Little Camera, Big Lens

One thing I love about digital photography is how our opportunities to be creative have grown. For instance, there’s a fairly new category of cameras now, called either CSC (compact system cameras) or ILC (interchangeable lens compacts). They have larger sensors than point-and-shoot cameras (meaning better image quality) and interchangeable lenses (meaning better optics). So we can get better pictures from small cameras. But there are other ways to look at them as well.

I’ve recently been using the Nikon V1. Its sensor is called a “CX” sensor, smaller than the DX sensor in many of Nikon’s DSLRs, yet larger than those in point-and-shoots. A DX sensor (in a camera like the Nikon D5100 or D7000) has what we call a 1.5X crop factor. That means it captures a narrower angle of view than what a 35mm film camera did with the same lens, or one of today’s “full-frame” cameras, like the Nikon D800 (which has an FX sensor). And since the CX sensor in the V1 is smaller still, it gives a 2.7X crop factor. That gave me an idea.

One of the accessories you can buy for the V1 is an adapter called the FT-1 (for about $250). That lets you mount most Nikon lenses on that little camera, and still have metering and single-servo autofocus. However, you have to factor in the 2.7X crop factor, which can be significant with a long telephoto lens. A 500mm lens, for instance, when used with that converter on the V1, now has an effective focal length of… 1350mm! And unlike a teleconverter, which has glass in it, the FT-1 doesn’t, so there’s no loss of light.

So last week I took the V1, the FT-1, my 500mm. f/4 lens and the TC-14e II teleconverter to a Kansas City Royals game. And I hauled that gear out to the fan area behind center field and set it up on my large Gitzo tripod. Normally that’s too far from the action for photos, but I had a plan. The TC-1.4 is a teleconverter, and when added to the 500mm lens makes it a 700mm f/5.6 (one stop of light loss due to the added glass in the converter). And when I mounted that combination onto the V1 with FT-1, I now had a focal length of 1890mm. Now I could shoot all the way to home plate, and make pictures of the batter with the catcher and umpire looking on. Which is a photo we rarely see, because of the distance.

The V1 is ”only” 10 megapixels, but it will shoot RAW (NEF in this case) files, and thanks to the built in viewfinder is easy to frame (a challenge with telephotos using just a rear LCD). I used it for a night game and had to shoot at 3200 ISO, but still felt the photos held up very well, especially after being processed by Noise Ninja to reduce noise with minimal impact on sharpness. And I look forward to using this combination more, and during a day game.

The old saying “Variety is the spice of life,” is true of photography too. Finding opportunities to make different pictures is a great way to challenge yourself. Look at the gear you’ve got and say, “how can I use this in a different, creative way.” You may surprise yourself with what you come up with.