'll touch it often.

VP-M|Menu->Shooting->Metering: Matrix

If the exposure is wrong I will see it in the histogram and adjust - so I want the camera to just have it's best chance of getting the exposure right itself. So I default to it's most informed mode, Matrix. Rather than change that I'd just adjust the exposure bias. I doubt I'll ever need to change this. In the old days of film I would always spot meter against the zone system - but now we have histogram review I tend to shoot and (if needed) adjust exposure compensation.

VP-M|Menu->Shooting->White Balance: Auto

The auto white balance is really good. I leave it on auto and will only fiddle with this if I get into trouble. I spend a lot of time fiddling with white balance on the D2x, but the V1 performs well here.

VP-M|Menu->Shooting->ISO Sensitivity: A400

This is critical. In exposing a shot there are 3 controls: Aperture, Shutter Speed and ISO. The V1 gives you one convenient control method (the Zoom button) that can handle Aperture OR Shutter speed. And other inconvenient controls, either the command dial or the menu system. If you try to manually control all three parameters every shot will take a very long time. So I put some of the controls into the hands of the camera.

By using Aperture Priority with AutoISO in the range 100-400 I get pretty predictable shutter speed and ISO selections by the camera when I use the zoom button to set the aperture. If conditions are tough I may hop into the menu system to set a fixed specific ISO.

When I'm shooting without flash this is the ONLY menu setting I need to tweak shot by shot. Which means when I press the menu button I am already at the right setting, so changing ISO is fast.

However, if I am shooting both with and without flash I will also want to use the menus to change the flash compensation. So I do occasionally find myself shuffling between the ISO and Flash Compensation menu items - which is fiddly, but that is the worse case scenario. (If I'm shooting consistently with flash I will fix the ISO and then I only need to access the Flash Compensation setting in the menus, so again I find the setting is already selected when I press the menu button).

VP-M|Menu->Shooting->Picture Control: Neutral AND

VP-M|Menu->Shooting->Custom Picture Control: As Needed

These control how the camera generates JPGs from the RAW capture. Since I work exclusively with RAW I don't much care about the JPG rendition, so I just leave these at neutral. If I ever need to use the JPG it should at least not have been over processed by the camera.

-PS-|Menu->Shooting->Colo(u)r space: sRGB

sRGB is sometimes needed for publications so I stick with it rather than having to remember to change the colour space later.

-P--|Menu->Shooting->Active D-Lighting: On

Nikon does a good job with it's D-Lighting feature, so I enable this.

-P--|Menu->Shooting->Long Exposure N(oise) R(eduction): On AND

VPSM|Menu->Shooting->High ISO Noise Reduction: On

I suspect the device housing the sensor will know best how to do severe noise reduction, so here I am trusting Nikon and setting these on.

V---|Menu->Shooting->Fade in/fade out: OFF

Video setting, but if I wanted fades I would add them in post.

VP--|Menu->Shooting->Movie Sound Options->Microphone->Auto Sens.

VP--|Menu->Shooting->Movie Sound Options->Wind Noise Reduction->On

Again, video is not key for me so I accept the defaults here.

-P--|Menu->Shooting->Interval Timer Shooting: As Needed

Haven't played with this yet, but this is not so much a setting as a separate shooting mode. It's all pretty self-explanatory.

VPSM|Menu->Shooting->Vibration Reduction: Active

Nikon VR is great so I leave these active I might change it for a given shot if I want a really close macro but honestly I'm going to drag the D2x out for those shots.

VP-M|Menu->Shooting->AF-Area Mode: Single Point

My main drive is to have a camera that is no fuss. Although on the D2x I switch focus modes often, on this little thing I'm happy to select really simple focussing. So I use single point and mostly acquire focus at the centre, then compose then complete the shutter release. Occasionally I use the OK button to shift the focus point, but it's not often I need to do that. You'll want to experiment with this if action photography is your thing.

VP-M|Menu->Shooting->Face-Priority AF: OFF

This irritates me, I already know where the face in the shot is and I do my own focussing on it. So I quickly came to turn this off.

-PSM|Menu->Shooting->Built-in AF assist: ON

The V1 is slow to focus to my mind so I give it all the help I can, even though the focus assist makes the camera less discrete.

-P--|Menu->Shooting->Flash Mode: Fill Flash AND

-P--|Menu->Shooting->Flash Control TTL

My standard settings for using flash.

-P--|Menu->Shooting->Flash Compensation: -3.0

If using flash I will dip into the menu to adjust this. Usually this is the only menu related function I need so it is at least a fast adjustment. The only problem comes when I am switching between flash and no flash and therefore find I need to switch between ISO setting and Flash compensation setting in the menus. This mode of shooing is the only time I find the diminutive V1 fiddly. If only Nikon had put flash compensation on to the body of the SB-N5

V---|Button->F: HD Movie

-P--|Button->F: Shutter Mechanical

---M|Button->F: Any Theme

I ensure I have preset the F button behaviour for each mode, I then hardly have to worry about it. I wish Nikon had allowed the F button to modify the zoom button function - then I could have quickly set Aperture and either shutter or ISO without resorting to menus.

VP-M|Button->Zoom: Set Aperture

I shoot aperture priority so this, the most convenient control, sets the aperture for me.

VP-M|Button->Command Dial->+/-: Exposure Bias 0.0

This is also a very convenient control and I use it a lot while shooting.

VP-M|Button->Command Dial->AE-l/AF-L: Momentary Lock

My style of shooting doesn't need this, would have preferred fast access to ISO setting here.

VP--|Button->Command Dial->Self Timer: OFF

Used as needed of course, nice and convenient but possibly more convenient than I need.

V---|Button->Command Dial->AF: AF-C AND

-P--|Button->Command Dial->AF: AF-F

My preferred Autofocus settings.

VP-M|Button->Command Dial->OK: AF Point Centre

A very convenient means to shuffle the AF point, which I use occassionally. Good that it is convenient for when I do need it.

Having made all of the above settings I'm ready to use the camera in the field. It may seem like there's a lot to deal with (21 initial and 35 shooting settings), but most of the complexity/flexibility has been dealt with

so my typical shooting operation goes something like:

  • Zoom Button: Set aperture

  • +/- Button/Dial/OK: Set exposure compensation

  • Shutter Release Half press: Acquire focus/exposure

  • Compose

  • Shutter Release Full Press

And my trickiest shooting is typically:

  • Zoom Button: Set aperture

  • +/- Button/Dial/OK: Set exposure compensation

  • Menu Button/Right/Right/Dial/OK/Menu/Menu: Set ISO

  • OK/Dial/OK: Set focus point

  • Shutter Release Half press: Acquire focus/exposure

  • Compose

  • Shutter Release Full Press

I very rarely have to navigate through menus and I have a lot of control over aperture, shutter seed, ISO, and Focus - everything you need to control a shot in fact.

The V1 interface is quite well thought out. The only changes I would like would be to have similar control over ISO and Flash compensation that I get with Exposure compensation. A firmware update allowing more functions on the command dial to be soft assigned could easily achieve that IF Nikon were to care to give us that kind of flexibility. Unfortunately, I doubt they will.

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