Nikon 1 S1 £479.99

30th Apr 2013 | 13:55

Nikon 1 S1

Nikon's simplest CSC put to the test

TechRadar rating:

3 stars

Like:

Good image quality; Small size; Best Moment Capture;

Dislike:

No touchscreen; Long-winded operation; Can't shoot raw and JPEG files together;

Introduction

In the relatively short time since Nikon first introduced a compact system camera (CSC), it has managed to produce the best selling model, making serious dents into the sales figures of its nearest competitors, namely Panasonic and Sony.

Despite having a much smaller sensor than all but the Pentax Q range of compact system cameras, Nikon has managed to capture the imagination of the buying public with a variety of easy to use and fun cameras, with cameras such as the Nikon 1 V2 even beginning to appeal to more advanced users.

At the start of this year, Nikon introduced a new line to the already existing 1 V and 1 J series in the shape of the Nikon 1 S1. This is Nikon's simplest compact system camera to date, and is a no frills version of the Nikon 1 J3. That means it comes without the fuss of mode dials and lots of buttons, instead concentrating on enabling you to take pictures.

Nikon 1 S1 review

It still has all the manual control and raw shooting capability that you would expect of a camera with interchangeable lenses, it's just buried a little deeper - enabling you to explore those options if you want to, but also ignoring them if it's not for you.

As with the other Nikon 1 series cameras, the Nikon 1 S1 is equipped with a 1-inch CX format sensor. This gives it a crop factor of 2.7x, meaning the standard 11-27.5mm kit optic is roughly equivalent to 30-74mm on a full-frame (35mm camera).

The Nikon 1 S1's sensor has 10.1 million pixels, giving it the lowest pixel count of any of the current crop of Nikon 1 cameras.

Nikon 1 S1 review

Also onboard is Nikon's Expeed 3A processing engine, which enables the Nikon 1 series of cameras to boast what it describes as the world's fastest continuous shooting, at 15fps with autofocus, and up to 60fps with a fixed-point autofocus.

An advanced hybrid AF system makes its way onto the Nikon 1 S1. This means that the camera uses phase detection AF for speed, and contrast detection AF for greater precision. Depending on the scene, the sensor switches between the 73 phase detection focus areas and the 135 contrast detection focus areas.

Full HD video recording is available at 60 and 30 fps as well as 60i, 60p and 30p frame rates. Full resolution photos can also be captured while filming. Slow motion movies can be captured by recording at up to 1200 fps.

Nikon 1 S1 review

Buying GuideBest Nikon cameraBest Nikon cameras

Squarely aimed at the beginner photographer, Nikon has incorporated several interesting features into the Nikon S1 to appeal to novices. For a start, Live Image Control enables you to preview the results of changes made on the LCD screen before you take the shot.

With non-photographic language to guide the beginner along, it should be a great way to get to grips with the intricacies of parameters such as shutter speed and aperture.

As has been seen before on Nikon 1 cameras, the Nikon 1 S1 includes Best Moment Capture. This incorporates Smart Photo Selector, which takes up to 15 high resolution photos before the shutter button is even fully pressed, suggesting five of the best for you to choose from.

Nikon 1 S1 review

Alternatively, Slow View captures up to 15 continuous shots, playing them back on the LCD screen until you choose the one you want.

It doesn't have Wi-Fi built in, but the Nikon 1 S1 is compatible with Nikon's Wu-1b wireless adaptor. At the back of the camera is a 460k dot, 3-inch LCD screen. It's not touch-sensitive, tiltable or articulated, though.

For now, the number of proprietary optics for the Nikon 1 system is fairly limited. However, if you already own Nikkor lenses for DSLRs, an adaptor is available for using with the Nikon 1 system - though it's worth remembering that the 2.7x crop factor will apply to any optic you attach.

With an asking price of £479.99/US$499.95 including one 11-27.5mm kit lens, the Nikon 1 S1 is one of the most affordable CSCs currently on the market. It goes head to head with the likes of the Olympus PEN Mini E-PM2 and the Sony NEX-3N, both of which feature a larger sensor.

Build quality and handling

Despite having fewer dials and direct access buttons than the 1 J3, Nikon says that the 1 S1 is marginally larger. Regardless of the millimetres of difference in it, the Nikon 1 S1 is a very small camera. With the standard 11-27.5mm kit lens you could almost describe it as pocketable - albeit coat, rather than jeans, pocketable.

