Category Archives: Equipment Review

After 60 days: Impressions of the Nikon 1 V3

My Perspective

This is a fabulous time to be a photographer. There have never been better tools to realize your vision. There have never been better opportunities to share it with the world. In keeping with that my early impression of the N 1 V3 is that it is a significant advancement and has become my go to – everyday camera and an important tool in my photo impressionism projects.

if its true that the best camera is the one in your hand, it may be time to think about switching hands.

almost alien, a jelly fish pulses through the tank at Ripley's Aquarium in Toronto
Photographed with  the Nikon N 1 V3. A  jelly fish pulses through the tank at Ripley’s Aquarium in Toronto. At 2500 ISO there was some noise. But nothing that couldn’t be fixed post production. © Stephen D’Agostino

To put my viewpoint in perspective I have been a Nikon DSLR guy since the beginning (with a short Fujifilm S Pro dalliance). Starting with a F2 film camera I liked the ability to make manual decisions but grew to love the freedom autofocus and auto-exposure provided when time was of the essence. Big bright lenses were a staple in my bag which of course rivaled a small child in weight. I bought a D4 loved it and then developed sciatica and the photographic world ended. I couldn’t carry my kit.

Photographed with the Nikon N 1 V3. Another Jellyfish at Ripley’s Aquarium in Toronto. At 4500 ISO there was some noise. But nothing that couldn’t be fixed post production. © Stephen D’Agostino

Travelling Mirrorless

The small mirrorless camera is not a new idea. The micro 2/3rds format has been with us for a while and Fujifilm, an early adopter, has produced some great mirrorless cameras. My introduction was the N1 J2 which proved to be a great travel camera (see my thoughts here).  What I longed for was a  Nikon camera to leverage my lens investment, a viewfinder to help composition on sunny days and good balance between size and holdability.  The N1 V3 doesn’t disappoint.

Right out of the box I knew I had something special. The camera is just big enough to fit in my hand. It feels well constructed. Add the grip and it feels sturdy. The controls are where a Nikon user would expect them; including the thumb wheel control dials. I added a long wrist strap from

photo Impressionistic image of a dragon boat
Photographed with  the Nikon N 1 V3. A fast shutter and viewfinder allowed this series of images to be stacked one on the other to create this impressionistic effect of a dragon boat,

I find I always have the grip attached. I think there are a couple of reasons for that. 1st it adds a secondary control dial which I seem to use a lot.  More important, the grip does just that; it gives the camera a solid feel in my hand.

The camera, two N1 lenses, batteries and the usual stuff fits nicely into Think Tanks smallest Turnstyle Sling Bag with room to spare for a phone and wallet. Portability – check.

photo impressionistic image of a dragon boat.
Photographed with  the Nikon N 1 V3. 20 images shot at 30 fps and then brought together with an opacity blend, I couldn’t have achieved this with the Nikon D4.

The viewfinder is an attachment. It goes on and comes off easy enough and provides a nice bright point of view. You can set it for  both grid lines and an artificial horizon which is a big help to me in image placement and composition. What I really like is that it adjusts image brightness in real time; meaning dark scenes are easier to compose because they appear as brighter previews based on your exposure settings.

The back mounted LCD screen is nice and bright. I like the way the LCD  articulates which allows for better composition when the subject requires an awkward point of view without feeling delicate.

 A series of images of dragon boaters brought together using an opacity blend to create a photo impressionistic effect. © Stephen D'Agostino
Photographed with  the Nikon N 1 V3. Shot at 30 fps, a series of images of dragon boaters brought together using an opacity blend and Matt Molloy’s time stacking technique to create a photo impressionistic effect. © Stephen D’Agostino

The kit 10 – 30 mm pancake lens has a really low profile and auto lens cap feature. No complaints about quality but I miss the barrel mounted “on/off” button of the other N1 lens I own. I now have to remember which lens is on the camera and what has to be done to start shooting. Not a great quality when you are in a hurry. I also miss having a filter thread. I use a variable neutral density filter a lot. As a result my 30-110 mm N 1 lens seems to be a permanent fixture.

My impression of image quality is quite good. I only see grain at the top end of the ISO range.  Nothing that can’t be addressed post production. At 160 ISO there is great colour fidelity and faithful tonal reproduction. In other words rich and true.

