Review: Nikon 1 V1 Sets A New Mirrorless Standard
By Matthew Lentini | Tuesday | 01/11/2011
The Nikon 1 V1 takes on its mirrorless rivals with a ground-up reworking of the compact interchangeable lens camera. The V1 is essentially the practical person's shooter. While it houses enthusiast-level features and quality, its ease of use and shelled out exterior lends itself to the budding photographer looking for a little bit more than their compact can offer.
It all starts with the physical exterior which is bulkier than many mirrorless rivals though also a lot simpler. Up top sits the power button, shutter release and video record button, each generously proportioned and easy to press. There's also the accessory hot shoe and a 1.44 million dot electronic view finder which sets it apart from the cheaper J1. With no built-in flash unlike the cheaper J1 model, you'll be needing the hot shoe. The pet peeve on this is that the cap is a little too easy to pop out of place, so you'll want to keep an eye out for it. On the other hand, the viewfinder is a great addition that intuitively turns on when you go in for a closer look.
On the back is an articulated 3 inch screen of 921k dots that is easy to view on even the brightest days, and especially good for checking the quality of your shots. On the right is a simple ring layout surrounded by buttons for image library, menu, display and delete. Above that sits the adequately sized and cleverly positioned thumb grip, next to the limited shooting mode dial with four shooting modes. Finally, just above this sits the menu zoom and a context-sensitive function key. There's no physical ISO strip, no physical ring for managing aperture- or shutter-priority - it's all simple. The same goes for the internal menus which are set out in minimalist columns, with settings specific to whichever of the four shooting modes the dial is set. This internalising of all the manual controls might frustrate some of the more advanced users used to customising their shots on the fly, but the simple menu layout keeps adjustments quick.
The 10.1 megapixel camera houses a smaller CMOS sensor than similar models in the mirrorless and Micro Four Thirds markets sitting at 13.2 x 8.8 mm. But the real imaging power comes on the back of the 'EXPEED 3' image processor that allows 600 MP/s data throughput, allowing the camera to autofocus, shoot and process shots incredibly quick - even up against competitors like Panasonic and Olympus that each boast superfast autofocus on their latest interchangeable lens cams. The speed isn't blisteringly obvious in comparison but, in terms of practicality, you're less likely to miss an oddly-focused shot while the camera fiddles with its own auto-focus.
Video recording in Full HD is almost a mandatory additive to new higher end cameras, though there are still some compacts that lag slightly at a 720p max. Nikon goes the distance and then some with 1920x1080 res recording at 60i or 30p while being able to take full resolution stills mid-video. The camera works hard while recording, tracking moving subjects with its auto-focus to ensure you never get a blurry subject.
Special shooting modes are almost seamlessly integrated into this camera with minimal scrounging and dial-flipping to find the exact shooting mode you want. The minimalist dial houses a dedicated still and video mode, but this is generally only needed for customising settings. Video can be shot direct from any physical setting by clicking the video button up top, and HD stills can be grabbed mid-video with the shutter release.
The smart photo selector feature is especially handy for taking off-the-cuff shots and capturing sporting moments without fretting over settings before you click, or even for taking large group shots without having to take a new snap every time someone blinks. When you push down the shutter, a barrage of around 20 images are taken, narrowed down by the camera's internals to five, which you can then peruse to find the top snap.
Motion snapshot is a handy and fun feature but also a little bit useless. While the V1 hasn't gone the way of its competitors that have thrown in a slew of creative editing filters in-cam (though there are a few hidden away), it's added a video/still combination shot that's distinctly different from any other camera. Capturing a still shot and a short video at the same time, the camera gives you a short video file with a cheesy background soundtrack of four choices that plays the video and ends on the still - reminiscent of some kind of wedding video. It's an odd additive to have next to the other strictly practical shooting modes and isn't useful for those who want to print out their photos, but it's fun nonetheless.
The camera can take ultra-fast shots at 60 fps, with a reduction in quality in tow. But if you're looking to capture some fast motion like sports without missing a beat (and providing you're in some good lighting) this feature can be very handy when shooting up to 30 consecutive shots. At 10 fps, there's a small reduction in quality but you'll have autofocus on every shot ensuring your moving subject doesn't blur into obscurity. There's also the option for slow motion video shooting in 400 fps or 1200 fps. The resolution drops dramatically on each, only really suitable for something to put up on a social network or YouTube, but like the motion shot, it's a fun additive to play around with.
Picture quality is otherwise superb on this camera, and despite the lack of in-built flash, you'll still be taking great night shots without too much distortion and noise at high ISO. The V1 can shoot at up to ISO 6400, with images up to 1600 coming out in good quality without too much of a softening of edges or grain, with the best usable quality capping at up to 800. Up to 800, images have crisp edges and very clean detail on high zoom, while 1600 still manages to reproduce an all-round clean image but the up-close detail starting to smudge. In general, dimly lit shots will still produce vivid colour and overall quality, with grain and noise reduced for the price of some deeper detail. White balance works wonders on this camera, whether you're in dim lighting or harsh fluorescent lighting, the V1 cottons on and produces rich colour contrasts without saturating shots with unnatural colours.
While the body is a tad heftier than other mirrorless cams, the lenses developed for this new system are quite small and lightweight compared to their counterparts, with a more than fair focal range between the 10-30mm and 30-110mm zoom lenses that came with our review sample. Their niftiest feature for the quick shooter is the automatic powering on when the lens is unlocked - a real treat when you couple in the quick split-second boot up time of the camera, more point and shoot-able than most compact cams. Both lenses tested provided crisp shots and comfortable use.
The Nikon V1 has the imaging prowess of a high end camera without the large sensor of the DSLR world, or even the close competitors in the Micro Four Thirds department. It strips off superfluous buttons for a few key physical features like the electronic viewfinder and internal additives like high-speed autofocus and high frame per second HD shooting. It doesn't replace a DSLR by any means (image quality and customisation still can't match) but it is another step forward for the mirrorless market tailored to all those who want the extra edge they don't get from their skinny compact. It's versatile, focuses quickly, shoots quickly and does it all with great quality. If you're more serious about your photography, you might want to go for something with more customisability and functionality, but if you're an amateur with a keen eye for detail and a thirst for taking your photography a little more seriously, then the V1 is definitely one of the best quality picks you'll find if you're willing to fork out a little more for it.
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