Dirty Harrry

It’s one of those moments again, which I always enjoy, when something comes along that makes me question everything I’m doing.

I’ve been aware for a while that my work needed more grunge – that it had a tendency to be over-thought, too precise, too composed and overly formal…too digital-looking even. So it’s probably no surprise that I found myself astonished once again by the work of Dirty Harrry

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His shots are so varied but always exert a strange power. They are by turns surreal, beguiling, fascinating, downright weird, beautiful, in your face, in someone else’s face, shocking, impossible to fathom, funny and sad. There is grunge and chaos and humanity and layer upon layer everywhere you look. This is real hardcore street photography.

Some of the photos made with multiple flash shots exposed onto a single frame are astonishing.

Right now I’m left wondering how to move forward with my own photography. It may be a bit tough to suddenly find myself wondering if I’ve ever taken a truly worthwhile shot… but this is how we improve and it can only be a good thing.

A quick note: I’m not sure if I feel comfortable about the use of flash in street photography, especially when it’s aimed at old ladies in the dark. It’s not just the invasion of personal space, it’s the fact that the flash is often used to create grotesques, with many photographers trying to maximise the harsh angles and shadows by holding the flash under people’s faces. Sure, flash has a long tradition, as does getting into people’s faces (Bruce Gilden being the obvious example) but I prefer the notion that the street photographer is more subtle and less disturbing of the subjects. Dirty Harrry however has many more strings to his bow and the quality of his work is beyond question.

the nikon v1

“Could anyone tell me what the best settings are for the Nikon V1?”
“Yes…OFF!”

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Dare to mention the Nikon V1 on a camera forum and the trolls will soon come out. They’ll tell you it’s a toy, that the sensor is tiny, that no serious photographer would be seen dead with it, that you might as well use a mobile phone instead, that their old micro 4/3 camera is much better (even though it has slower focus, no inbuilt viewfinder and little improvement in image quality).

Of course most of these people have never even used a Nikon V1.

Now, it’s far from perfect and at the original ludicrous launch price probably deserved much of the criticism, but the price quickly dropped to £250 or less and at this point, despite owning a Sony NEX-5N, I bought one.

Why? because for street shooting it has a lot going for it… and it’s fun to use.

The auto-focus is lightning-fast, as fast as a mid to pro level DSLR, and it is very good at correctly determining what should be focused on. In fact the focus was my main reason for buying it. I rarely use auto-focus on the Sony NEX-5N because it is way too slow for street photography, so most of the time I zone-focus with a wider lens. With the Nikon V1 auto-focus has become a viable choice.

I have been using it set to shutter priority mode and with the ISO set to choose automatically between 100 and 800 and it hasn’t let me down.

The sensor is on the small side but it’s still twice as large as a mobile phone or compact point and shoot. There is a little noise even at base ISO but it’s not unpleasant. In fact the files put out by the Nikon V1 are rather nice and I find they make very nice monochromes. Some even suggest there is a slightly film-like quality to the files; I’m not sure about that but I have no complaints. Obviously with a sensor that has a crop-factor of 2.7 the depth of field is going to be very large, and there will be limited potential for subject isolation and bokeh, but for street shooting this is no bad thing. Highlights will clip a little due to a more limited dynamic range but for street use I did not find this to be a problem very often.

Although the camera itself is not the most compact mirrorless offering, the lenses are very small indeed (along with the general speed this is another advantage of the smaller sensor).

The 10mm f2.8 lens is a really nice lens. Sharp, contrasty and very compact.

Some of the options are a little buried in the menus, so if you’re a full manual die-hard then the Nikon V1 is not for you.

The worst thing? The really stupid, idiotic, staggeringly bad thing about the Nikon V1? After you take a shot, or terminate a burst, the V1 will show you the last shot and lock up the camera for a little while. You CANNOT turn this off! It is insane and I have missed the odd shot because of it.

It might not be ideal as your main camera but it’s a cheap, capable and fun street camera which can sometimes get shots that you might otherwise miss.

As a bonus, in addition to standard hd video (very good)  it shoots slow motion video at 400 fps. The fun I’ve had with the kids using this feature was worth the price of the camera alone.

I won’t go into huge detail but here’s a summary of the good and the bad:

What’s good:

Focus speed; the Nikon V1, which can use phase detect as well as contrast detect, focuses astonishingly quickly.. we’re talking mid to pro DSLR focusing speed. It tracks moving objects remarkably well.

Burst speed; up to 60 frames per second.

Buffer; generous storage and smaller files results in a deep buffer.

Mechanical and Electronic Shutters; the electronic shutter is capable of 1/16000 sec and is utterly silent.

Build quality; solid (a little heavy in fact) with a magnesium alloy shell.

Built-in EVF; bright and sharp with a high refresh rate.

Small quality lenses with an expanding range of options.

Very good battery life; I’m getting a day out of it, which I don’t with the NEX.

What’s bad:

Forced image review.

Menu-diving required for some basic options.

Mode dial moves too easily (really needs taping down).

Slight delay in eye detect on viewfinder (again, tape can eliminate this issue, though I seem to be getting on ok without).

Limitations of smaller sensor (also some strengths!).

Some fans of the Nikon V1:

Steve Huff

Craig Litten

Jason Odell