Cormorants in flight with Nikon 1 J5

From time to time I like to go out on a limb and try something experimental just for fun. Before I get too far into this article I’d like to thank one of our readers (and a fellow photography writer) Ross Chevalier for sparking the idea for this article (you can check out his site here). In one of his comments Ross suggested that it may be possible to use elastic bands to affix a Hoodman or Zacuto Z-Finder to a Nikon 1 J5 and create a viewfinder. Sounded like an interesting idea to me so I tried it, then went out to photograph some cormorants in flight with the Nikon 1 J5.

First let’s have a look at the Nikon 1 J5 rigged up with a 3X Zacuto Z-Finder.

NOTE: Click on images to enlarge.

J5 cormorant 1a

Quite an interesting looking little beast isn’t it!

Attempting to capture birds in flight while supporting the bottom of the Z-Finder with the thumb of my shutter hand, trying to grip the J5 by pinching in the heel of that same hand, keeping my index finger on the shutter, and operating the zoom with my left hand…was an interesting experience in coordination. After a while it actually wasn’t that bad to keep things together. Although I wouldn’t choose to do this on a regular basis, cobbling something like this together when needed could be a viable option for a lot of Nikon 1 owners who do not own a V-Series camera. Rather than using elastic bands I think Velcro straps would hold a Hoodman or Z-Finder much more securely and result in an improved shooting experience.

Let’s have a peak at three images from the same AF-C run shot at 20fps using manual settings and auto-ISO.

Nikon 1 J5 + Nikon 1 CX 70-300mm f/4.5-5.6 @ 149mm, f/5.6, 1/1260, ISO-160
Nikon 1 J5 + Nikon 1 CX 70-300mm f/4.5-5.6 @ 149mm, f/5.6, 1/1260, ISO-160
Nikon 1 J5 + Nikon 1 CX 70-300mm f/4.5-5.6 @ 149mm, f/5.6, 1/1250, ISO-160
Nikon 1 J5 + Nikon 1 CX 70-300mm f/4.5-5.6 @ 149mm, f/5.6, 1/1250, ISO-160
Nikon 1 J5 + Nikon 1 CX 70-300mm f/4.5-5.6 @ 149mm, f/5.6, 1/1250, ISO-160
Nikon 1 J5 + Nikon 1 CX 70-300mm f/4.5-5.6 @ 149mm, f/5.6, 1/1250, ISO-160

I went out to Eastport Drive in Hamilton Ontario to capture these images. It is one of my favourite spots to photograph cormorants in flight – although I arrived later in the day than I would have liked and had to deal with the birds flying a bit towards the sun which caused them to silhouette.

Nikon 1 J5 + Nikon 1 CX 70-300mm f/4.5-5.6 @ 216mm, f/5.6, 1/1600, ISO-180
Nikon 1 J5 + Nikon 1 CX 70-300mm f/4.5-5.6 @ 216mm, f/5.6, 1/1600, ISO-180

I used my standard RAW workflow to process all of the images for this article. I found the J5’s RAW files to be excellent with which to work. From a practical standpoint there is more highlight and shadow detail.

Nikon 1 J5 + Nikon 1 CX 70-300mm f/4.5-5.6 @ 101mm, f/5.6, 1/1600, ISO-160
Nikon 1 J5 + Nikon 1 CX 70-300mm f/4.5-5.6 @ 101mm, f/5.6, 1/1600, ISO-160

Once I became accustomed to the set-up (well as much as I could) I started to notice some things about the performance of the Nikon 1 J5.

Nikon 1 J5 + Nikon 1 CX 70-300mm f/4.5-5.6 @ 101mm, f/5.6, 1/1600, ISO-160
Nikon 1 J5 + Nikon 1 CX 70-300mm f/4.5-5.6 @ 101mm, f/5.6, 1/1600, ISO-160

The first thing that was apparent is the AF-C on the Nikon 1 J5 doesn’t grab focus quite as fast as does my Nikon 1 V2. It wasn’t terrible by any stretch of the imagination but there was a bit of a pause before it grabbed.

