The Nikon 1 V1 is one of the two cameras launched at the release of the new 1 system, promising headline performance in a compact mirrorless body. How does the Nikon V1 fair in relation to its CSC peers?
Nikon 1 review – Features
The V1 differs from its cheaper J1 sibling in several areas, the most important of which is that the V1 includes a built-in 1.4m-dot Electronic Viewfinder (EVF). It also features a magnesium alloy rather than an aluminium body, a higher resolution 3in LCD screen (921k-dots instead of 460k-dots), and the addition of a mechanical shutter to complement the electronic one used in both cameras.
This also gives the V1 a faster flash sync speed of 1/250th sec instead of the J1’s 1/60th sec. The V1 takes a larger, higher capacity battery – a small but crucial difference – and while the J1 has a built-in pop-up flash the V1 does not, and provides instead an accessory shoe which accepts a tiny optional accessory flash, or a GPS unit (both at extra cost), with more accessories promised. These differences give the V1 a price premium of around £300 over the J1.
Otherwise things are much the same. The V1 shares the same 10.1MP sensor, and the same Expeed 3 processor that enables the V1 to perform the same bag of ground-breaking features. The most impressive of these is the ability to shoot a full resolution continuous burst at up to 60 frames per second, though only for about 12 frames (Raw or JPEG). That’s faster than any other camera in the world, even including pro DSLRs. In this mode, and also at the 30fps setting, the camera’s AF is locked from the first frame but there’s also a 10fps mode which has continuous subject tracking AF.
On the subject of AF Nikon claims that the V1 and its J1 sibling boast the world’s fastest focusing thanks to the unique and innovative hybrid AF system that employs both phase and contrast detect AF methods on the sensor itself, and switches between them automatically. The V1 has no less than 135 focus points when in contrast detect mode and 73 in phase detect mode, which is better for moving subjects.
The V1 features what Nikon calls pre-post capture technology which can record images from before the shutter is fully pressed. This is best implemented in the Smart Shot Selector mode, which shoots a burst of up to 20 frames almost instantaneously, then presents what it considers the best shot of the sequence, along with four possible alternatives. Impressively, the one picked by the camera generally seems to be the best one. The other mode that uses this technology is Motion Snapshot, which captures a full resolution still image but wraps it in a second of slow-motion video captured at the same time. Nikon calls it a ‘Living Picture’ and the effect is not unlike the moving photos in the Harry Potter movies.
The V1 can shoot full HD movies, of course, at 60i or 30p, and at 60p at the smaller 1280×720 size, all with full phase detect AF during recording. It also offers the ability to shoot slow motion video at 400fps and super slo-mo at 1200fps, both in a lower resolution and narrow letterbox format. The twin-engined processor and silent electronic shutter also means that you can take a high resolution still photo (in the 16:9 ratio at 8MP resolution) while simultaneously shooting video, which is really useful for recording those important milestones in life. Unlike the J1 the V1 also has a port for the addition of an external mic.
If you’re looking for more advanced user settings such as full manual controls (PASM), ISO and White Balance controls you’ll find them but not on the outside of the camera - they’re all buried in the menu.
Nikon 1 review – Design
Because of its larger battery the V1 is bigger than the J1 and is indeed a little bigger than some Micro Four Thirds cameras, which have much larger sensors, though it is the world’s smallest camera with a built in EVF.
It follows the same minimalist design as the J1, which you’ll either like or not, but from a practical point of view does mean there’s no handgrip to provide a firm purchase. The lenses for the 1 System are quite compact. Three of the four initial lenses have a diameter of less than 50mm, and two of the lenses – the 10-30mm standard zoom (equivalent to 27-80mm) and 30-110mm (80-300mm equiv) – have a retractable design that makes them especially compact for transportation and can be released for use at the push of a button and the twist of the zoom. This motion can also turn the camera on, as an alternative to the power switch on the top of the body.
