The Fastest Gun In The West – Nikon1 vs Sony A6000

— PART 1 —
200564170-005-cowboys-showdown

As many may know, my ‘usual’ kit consists of the Sony A7 (low-light big gun) and Nikon1 V2 (stealthy speed shooter).

Yes, the hood is on upside-down :)
Yes, the hood is on upside-down ūüôā

I recently picked up the Sony A6000 in order to ‘put it to the test’. Will it supplant the tiny Nikon V2 in my bag?

A7 and A6000 (not a *lot* of size difference)
A7 and A6000 (not a *lot* of size difference)

There’s certainly an advantage to using the 2 Sony bodies which can share lenses. The 1.5x crop factor of the APS-C A6000 can be used to extend the focal length of my existing full frame lenses (while still producing nicely detailed 24MP images) virtually ‘doubling’ my lens choices (ie. the 35mm also becomes 50mm on the crop camera, the 55mm also becomes an 82mm, the 28-70mm doubles as a 42-105mm, etc, etc.)

The added benefit to me personally is that I also still have a number of APS-C emount lenses remaining from the NEX 5, 6, and 7 bodies (all of which I’ve owned in the past – prior to getting the A7).

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So the incentive is there.

But the very small  V2 has very big shoes, and filling those shoes will be no easy taskll!!!

The reason I keep the V2 in my bag is because it offers a unique triad of traits:

1. HANDLING AND ERGONOMICS – in a sense, this is an important factor that relates closely to speed. For me, speed is about more than focus acquisition and tracking, frame rates and buffer size. It’s also about the ‘speed of use’ – how quickly and easily I can make ‘on-the-fly’ changes to the shooting mode, drive mode, AF, ISO, etc. And ohh what a difference there is between the original V1 and the V2! It’s the difference between night and day and I’ve really come to love the V2’s implementation. Nicely done Nikon.

2. REACH – having a ‘long reach’ in a small package is desirable in many circumstances, and here the Nikon1’s smaller sensor and 2.7x crop factor, rather than a detriment, becomes a real attribute.

3. SPEED – Pure, blazing speed in a technical sense – that’s what I’m talking about here. Focus acquisition, focus tracking, frame rates, and buffer. I know there are those who will say that anything more than 5-frames-per-second really isn’t necessary. Perhaps. I think we could debate that. But there is no denying… that it sure is fun!!!

So let’s get to it! ¬†Let’s see how the V2 and A6000 compare…

A6000 & V2 Head-To-Head
A6000 & V2 Head-To-Head

V2 vs A6000 – HANDLING AND ERGONOMICS

In favour of the A6000, the menu system is very similar (almost identical) to that of my ‘main camera’, the A7. The A6K is also very customizable. You might therefore think that this would then be an automatic win the for A6000 – especially from an A7 shooter’s point-of-view.

However… the V2 body is slightly smaller than the A6000 (even more-so with respective lenses attached) and notably lighter. It has a nice feel in the hand, and balance. This is good. But the real genius? The real genius of the V2 is its very¬† efficient interface (the Fn button and push-wheel Command dial). Together, the tactile body combined with the usability of the interface, really, really gives the V2 an extremely ‘polished, sleek, & nimble’ feeling when in use that I’ve quickly come to love, and that makes other cameras (including the A6000) feel a little ‘clunky’ by comparison. It’s a feeling that I know V2 owners ‘totally get’… and Ricoh users can probably relate to as well… but that may be alien to others (DSLR users, etc.). It is part of the shooting experience.

Despite being an A7 shooter, in the ‘handling’ category, THE WIN GOES TO THE V2.

The V2's mode dial, F(unction) button, and Command Dial (which you can also push) are very well placed, and highly efficient.
The V2’s mode dial, F(unction) button, and Command Dial (which you can also push) are very well placed, and highly efficient.

V2 vs A6000 – REACH

( WARNING – CONTROVERSY AHEAD! )

The smaller sensor of the Nikon1 inherently lends itself to being a small system able to provide long reach. Small, sleek, agile, 2.7x crop factor – here you’d think this would be an automatic win for the V2. Surprise again! You see, the A6000 has a trick-up-its-sleeve. ¬†The (very good) 24MP sensor, combined with fast BIONZ X processor does more than offer better IQ than the 14MP V2… it also makes good use of Sony’s ‘clear zoom’ (digital zoom with interpolation) that provides an extra 2X zoom (when shooting jpeg). If you’re willing¬†(daring? crazy enough??)¬†to use regular digital zoom as well, you can extend the optical focal length up to 4X.

