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First Look: Nikon Mount Adapter FT1  
Tuesday, December 27, 2011 | by Rob Galbraith
Back in October, the Nikon 1 system launched with a quartet of 1 Nikkor lenses covering focal lengths between 27mm and 297mm (35mm frame equivalent). These lenses are crisp, and three of the four are especially compact too, but if you've wanted to reach further into the telephoto range with Nikon's J1 or V1 cameras, or work at apertures wider than f/2.8, you've been out of luck.

Until now. Last week's release of Mount Adapter FT1 brings most of the catalog of full-size Nikkor lenses to the Nikon 1 system. Lenses with an AF-S designation are able to autofocus, while others will work but with restrictions on their capabilities.

Here's a first look at the newest and perhaps most interesting accessory to emerge for the Nikon 1 system to date, especially for those - like me - who want to combine the stealthy operation of the camera with some of Nikon's longer telephoto or wider aperture lenses.

Why put a big Nikkor lens on a small J1 or V1 body?

Prior to getting to know the J1 and V1, I'd have predicted there would be little benefit to putting a big Nikkor lens onto a small Nikon 1 body. Why? As soon as the situation requires bigger glass, it probably will also require, or at least benefit from, the features and performance of a digital SLR too.

With about three months of Nikon 1 experience now, my thinking has changed. Quite simply, I've become addicted to the V1's ultra-quiet operation. Being able to photograph unobtrusively in the way the camera (with its mechanical shutter disabled) allows is exceptionally cool, whether shooting pictures for work or for play. At golf, quiet concerts, church services, court proceedings and the like, the fact that pictures can be taken without making a sound is one of the most enticing Nikon 1 system features. Couple that with the right lens for the job and you have a powerful picture-making tool when silence is essential.

Going faster, longer

As the photos below show, Mount Adapter FT1 acts as the intermediary between compatible DX and FX Format Nikkor lenses and the J1 or V1 camera you'd like to use them with. Attach a lens to one side, and a J1 or V1 to the other side, and you're ready to go. The FT1 includes its own non-rotating 1/4-20 socket, for tripod mounting. It doesn't include any optics of its own; the only glass you'll find is in the lens you place in front of it.

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Intermediary: Views of Mount Adapter FT1, including with an AF-S 85mm f/1.4G and AF-S 50mm f/1.4G attached. Click photos to enlarge (Photo by Rob Galbraith/Little Guy Media)

The one possibly hard part of using the adapter is deciding which lens to put on, since some math is required. The J1 and V1 sensor, at 13.2 x 8.8mm, is quite a bit smaller than that of Nikon's digital SLRs, resulting in a 2.7x focal length crop factor relative to a 35mm film or FX Format frame. A lens like a 70-200mm f/2.8, once the 2.7x crop factor is applied, takes on the field of view of a 190-540mm f/2.8 on a full-frame camera. The 85mm f/1.4 gets the pull of a 230mm lens, while the 600mm f/4 transforms into a 1620mm f/4. (As a reminder, it's only the field of view that changes, not other focal length characteristics such as depth of field.)

These are just three of many telephoto and/or fast aperture examples of how the FT1 and a Nikkor lens can be paired up with a V1 or J1. And this is primarily how the FT1 is going to be used, since the 2.7x crop factor saps the extreme wideness from Nikon's widest wide angles. At best, you can about match the field of view already achievable with the 1 Nikkor 10mm f/2.8 or within the zoom range of the 1 Nikkor 10-30mm f/3.5-5.6. There are certain wide-to-normal field of view + fast aperture combos that become possible with the help of the FT1 and certain Nikkor lenses, but the main FT1 action is going to be at the telephoto end of the range.

The primary communication between the body, FT1 and lens is electronic, through two sets of contact pins. There is also a mechanical aperture lever within the F-mount portion of the FT1, plus an internal motor to move the lever too.

Firmware v1.10 or later enables the J1 and V1 to recognize the adapter and mounted lens model. Nikon has done a thorough job of integrating Mount Adapter FT1 functionality into the camera; when attached, and a lens fitted to it, the J1's and V1's menus change to reflect the different and more limited set of features offered by the camera when not mated up to a dedicated 1 Nikkor lens.

