Saturday, June 8, 2013

Review: A Better Cycling Camera and an Essential Ergonomic Accessory

The Canon S95 which I called the ideal cycling camera and its successors the Canon S100/110 remain the best choice for a very light, good quality cycling camera. However, small cameras come with a built in limitation: a smaller sensor, the recording device that replaced film. Onscreen photos are crisp enough but 8X10 prints begin to look soft--and become noticeably softer if you enlarge further.  Unless the laws of physics are rewritten you can't expect to print large, high quality photos from a small sensor camera.

Want to hang your cycling photos on the wall? Generally this has meant jumping to a large sensor SLR and a collection of high quality lenses. Unfortunately, SLR lenses can weigh a pound or more each and some require a tripod. Pretty soon you're hauling a photo package that weighs half as much as your bike! I've met bike tourists with fifteen pounds of photo gear.

Recently, the major camera manufacturers have compromised: smaller cameras with a medium sized sensors that accept mini lenses. Such "mid size" units approach SLR-quality photos without the burdensome weight or bulk.

If this were a camera site I'd roll out mind-numbing statistics to justify choosing a Nikon 1 V1. I'd split hairs citing  test equipment "differences" that human beings can't actually see. The truth is almost all digital cameras will take decent photos if all you want to do is post online. Printing is where the rubber meets the road. Print quality improves dramatically as  sensor size increases. And large sensor cameras are also much, much faster, a critical capability when shooting action. But an even more important difference, the one you might want to obsess about, is in the ergonomics.

Speed first: no camera now made at any price in any format is faster than Nikon's entry in the new "mid size" camera market the Nikon 1  which will actually take 60 (Sixty) perfectly exposed frames in one second! You have to see this happen at, say, a soccer game or bird preserve, to appreciate the jaw dropping results.

Doting parents and grandparents struggling to capture fast-moving kids need look no further:  the Nikon 1 is the camera you've been dreaming about. Gone are the empty goal posts shot  just after the  heroic touchdown. Every single moment is captured in sharp, high resolution color and the video capabilities are impressive as well.




Cycle tourists will take home perfect renditions of all shots taken in decent light with this camera.






Now to the ergonomics: even at less than half the size of an SLR, cyclists must consider the extra weight involved, which will vary according to how many lenses you pack. (Two will get you through most situations). The Nikon V1 includes a proper viewfinder which permits you to hold the camera up to your eye instead of struggling to make out a sun-blasted  screen while balancing the whole camera in front of your face, a great feature. Both the photo quality and speed are far better than any small sensor camera, making the mid size Nikon 1 an attractive option for cycle tourists who are serious about photography. The Nikon 1 V1 (below), now last year's model, has dropped to a fraction (as little as one third!) of its original price and can still be had new with a factory warranty. But it has a serious ergonomic flaw:it can easily slip from your hands.

                                        

As it comes out of the box the Nikon 1 V1 is a handsome camera with classic rangefinder styling, but how are you supposed to hold on to it? The cosmetic ridge below the "1" isn't going to do you much good if you are shooting one handed from a bike.



As soon as you add the Richard Franiec Grip the V1 is transformed from a slippery bar of plastic to a fine hand tool. Like all Franiec products, the grip appears to be factory made by the manufacturer. In this case it's better than the one that Nikon grudgingly added to the V2 (below).


                                  


Nikon followed Franiec's lead: the V1 needed a grip so they  tacked one on to its successor, fattening up the camera even more by squeezing in a (reduced capacity!) battery. The result looks like a halfway measure, an awkward afterthought. If Nikon had simply hired Franiec to design an ergonomic grip the V2 might have retained the elegant good looks of the V1.