Using 3rd party lenses

27/07/2014 20:00

Note: The behavior described in the article is experienced when using firmware v1.3

The range of lenses offered for Nikon 1 system isn't bad, but when you look at them from videographer perspective, it is not stellar either. Why?

The first thing which will catch your attention is very limited availability of fast lenses. There are basically just two:

  • 18.5mm f/1.8 (~50mm eq.), available from $190
  • 32mm f/1.2 (~85mm eq.), available from $900

Second thing you might notice is the complete lack of constant aperture zoom lenses. That effectively means you won't be able to fine tune exposure in manual mode and zoom as you wish. To be more precise - you can, but you will need to compensate the darkening towards far end of the lens on PC or accept changes in ISO or exposure time performed by camera AI.

One of the possible approaches to overcome these limitations of 1 system is to use reductions, which allow mounting 3rd party lenses.

Mechanical reductions

The purely mechanical reductions seem like good choice and I used one such with my V1 for over a year.

Dark side

Mechanical reductions have some limitations, by design.

  • no autofocus
  • you need to use lenses with aperture ring

The lack of autofocus is not surprising, as no contacts can pass info from camera to the lens and back. What will surprise you on the other side, is the inability to use focus peaking on your camera. As it is just a question of zooming the signal from the chip, I have no idea why this is disabled and wrote to Nikon support about it multiple times.

The second expected limitation basically cuts you off from using Nikkor G lenses, which lack the aperture ring. If you connect them via mechanical reduction, the lenses will be set to the largest aperture number. For 35mm f1.8 G lens this is around f/22, which draws the lens basically unusable in most cases.

We have already discussed one odd firmware limitation, but there is another. Do you like the high speed electronic shutter? Would you like to use it to shoot bursts at 30 or 60 FPS to create video? Well, you can't. Once mechanical reduction is attached, you won't be able to pick these modes.

Last issue might be brand specific, but while the affordable KIWI mechanical reduction works okay with Nikkor lenses, Samyangs with Nikon mount wiggle. It does not affect the optical quality in any observable way, but I would be careful using this setup in dusty or wet environment.

Bright side

Now I just made you melt in depression, let's be positive for a while. The mechanical reductions are cheap. You can get one for Nikkor mount at around $50 and when you know the limitations mentioned above, you can shoot lot of nice videos in full manual. I loved using these lenses with V1 and mechanical reduction:

  • Nikkor 28mm f/2.0
  • Nikkor 50mm f/1.8
  • Nikkor 55mm f/2.8 (macro enabled)
  • Nikkor 70-210mm f/4.0
  • Samyang 85mm f/1.4
  • Samyang 14mm f/2.8
  • Tokina 24-70mm f/2.6-2.8 (the delta is so small this can be considered constant aperture)

Electronical reductions

I resisted the tempation of electronical reductions for over a year. The cost of Nikon FT-1 adapter keeps steady around $300, which makes you think twice. Short version of the text below - don't think, go get it!

Dark side

There are just few two things which you might find less than optimal when using FT-1 for video:

  • only central focus point can be used for AF
  • continuous AF is not available when shooting video

The first one is nothing horrible, you just focus with center and then turn the camera slightly to get the focused point in other place of the frame.

The second is slighlty surprising, but you are still able to press trigger during the shooting to refocus. This isn't a big issue, as most videographers use manual focusing anyway for in shot refocus.

Bright side

The ability to rely on autofocus is more than handy, when-pre focusing the shot. This is the case for more static scenes, as in the others you will use manual focus anyway.

Did I say manual focus? Then I should add - very comfortable one. With FT-1, you will get the "far"/"near"/"spot on" indicators in the viewfinder, allowing to focus more preciselly by hand. The firmware glitch of mechanical reductions, preventing you from use of focus peaking, is gone too. Finally!

FT-1 allows you to control aperture of Nikkor G lenses, which removes another issues specific to mechanical reductions. And there is one nice little bonus - when using old lenses without contacts, V1 will be still able to find correct exposure in A mode. This feature is something rare even in DSLR world, so I was pleasantly surprised.

And the last thing - the high speed electronic shutter works perfectly with FT-1, so you can say hello to 4K clips.

The price is, well, 6x higher than the one of the mechanical reductions, but the comfort you will receive is well worth it. Highly recommended.