Andy Roddick at 30FPS (Nikon 1 v1)

[Click on the animation to see the larger version. It's totally worth it.]

Andy Roddick announced his retirement a couple of days ago. This will be his last US Open. The crowd at Arthur Ashe Stadium applauded him several times. He will be missed. You can't blame him - his whole life has been playing tennis up to now. Time to move on I guess. It doesn't hurt to have Brooklyn Decker as your retirement mate.

This short little animated GIF is one of the things that led me to choose the Nikon 1 V1 over a host of other very capable compact system cameras. With the mechanical shutter, the V1 can shoot a respectable 5 frames per second. Switch to the electronic shutter and that jumps to 10 frames per second. Or 30 frames per second. Or an eye-watering 60 frames per second. That's not at some reduced resolution, but rather full 10 megapixel RAW files. I don't know if there's any other mass-produced camera that can do that. And cost less than my motorcycle.

It's not unicorns and rainbows though. As you step up to higher frame rates (10FPS and higher) you lose more and more control. The camera goes into Auto Exposure mode and you can't tweak shutter speed or ISO, and the AF and exposure are set with the first shot in the sequence. In this sequence for example, the settings are 1/125s, f/5.6, ISO640, and I had no part in choosing. I can see this being a limiting factor in the future. But even more challenging, the V1 can only take 30 shots before the buffer fills. So at 10 FPS you can shoot 3 seconds. At 30 FPS you can shoot for 1 second. And at 60 FPS all you have is half a second before the camera must take a breath and process the photos.

This shot was at 30 FPS, so you are seeing 1 second of Andy Roddick's serve. I do wish that the buffer were bigger - say 60 or 90 frames - so that I could capture the entire sequence of the serve. As it is, you just see the last half of the ball toss and by the end he's still hasn't landed. I tried 10 FPS but capturing the impact of ball on racket is a hit or miss affair. Failing that, maybe a step or two between 10 FPS and 30 FPS (i.e., 15 FPS and 24 FPS) would help lengthen the capture time.

Once the buffer is full, it takes a while to clear. But the camera is still kind of operational. You can squeeze a couple of shots off, but in practice it's kind of kludgy because remember you are still in high FPS electronic shutter mode, so even a casual press of the shutter causes the buffer to fill again. So practically speaking, it's hard to photograph the action until the buffer is more or less empty.

This was my first time trying this out and there's a lot to learn. I tried to get some of the returns and volleys recorded as well, but I still need to work on my timing. Remember, at 30 FPS you've got only a second of action to capture, so choosing which second of a volley to shoot is a split second decision. I have numerous sequences where I was too late (after the ball hit) and numerous where I was too early (before the ball hit). Again, having a bigger buffer would help. But seriously, this is still pretty freaking cool.

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