Nikon V1 – Smooth Operator
- KEY SPECS:
- 10MP 1” CMOS sensor with 2.7x effective focal length multiplier
- Hybrid Auto Focus (AF) system with both phase and contrast detection
- 60 Frames Per Second (FPS) at full resolution (Electronic Shutter)
- 1080/60i/30p video
- ISO 100-3200 (Hi 1 approx. ISO 6400)
- 1.4 million Dot LCD electronic viewfinder
- 920k dot rear LCD
- Both mechanical and electronic shutter option
- Retail Price: +/- R8800 (With 10-30mm lens)
It was with a heavy heart that I had to give the Nikon V1 back after having spent some time with it. See, the V1, is an anomaly, a camera unlike anything I have ever used. Amongst other cameras, the V1 is a super-model. This is the best looking/sexiest camera I have ever used. It truly is a thing of beauty. Having been given the white model by Nikon, wherever I went, people came up to me wanting know what this thing was.
The V1, along with its smaller sibling, the J1, is Nikon’s first foray into the mirror-less camera market. Nikon was late to the mirror-less market and apart, from Canon, has been the only big name still to enter said market. Suffice to say, Nikon’s 1 Series cameras were highly anticipated. Unfortunately, with such high expectations, the 1 Series’ debut has been met with mixed response.
The problem with this camera is its positioning. With a mix of cutting edge features, the cameras do not boast specs matching their competitors. The features and specs seem to be a bit of a mixed bag. Nikon seems to have aimed this at a different market than its competitors have positioned its entries to the mirror-less market. Whereas Sony, Pentax and Panasonic incorporated a lot of traditional technologies within their mirror-less cameras, Nikon has introduced many new and quite unconventional technologies. The 1 Series seems to not be aimed at as a professional crowd as its competitors. Was this maybe a bit too unconventional and differentiated?
On the outside:
As said before, the V1 is a thing of beauty. Unfortunately the beauty of the camera had to make way for some practicality. Here its form first, with function following behind. Let’s be upfront about it. This camera is a fashion accessory. It’s all style here. The lenses are even colour coded to match the camera colour you have.
The camera sits nicely in your hand. The rubber pad at the back helps grip a lot. The camera is much more bulky and heavier than its point-and-shoot cousins, yet much smaller than any DSLR.
But, a lot of what would be found on a DSLR for instance, here, has to be accessed within the menu system. This is one of the biggest gripes with critics of the 1 Series. There is no dedicated buttons for shooting modes like Aperture Priority, Shutter Priority or Manual. Instead, it has 4 modes, Photo Story, Smart Photo Selector, Photo Mode and Video Mode.
There is also an AF/AE lock-button and an F (function)-button, with which you can choose the shutter type, as you change modes. Unfortunately the F-button cannot be programmed. There is also an AF button that lets you choose the focusing mode.
On top there are dedicated buttons for both video, as well as photos, as well as the Power button. There’s also a hot-shoe to be able to mount an external Speedlight.
The V1 has a high definition screen with 920k dots and packs a lot of detail. And because this is a mirror-less camera, it doesn’t have an optical viewfinder, but rather employs a fantastic LCD viewfinder.
In modes like Aperture Priority, Shutter Priority and Manual, the shutter speed and aperture can be changed with the buttons on the back of the camera, and the focus can be changed with the scroll wheel, when set to manual focus.
Buttons like the AF, AF/AE-lock, F-button and hot-shoe are features usually reserved for DSLRs, whereas the lack of any more modes makes the exterior a very mixed bag as far as whether to class this as a professional or an entry-level type camera.
On the inside:
Nikon has really stepped out of the box with the development of the 1 Series. Instead of utilizing a APS-C sensor for the 1 Series, Nikon developed a whole new sensor. This sensor is only about 30% the size of a conventional APS-C sized sensor, and unique to only the 1 Series cameras.
