Nikon 1 V1 £993
23rd Jul 2012 | 13:22
A CSC like the J1, but with an EVF and higher resolution screen
Update: now with ISO sensitivity test images.
Like the Nikon 1 J1 (read our Nikon 1 J1 review), launched at the same time, the Nikon 1 V1 is a compact system camera (CSC). This means that it lacks the reflex mirror and optical viewfinder found in DSLR cameras, but it can accept interchangeable lenses.
Not surprisingly, the Nikon V1 has much in common with the J1, not least the 10.1 million effective pixel sensor, EXPEED 3 processor and the new Nikon 1 lens mount.
While Panasonic, Olympus, Samsung and Sony have opted for Four Thirds and APS-C sized sensors in their CSCs such as the Panasonic Lumix DMC-GH2, Olympus PEN E-P3 and Sony NEX-F3, Nikon has taken a leaf out of Pentax's book and used a smaller device. In Nikon's case this is a CX format sensor that measures 13.2 x 8.8mm.
Restricting the V1's effective pixel count to 10.1MP means that the sensor isn't excessively over populated, but nevertheless the smaller sensor size means that the Nikon J1 and V1 engineers had their work cut out to keep image noise down. Smaller sensors usually mean smaller photoreceptors (pixels) and smaller receptors gather less light so they create a weaker image signal, which requires greater amplicfication and the end result is usually a noisier photograph.
The most obvious difference between the Nikon V1 and the J1 is that the V1 has an electronic viewfinder (EVF), which adds a lump to the top-plate. While Nikon J1 users have to content themselves with composing images on the 3-inch, 460,000 dot screen, V1 owners can choose between using the EVF or the 3-inch, 920,000 dot screen.
Another key difference between the two cameras is that the Nikon J1 has a built-in flash, whereas the V1 doesn't. The Nikon V1 does, however, have a hotshoe that can accept Nikon's new SpeedLight SB-N5 flashgun.
Because they lack a mirror to bounce light onto a dedicated phase detection autofocus (AF) sensor, an issue with most compact system cameras is that they use slower contrast detection autofocus systems. Nikon's solution to this problem is to use a hybrid AF system that uses phase and contrast detection. Both the V1 and J1 use 73 pixels on their imaging sensor as AF sensors. These pixels are still used to make up the image, even though they're used in focusing.
Phase detection AF is generally faster than and contrast detection AF, but contrast detection is more accurate, so using a hybrid system should bring the best of both worlds.
Unusually, the Nikon V1 has both an electronic and mechanical shutter, and the user can select which to use via the menu. We are told that using the mechanical shutter can cut down on the blooming that can occur around bright highlights when an electronic shutter is used, but after shooting a series of comparison images, we're unable to verify this.
A key benefit of an electronic shutter is that faster continuous shooting rates are possible, and the Nikon V1 and J1 can shoot at up to 60fps, with 30fps and 10fps options also being available.
Full HD 1920 x 1080p video recording is possible at 60i, 30p (29.97fps) or 60p (59.94fps). In addition, slow motion video can also be recorded at 640 x 240 at 400fps or 320 x 120 at 1,200fps, both of which are played back at 29.97fps.
In Motion Snapshot mode, the camera shoots a snippet of full HD footage at 69.94fps for replay as at 23.976fps (making it around one second long) with accompanying music and ending with a still image. Footage is recorded to the buffer memory from the moment the shutter release button is half-pressed, so the video includes slow-motion action from the point immediately before the shutter release is pressed home.
Like the J1, Nikon is aiming the V1 at family photographers and those who want something more than a compact camera without the bulk and complication of a DSLR. These users are likely to rely on automatic exposure modes, but both cameras also have Program, Aperture Priority, Shutter Priority and Manual (PASM) exposure modes.
With a street price of around £620 ($745 in the US) for a kit that includes the 1 Nikkor 10-30mm f/3.5-5.6 VR lens, the V1 is set to be the less popular of the two cameras - the J1 10-30mm kit retails for around £375 ($497 in the US).
Build quality and handling
Because of the electronic viewfinder (EVF) on top of the Nikon V1, it's bigger than the J1. But it has the same control arrangement and - with the obvious exception of the choice of screens for composing and reviewing images - the Nikon V1 handles in a very similar way to the J1.
Although the Nikon V1 uses a smaller sensor than Micro Four Thirds cameras, this doesn't give any size advantage. If you want a really small camera then the Pentax Q could be the way to go – it's tiny, but it has a compact camera-sized sensor to match.
Like the Nikon J1, the V1 is minimalist and uncomplicated, with a fairly limited collection of controls on its back and top-plate. The magnesium alloy body has a high-quality feel, and the only weak point appears to be the rotating multi-controller dial (on the back of the camera), which feels insubstantial and loose when you rotate it.
There are two ways to start up the Nikon V1 when the Nikkor 10-30mm f3.5-5.6 VR collapsible lens is mounted. When the lens is collapsed, pressing the lens button and rotating the zoom ring extends the optic and brings the camera to life in a little under two seconds. Alternatively, pressing the on/off button on the top-plate activates the camera in around a second.
