The Nikon V1 is Nikon’s first foray into the growing Compact System Camera market, and is designed to offer D-SLR-style quality and the ability to change lenses in a smaller body. But with many competitors already on their third-generation CSCs will it be able to compete?
Features & build
The first thing you notice about the V1 is its clean, simple design. Buttons are kept to a minimum, especially on the top-plate, which features just the shutter release, movie record and on/off buttons, plus an accessory port on the left. Dominating the top of the camera is its electronic viewfinder boasting a 1,440k dot resolution and a sensor to switch it on when it’s raised to your eye.
The rear of the camera packs in a 3in, 921k dot screen, and to the right of this are the V1’s main controls – a Mode dial, zoom button, Function button, and a scroll wheel with directional shortcuts to functions like the
AF modes and exposure compensation. Buttons for Menu access, Display and image Playback/Delete complete the options, but it’s the Mode dial that will attract most interest. The latter has only four settings and no access to the traditional M, A, S, P shooting modes – instead it’s split into Motion Snap Shot, Smart Photo Selector, Still Image and Movie. This approach is clearly aimed at newcomers and existing compact users who might be put off by cameras bristling with techy-looking features, and it gives access to some of the more eye-opening features of the V1.
Motion Snap Shot simultaneously creates a 2sec slow-motion movie and still image, blending the two, while Smart Photo Selector records up to 20 pictures before and after the shutter is fired, letting you choose the best. Still Image offers more traditional shooting options, plus some high-speed functions, while Movie lets you choose between full HD video and slow-motion capture.
The Nikon V1 features a new lens mount and sensor. The latter has a somewhat pedestrian resolution of 10.1Mp, which lags behind many competitors, and a physical size of 13.2x8.8mm, which is a lot smaller than those used in budget D-SLRs and many CSCs. This leads to a crop factor of 2.7x so the supplied 10-30mm kit lens equates to a 27-81mm in film terms. The V1’s ISO range covers a respectable 100-6400 and allied to this is its Expeed 3 image processor which helps the V1 offer a burst mode of up to 60fps. This hyper-fast shooting comes via a choice of Mechanical or Electronic shutters, the former running from 30secs–1/4000sec which can be extended up to 1/16,000sec in Electronic (Hi). The V1 also offers an unexpected bonus of an Interval Timer, for time-lapse photography.
The camera’s AF benefits from a hybrid approach, combining the contrast-detect system found in compact cameras with the more advanced phase-detect systems employed in D-SLRs, and also offers Subject Tracking which keeps the focus locked on a moving target. The kit lens includes Vibration Reduction to combat camera shake and retracts with a twist for storage.
Performance & handling
Despite its small sensor, the V1 is by no means small in body – it’s no more pocket-friendly than any other CSC, but this makes it feel nicely chunky in the hand. The thickness of its durable magnesium-aluminium body helps in this regard, as does the thin grip on the front and the well-placed rubberised thumb rest on the rear. The zoom ring is also rubberised, all of which combine to allow you a positive hold on the camera. Overall, the V1 feels as though it hasn’t been made smaller than need be, so none of the (admittedly few) buttons feels jammed in or awkward to access.
The lack of manual inputs certainly makes the camera less cluttered, but it can make altering settings a longer process than necessary, which occasionally meant missing a shot while diving into a menu. The lack of M, A, S, P exposure options on the Mode dial feels like an omission, but it’s clearly a trade-off in order to attract less tech-savvy users. That said, the menus themselves are clearly laid out and don’t take long to get used to, while more commonly used functions like the Drive modes and ISO are closely grouped. Helpfully, the menu system remembers the last-used setting and options displayed are governed by the mode you’re in, streamlining the layout. Buttons for locking focus and exposure, focus mode, self-timer and exposure compensation are all easily accessed.
There’s also a Function button, but curiously this isn’t user-defined, instead defaulting to settings for each shooting mode (in Aperture and Shutter priority it changes the shutter between Mechanical and Electronic when it may have been better set up to control ISO). The action of the scroll wheel on the rear is a little light to the touch, but its movement is conveyed to screen smoothly with barely any lag.
Thanks to its brightness, size and resolution, composing on screen is easy, and the electronic viewfinder (EVF) is excellent, offering a crisp, clear view and very little flicker. It gets a little grainy in low-light and doesn’t provide the same ‘connection’ as an optical viewfinder, but it’s larger and brighter than on many D-SLRs. The EVF could benefit from turning on a bit faster when you raise it to your eye, though.
When shooting, the V1 is a lively performer and its AF speed is great, struggling only with very dimly-lit subjects and then no more than a D-SLR. Because the 10-30mm lens lacks a manual focus ring, this is done via the scroll wheel at the rear. The Subject Tracking option is good, and mostly follows your target with ease, though it occasionally gets confused and picks up something else. This makes continuous shooting an easy task with the V1, as do the camera’s brisk frame rates. Shooting with the Mechanical shutter allows a respectable 5fps, for 38 shots at full resolution. Switching to the Electronic (Hi) shutter, the frame rate leaps to 10, 30 or 60fps at full resolution, limited to around 30 shots. These speeds are impressive, but with so much data to process, the V1 has a habit of locking up for short periods while it chews through the images – especially if you switch into Motion Snap Shot or Smart Photo Selector modes. But this should be taken in context – a little time to get its breath back after such Herculean efforts is understandable, and the creative potential it offers is huge.
The Motion Snap Shot mode is a fresh, but very curious idea which basically creates a very short slow-motion movie, accompanied by music ending in a still image – it won’t be everyone’s cup of tea, but in this age of relentless autobiography, it may appeal to some. Smart Photo Selector is more useful and its system of allowing you to choose the best shot from five is a very handy (if not particularly new) feature.
Value & verdict
In many ways it’s sensible that Nikon has offered something different to the current crop of CSCs, but the V1 falls short of being a must-buy, mainly due to its sensor size and price. With the camera shorn of any complicated-looking controls it should attract compact users wanting to upgrade to a higher-quality system, but it lags behind many competing CSCs in terms of image quality and resolution. The small sensor is at the heart of this issue and for upgraders seeking increased depth-of-field control and low-Noise results, the V1 is found a little lacking. In isolation there’s certainly not much to complain about – image quality is good, build is superb and the slow-motion and high-speed options are great fun to use – but at over £700 it’s still twice the price of some competing CSCs.
- Street price: £200 (Secondhand price as of July 2016)
- Resolution: 10.1Mp (3872x2592)
- Sensor: CX format (13.2x8.8mm)
- Crop factor: 2.7x
- Lens Mount: Nikon 1
- Focusing System: Hybrid contrast- and phase-detect AF
- Focusing modes: Auto-area, Single-point (135 area) and Subject tracking.
- Burst rate: 5fps (Mechanical) up to 60fps (Electronic)
- Write times: 1.5sec JPEG and RAW
- ISO range: 100-3200 (and 6400 Hi1)
- Image stabilisation: Lens based
- Sensor cleaning: Yes
- Shutter range: 30-1/4000sec (16,000sec in Electronic Hi mode).
- Viewfinder: Electronic (1.44M dot)
- Monitor: 3in, 921k dot
- Video: Full HD 1920x1080 @ 60i (16:9) and slow-motion (8:3) options
- Storage: SD, SDHC, SDXC
- Weight: 294g (body only)
- Dimensions: 113x76x43.5mm (WxHxD)
- Visit: www.nikon.co.uk
This review was first published in the January 2012 issue of Digital Photo - download back issues here.