Concept: 2 out of 5
Execution: 2 out of 5
Yeah, but: It's the best there is.
The Long Version: I have to be fair to the FT1 lens mount adapter, since it does accomplish the task of letting F-mount lenses attach to the Nikon 1-series cameras. It provides metering and camera-based aperture control, and allows static centre-point autofocus with AF-S lenses. In Nikon's world of restricted interoperability and reduced feature sets that's really all it can be expected to do, its $270 MSRP notwithstanding. (Dealers, as usual, may sell for less.)
The main problem with the FT-1 is that even the best F-mount lenses don't really shine on the noisy CX sensors. While workable, putting a big lens on the small body is awkward, and it's made worse by the low weight limits on the 1-system lens mounts. But when used with enough compassion and forgiveness my little V1 and FT1 can produce decent results, which should be familiar territory for the fans of these little cameras.
My personal experience with the FT1 adapter has been that it doesn't really solve much of a problem. The Nikon V1 is a camera that I use for its non-photographic strengths: being small, light, and quiet, it goes to places and gets used at times when my D800 wouldn't be an option. Putting an FX or DX lens on the V1 removes its 'small and light' attributes, leaving only quietness as its main attraction, with just a limited increase in its actual photographic value.
The FT1 is a small adapter, about the size of the 10-30 or 18.5mm lenses, and it has a tripod mount that supersedes the cameras' own when a "heavy" lens is attached. And that's pretty much all of them: any lens that's over 380 grams needs to be supported when it's on the camera lest it damage the mount. This is a pretty low limit; the 85/1.8G is pushing it, and the 60/2.8G is over. But for a little perspective, my CX lens trinity – 10-30, 30-110, and 18.5/1.8 – total up to just 360 grams. It's easy to feel like Hercules when everything around you is sized for Newton.
It feels quite natural to handle the combination by the lens when there's something bigger, like the 105VR, attached. But I have to admit that I haven't always strictly followed the 'handle-by-the-lens' requirement with smaller lenses like the 60/2.8G or 50/1.4G, and have had no ill effects to date. Nikon also advises that we don't fog our lenses by breathing on them – apparently it can damage the coatings – so I suspect that their product advisories are being written by liability lawyers rather than real-world practicality experts. As always, participate in this world at your own risk.
The tripod foot on the FT1 sits flush to the camera, so any quick-release plate that projects behind the mount will need to be attached after the adapter is on the camera. Nifty.
Nikon's AF-S lenses will autofocus on the FT1 adapter, using only the central AF point and without any tracking or CAF abilities. I've been using it with the 50/1.4G, 60/2.8G, and 105/2.8VR, and the results have been pretty good. The autofocus from those three isn't quite as quick as with the native CX lenses, including in low light, which surprised me given the brighter apertures of the real Nikon lenses over the f/dark 1-series zooms.
Optical issues like distortion, corner sharpness, and vignetting are basically non-existent on the lilliputian CX sensor. I'm tempted to make a snide "only using the best part of the lens" joke, but that's just leftover bitterness from my Olympus days talking.
Nikon is working very hard to forget about the whole "AF-D" lens era, and hopes you are too, but they do make some concession to motorless lenses. Not only do they graciously permit magnified viewing on the LCD, but they even include the familiar triangle-and-dot rangefinder focusing cues on the LCD screen. This is actually much more useful on the V1 than it is on an SLR, with results that are accurate enough that I won't always use the magnified view. There's something to be said for extensive depth of field.
Manual focus and older "AF" lenses on the FT1 retain the ability to zoom in on the LCD for focus assist, but lose the rangefinder because it relies on the D-is-for-Distance chip in the lens.
One attraction of the FT1 adapter is to 'get more reach' from long lenses. To try this out I used the same lens on both the V1 and the D800, cropped the D800 frame to match the V1, and then compared the results. After a couple of rounds with the 500/4 and 105VR I will say that the D800 pulls slightly more out of a similarly cropped frame, despite putting only 4.8 megapickles on the target. (Compare crops: D800, downsampled from 1500x1000 pixels, and V1, downsampled from 2150x1500 pixels; the focus point is the left eye and bridge of his nose.)