Nikon 1 J5 + Nikon 1 CX 70-300mm f/4.5-5.6 @ 102mm, f/5.6, 1/1600, ISO-160
Nikon 1 J5 + Nikon 1 CX 70-300mm f/4.5-5.6 @ 102mm, f/5.6, 1/1600, ISO-160

The Nikon 1 J5 appears to be capped at 20 frames when shooting in AF-C and the buffer obviously filled up very quickly. Once full the buffer was agonizingly slow to clear. In Nikon’s defence they likely are not anticipating users of a camera without a viewfinder to use the AF-C at 20fps very much.

Nikon 1 J5 + Nikon 1 CX 70-300mm f/4.5-5.6 @ 101mm, f/5.6, 1/1600, ISO-160
Nikon 1 J5 + Nikon 1 CX 70-300mm f/4.5-5.6 @ 101mm, f/5.6, 1/1600, ISO-160

It will be interesting to see how a future Nikon 1 V4 performs under similar conditions. I imagine that the buffer will likely be capped at about 40 images like other V-Series models. I hope Nikon does something with the firmware so writing to the card is much faster. It would also be helpful if the AF-C didn’t have that slight pause before it grabs. I found that I unintentionally moved the shutter a number of times. This was probably caused by my ‘coordination efforts’ with the Z-Finder more than anything else.

The other thing that I noticed was that the AF-C had trouble picking up birds flying over choppy water, especially at a distance. I suppose most cameras would struggle with this but I was not able to get any usable images under that specific shooting scenario. This seems to be less of an issue with my Nikon 1 V2.

Nikon 1 J5 + Nikon 1 CX 70-300mm f/4.5-5.6 @ 101mm, f/5.6, 1/1600, ISO-160
Nikon 1 J5 + Nikon 1 CX 70-300mm f/4.5-5.6 @ 101mm, f/5.6, 1/1600, ISO-160

For part of my time at Hamilton Harbour I shot single frames in AF-C with subject tracking rather than doing any 20fps bursts. I was missing so many potential shots because writing to the card was so slow that I was getting a bit frustrated.

Nikon 1 J5 + Nikon 1 CX 70-300mm f/4.5-5.6 @ 97mm, f/5.6, 1/1600, ISO-180
Nikon 1 J5 + Nikon 1 CX 70-300mm f/4.5-5.6 @ 97mm, f/5.6, 1/1600, ISO-180

Even when shooting single frames I could detect that slight pause with the AF-C before it could grab focus.

Nikon 1 J5 + Nikon 1 CX 70-300mm f/4.5-5.6 @ 101mm, f/5.6, 1/1600, ISO-160
Nikon 1 J5 + Nikon 1 CX 70-300mm f/4.5-5.6 @ 101mm, f/5.6, 1/1600, ISO-160

Overall I deemed this little experiment to be a success, although I’m not in any rush to go out and shoot like this again.

I think the new 20MP BSI sensor in the Nikon 1 J5 is a great improvement to the camera and anyone who is currently shooting with a Nikon 1 V1 or V2 (and other 10MP and 14MP Nikon 1 models) will definitely notice the difference in megapixels in terms of cropping potential. This should also broaden the appeal of a future Nikon 1 V4 considerably.

The more that I shoot with the Nikon 1 J5, the more that I enjoy it. I’ll be finishing up my field work later this week, then starting on my review of the J5.

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18 thoughts on “Cormorants in flight with Nikon 1 J5”

  1. Hi Tom,
    you are young in spirit! I admire your willingness to try new things. 🙂
    Interestingly enough, Thom Hogan just published his J5 review yesterday and one of his major quibbles with the camera was its handling when used with the CX 70-300mm. The solution you present here is not for everyone, but it is workable for hand holding the J5 with 70-300mm for BIFs.
    Getting back to Thom’s review – I found it a bit odd. It sounded like he was trying hard not to sound enthusiast about the camera. The only feature that I really miss from the Nikon 1 cameras is the bracketing and the deep handle from the V2 that got lost with V3. Other than that I take it for what it is – a small, responsive camera with interchangeable lenses – good enough for me.