The quick Christmas morning portrait below, of my son Grady showing off a new Lego Ninjago headband along with some junior warrior attitude, was shot with a V1 and AF-S 85mm f/1.4G, wide open. The background is the lights of the family Christmas tree, which are transformed into bokeh-rich blobs of colour by the lens' f/1.4 aperture. This shallow depth of field effect can't be gotten from existing 1 Nikkor lenses, since at the same focal length on either the 30-110mm or the 10-100mm the widest aperture available is closer f/5.0.

Christmas Ninja: Nikon 1 V1 + FT1 + AF-S 85mm f/1.4G, ISO 200, 1/30, f/1.4. Subject lighting is a Speedlight SB-910 aimed into a Westcott 43" collapsible shoot-through umbrella. Click photo to enlarge. Click here to download a full-resolution version (Photo by Rob Galbraith/Little Guy Media)

FT1 limitations

Grady's picture is a good segue into some of the limitations that come with using full-size Nikkor lenses on a Nikon 1 body. Nikon has published two documents (here and here) that describe in detail what does and doesn't work with various lens types. I'll focus on just two things: bokeh and autofocus.

Bokeh As you can see, pronounced out-of-focus highlights are the result when a sweet lens like the AF-S 85mm f/1.4G is mated to the V1 and then set to maximum aperture. But, at apertures of f/1.6 or larger, some of the bokeh circles are truncated on the top and bottom. Roll your cursor over the buttons below to see how the squared parts of the circles round out as the 85mm lens is stopped down. By f/1.8, the circles are in fact circular.

Circles are squared off only at f/1.6 and f/1.4 with this lens, and presumably the same holds true for other faster-than-f/1.8 lenses in Nikon's lineup. It's also only apparent when there are highlights in the background (or foreground). How much this constrains the usefulness of the widest apertures will depend on how much you shoot pictures with blurry highlights and your own subjective take on the importance of perfectly circular bokeh rings. To my eye, it only slightly diminishes the beauty of the shallow focus effect in the example picture above.

Autofocus Only Nikon's Silent Wave (AF-S) Nikkor lenses are capable of autofocusing with the FT1 and Nikon 1 bodies. Nikkor lenses that are otherwise FT1-compatible, including those that are capable of autofocus but lack internal Silent Wave AF drive mechanisms, will automatically force the camera into manual focus operation.

With an AF-S lens attached, only the camera's static subject autofocus mode (also called AF-S) can be selected. This means no autofocus tracking of a moving subject. Also, only the centre AF point is active; AF system features such as Auto Area AF and Face Priority AF are off limits.

So, the camera's autofocus abilities are severely limited when the FT1 is in the mix. On the plus side, static subject autofocus accuracy has been superb with the lenses we've tried so far, including the AF-S 85mm f/1.4G and AF-S 70-200mm f/2.8G ED VR II. The speed with which the camera can acquire focus, and then drive the lens there, is also superb, just as it is with 1 Nikkor lenses. But there's no getting around the fact that the subject of the photo needs to be holding still.

Other observations
  • The build quality of the FT1 is excellent. It's a solid and well-made accessory.

  • It doesn't seem to matter in which order you hook up the lens, FT1 and camera body, or whether the camera is off or on at the time. Once the whole rig is put together it just works.

  • The J1 and V1 lens mounts aren't built to accommodate hefty lenses. Put something like the AF-S 70-200mm f/2.8G ED VR II on the FT1, attach that to the camera, then pick up the camera alone, without simultaneously supporting the weight of the lens, and you can expect the body's lens mount to be damaged. The problem is simple enough to avoid while shooting pictures with this zoom: take the lens' weight out of the equation by securing its 1/4-20 mount directly to a tripod or monopod, or by resting it in your left hand. With smaller but still beefy lenses that lack their own 1/4-20 option, make use of the 1/4-20 mount on the FT1 itself.

    The tricky part, then, is knowing how to comfortably carry the camera + FT1 + lens together. The AF-S 70-200mm f/2.8G ED VR II, for example, weighs 54.3oz/1540g, which is well beyond the J1 and V1 lens mount's unsupported lens weight specification of 13.4oz/380g. This means that putting the camera strap over your shoulder and letting the FT1 + 70-200mm dangle at your side is not a wise move. A workaround would be to carry the combo by the lens' own strap, but this lens doesn't come with one, nor does it have strap lugs.