Although it's disappointing that the advanced PASM exposure modes can only be selected via the menu when the mode dial is set to Still Image mode (denoted by a green camera icon), most photographers tend to shoot in one mode, for example Aperture Priority, most of the time. Novice photographers can set the camera to Scene Auto Selector mode via the menu, or use the mode dial to set it to Smart Photo Selector.
In Scene Auto Selector mode, the Nikon V1 chooses settings that it calculates are correct for the scene, be it a portrait or a landscape, for example. It's unusual that there's no option to specify the type of scene being photographed to give photographers a semblance of control.
Smart Photo Selector is an evolution of Nikon Best Shot Selector. When this mode is selected, the Nikon V1 starts recording to the buffer as soon as the shutter release is depressed halfway, and an icon displays in the LCD that lets you know recording has begun. When the shutter release is pressed home, a shot is recorded, and the camera compares it with the frames captured in the buffer.
The Nikon V1 then selects what it calculates are the best five shots, based on composition and sharpness, and saves them to the memory card (SD/SDHC/SDXC). This can be useful and appears effective, but the camera is tied up with processing and comparing the images for a couple of seconds after shooting.
In Shutter and Aperture Priority modes, exposure is changed using a small switch that protrudes from the back of the camera, just above the mode dial. In manual mode this switch is used in combination with the multi-control dial below the thumb rest. Both controls are quick and easy to use.
When the AF-area mode is set to Single-Point or Subject Tracking (via the menu), the active AF point is selected by pressing the OK button at the centre of the multi-control dial, then using the navigation controls to set the desired spot. It's easy, but given the number of touchscreens that are appearing on the market, we're disappointed that the Nikon V1 doesn't have a touchscreen to enable faster, more intuitive AF point selection.
The Nikon V1 has a 3-inch 920,000 dot LCD screen that provides a clear view of the scene being composed even in quite bright light. Although the screen's viewing angle is very wide both vertically and horizontally, part of it is obscured by the EVF when viewed from above. An articulated screen would make shooting from awkward angles easier.
Electronic levels are becoming commonplace in cameras, but neither the Nikon V1 or J1 has one, so the photographer must use the grid display as a guide to get the horizon level. As it has a hotshoe, it may be possible to get a bubble level with the correct fit at some point in the future.
Like the Nikon J1, the V1 enables specific sensitivity settings to be set via its menu. Alternatively, there are three automatic settings, with ranges ISO 100-3200, ISO 100-800 and ISO 100-400. These options are very useful when light levels keep changing, and the Nikon V1 can generally be relied on to choose the lowest possible option at the selected exposure settings.
Given that they have the same sensor, processor and so on, it's no surprise that the Nikon V1 and J1 produce very similar images. Most look good straight from the camera, and although there's some variation, colours are natural looking, if slightly on the warm side, with just enough saturation to give them a bit of punch.
On most occasions the automatic white balance system performs well under natural or flash light, but a few of our shots taken in very overcast conditions have a slight magenta cast.
At 100% on a computer screen, edges in the Nikon V1's images can look a little bolder than they should, but fine details are still a bit soft. However, at sensible printing sizes images look good, with decent bite and detail.
We found that the Nikon V1's multi-purpose Matrix metering mode performs very well and isn't easily tricked into under or over exposure by bright or dark areas in the scene.
Our resolution tests reveal that the Nikon V1 can't record as much detail as some Micro Four Thirds cameras, but the results are still respectable, given the size of the sensor.
As we'd expect, more detail can be extracted from raw files than is present in the simultaneously recorded JPEGs. It's also worth shooting raw files and adjusting the noise reduction that's applied (using Capture NX2 – not supplied) as it's possible to find a better balance between noise and detail visibility than in the high ISO JPEG files.
Even images captured at the lowest sensitivity settings have a faint texture that's just visible when they are examined at 100% on the computer screen. Increasing the sensitivity to ISO 800 introduces some mottled colouring in areas of shadow. This becomes increasingly noticeable (at 100%) as the sensitivity is increased.
In many situations, the Nikon V1's AF system performs very well, finding its target quickly and accurately. It even manages to keep up with fast-moving subjects in good light. However, in low light there can be some hunting. This is often just a quick back and forwards adjustment in focus, but it's present and noticeable.
While the Subject tracking AF mode works well, activating it requires two presses of the rear OK button, and it can be hard to achieve the initial lock-on with some moving subjects.
The Nikon V1's 0.47-inch 1440k-dot EVF is clear and provides an excellent view in most situations. Unfortunately, as with most EVFs, it blanks out during continuous shooting, which makes following a moving subject tricky to say the least.
Interestingly, we found that for the majority of shots taken during this test, we used the main LCD screen for composition rather than the EVF. This is a mark of the quality of the LCD display, rather than a negative point about the viewfinder.
It's helpful that the EVF has a proximity sensor to detect when the Nikon V1 is being held to the eye, but it has a habit of turning off the main LCD when an object is a couple of inches from the EVF, so it can be a nuisance, for example when shooting at a low angle and reaching down to the control buttons.