One of the biggest differences between the Nikon 1 S1 and those higher up in the chain is the lack of a mode dial on top of the camera. Those who remember the original Nikon J1 will be familiar with this arrangement, which requires delving into the menu if you want to switch between modes.

Because this is very much a beginner camera, it probably won't be too much of an annoyance for the typical consumer of this camera. However, if you're a little more advanced and find yourself wanting to switch between modes quickly, this probably isn't the camera for you. It's useful that they are available though, for those who want to experiment past the automatic settings after using the camera for a while.

Nikon 1 S1 review

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The on-screen mode dial is accessed by pressing the Menu button, then selecting Shooting Mode from the main menu. From this dial you can choose between fully automatic shooting, Creative Modes (where P/A/S/M hide), Advanced Movie, Best Moment Capture and Motion Snapshot.

Getting to a specific mode, such as aperture priority, is a bit convoluted - first you need to enter Creative Mode, then choose from the several options available - but again, the likely audience for this camera is unlikely to be too bothered.

Once you're in Creative Mode, however, it is simpler to switch to the other modes available. Simply hit the F button on the four-way directional pad to bring up the on-screen mode dial and choose from here.

Nikon 1 S1 review

Helpfully, unlike on older Nikon 1 cameras, you don't have to be in Movie mode to record a film, with a dedicated button at the top of the camera meaning you can capture quick moments without too much fuss.

Making changes to other settings, such as ISO and metering, require quite an extensive delve into the menu system. A little confusingly, some of these parameters are found in the Shooting submenu (such as metering), while others are found in the Image Processing submenu (such as ISO).

It can take a little bit of experimentation to get used to the idiosyncrasies of the Nikon 1 S1 if you intend to make these kind of changes.

Nikon 1 S1 review

Luckily, altering exposure compensation is a little more straightforward since this has its own dedicated button on the four-way control pad. It would perhaps have been nice if Nikon could have included a Quick Menu type button, but with a very small body it's easy to see why this wouldn't have been a priority for the designers.

When shooting in fully automatic mode, the F button can be used to access Live Image Controls, such as Brightness Control and Background Softening. This is the camera helping you to make changes to shutter speed and aperture, but without using complicated photographic terms.

The F button used in Motion Snapshot jogs between the different themes that can be used here, such as Waves or Relaxation. Finally, while using Best Moment Capture, the F button enables swapping between Slow View and Smart Photo Selector.

Nikon 1 S1 review

Although generally the Nikon 1 S1 does a good job of choosing the appropriate autofocusing mode if left on automatic, if you do want to take control over this yourself, first you need to alter the AF area mode to Single Point. After this, hit the central OK button and scroll around the screen to set the point.

This isn't the fastest point, and like so many cameras currently on the market, would be speedier with the implementation of a touchscreen.

Considering Nikon is aiming this at the entry-level market, a touchscreen would surely have been welcomed by those used to smartphones.

Nikon 1 S1 review

Bizarrely, the Nikon S1 is incapable of shooting in both raw format and JPEG simultaneously, requiring you to shoot one or the other. This is a bit of a disappointment for anybody who likes to keep both raw files and JPEGs, but again, it's perhaps a reflection of the beginner audience the camera is aimed at.

As with other Nikon 1 cameras, there are a few art filters to experiment with. These can be found under the Creative Mode.

Alternatively, you can also experiment with Picture Control when shooting in any other mode. These can be accessed from the Image Processing sub-menu. Monochrome shooting is available, with the possibility of altering parameters such as contrast. Cyanotype and Sepia images can also be shot.

Performance

Under the right conditions, Nikon 1 cameras are more than capable of producing excellent quality images, so we were expecting the same image quality from the Nikon 1 S1.

Happily, once again Nikon has produced a camera capable of producing fantastic images, especially in good light. Photographs are bright and punchy with beautifully saturated colours and plenty of detail.

Examining the images at 100% reveals some slight smudging throughout the sensitivity range, but viewing the images at normal printing and web sizes gives the appearance of very detailed and sharp photos.

Nikon 1 S1 review

In lower light/high sensitivity situations, more noise does begin to creep in, starting from around ISO 400. At ISO 800, images are still fairly good, with detail kept even though evidence of noise is higher. When using very high ISOs such as ISO 6400, images are a lot noisier, but at smaller sizes they're still more than usable.

