Nikon V1 – shooting 4K 60fps raw for $200

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Above – the compressed 2.4k version of 4K raw from the Nikon V1 (download the original at Vimeo) by Javier Sobremazas

The Nikon V1 is $220 (body) or $300 (kit) on eBay – get it whilst you still can

There’s a dark horse in our midst which very few know about, a camera which can shoot 4K raw at 60fps for $200.

A few days ago I got a message from EOSHD forum user Javier Sobremazas.

He was exploring the Nikon V1 burst mode and showed me a very promising ‘proof of concept’ video which was password protected at the time.

That video (above) was shot at 4k (3,872 x 2,592) and edited at 2.4K.

The burst mode on the Nikon V1 shoots not with a mechanical shutter, but with a fully electronic one which shifts the entire 4K sensor output to the buffer at up to 60fps.

No other camera on the market can do this, it is unique to the Nikon 1 series due to some very clever sensor technology by Aptina. Sony recently surrendered their ENTIRE image sensor patent portfolio for free to Aptina to access their CMOS technology.

So what did Nikon do with the cutting edge 1 inch Aptina sensor?

Their paired it with their cheapest camera, the J1, and the slightly more adventurous (is that the right word?) Nikon V1 with enthusiast leanings (it has an EVF).

The buffer as a result, is a typical ten dollar piece of silicon which holds just 30 raw files. A scandal!

Though don’t despair entirely – that’s enough to capture a stunning sequence of ‘moving stills’ in raw format at 4K resolution for 1 second per burst at 30fps, or 0.5 seconds at 60fps for slow motion.

Far from being a gimmick, short bursts of movement are an authentic filmmaking technique, a technique I full intend to exploit in 4K raw now I have bought a V1 myself.

Above – Darren Aronfosky’s lucid moments in Requium for A Dream, et al

Limitations within reason breed creativity.

That you can now shoot this way for $200 in 4K raw is astonishing – creatively it is going to be very nice.

You can conform the sequences to 24p so they last longer and get a mild dose of slow-motion.

The image looks like the Alexa in short 1 second bursts. Of course it is bonafide raw, so all that you’d expect from a raw shooting cinema camera rather than the fast-becoming-tiresome compressed video look.

The raw motion workflow is also very viable. The raw stills from the Nikon V1 can easily be converted to Cinema DNG sequences with the free Adobe DNG Converter, and coloured / edited in DaVinci Resolve – the same workflow used by the Blackmagic Cinema Camera.

If you export to 4K ProRes, MJPEG or H.264 then with Twixtor and Premiere or Final Cut Pro you can produce stunningly beautiful 2-3 second long super-slow mo sequences too.

In another nod to Aronofsky who shoots most of his work on 16mm film, most Super 16mm and 16mm c-mount lenses can be used on the Nikon V1. I have a Nikon 1 c-mount adapter from ciecio7 on eBay and it works well in video mode – but you will need the new V2 body to shoot in burst mode with it. That allows full manual control with a manual lens in burst mode, whilst the V1 can only enable the burst mode when a CX lens is attached and the camera sets exposure in P mode and then it locks exposure for the 30 frame burst at 30fps (1 second) or 60fps (0.5 second).

Forget the J1, J2 and J3 as they have a smaller buffer which holds less than 15 frames.

There’s also a Nikon F mount adapter for the camera which may allow you to use the 4K raw burst mode for short video sequences with Nikon DSLR lenses and Leica R glass.

I’ve decided to order the Nikon V1 with 10-30mm and 30-110mm for 350 euros altogether. A total bargain for this specific creative use. The lenses are equivalent to approximately 28-80mm and 80mm-300mm on full frame so very versatile, though the maximum aperture is F3.5. I have a Switar 10mm F1.6 which covers the whole sensor on the Nikon V1 but of course to use that for 4K video sequences I shall need to upgrade to the V2.

Bonus – 400fps slow mo

The V1 can shoot at 400fps in a cinemascope style letterbox format at reduced resolutions. In video mode (1080/30p and 640×240 @ 400fps) the V1 doesn’t need a CX lens attached.

Though this frame rate is of course very poor quality, creatively this can also work as this low-fi video shows in abundance.

This was shot on the Casio F1 bridge camera at 200fps which dates back nearly 5 years!

Are they mad?

So here is a sensor that Nikon put in a $200 consumer camera which had it been paired with a large buffer memory could shoot 4K raw at 60fps like a $25,000 digital cinema camera.

Of course the sensor would require cooling and it isn’t known how long it could continuously pump out such a huge amount of raw frames for – there might be other factors other than memory and heat.

But c’mon…

This is incredibly under-utilised technology, in a Walmart bargain bin camera, that puts to shame EVERYTHING else on the market.

Not even Nikon’s flagship $6000 DSLR the D4 can shoot raw at 60fps – it maxes out around 10fps and the Canon 1D X / 1D C can ‘only’ muster a maximum of 14fps. Granted these DSLRs use higher resolution sensors but 10MP is plenty enough for stills and strikes a sweet spot – namely good low light performance and 4K video.

This sensor should no longer sit on the shelf. It’s too good.

Perhaps the guys from Ikonoskop can buy this sensor, or perhaps an engineering team can replace the buffer memory on the V1 with something much larger and with Vitaliy Kiselev reverse engineering skills on the coding side – remove the 1 second limit in firmware.

Hopefully Aptina will sell their sensor to Blackmagic for the BMCC V2.0? At a 2.7x crop it is slightly smaller than 2.3x – but to be honest 2.3x is a bit of a no-man’s land – larger than Super 16mm so most of that nice glass vignettes, but smaller than Micro Four Thirds so the lenses for that system don’t match either, in terms of the focal lengths on full frame they’re designed to match up with.

Aptina have also developed an APS-C sensor for DSLRs which is sampling at the moment. It hasn’t appeared in any DSLRs yet. Rumour has it Nikon chose Toshiba instead (for the D5200) on cost grounds which is a fine sensor but it cannot do raw at 60fps can it!?

Aptina’s sensors may not be the cheapest to manufacture but this one is incredibly special.

As a result the discontinued Nikon V1 is not going to go quietly without kicking up a fuss.

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British filmmaker and editor of EOSHD, Andrew works in Berlin on his own self funded filmmaking and video projects.

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