I know the old mantra “completely disregard digital zoom” and “never use digital zoom”. I sang it myself, and gave such advice numerous times. I really think it was particularly applicable ‘back in the day’, and especially as relates to compact P&S cameras. But now, another expression comes to mind: “the times – they are a changin” (or the chorus from the Imagine Dragons song ‘Radioactive’ – “welcome to the new age, welcome to the new age”)

If we set aside the cliches just for a moment, and think objectively about the ‘reality’ of digital and optical zoom (the reality being that all things are usually not equal when comparing two cameras) it really comes down to specifics… details, details, details. In particular, the quality of the lens, the size and quality of the sensor, and the sophistication and ability of the processor.

I’m not de facto saying the that if I mount the very well regarded Zeiss 55mm f1.8 on the A6000 with state-of-the-art 24MP sensor and Sony’s latest BIONZ X processor, and use the clear-zoom algorithm to double that (cropped 82.5mm) focal length to 165mm that the resultant image will be better than that of the 14MP CX sensor and optical zoom set to that same focal length… but I am hypothesizing¬† that that could very possibly be the case (also, I am writing very long run-on sentences). I certainly wouldn’t rule it out. I intend to test this hypothesis but for now and until further investigation, I’m going to call it ‘a draw’.

In the ‘reach’ category, it’s (currently) a¬†SURPRISE DRAW.

The A6K with 16-50mm and V2 with 30-110mm actually feel pretty close in weight. The V2 offers 300mm of 'reach' here. So to does the A6K, but only with extensive (4X) digital zoom!
The A6K with 16-50mm and V2 with 30-110mm actually feel pretty close in weight. The V2 offers 300mm of ‘reach’ here. So too does the A6K, but only with extensive (4X) digital zoom!

V2 vs A6000 – SPEED

Well, here we find ourselves at the heart of the matter, don’t we. It’s the autofocus and continuous shooting that is really the ‘claim to fame’ for both these cameras.

Sony states that the A6000 has “… the world’s fastest autofocus system*” ¬†This is sometimes taken out of context by some who are either mislead by the small-print, or simply disregard it. There is, in fact, a tiny little asterisk at the end of that statement that must be taken into consideration, and when done so, the statement would actually read as such: ‘currently the world’s fastest APS-C autofocus ILC camera”. OK, that clarifies things a bit.

What does Nikon claim? ¬†Nikon claims the V3 (the latest top-of-the-line Nikon1) has: “…the world’s fastest* continious shooting rate with AF tracking” again with an asterisk. Here though the asterisk doesn’t really change the perception. You could add ‘currently’ to the statement and ‘among digital interchangeable lens cameras’ but I think that’s clearly a ‘given’.

It is interesting however to note the differences in the claims.

Does Sony claim that the A6000 focuses faster than a Pro Full Frame DSLR? No. ¬†Does Sony claim that that A6000 focuses faster than the Nikon1? ¬†No. Sony simply claims that it’s the fastest focusing APS-C camera (not to take anything away from the statement – it is indeed a fantastic and amazing achievement for a 24MP APS-C camera!!)

Nikon on the other hand DOES claim that the Nikon1’s continuous shooting with AF IS¬† faster than all other cameras, Pro DSLRs and A6000 ¬†included.

Does this imply that that Nikon1 is the better camera (for me) when it comes to overall ‘speed’? ¬†Not necessarily. Obviously the IQ is going to be generally better from the larger sensored A6000, and it’s also conceivable that focus acquisition could be faster. After-all, not everyone’s idea of ‘speed’ is shooting in continuous mode. Many still photographers may be more concerned simply with focus acquisition, in single shot mode, in varying light conditions.

And of course there’s the question of what does this mean in practical terms. Technical specs aside, it’s that ‘real world use’ that matters most. A marginally faster AF or burst rate may not mean much in practical terms, instead giving way to better IQ, handling, or other factors (including the not-to-be-discounted ‘fun factor’).

And this is what I plan to explore over the next little while, using and comparing these 2 cameras side-by-side, and where I’ll leave off today. If you’re interested in this AF shootout, please come back for Part 2.

Until then… so long, partner.

buono_il_brutto_il_cattivo_clint_eastwood_blondie_cowboy_hat_25_1980x1485

— PART 2 —
In the previous post (V2 & A6000 Shootout – Part 1) I spoke a bit about the ‘triad of traits’ that are important to me in a secondary camera: 1) Handling ¬†2) Reach ¬†and ¬†3) Speed

Before continuing though I just want to make note of 2 things that are NOT on the list: Low Light Performance and Subject Isolation / DoF.