My Special Considerations

Photo Impressionism is my passion. For the N1 V3 to work for me  it has to give me the options I relied on the D4 for.   For the most part it does.

Photo impressionistic image of a dragon boat.
Photographed with  the Nikon N 1 V3. Shot at 30 fps, another series of images of dragon boaters brought together using an opacity blend and Matt Molloy’s time stacking technique to create a photo impressionistic effect. © Stephen D’Agostino

From a sensor size point of view  the N1 V3 has about 2 million pixels over the D4. That is important for me because I often work with “the picture in the picture”.

The camera is really fast. Blindingly fast actually. After moving to Lexar’s fastest micro sd card the camera will sustain long bursts of raw images at 30 fps without choking. Slower cards give you slower performance. This new speed allows me to time stack moving subjects in a way I can’t with the D4’s 11 fps. Based on my early experiments I think these long fast bursts are going to become an important tool for me.

A Purple Allium photographed in the round as an example of photo impressionism. © Stephen D'Agostino
Photographed with  the Nikon N 1 V3. A Purple Allium photographed in the round. On a bright day this image could not have been captured without the N1 V3’s viewfinder to place the image. © Stephen D’Agostino

At the other end of the shutter range I found that setting a low ISO (160 is the lowest) stopping down with a variable neutral density filter and shooting in shutter priority provides a good slow shutter result. For my slow shutter work I would have prefered a lower ISO. On the other hand 12,800 ISO creates some great “natural light” opportunities at night.

I was surprised to discover there is no multiple exposure mode.  I have relied on in camera multiple exposures since my earliest impressionistic  images so this was a setback. My understanding is that in camera multiple exposure is software driven so I am hoping a future release will solve this obvious failing.

A couple of complaints

No camera is perfect.  This one is no exception. Here is my list of issues I would love to see Nikon address.

multiple exposure mode – I’m not sure why a camera as feature rich as this does not support up to 10 frames in camera multiple exposure. Given the popularity of photo impressionism I would have thought that would be a given.

battery port – you have to remove the grip to change batteries. WTF!

A photo impressionistic take on the cupcake. A Prairie Girl cupcake photographed in the round as an example of photo impressionism. © Stephen D'Agostino
A Prairie Girl cupcake photographed in the round. Using the viewfinder to place the subject for this series of shots was crucial to the technique. © Stephen D’Agostino

viewfinder – I was disappointed to read that Nikon recommends you take the viewfinder off when travelling to avoid damage. In bright conditions that really slows down spontaneous shooting. As well, the viewfinder is just the mirrored LCD view. That means the viewfinder can go blank when the camera is processing or shooting can be interrupted when previews are posted. That matters when you are tracking a fast moving dragon boat. I would have preferred an always on live view option.

micro sd – I am looking at my collection of fast cf, sd and xqd cards. I really don’t want the complexity of carrying around yet another media type. Besides, a micro sd is hard to keep track of out of the camera on big shooting days.

colour space – Being able to choose your colour space is awesome. But the choice is limited to Adobe RGB and sRGB. The sensor is good enough to support Pro Photo, Nikon should too.


A photo impressionistic take on the cupcake. A Kelly XO Bakery cupcake photographed in the round as an example of photo impressionism. © Stephen D'Agostino
Photographed with the Nikon N 1 V3. A Kelly XO Bakery cupcake photographed in the round by taking a series of images all around it  and then merging them together using an opacity blend,. The viewfinder really helps subject placement which is crucial to this technique. © Stephen D’Agostino

At the risk of being labelled a Nikon Fan boy I have to say I love this camera. The N 1 V3 more than makes up for its few failings with speed and portability. Nikon users will immediately find the controls intuitive. It has the tool set I need for my passion absent in camera multiple exposure mode.

From my point of view; if its true that the best camera is the one in your hand, it may be time to think about switching hands.

Travelling Mirrorless

I have been following David duChemin for about a year now. Always fresh and thoughtful punctuated by great images.

His recent post “Mirrorless to Africa” caused me to reflect on my recent experience with Nikon’s N1 J2 . I think David is being very brave.

To put these thoughts into context you have to understand I love my dslr; a Nikon D4. It gives me everything I need without compromise. My N1 on the other hand is all about compromise.


