Thursday, 22 December 2011

Nikon 1 V1 review


After five decades of the F mount, Nikon has introduced a new mirrorless system based around a new, much smaller 1 system mount and 13.2 x 8.8mm sensor, dubbed CX. The Nikon designed Aptina made CMOS sensor is just over half the surface of area of the micro four thirds format sensors used in the Olympus Pen’s and Panasonic Lumix models.

It was expected that Nikon would follow rivals Sony and Samsung and use an APS-C format sensor. From the outset, however, Nikon was clear that the 1 system is targeting more casual users; those looking for something between their Coolpix range and DSLRs, and something that doesn’t cannibalize either of the existing ranges either.

Of the two models announced so far, which use the same 10.1 megapixel sensor and new Expeed 3 processor, the V1 is the more sophisticated and features a built-in detailed electronic viewfinder, a multi-accessory port for an optional flashgun or GPS unit and a higher resolution (460k dot) rear screen. Unlike the lower J1 model, which uses an electronic shutter only, the V1 has an additional mechanical shutter and you can choose between these for different effects.

The electronic shutter option provides a wider range of speeds, up to 1/16,000th sec, and some versatile high-speed shooting options of up to 60fps at full resolution though AF is lost above 10fps. Despite that, flash synching still only tops 1/250th sec, though the addition of a conventional shutter should reduce the effects of sensor blooming, and ghosting that can occur with an electronic shutter.

Adopting both makes for a larger camera and battery is that coupled with the more powerful than average rechargeable battery means the V1 is larger than the marketing material suggests. Indeed, it’s bigger than the current Olympus PENs and some Sony NEX models with their APS –C sensors. In fairness, that’s not a bad thing, given the battery and built-in viewfinder. More importantly, the lenses are a good deal smaller than the Sony equivalents, and they’re good performers optically. 

The 10mm f/2.8 pancake, with an equivalent field of view to a 28mm has little vignetting, distortion or chromatism though some is corrected in-camera. Autofocus is very fast in good lighting, thanks to the new imaging sensor, which uses a part of its structure for distance and subject acquisition adopting a hybrid AF system of contrast-and phase-detection. This is system is not unique, it has featured on some compacts before but it’s a first in a camera with interchangeable lenses and it wouldn’t be surprise to see it rolled out in future DSLR designs.

Unfortunately, like the rival NEX system, image stabilization is optical rather than body integral thus limiting that benefit to any users with a back-catalogue of Ai-s lenses using the optionally available (and still hard to find) F-mount converter. Fortunately, the standard kit 10-30mm lens adopts VR, though all control is via the camera body and the same goes for focusing too. All of the 1 series Nikkor’s lack manual focus rings, though that’s not say that couldn’t change with as yet unannounced lenses.

Operation is more Coolpix than DSLR. Although there’s a smattering of buttons to the rear of the V1, including an easily dislodged shooting mode dial, most of the camera’s control is via the menu, including the ISO settings and exposure modes. This isn’t quite as bad as it sounds, though. The sensors’ size is so small that there’s so much depth of field it’s almost pointless using the aperture priority mode, even the Program mode adopts wide-apertures most of the time. This isn’t a criticism, as such. As a point and shoot it makes sense to simply resign yourself to the fact you’ve fewer real choices to make.

An auto scene mode is the default choice though this is ideally suited to the new Smart Photo Selector mode. A derivative of Nikon’s Best Shot Selector (BSS) the V1 starts buffering images before the shutter button is fully depressed. Focus is adjusted between captures and the best five shots are saved to the card. Where timing is difficult to judge, for instance, street photography, portraits and the like, this mode certainly makes the V1 stand out. 

As you might expect from a camera with a small sensor the V1 doesn’t excel in low-light. Out of camera Jpeg’s have quite heavy noise reduction applied (and there’s in-camera option to alter this other than to turn it off), though Raw files are noticeably more detailed. Although sensitivity runs up to an extended ISO6400 equivalent, anything above ISO1600 is best left for emergency use.

As a still camera the V1 isn’t quite as convincing as some of its rivals, though in that’s arguable in anything over than low-light, but it’s as a hybrid video camera perhaps where this camera’s abilities really lie. Video quality at full HD is excellent. Traditionally, this is an area where Nikon has been weak but the V1 changes that. It might not offer the same imaging aesthetics as the 5DMk II but if nothing else Nikon can develop video technology in a format and platform that doesn’t compete with its DSLR sales. 

It’s risky strategy, but Nikon aren’t able to compete with Sony, and Canon directly on video, format for format, but with its compact size lenses the 1 system and choice of sensor supplier seems ideally suited. It’s perhaps the reason behind Nikon’s stated four-year gestation, but it’s all the more remarkable that the system has appeared at all.


The Nikkor 1 10mm f/2.8 pancake is a little soft in the extreme corners at maximum aperture, but it's a great combination with the Nikon 1 V1. Nikon say more primes are to be released and they'll feature larger maximum apertures.


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Adorama (US)
Nikon l V1 c/w 10-30mm f/3.5-5.6 VR $896.95 (rebates available*)

Amazon (US)
Nikon l V1 c/w 10-30mm f/3.5-5.6 VR $849

B&H Photo
Nikon l V1 c/w 10-30mm f/3.5-5.6 VR $896.95 (rebates available*)

Jessops UK
Nikon l V1 c/w 10-30mm f/3.5-5.6 VR £653.90 (rebates available*)

Warehouse Express (UK)
Nikon l V1 c/w 10-30mm f/3.5-5.6 VR £629.95 (rebates available*)

Amazon UK
Nikon l V1 c/w 10-30mm f/3.5-5.6 VR £629 (rebates avialable*)

* See retailer for details

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