How can that be? Those are two of the most discussed and thrown-around cameras specs today – especially the differences in the varying formats (CX, Micro 4/3, APS-C, Full Frame)

Well, as noted, this is a ‘secondary‘ camera for me (my primary being the Sony A7 whose low-light performance and subject isolation I’m happy with).

Zeiss 55mm f1.8 1/60th ISO1000
Zeiss 55mm f1.8 1/60th ISO1000

Like a cowboy with two guns, a samurai with two swords, a boxer with two fists (wait Рare there one-fisted boxers??) I often like to carry two cameras.

A great book, BTW
A great book, BTW

Not to say that there’s anything wrong with owning or carrying just one camera. In fact having that one special camera that suits your needs so well that no other is required or even tempts you is an ideal that many of us strive for (though perhaps a Nirvana that only a few of us achieve). One camera or two… three… or five. I’m not judging.

Nirvana_6

I only mention this because it’s a critical piece of information. The priorities that I’m looking for in a secondary camera are very different than what I’d be looking for in a primary camera. Likewise, if I were to own only one camera, the priorities would be different again.

With that point made, time for me to get back on track:¬†Handling…. Reach…. Speed

1) HANDLINGthe V2 won in the handling category, thanks to its great ‘feel’ and clever F-button / push-Command-Dial operation.

The V2's mode dial, F(unction) button, and Command Dial (which you can also push) are very well placed, and highly efficient.
Nikon1 V2

2) REACH – long ‘reach’ from a small kit can be desirable in some circumstances. I use ‘reach’ if I go to a concert. I need reach to shoot sports. I need reach for wildlife photography, and I often use reach for event or candid photos.

In the case of concerts where professional cameras aren’t permitted, the kit needs to be small. A small, discreet from-factor can also be handy for events or shooting on the street too. In the other scenarios weight is the more important consideration – the camera/lens doesn’t need to be tiny but having a lightweight alternative to the full-frame camera and 70-200mm f2.8 is a nice option when the day is long, or there’s a lot of walking or hiking to be done.

For concerts, the V2 and 30-110mm works well. It’s small enough to fit in a waist-pouch and has always been able to ‘get past the door’. For the A6000 I think I’d likely have to go with the 16-50mm (to keep the size small) and rely heavily on digital zoom.

For wildlife, sports and events I’d likely go with the V2 and CX 70-300mm (giving a whopping 800mm of reach!) On the A6000 it would be the 55-210mm (giving 315mm optically, and 630mm using clear-zoom).

nikon-cx-1-nikkor-lens-70-300mm-f4.5-5.6-vr-hero-banner

And here is the concern with the Sony – in order to get beyond 315mm I see myself having to rely on Clear Zoom (as the better ‘travel light’ alternative to adapting a-mount lenses or using a tele converter) Will the IQ when using clear-zoom be sufficient? It could be. ‘Secondary camera’ shots are (for me) more ‘casual’ ones that I’d simply post online or, at most, make an 8X10 print of. The Sony sensor is good. The Bionz X processor is good. I believe the clear-zoom algorithm to be good. I’d need the 55-210mm to properly test it out, and also it would be nice to have the Nikon 70-300mm to compare. I don’t have either yet, but I will take a closer look at clear-zoom in conjunction with the (half-dozen or so) lenses I have on hand.

I see you there in the corner Nikon1, with that big grin while I talk about the Sony’s short-comings. I hate to break it to you but, well, you’re not perfect either. Dare I mention… dynamic range? ¬†A youth soccer game in bright, open, afternoon light – black soccer shoes, black socks and black shorts, bright blond hair reflecting in the sun… dolphins doing back-flips, nicely caught! – if only those white bellies in the bright sun were a little less blown… For all your wonderful attributes, there are times when it would be nice to have just a tiny bit more DR.

ScreenHunter_30 Sep. 08 21.03

These are things I consider when I think of reach. It’s not just the ‘amount of’ but also the ‘quality of’ (where optical zoom, digital zoom, senor and processor all play a role).

The limited dynamic range with the V2… or having to use digital clear-zoom to extend the A6000 reach – it’s a double-edged sword (and a loose loop-back to the Musashi metaphor). It’s not as bad as it sounds though – in both cases the limitations are easy enough to work around and it is, after all, a ‘B camera’ that we’re talking about.

I actually find the V2’s dynamic range suitable for about 90% of the shooting I do. It’s only the really high-contrast (typically bright, mid-day open sun) that it struggles with – as do many cameras (the V2 just struggles a little more than most). And some people obsess about blown highlight and crushed shadows. If I want to capture a scene with a lot of dynamic range, I’ll use a full-frame camera. For more casual shooting I’m OK with some clipping. Expose for the subject and if there’s lost detail in the background so be it – it’s not the end of the world and you can still achieve a good image (some of my favourite photos are high contrast images).