Performance and value
Nikon 1 V1 review – Performance
The V1 performs its party tricks very well and is
impressive in these modes. Focusing is fast and accurate,and its ability
to lock onto moving subjects is probably better than any other CSC
we’ve used. The addition of the electronic viewfinder makes it so much
easier to follow action than the J1 too. The EVF, which offers 100%
coverage, switches on automatically as you put your eye to it and the
resolution is among the best we’ve seen, with a good refresh rate too,
though it isn’t in the same league as the new 2.4m-dot Sony OLED as
found in the NEX-7.
Where the V1 starts to fall down is when
you want to take more control of the settings, at which point the need
to keep plunging into the menus becomes a nuisance. The lack of any
quick access to even the ISO or white balance is disappointing, and many
of the other features that many serious hobbyists would expect are
missing too – for example, there’s no auto-bracketing (which would be
very useful with that fast burst mode), no control over the dynamic
range other than D-Lighting on/off and no highlight clipping display.
are some annoying operational quirks too, such as the camera’s
inability to shoot video in any mode other than movie mode, despite the
presence of a separate movie record button implying that it should.
troubling for many will be the fact that the smallish sensor makes it
harder to create shallow depth of field effects than with almost any
other system camera, except for the Pentax Q.
While the accessory
shoe gives the V1 potential for expansion there is currently only a
small (if brilliantly designed) flashgun and GPS unit available, and as
it’s different to the ubiquitous hotshoe mount on most other cameras,
forget using your existing speedlights. The omission of a built in flash
would be more forgiveable if the external SB-N5 flashgun was included
in the box, but having to fork out another £130 for it when you’ve
already paid over £800 for the camera is a bit of an ask.
use of a larger DSLR battery (the same as the one used in the D7000)
may make the camera bigger but at least the battery life is a
respectable 400 or so shots, double that of the J1.
Nikon 1 V1 review – Value
V1 is likeable enough but its £829 price tag is extremely high for a
camera with a small sensor, no flash, and (so far) a very limited range
of additional lenses and accessories – unless you particularly want
those unique features. NA
Images from the V1 are very good
considering the size of its sensor, but not compared with other cameras
of a similar cost, all of which have much bigger sensors. Although
exposure and white balance are generally accurate, and colours vibrant,
the sharpness, noise and dynamic range are bettered by most other
cameras at this price, and they can produce shallower depth of field at
the same field of view and aperture. That said, high quality A3 prints
at ISO 1600 are entirely possible. The lenses are sharp but the 10-30mm
zoom suffers pronounced barrel distortion at 10mm, as does the 30-110mm
at 30mm to a lesser extent. The 10mm f/2.8 pancake is the best of the
trio we tried.
Image quality and verdict
Nikon 1 V1 review – Image quality
Images from the V1 are very good considering the size of its sensor, but not compared with other cameras of a similar cost, all of which have much bigger sensors. Although exposure and white balance are generally accurate, and colours vibrant, the sharpness, noise and dynamic range are bettered by most other cameras at this price, and they can produce shallower depth of field at the same field of view and aperture. That said, high quality A3 prints at ISO 1600 are entirely possible. The lenses are sharp but the 10-30mm zoom suffers pronounced barrel distortion at 10mm, as does the 30-110mm at 30mm to a lesser extent. The 10mm f/2.8 pancake is the best of the trio we tried.
Nikon 1 V1 review – Verdict
The V1 is beautifully made, fun to use, has an
excellent built-in EVF and delivers good quality pictures in most
situations, including fast action. The problem is that it isn’t clear
who it’s for, and so it falls between two stools. If it’s aimed at the
mass market consumer the V1 is way too expensive and, as Olympus found
to their cost, not including a flash is commercial suicide. The V1 does
have some clever modes but they aren’t the kind you’d use every day,
while some of the more popular consumer features (e.g. filter effects,
scene modes, panorama modes etc.) are missing.
On the other hand
the V1 won’t appeal to the serious enthusiast, due to its emphasis on
clever gimmicks over user control and the fact that, thanks to the small
sensor, the image quality is not as good as cameras costing half the
price (and which, to add insult to injury, are smaller). This, sadly,
makes the V1 difficult to recommend.