The positives are compelling. The size and weight is perfect for travel. The lenses are sharp. The 18.5 1.8 rivals my usual 50 mm. The 30-110 fills in for my mid range dslr zoom producing good sharpness in good light. The underwater housing is svelt and well thought out (except for the inexplicable smoky back partially obscuring the LCD). The vibration reduction doesn’t get in the way and seems to more than make up for the inevitable camera waving that occurs when composing on the LCD.

Which brings me to my short hate list. I have come to hate the LCD. In bright light the subject disappears leaving you to guess what your composition actually looks like. That’s a problem for me when I am composing “in the round” montages such as the image above as I am completely dependant on the grid lines. And there is the awkward waving stance that comes with LCD composition.

Don’t get me wrong. I love the freedom. I just miss my trusted friend. Which brings me back to David duChemin. Africa is a long way away from his dslr if his experience ends up being like mine.

Postscript: Since publishing this blog David has posted a good review of his experience at: 

Technology Leads Art: Smartphones and the Rise of Photo Impressionism

red rocket
Red Rocket – a long exposure photo impressionistic iphone image by stephen d’agostino

Or “What’s in my camera bag phone”

I have been thinking about technology and how it shapes art since writing  about an exhibition of early photographs and impressionist paintings at the University of Michigan’s Museum of Art. The exhibition argues that some impressionist painters were influenced by photography. The influence of technology on photography is not a new idea. “What’s in my camera bag” is a staple subject for photographers. But it is more relevant in the age of iphoneography and the rise of impressionistic photographs.

Look up.
Look up – a photo impressionistic iphone image by stephen d’agostino

A Brief Chronology:

1860-1900 – Start with the impressionist painters . While they may have been influenced by contemporary photography, the more important factor was the invention of the paint tube. Before the paint tube painters were essentially studio bound. Painting en plein air required tremendous effort and significant resources. Of course it could be done. But the effort stifled experimentation and creativity.

Tube paint  gave painters the technical ability to paint when and where the  moment moved them and more importantly the ability to experiment with little risk. The resulting genre produced images that were immediate, fresh and impressionistic.

1885-1915 – Move to photography at about the same time. In its infancy photography also required a huge effort to be portable. Yes it could be done. Glass plates and chemistry could be carted to an appropriate vista. But the rise of the first photo impressionists, the Pictorialists, coincided with the arrival of practical gelatin process films and the introduction of the first Kodak in 1889. Portability allowed for experimentation without a huge investment but the final print often relied on darkroom manipulation and skill.

Rain – a slow exposure photo impressionistic iphone image by stephen d’agostino

2001 – Then we have the  modern photo impressionists such as Freeman Patterson. His book Photo Impressionism And the Subjective Image, published in  2001 inspired a generation of film shooters to experiment with the genre. But in 2001 experimentation was handicapped by the delay inherent in film. Images had to be processed meaning that the artist couldn’t know whether they had captured their vision for hours or days. The final image required printing.

There was also a fair amount of technique involved. Multiple exposures required a mathematical calculation to predetermine exposure. Long shutter photography relied on filters to neutralize colour shift. Darkroom wizardry was often used but wasn’t required. As a result, a successful image relied more on planning than spontaneity or just a lucky break.

2002 – While the first consumer digital SLR camera came to market before the publication of Photo Impressionism And the Subjective Image, they were not widely available  until  a few years after that. Digital capture  was to photo impressionism what tube paint was to the impressionists.

Digital photography meant immediate artistic gratification at no cost per image thereby facilitating endless experimentation and immediate feedback. Printing could be bypassed altogether. Looking back we see a rebirth of photo impressionism in the second half of the last decade.

The advance in digital camera features often meant techniques like  in camera multiple exposures could be achieved without any skill  (just compose and click) further enabling the genre. But still photo impressionism was not fully democratized until the iPhone’s first release in 2007.

Slow – a long exposure photo impressionistic iphone image by stephen d’agostino

2007 – The cameraphone/smartphone is the swiss army knife of digital devices and in many ways perfect for impressionistic photography. They are widely available and often affordable to own. They are exceptionally portable and as a result are always with you. Smartphones often have built in filters and features to assist in taking photo impressionistic images. The technology assumes that images will not be printed making sharing easier on a variety of platforms. Inexpensive apps are available to further the creative process. It is noteworthy that recently Apple and others have focussed on the camera as an important part of the smartphone mix. 

