Nikon first entered the compact system camera market in late 2011, and since then has produced no fewer than six Nikon 1 models and eight lenses. This firmly cements its position as a major player in a highly competitive market, with entry-level, mid-range and advanced cameras available. The Nikon 1 S1 is one of the most recent models to hit the shops, and sits at the entry-level end of the line-up. It’s extremely small and light, with an incredibly simple design reminiscent of a compact. This makes sense, as it’s aimed at enthusiasts looking to upgrade from a compact to something with a greater degree of photographic control.
The S1 features the same 10.1MP as the first generation Nikon 1 cameras, the J1 and V1, although it does boast Nikon’s next generation dual processor – the EXPEED 3A. The ISO range extends from 100-6400, with auto ISO settings of 100-800, 100-3200 and 100-6400. Continuous shooting speed is incredibly fast with options up to 60fps available. However, at frame rates of 30fps and 60fps, it’s only possible to shoot in bursts of 15 shots, which represents a half and quarter of a second respectively. If you’d like to shoot continuously for several seconds, it’s best to switch to 5fps.
The S1 body may only be marginally larger than the average compact, but it still manages to pack in all the controls you’d ever need for automatic or manual shooting, and with everything in-between. Creative mode neatly groups together the main stills, movie shooting modes and Motion snapshot along with seven scene modes, including Night landscape, Night portrait, Backlighting, Easy panorama, Soft, Miniature effect and Selective color.
For the beginner looking to take their first steps towards more creative control over their photography, there’s a feature called Live Image Control. This is only available in Auto mode but the beauty of it is that it provides a degree of manual control over several settings. With it you can control and view the effect of a single setting chosen from Active D-Lighting, Background softening, Motion control and Brightness control. The overall effect can be viewed on the LCD screen before you even take a photo.
Other useful features are Best Moment Capture and Smart Photo Selector, which in a nutshell make capturing action shots and group portraits easier to achieve. Whether you’re a seasoned pro or an absolute beginner, these settings can make the job of capturing the decisive moment more successful. The main problem with it is remembering that it’s there and being able to activate it in time for shooting – you really need to have it switched on before you begin shooting.
One of the most interesting features that everyone can benefit from has to be the Advanced hybrid AF. It switches automatically between phase-detection and contrast-detect AF, so the camera uses the best type of AF for the shooting situation. It’s difficult to gauge exactly how successful this is, but it’s fair to say that the S1 rarely has problems focusing. When shooting at high frame rates the S1 can manage 15fps with continuous AF, although at 60fps focus mode is limited to single point, but you can’t really complain because 15fps is still very fast. And not forgetting there are 135 single focus points across the entire frame to choose from, giving you complete control over the exact point of focus.
For those of you looking for wireless connectivity to your Smartphone or tablet you’ll be pleased to hear the S1 is compatible with the Nikon Wireless Mobile Adapter WU-1b. Simply plug this into the mini USB port on the side of the camera and then download the iOS or Android app to your phone or tablet. This allows you to control the S1 wirelessly with your portable device, view images and upload them straight to the web. It’s a shame Wi-Fi isn’t a built-in feature, but the small size of the camera would potentially have to be compromised to accommodate this.
Finally, no features round-up would be complete without mentioning the movie capabilities of the Nikon 1 system. The S1 is feature-packed in this regard, with full HD recording available in Program, shutter-priority, aperture-priority and manual modes. There are also extreme slow motion options at frame rates of 400 or 1200fps. With these modes 5 seconds of footage is captured and played in slow motion for roughly 30 seconds and 1 minute respectively. Image quality is dramatically reduced along with file size, but it’s such a fun feature to have available. Then there’s Motion Snapshot where roughly 1.6 seconds of slow motion footage is captured alongside a still image. We’re not sure why you’d use this feature, but it might provide 5 minutes entertainment when you first try it out!
Handling & performance
The exterior design of the S1 is, in short, minimalist. The clean and simple look of the camera is great, and part of the idea behind this is to make it as simple and user-friendly as possible. With a major shortage of direct access buttons on the body, the S1 relies heavily on menu-based control. The first generation of Nikon 1 cameras featured an incredibly simple menu system, and it’s safe to say this newer version is just as easy to navigate. Like any camera it takes a little getting used to, but it is very well thought-out. Controls including shooting mode, exposure compensation and flash have direct access buttons, but that’s it. For me it would have been helpful to have even one button you could program with a custom setting, and since the image delete button is redundant when shooting, it would be ideal for this function. This is because when shooting with the S1 there were a number of occasions when looking through menus to change some settings took longer than we would have liked, even though the menus are easy to navigate.
Where it may fall down against competitors in the same price bracket is the absence of a hotshoe. While it may not be a deal breaker for many because there is a pop-up flash, the inability to accommodate hotshoe-mounted accessories could be a turn off for others. This isn’t new for Nikon 1 cameras and it’s only the V1 and V2 that have a hotshoe, although this is a unique attachment so only specific flashguns and accessories can be used with it. Another quirk of the camera, although this one may be seen as less of a problem, is that the S1 can’t shoot RAWs and JPEGs at the same time. Both file types are supported, but can only be used individually.
The S1 is incredibly small and lightweight at just 240g. It really does fit comfortably in a jacket pocket, which is where I carried it all day during a trip to London. Its small size and fast start-up time make it great for candid photography, and the small size makes it relatively inconspicuous – unless of course you’ve chosen your model in one of the brighter five available colours of white, black, pink, red and khaki! While shooting a range of subjects in the city we never once felt people were looking at the camera the way they do when you’re shooting with a DSLR. Could the slick, yet compact design of the S1 make it more discreet, despite having all the controls of a large DSLR? It certainly seems so, and this can only be a good thing.
The Nikon 1 S1 is a great pocket-sized compact system camera, with all the automatic and manual controls you’d ever need, and with a few interesting and fun features thrown in to boot. Taking up the entry-level end of the system, it’s smaller and lighter than its higher spec siblings, the J3 and V2 models.
Despite having very few direct access buttons, the S1 is a pleasure to use, thanks to a clear and intuitive menu system. We would like to have seen at least one customisable button to accommodate the needs of more advanced users, but this wouldn’t be a deal breaker for us. Overall, if you’re looking for a highly portable CSC that’s part of a comprehensive system then take a look at the S1. At £479 the S1 and 11-27.5mm lens kit is a little pricey, but this will no doubt come down slightly over time to make the S1 an even more attractive proposition.
- Kit price: £229 (Secondhand price as of June 2016)
- Effective resolution: 10.1MP
- Sensor type: 13.2x8.8mm CMOS
- Lens mount: Nikon 1
- Crop factor: 2.7x
- Autofocus: 135 points
- ISO range: 100-6400
- Metering: TTL using sensor
- LCD: 3in 460k dot
- Shooting speed: 60fps
- Video: Full HD (1080p) & slow motion
- Sensor cleaning: No
- Card type: SD, SDHC, SDXC
- Built-in flash: Yes
- Weight: 240g
- Visit: www.nikon.co.uk
This review was first published in the Spring 2013 issue of Practical Photography - download back issues here.