Similarly, there are purists who will settle for nothing less than optical zoom. But I find the A6000’s clear-zoom does a pretty good job. I’m even willing to extend beyond the 2X clear-zoom into regular (4X) digital zoom in a pinch, if it means the difference of getting the shot or not. The clear zoom images remain pretty sharp and contrasty, but even when extending into (regular) digital zoom territory (where they become less sharp and detailed), ¬†as with a lack of dynamic range, a lack of sharpness doesn’t have to spoil an image, isn’t that right Henri?

Henri ¬†Cartier-Bresson: “Yes, Shawn – I agree. ¬†Sharpness is a bourgeois concept.”

Thanks for being a special guest this week Henri

Henri Cartier-Bresson: “No problem dude.”

bresson

Utilizing clear-zoom really allows me to get a nice long reach using a small, discreet lens and camera. I like that. But of course you really need to decide for yourself whether clear zoom provides sufficient IQ. I’m not saying that clear zoom is as good as optical zoom (of course it isn’t) – but I think it worth asking the question ‘it is good enough?’ (for your intended use) and how does it compare to the alternative? ‘

[edit – initially I found that focus options, such as tracking, didn’t work when clear-zoom was active. However, tracking does appear to work when using the LA-EA4 adapter, the Minolta 70-210mm, and Clear Zoom. I’ll need to investigation this further with different lenses]

V2 w/70-300mm and A6K with 18-200mm (which is smaller than the 55-210mm)
V2 w/70-300mm and A6K with 18-200mm (which is smaller than the 55-210mm)

Because 300mm is enough for me in most cases… and¬†I appreciate the ability to extend beyond that digitally (to 600mm) in a pinch… and because of the A6K’s nice DR… I’m going to give the win here to the A6000 realizing that many (probably “most”) others who want long reach in a small package would likely be better served by the V2.

Nikon1 Concert, Sports, & Wildlife Photos:

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A Big Grizzly (glad to have 300mm reach here) Nikon1 V2Landing Gear Down (Nikon 1 V2)Mom and baby seal in Vancouver harbour (Nikon 1)DSC_0892-2

Sony A6000 Clearview & (Regular) Digital Zoom Photos: will post more photos in future (as I’d like to post something more interesting/practical than photos of my bookshelf):

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With the V2 having won in the ‘HANDLING’ category, and the A6000’s narrow win in ‘REACH’, we now find ourselves with a 1-1 tie. However, the last category, SPEED, is really what it’s all about with these two! This is it… for all the marbles… for the title of ‘Fastest Gun In The West’: SPEED.

speed

3) SPEED¬† –¬†I’d like to divide this important category up into two broad areas: a) Single Shot (the type you might use to grab a quick photo or two on the street, or the kids playing in the yard, etc. and b) Continuous Shooting with AF Tracking – the type of speed you might use when photographing sports, ¬†kids playing, etc. (big generalizations, I know).

3a) SINGLE-SHOT FOCUS ACQUISITION – for single shot focus I used both Centre-Point Focus, and Auto-Area/Wide; in good light, and in low light. I used the kit lenses on each, as well as an assortment of others I have on hand. As might be expected, in good light both cameras focused extremely fast. Too fast for me to really notice any practical difference. In low light, both cameras continued to focus reliably and reasonably fast for the most part, with the V2 perhaps just a tiny bit faster.

Focus speed will of course vary depending on the lens, the amount of light, and what you’re focusing on but for all intensive purposes any difference between the V2 and A6K (in single shot) really feels inconsequential to me.

What about continuous shooting with AF tracking?

3b) CONTINUOUS SHOOTING WITH AF TRACKING

How good is the A6000 in Continuous with AF tracking? I’d have to say “pretty darn good!” ¬†Impressive even!! It locks on well, and tracks nicely both with predictive movement as well as more erratic movement. It does a very good job focusing and tracking objects moving across the frame, as well as toward or away from the camera. I was pretty amazed (I mean, we’re talking a large APS-C sensor here with 24MPs!) There are times where it gets confused and loses the tracking during rapid movement… or¬†occasionally loses sharp focus, but overall I think the A6000 performs very well for a mirrorless camera (though not at the level of a $7K pro-sport-photographer’s DSLR, just to be clear).
 