Looking at areas of high contrast in a scene indicates that the Nikon 1 S1 manages to keep fringing and chromatic aberration to a minimum, and they're not particularly visible at normal printing and web sizes, and are only found occasionally when zooming in very close.

On the whole, matrix (general purpose) metering does a good job, capturing well exposed scenes. However, in areas of particularly high contrast it does struggle a little, making switching to spot metering preferable. This isn't the easiest change to make thanks to the intricacies of the menu system, so it can be a little annoying.

Nikon 1 S1 review

Similarly, automatic white balance does a good job in the majority of situations, only struggling a little with mixed lighting or some kinds of artificial indoor lighting.

The standard lens that comes as part of the Nikon 1 S1 kit is an 11-27.5mm optic. This is a decent performer and produces images that are sharp and detailed.

Shooting with a lens with a wider maximum aperture, such as the 18.5mm (roughly 50mm equivalent) enables us to assess out of focus areas more thoroughly. The quality of focus drop off is great, while out of focus areas are rendered beautifully. Despite the camera's small sensor, shallow depth of field effects can be achieved, and not just when using a very wide aperture.

Nikon 1 S1 review

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Creative filters can be found on the Nikon 1 S1, as with the J range of Nikon 1 cameras. Despite being a nice inclusion in the Instagram age, the filters could be better implemented, and several competitors (most notably Panasonic and Olympus) have a far greater range of more interesting filters available to use.

For those who do find such creativity appealing, Picture Styles is a good way to produce different effects that are more customisable. For instance, you can shoot in monochrome, sepia or cyanotype (as well as other black and white toning). Or, if you're feeling even more experimental, you could change the parameters of the Vivid setting to produce a cross processed style effect.

However, because the camera only shoots in raw or JPEG format, and filters are only available for JPEG files, should you decide that you want a 'clean' version of the image down the line, you'll be pretty much stuck with whatever implementation of a Picture Style you've created. Again, the capability to shoot in both raw and JPEG would be very welcome, and not including this seems like an odd decision.

Nikon 1 S1 review

The hybrid autofocusing system is a good performer, helping the camera to quickly and accurately lock onto subjects with ease. Unlike some of the Nikon premium Coolpix compacts, the overall speed of the Nikon 1 S1 is much quicker, with startup and shot to shot times being fairly impressive.

One of the key selling points of Nikon 1 cameras has always been the range's unique technologies, such as Best Moment Capture. It's pleasing to see Nikon include this on its most basic camera, because it's something that the beginner or inexperienced user will no doubt make excellent use of.

There are two variants on Best Moment Capture in the latest Nikon 1 cameras. Smart Photo Selector works by shooting 20 high resolution images before and after the shutter button has been fully depressed. The camera automatically chooses the best five images, from which you have the option to pick your own favourite.

Nikon 1 S1 review

Slow View is the newer of the two, which takes a little more explaining. This works by shooting a series of frames as you half-press the shutter. You can then watch these frames played back in a loop on the screen, so long as your finger is half-pressed on the shutter button.

When you spot the one you want to keep, fully depress the shutter button and the image will be saved to the card. If, on the other hand, you decide not to keep any of the images, simply remove your finger and nothing will be recorded.

Both options are excellent for shooting action, or fast-moving subjects, such as children, since it makes it easier to capture those fleeting moments.

Nikon 1 S1 review

At 460,000 dots, the TFT LCD screen on the back of the Nikon 1 S1 has the lowest resolution of the current crop of Nikon 1 cameras. Although it doesn't have quite the same detail as the Nikon 1 J3 and Nikon 1 V2, it is nevertheless a decent performer, not suffering too badly from glare or reflection apart from in very bright light.

The screen provides a reasonable angle of view for shooting from slightly odd angles, though it is of course no competitor for models with a movable screen.

Image quality and resolution

As part of our image quality testing for the Nikon 1 S1, we've shot our resolution chart with the kit lens mounted.

If you view our crops of the resolution chart's central section at 100% (or Actual Pixels) you will see that, for example, at ISO 100 the Nikon 1 S1 is capable of resolving up to around 20 (line widths per picture height x100) in its highest quality JPEG files.

For a full explanation of what our resolution charts mean, and how to read them, check out our full explanation of our camera testing resolution charts.

Examining images of the chart taken at each sensitivity setting reveals the following resolution scores in line widths per picture height x100:

JPEG

Nikon 1 S1 review

Full ISO 100 image, see the cropped (100%) versions below.