Image quality and resolution
As it has a new sensor size it is hard to know what to compare the results from the Nikon V1 with. Although it doesn't resolve as much detail as cameras such as the Olympus PEN E-P3, these chart images look clean and sharp – without being oversharpened.
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 V1 is capable of resolving up to around 18 (line widths per picture height x100) in its highest quality JPEG files.
Examining images of the chart taken at each sensitivity setting reveals the following resolution scores in line widths per picture height x100:
ISO 100, score: 18 (see full image)
ISO 200, score: 18 (see full image)
ISO 400, score: 18 (see full image)
ISO 800, score: 18 (see full image)
ISO 1600, score: 18 (see full image)
ISO 3200, score: 16 (see full image)
ISO 6400, score: 16 (see full image)
ISO 100, score: 22 (see full image)
ISO 200, score: 22 (see full image)
ISO 400, score: 20 (see full image)
ISO 800, score: 16 (see full image)
ISO 1600, score: 16 (see full image)
ISO 3200, score: 16 (see full image)
ISO 6400, score: 14 (see full image)
Noise and dynamic range
We shoot a specially designed chart in carefully controlled conditions and the resulting images are analysed using the DXO Analyzer software to give noise and dynamic range measurements at every sensitivity (ISO) setting.
Signal to noise ratio
The Nikon 1 V1 uses a smaller sensor than APS-C or Micro Four Thirds cameras. This means that the V1's 10.1 million effective photosites (pixels) are likely to be smaller, which could be a challenge for image quality.
Our lab tests indicate that the V1 produces JPEG images that have a comparatively low signal to noise ratio.
Although the values are still lower, the raw files (after conversion to TIFF) are much closer in performance to that of the other cameras in this test. This significantly better raw file performance indicates that Nikon has chosen to process out the noise from the JPEGs at the expense of the image signal more than the other manufacturers.
JPEG signal to noise ratio
A high signal to noise ratio (SNR) indicates a cleaner and better quality image.
JPEG images from the Nikon V1 show lower scores for signal to noise ratio than the Olympus PEN E-P3, Sony NEX-5 and Panasonic Lumix DMC-GH2. This means that images will show a greater amount of noise especially at the higher end of the sensitivity range.
RAW signal to noise ratio
For a full explanation of what our resolution charts mean, and how to read them please click here to read the full article.
Interestingly, our dynamic range measurements show that the Nikon V1 raw files compare favourably with the files from the Panasonic Lumix DMC-GH2 and Olympus PEN E-P3 and Sony NEX-5. Between ISO 100 and 800 it is only beaten by the Sony camera, and above ISO 800 it leads the way.
It's JPEG dynamic range performance is a little lower. It is generally on a par with, or a little better than the Panasonic GH2.
JPEG dynamic range
This chart indicates that the Nikon V1's JPEGs dynamic range compares well against the Panasonic Lumix DMC-GH2 and Olympus PEN E-P3, showing that it can resolve a good amount of shadow and highlight detail across the sensitivity range.
RAW dynamic range
This chart indicates that the Nikon V1's JPEGs dynamic range compares well against the Panasonic Lumix DMC-GH2 and Olympus PEN E-P3 and Sony NEX-5. From a sensitivity of ISO 1600 the Nikon V1 beats the dynamic range performance of thecomparisoncameras.
For a full explanation of our noise and dynamic range tests, please click here to read the full article.
Sensitivity and noise
Full ISO 100 image, see the cropped (100%) versions below.
The higher resolution screen, EVF, hotshoe and choice of shutter types mean that the Nikon V1 is more likely to attract the attention of the enthusiast photographer than the J1 is.Which means it sells in smaller numbers than the popular J1 which has topped the UK CSC sales charts on several occasions.
While the build of the Nikon V1 will certainly meet with approval from these users, they may be disappointed that the shooting mode options are located in the menu. They may also be concerned that Nikon has plumped for a smaller sensor than most manufacturers.
Nikon is obviously keen to stake a claim in the new compact system camera market, but it doesn't want to damage its DSLR sales – after all, it is one of the top two camera manufacturers.
For this reason, perhaps more than any other manufacturer, Nikon has succeeded in producing a camera that sits between its compact and DSLR models. The Nikon V1 and J1 have larger sensors than the compact cameras and accept interchangeable lenses, but they lack the bulk and complexity of the company's DSLRs.
Like the Nikon J1, the V1 has a high-quality, durable feel. The controls are well laid out and unintimidating for the novice user. Image quality is also high for a small camera.
It's a shame that there's no touchscreen and the LCD is fixed rather than articulated. We'd also like a quicker route to the exposure mode options.
Image quality from the Nikon V1 is good and noise is nicely controlled, especially if you have time to process the raw files individually. The sensor is small enough to allow a small camera body, but large enough to enable control over depth of field.
We think the Nikon V1 would grab more attention if Nikon had distinguished its handling a little more from that of the J1. Giving it an articulated touchscreen, an exposure mode dial and a customisable button or two would make it quicker to use and more versatile.