Can the V2 live-up to Nikon’s claim and beat the stellar performance of the A6000 (and all other cameras) in this area? Well… as it turns out… it can and does. Honestly, the V2 is a FREAK!!! It shoots at 15fps (the V3 does 20!)¬†¬†Focus locks on like a pit-bull, and never lets go.The buffer holds about 48 images(raw+jpg) compared to the A6000’s 21. Focus for all images was tack sharp (though perhaps easier to accomplish with a small sensor and typically larger DoF). I don’t know how to describe the speed of the V2 other than ‘freakish’.¬†
 
There’s no question that the Nikon1 is faster than the A6000 in Continuous with AF tracking. Is it the fastest continuous shooting camera with tracking AF in the world? Faster then even pro DSLRs? Nikon claims it is, and although I haven’t shot with a D4S or 1DX, I’m inclined to believe them.¬†
 
Perhaps the big question is, in practical terms, “does it matter?” ¬†Is the difference of 4fps (or in the case of the V3, 9fps) a real difference? Do the (rare) instances that the A6000 loses focus merit concern (it still provides a very high ‘keeper’ rate)… all things (ie. its great IQ) considered??
I think that really depends on you, and the type of shooting you do. My feeling is that for most people, the AF of the A6000 is more than fast enough.  If you have a specialized need for blazing-fast speed and the highest possible reliability from an AF system, then you need the Nikon1 (or possibly you should be shooting with a Nikon D4S?)
 
Continuous Shooting – Quick Break-down:

AF Tracking – Where the Sony A6000 focus and tracking feels very good, impressive even – the V2 feels reliable, rock solid, ‘absolute’. ¬†FPS – the A6000’s 11 fps is a fantastic feat by any standard, and probably ‘more than enough’ for most things. The V2’s 15 fps has a bit of a ‘Wow!’ factor (and it doesn’t hurt that the V2 just sounds cool when firing at that speed!).¬†Buffer – at my normal setting (raw+jpg) the A6000 holds 21 shots (about 2 seconds), where-as the V2 holds about 48 (just over 3 seconds). Buffer clearing – here the A6000 won-out and (fully) cleared the buffer in about half the time (25 vs. 50 seconds). Again, pretty impressive (especially considering the file size).

Final thoughts on speed: both cameras are really, really fast. Either one is likely to be more than fast enough for 95% of photographers.

There’s no question in my mind however, that when it comes to speed, the Nikon1 is in a class of its own. It is ‘beyond fast’.¬†Further, its small size, light weight, and quick handling, combined with its technical speed, create a sort of… harmony… between eye, hand, and camera that simply allows for a quickness… a nimbleness… a flow… a shooting style that is difficult to describe. The best I can say is that the V2 feels like an extension of your body, rather than a separate piece of equipment. Does that make sense? In any case, I hereby decree that:¬†

The Nikon1 is… The Fastest Gun In The West.

So… what camera will I keep in my bag as a backup to the A7? Despite the Nikon1 being ‘the fastest’, the A6K is, unquestionably, an outstanding camera – and in the vast majority of cases ‘plenty fast enough’. It compliments my A7 nicely, and there are times when additional IQ,¬†particularly¬†the dynamic range and colour depth (compared to the Nikon1) are appreciated. I think it’s likely that the A6000 will¬†serve as my backup and ‘B camera’ to the A7.

Does this mean I’ll get rid of the V2? Absolutely not! I foresee using it when I do need that extra degree of speed and focus accuracy… those times that I need to “turn it up to 11”. ¬†OK,OK – I know what you’re thinking: how often do I truly ‘need’¬†that much speed? I’ll use it when I ‘need’ to feel that nimble and stealthy shooting experience. I’ll use it when I ‘need’ to feel that rush. When I ‘need’ that bliss. When I ‘need’ that high. Because when you’re addicted to speed, the line between need and want is just a distant memory, long gone from the rear-view mirror.

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4 thoughts on “The Fastest Gun In The West – Nikon1 vs Sony A6000

  1. Thanks Mars. I feel like I learn so much just reading your blog posts. I love the way you kind of think out loud while contemplating photography, all the while sharing a wealth of knowledge. If only I could have a daily dose of this stuff…

    1. Thanks janmaaso! That would be a great name for the blog ‘thinking out loud’ ūüôā I hope to do shorter, more photo-based posts in future so… who know… maybe more frequent post will follow to.

  2. Nice blog! I also like the way you write these posts. I’m a fan of the V2 and it definitely serves as my one and only camera, but that doesn’t mean my mind doesn’t wander sometimes. I don’t know that I’ll ever cheat on my faithful camera, but it’s always nice to read comparisons like these with someone who actually bought and used the cameras. Thanks!

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