Nikon 1 S1 review

ISO 100, score: 20 (Click here to see the full resolution image)

Nikon 1 S1 review

ISO 200, score: 20 (Click here to see the full resolution image)

Nikon 1 S1 review

ISO 400, score: 18 (Click here to see the full resolution image)

Nikon 1 S1 review

ISO 800, score: 18 (Click here to see the full resolution image)

Nikon 1 S1 review

ISO 1600, score: 18 (Click here to see the full resolution image)

Nikon 1 S1 review

ISO 3200, score: 16 (Click here to see the full resolution image)

Nikon 1 S1 review

ISO 6400, score: 16 (Click here to see the full resolution image)

Raw

Nikon 1 S1 review

ISO 100, score: 20 (Click here to see the full resolution image)

Nikon 1 S1 review

ISO 200, score: 20 (Click here to see the full resolution image)

Nikon 1 S1 review

ISO 400, score: 18 (Click here to see the full resolution image)

Nikon 1 S1 review

ISO 800, score: 16 (Click here to see the full resolution image)

Nikon 1 S1 review

ISO 1600, score: 14 (Click here to see the full resolution image)

Nikon 1 S1 review

ISO 3200, score: 12 (Click here to see the full resolution image)

Nikon 1 S1 review

ISO 6400, score: 12 (Click here to see the full resolution image)

Noise and dynamic range

We shoot a specially designed chart in carefully controlled conditions and the resulting images are analysed using DXO Analyzer software to generate the data to produce the graphs below.

A high signal to noise ratio (SNR) indicates a cleaner and better quality image.

For more more details on how to interpret our test data, check out our full explanation of our noise and dynamic range tests.

Here we compare the Nikon 1 S1 with the Olympus PEN Mini E-PM2, Panasonic GF5 and Sony NEX-F3.

JPEG signal to noise ratio

Nikon 1 S1 review

These results show that the Nikon 1 S1's JPEG files have the weakest signal to noise ratio of all the cameras we compared, falling behind those from the Olympus PEN Mini E-PM2, Panasonic GF5 and Sony NEX-F3 at every sensitivity setting.

Raw signal to noise ratio

Nikon 1 S1 review

The signal to noise ratios of the TIFF images (after conversion from raw) from the Nikon 1 S1 start off the weakest of the group at lower ISOs, but overtake the Panasonic GF5 at ISO 1600 and above. The Nikon 1 S1's TIFFs have a weaker signal to noise ratio than the Olympus PEN Mini E-PM2 and Sony NEX-F3 at every sensitivity.

JPEG dynamic range

Nikon 1 S1 review

The Nikon 1 S1's JPEG results for dynamic range are more impressive than those for signal to noise ratio, showing stronger scores than the Panasonic GF5's at ISO 200, 3200 and 6400, and very similar scores at ISO 1600. The Nikon 1 S1's JPEGs also produce similar dynamic range to the Sony NEX-F3 at ISO 200, though at higher ISOs they are weaker than the Sony's. The Olympus PEN Mini E-PM2's JPEGs beat the Nikon 1 S1's for dynamic range at every sensitivity setting.

Raw dynamic range

Nikon 1 S1 review

TIFF images (after conversion from raw) from the Nikon 1 S1 start off showing the weakest dynamic range of the group at low ISOs, before again overtaking the Panasonic GF5 at ISO 1600 and above. The Olympus PEN Mini E-PM2 and Sony NEX-F3's TIFFs beat the Nikon 1 S1's for dynamic range at every sensitivity, though the gap does narrow considerably at ISO 1600 and above.

Sample images

Nikon 1 S1 review

Click here to see the full resolution image

The Nikon 1 S1's kit lens starts at 11mm, or roughly 28mm equivalent, making it a good all-purpose lens for capturing landscapes and holiday photos.

Nikon 1 S1 review

Click here to see the full resolution image

There's little evidence of chromatic aberration from the Nikon 1 S1's kit lens - zoom in close to the areas of high contrast in this scene to get a closer look.

Nikon 1 S1 review

Click here to see the full resolution image

Despite the small size (and relatively low resolution) of its sensor, the Nikon 1 S1 is capable of resolving lots of detail.

Nikon 1 S1 review

Click here to see the full resolution image

Here we can see how the matrix metering system has struggled slightly with this scene, underexposing the foreground.