    1. Hi Dan,

      I have not seen Thom’s J5 review so I can’t comment on that. A Hoodman with straps that Ross described may be a better solution that a Zacuto F-Fiinder 3X as the ‘elastic band’ approach is a tad clumsy to use…but it can be done. After taking a couple of thousand images with the J5 while doing my fieldwork I am finding it to be a pretty competent little camera. It is always important that people have realistic expectations of what they buy. As you noted in your post, the J5 is a small, responsive camera. I think it will certainly be good enough’ for a lot of people.

      Tom

      1. Hi Tom,

        I agree with you and I have no problem at all using J5 along with by cx 70-300mm… even w/o any additional stuff , I like its size as well.

        I hope Nikon will address the Focus Peaking functionality in their cameras .. I find it very useful for manual focusing and use it a lot on my Fuji cameras

        P.S. Nice pictures as always

    2. Hi Dan
      I can tell you after around 1000 shoots, that the J5 is incredible value for money. It has some limitations, but so does every camera. All in all it is fun to shoot and IQ is really very good and it is possible to take very usable images at ISO 6400 especially if down sampling. Colors are great and the touch screen is very usable for changing settings and shooting. It is also a very well made camera that is great for a wide range of photography.

      1. I already clocked about 600 pictures with my J5 – party pics, tons of low light frames. Funny enough it is out of stock with everyone in Toronto – I bought the last black kit from Henry’s 2 weeks ago. 🙂

        I was currently taking ISO 6400 picks with the V3. The J5 is excellent. More than good enough for web posts and the occasional 5×7 prints.

  2. Awesome Tom! Very cool to see you try out the idea as I sent the J5 eval I had back to Nikon over a month back. I concur with all your experiences, including accidentally knocking the shutter ( I was shooting one handed while riding my Harley so that’s all on me) Hoodman actually sells elastic straps with a ring for their loupe. The Zacuto Z-Finder is a lot heavier but now I am wondering if one could modify a Z-Finder mount to fit something as small as a J5, or fabricate one out of aluminum.

    Great article as always!

    Ross

    1. Hi Ross,

      Glad you enjoyed it and thanks for the positive comment! Thanks for the idea to cobble this together…it actually worked fairly well. I can see how the Hoodman would work a bit better if they sell straps specifically for this purpose. It is certainly something folks could consider.

      Question for you…I don’t know if you did any shooting in AF-C at 20fps or not when you did the field work for you review. If so, did you notice any AF hesitation at all with the J5 you had? Also, any experience with really slow clearing of the buffer?

      Tom

  3. Hi Tom, you could export to 16 bit Tiff from Capture NX-D and then import to your favorite photographic tool for further processing.

    I did an experiment doing that with Capture NX-D and Lightroom 5.7 and with very good results.

    1. Hi Anders,
      I have no idea where my Capture NX-D disk is even located…I’ve never loaded up Nikon software and have never used it so I would be like a ‘fish out of water’ trying to use it. OpticsPro 10 should have a profile in another week or so…I can always revisit some of the files at that point and compare image quality working with jpegs vs. RAW. Thanks for the tip though!
      Tom

      1. Hi Tom,
        Capture NX-D is a free download from Nikon and it is not bad at all for free tool, but of course with some limitations compared to OpticsPro, Lightroom, Capture One etc. which are much more advanced regarding editing.
        Anders

  4. Tom, I had a similar setup (albeit with less camera) on a Oly Camedia some years ago. The lack of a viewfinder made the Oly less than serious as a “real” camera. But I found a hood and eyepiece that made it work and it was much easier to use the camera with the hood.

    Nice work!

    1. Hi David,
      Thanks for sharing your experience with the Oly – I guess a lot of us find the functionality of a camera greatly enhanced with a viewfinder. Not sure if that makes us ‘old school’ or not…it just feels a lot more comfortable!
      Tom

  5. Hi Bob,

    I had a laugh trying to do it too! Actually it doesn’t work that badly and I think if some Velcro strips were used it would be something a lot of folks could use on a regular basis.

    Tom

  6. Tom, I had to laugh when I saw the picture of your camera with all of the attachments. I’ve been thinking about trying to do something like that on my Sony a3000. I wish someone was there to take a picture of you in action. I’m enjoying your posts and articles. bob

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