If long-lens work was what I really wanted to do with my time – it isn't – I'd be buying a Pro DX camera like the D7100 instead of any Nikon 1. That would put almost as many pixels on the subject and provide massive usability improvements over a CX camera with the FT1 adapter.
While it's hardly a comprehensive or exhaustive comparison, I've also checked to see if there's any optical benefit in choosing an adapted F-mount lens over a native CX one. I put the Nikon 60/2.8G, which has a very good reputation, up against the 30-110 lens at 60mm. While the $600 prime macro lens did resolve a bit more detail than the $250 kit zoom, there wasn't a significant difference. This suggests that the lens isn't the limiting factor where sharpness is concerned – *cough* noisy pixel-dense sensor *cough* – so I'm not going to bother using the FT1 when there's a native lens that can do the job.
'Equivalence' sucks. That's the theory that says that the noise and depth of field from a wide-open 50/1.4 lens on a CX camera at iso100 will look about the same as a 135mm lens on an FX camera at f/4 and iso800. Looking at it that way there's no reason to use the semi-little 50/1.4+FT1+V1 setup when I could use the bigger 105VR+D800 combination, crop down for a bit more reach, and still stomp all over the V1's image quality. When I'm under-lensed my own experience tells me that using the D800 and cropping away 85% of its pixels still gives better image quality than switching the same FX lens onto the FT1-V1.
Yup, that sucks.
But that's not to say that there's no reason to use bigger lenses on the FT1. Despite their operational limitations, it does give options that the diminutive catalog of petite CX lenses lacks. Fast primes are an obvious choice, but not the only one. The small sensor is a great equalizer, so even the modest 18-55 turns in good results; this ubiquitous lens has a useful 50-150mm-ish range, and it isn't too big for the camera. Stepping up to an f/2.8 DX standard zoom keeps the great range but adds a modest ability to drop out the background, and could be an effective PJ/wedding lens. And even if the results aren't better than a heavily cropped file from a contemporary SLR, using different tools and playing with unconventional options often helps the creative process.
Anyone who uses a V1, or any CX "Nikon 1" camera, does it despite plenty of very good reasons not to. Image quality was never very high on the list of positives for the system, but the point of it is that there are times when an SLR isn't a practical, or even possible, option. Using FX or DX lenses does mostly take away its advantage of smaller size, but it remains more discreet than an SLR and keeps the advantage of silence.
I'm not about to run out and buy more lenses just to use on the adapter, but the FT1 is worth considering if there's already a CX camera and AF-S lenses in the house. I don't use it very often in either my casual day-to-day camera-carrying or my dedicated photography sessions, but it was vital in catching family photos across the winter holidays. It works no miracles, but it's not a bad thing to have just the same.
Finally, a ranting aside:
The broader problem is that Nikon's efforts to cripple the 1-system as a photographic tool extends to its attitudes toward non-Nikon lens adapters. The V1 can't magnify the viewfinder for focus confirmation, shoot in anything but manual mode, or meter the exposure. Let me repeat that last point: with a generic lens adapter the V1 is completely unwilling to meter or even preview exposure before the shot is taken. I bought an adapter for my Zeiss M-mount lenses, which match the camera perfectly, but using them is essentially unworkable in practice.
Does Nikon think that they already offer everything anyone could want, and that they can be a photographer's complete universe? Did they miss the years of Panasonic, Olympus, and even latecomer Sony selling thousands of cameras to people who want to use decades' worth of older lenses from other systems? Or have they intentionally hobbled the 1-series to drive sales of their own ill-suited lenses at the expense of their customers?
As with many of Nikon's actions, they could be motivated by hubris, incompetence or malice: it's so hard to tell.
last updated 21 apr 2013