Nikon 1 S1 review

Click here to see the full resolution image

Colours from the Nikon 1 S1 are bright and vibrant, without being overly saturated. You can shoot with the Vivid setting in Picture Styles (this is Standard) if you want to increase the contrast and saturation even further.

Nikon 1 S1 review

Click here to see the full resolution image

This image was shot with an 18.5mm f/1.8 lens, and shows how out of focus areas are rendered beautifully, enabling some great creative effects.

Sensitivity and noise images

JPEG

Nikon 1 S1 review

Full ISO 100 image, see the cropped (100%) versions below.

Nikon 1 S1 review

ISO 100 (Click here to see the full resolution image)

Nikon 1 S1 review

ISO 200 (Click here to see the full resolution image)

Nikon 1 S1 review

ISO 400 (Click here to see the full resolution image)

Nikon 1 S1 review

ISO 800 (Click here to see the full resolution image)

Nikon 1 S1 review

ISO 1600 (Click here to see the full resolution image)

Nikon 1 S1 review

ISO 3200 (Click here to see the full resolution image)

Nikon 1 S1 review

ISO 6400 (Click here to see the full resolution image)

Raw

Nikon 1 S1 review

ISO 100 (Click here to see the full resolution image)

Nikon 1 S1 review

ISO 200 (Click here to see the full resolution image)

Nikon 1 S1 review

ISO 400 (Click here to see the full resolution image)

Nikon 1 S1 review

ISO 800 (Click here to see the full resolution image)

Nikon 1 S1 review

ISO 1600 (Click here to see the full resolution image)

Nikon 1 S1 review

ISO 3200 (Click here to see the full resolution image)

Nikon 1 S1 review

ISO 6400 (Click here to see the full resolution image)

Verdict

Nikon enjoyed great commercial success with the Nikon 1 J1 and 1 J2. Since the Nikon 1 J3 has seen some high-end improvements made to it (such as the inclusion of a mode dial and higher resolution screen), it seems Nikon is still keen to have an entry-level cheaper model in its lineup.

The Nikon 1 S1 has the simplest specifications of any of the Nikon 1 cameras, including the lowest resolution sensor and lowest resolution LCD screen. That said, it's still not quite the smallest, with that honour being taken by the 1 J3.

What we have here is something that the average smartphone or compact camera user can pick up and start using straight away without having to follow complicated instructions, for £479.99/US$499.95.

The fact that it is capable of shooting in fully manual modes and has interchangeable lenses should enable this kind of user to explore photography further if they want to down the line.

However, Nikon has made some slightly strange decisions in the handling of the Nikon 1 S1, specifically in terms of not being able to shoot raw and JPEG files together. It's got the potential for an inexperienced user to accidentally shoot in raw format and be baffled by the resulting files.

It's also a shame that Nikon has chosen once again not to incorporate a touchscreen. Although it probably does help to keep the cost of the Nikon 1 S1 down, those smartphone users stepping up for the first time would no doubt appreciate being able to navigate through menus and image previews with a touch-sensitive device.

Putting that aside, image quality - especially in favourable conditions - is very good. The bundled 11-27.5mm kit lens is also a decent performer, though compact camera users may desire a longer zoom ratio.

We liked

Buying GuideBest Nikon cameraBest Nikon cameras

The best thing about the Nikon 1 S1 is its (JPEG) image quality, which is arguably the most important thing. Photographs from it are bright, colourful and vibrant without being over the top. Despite its small size and relatively low resolution, it's also capable of producing plenty of fine detail.

We disliked

Although this camera is aimed primarily at beginners, anybody with a desire to make changes to settings will find the Nikon 1 S1 ever so slightly frustrating. A touchscreen would have elevated this up from an average or basic compact system camera to something with a bit more appeal.

Final verdict

Despite the fact that it's small, the Nikon 1 S1's image quality is excellent and certainly worthy of consideration for first time CSC owners. If you're an existing Nikon user, you might want to think about this either as a backup for a DSLR or a companion to a smaller compact camera.

However, despite its relatively cheap price, we can't help but think that there are other cameras on the market that also serve the beginner market at this point but are easier to use, feature larger sensors and have a better (proprietary) lens range. Take a look at the excellent Olympus PEN Mini, for example, or the Sony NEX-3N.

It will be interesting to see if Nikon's commercial success with the J series also translates to the S series.

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