    My solution has been to attach a quick deployment cross-strap to the lens' 1/4-20 mount. I'm a fan of the Sun Sniper Sniper-Strap, but products such as those in the Black Rapid RS series should work just as well.

  • The menus in the camera change in accordance with the combo of FT1 and lens that's fitted to the body. With the AF-S 85mm f/1.4G, for example, the only options in the Focus Mode menu are AF-S and MF. Remove this lens and replace it with the AF Nikkor 85mm f/1.4D IF and the camera switches itself to MF mode immediately. With any lens and the FT1, the Vibration Reduction, AF-Area Mode and Face-Priority AF submenus disappear entirely. (Vibration Reduction in a Nikkor lens can still be activated prior to and during the exposure by first half-pressing the shutter button, but it can only be enabled and disabled using the VR switch on the lens itself.)

  • Based on the blur-free results of some really slow shutter speed pictures captured with the V1 + FT1 + AF-S 70-200mm f/2.8G ED VR II, I'd say that the Vibration Reduction built into this lens (and perhaps other Nikkor lenses too) is extremely effective at stabilizing the image as it's captured by the V1 and J1. The fact the cameras have no moving mirror or shutter (unless it's turned on in the V1) probably also plays a role in the impressive handholdable stability of this combo.

  • The lens' aperture diaphragm is stopped down or opened up at the moment you change the aperture setting on the camera, as opposed to only during the moment of exposure. This means that the electronic view of the scene on the rear LCD or V1's EVF always incorporates a preview of the depth of field for the aperture selected. The camera will also autofocus at that same stopped-down aperture unless, it seems, the lens is significantly defocused or the camera is having trouble focusing. Then, the lens opens to a wider aperture - though not necessarily the widest aperture - briefly.

    If you're accustomed to the aperture behaviour typical of a digital SLR, where the lens stays wide open until just prior to the exposure, all the aperture diaphragm activity and perpetual depth of field preview that accompanies the FT1 may take some getting used to.

  • When reviewing the Nikon 1 system, I complained that the manual focus implementation was decidely so-so. This was attributed, in part, to how difficult it was to see when the picture snapped into focus, owing to a general mushiness in the manual focus mode's enlarged view. This remains true when attempting to manual focus any of the 1 Nikkor lenses. It's just too difficult to be certain when best focus has been achieved in most instances.

    But, with any of the faster-aperture Nikkor telephotos I've attempted to focus manually on the V1, the experience is different. It's easy to see when the subject is properly focused. This is true as long as the chosen aperture is at or close to the lens' widest. Since, as noted in the previous point, the working aperture and viewing aperture are almost always the same. As long as you take care to open up the lens aperture prior to focusing manually, it's no trouble at all to bring the subject into focus.

    Why manual focus works better with Nikkor lenses than it does with 1 Nikkor lenses is a subject for another time. Just know that if you want or need to manual focus the lens you have on the FT1, chances are you'll be able to do so with confidence. Or at least that has been the case for me with a handful of Nikkor telephotos so far.

  • The EXIF information in J1 and V1 files correctly notes the Nikkor lens model on the FT1 at the time the picture was shot, as well as the working aperture.

  • Nikon has designed the FT1 to work with Nikkor lenses, obviously. I've not tested any third party lenses with it.

Nikon has expended considerable effort integrating full-size Nikkor glass into the Nikon 1 system, and Mount Adapter FT1 is a key part of that effort. The quality of the FT1, and the thoroughness with which the cameras' firmware has been reworked to accommodate the accessory, result in an impressively polished experience, despite some significant functionality limitations. If you can accept that only Nikkor AF-S lenses will autofocus, and then only in the J1's and V1's stationary-subject autofocus mode, the FT1 provides a really good way to expand the lens options available to Nikon 1 cameras. Particularly if you want to shoot at wide apertures or extend your telephoto reach right away, rather than waiting for additional 1 Nikkor lens models to emerge in the future.

Mount Adapter FT1 is shipping worldwide now. Nikon USA has set the manufacturer's suggested retail price (MSRP) at US$269.97. In Canada, the MSRP is CDN$269.95.
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