Smartphone photography has taken off; the iphone is now the most popular camera on Flickr. Not surprisingly the mix of widespread accessibility, the availability of creative apps and  immediate artistic gratification at no cost per image has allowed more photographers and now non-photographers to push the bounds of creativity on their phones.

The popularity of photo impressionism has followed the iPhone’s success. Consider the tiny collective as an example; a site dedicated to smart phone photography. By my count 20% of the images posted are wonderful examples of photo impressionism.

tools I use for photo impressionism projects on my iphone.
tools I use for photo impressionism projects on my iphone.

 What’s In My Smartphone:

I was a late convert to iphoneography. For me the camera on my phone was a note taking device; really not worthy of consideration as an artistic tool. It wasn’t until I started to play with apps such as  Slow Shutter Cam and Snapseed that I started to understand the creative potential of smartphones. All the image in this post were taken with an iPhone 4s.

Here is my app list (the digital equivalent of a camera bag):

  • Slow Shutter Cam – this is the app that started it for me. The app has a good suite of features including the ability to control shutter speeds from 0.5 to 15 seconds with automatic exposure control. The app would benefit from grid lines to help with composition.
  • InstaBlend – think of layer blending in Photoshop, a technique I rely on for my “in the round” images. The interface is a bit clunky but it gets the job done. I am experimenting with “in the round” using this app and will post my results shortly.
  • Marksta – I get that the www is the wild west of rights management but if you are proud of an image you should show you own it. This is a great and easy to use copyright watermarking tool.
  • Snapseed – originally a NIK Software picture editing tool. Google now owns it and is embracing it in the mobile market. It is intuitive to use and feature rich. I prefer Photoshop Express but I can’t articulate why.
  • Photoshop Express – An Adobe picture editing tool. It is intuitive to use and feature rich.  This is my go to app for on phone editing.
  • Flickr – I use Flickr as my test bed for new projects. The Flickr community is fully engaged in photo impressionistic endeavours. I prefer the mobile site to the app.
  • Instagram – Another great test bed for my projects. The app is the entry point if you want to use the service. The app has some tools but they are pretty basic.
  • PortfolioToGo – the app is no longer available for download but I still use to show my portfolio on my phone.

Final Impressions:

Iphoneography is a natural tool for photo impressionistic  expression. Portable with a rich set of features and instant feedback it expands not only the photographer’s possibilities, but also increase the pool of potential photographers entering the genre.

I think of my iPhone as a sketch pad. From my perspective it excels at images that are immediate, fresh and impressionistic. My phone is not going to replace my cameras for major projects. Photoshop Express and Snapseed are not going to displace my use of Photoshop. However like tube paint for the impressionist painters iphoneography makes it all the easier for me to explore my vision when and where I want. And that is a big step in the right direction.



Just Outside The Met – New York

New York is a magical place for photographers. For me it’s the energy of the place; the people; the mix of architecture.

We were walking south on 5th Avenue. A bright morning. The crowds pulling towards the Met and I wanted to capture that feeling. The image above is my second shot. A three second motion blur taken while walking. I guess you might call it a forward pan.

The back story is this. I usually shoot with a Nikon D4. It’s a great camera and my favourite for photo impressionistic experiments. But add a couple of lenses to your bag and after a while the weight is oppressive. A recent back injury forced me to consider other options so I thought I would try a compact system and bought a Nikon N1 J2. In picking the J2 price was a big factor. Nikon’s release of the updated J3 means there are plenty of deals on new cameras.

I was surprised at the image quality of the N1 J2. Even more surprising was the system’s versatility. It shoots Raw (NEF format) which can be a life saver. While it won’t shoot in camera multiple exposures; the shutter releases quickly allowing me to reproduce the effect in Photoshop. The camera gives you shutter and aperture control meaning long exposures are a possibility. Match the lens with a Cameron Fader ND filter using a step up adapter and you have some great creative choices. In my view this is a great alternative for my photo impressionism projects. My only complaint is the LCD can be a pain to use on a bright day. I like using a viewfinder.

For my taste, long exposures and in camera multiple multiple exposures are too soft and washed out. As a result I colour correct and add structure to my photo impressionistic images in Photoshop. In this case I have used NIK’s tonal contrast filter and the mid-tone conturing action from Vincent Versace.