It does present a few challenges, like the 2.7x crop factor. The 10-30mm kit lens, translates to a 27-80mm lens. This also means that the depth of field is much wider than with a DSLR. These aren’t negatives, as much as they are peculiarities.
The menu system of the V1 is very simple and elegant. It is quite easy and intuitive to use. This is also where most of the settings can be changed. Navigation happens through either the buttons or the scroll wheel, and these are all very responsive.
There are different picture profiles that can be changed as well as different scenes.
Photos can be shot in either JPEG or RAW, and video can be recorded in full 1920×1080 HD, at 30fps progressive or at 60fps interlaced. There are two slow-motion settings too. 400fps at 640×480 and 1200fps at 320×240.
An astonishing feature is that the V1 can shoot up to 60 full resolution photos per second in. You can set it too shoot at 10, 30 or 60, and it can even shoot at that rate in RAW! It is quite simply amazing.
The D-lighting system doesn’t seem to work as well with this camera as with its point and shoot cousins, and I would have liked to see more editing capabilities built-in.
Overall the V1 is very quick and responsive and a joy to navigate through.
The V1 is also blessed with a high-capacity battery (same as the D7000), which gives it an extremely long battery life. After 300+ photos and videos and reviewing these, the battery still hadn’t dropped a line, so it looks like you could easily shoot 1000+ photos and videos on a single charge.
The photos taken by the V1 are of very good quality, in fact, they are excellent and easily match the quality of the D3100 DSLR. Even on a pixel level there is a lot of detail, in fact more than any point and shoot, comparable to DSLRs. At only 10MP though, this camera simply cannot match the resolution or fine detail of some of the other mirror-less cameras from other companies.
The Smart Photo Selector mode was an interesting one, and a bit of a hit-and-miss affair. The camera leverages its ability to shoot at VERY fast burst rates and then chooses the photo it deems the best one. Luckily you can change the chosen image, as it doesn’t always get the choice right. This is a great feature for group photos where people might blink, pull weird faces etc.
The biggest surprise though, is how well the small sensor handled noise (graininess). At lower ISO’s the photos are very detailed with very little noise. Only at ISO 800 does noise become a factor, yet the photos stay usable for small prints, even at ISO 3200. ISO 6400 (High 1) is pretty useless though. Interesting and very out of character for Nikon, the V1 shows a lot of Chroma noise at high ISO’s, rather than Luma noise, where Nikon cameras usually show almost none. It definitely has to do with the new sensor.
In Auto ISO mode, the ISO rarely rises above ISO 800, even when set to go to ISO 3200, which sometimes lead to long shutter speeds, and if the hand is not steady, more blurry photos in low light than you’d expect. Only in extreme cases would the ISO rise to the full ISO 3200.
A real highlight of this camera is the AF. The hybrid phase/contrast detection method is blazingly fast in good light, easily matching the D7000. In low light, the focus unfortunately becomes much slower, but never a burden. The V1’s AF is the best seen in any mirror-less camera thus far. And with the lenses sporting Nikon’s Vibration Reduction (VR) technology, it’s a win-win situation.
I was also very impressed with the camera’s metering. It was very accurate, even in trying situations, like back-lit objects, or shooting straight at the sun. The RAW files have a decent dynamic range, although not as good as Nikon’s DSLRs.
White balance also worked very well for me. No hick-ups there.
The photos also still showed adequate depth of field, to still be able to create very please shallow depth of field photos with the 10-30mm kit lens.
I was very impressed with the in-camera processing and managing of chromatic aberrations as well as moiré. I didn’t see any fringing on high contrast photo, not even when shooting through intricate-leaved trees toward the sun.
Overall photo quality was very pleasing. It’s not as detailed as most of Nikon’s DSLRs, but its more than adequate for the average user.
The video was the biggest surprize of the camera. It was probably the best feature of the camera. The camera shoots in full HD at up to 60fps. I mostly shot at 30fps progressive. You can also choose between MP4 and H.264 formats for recording.
The video showed tons of details, with barely any artifacting. I could not see any moiré issues, and no rolling shutter effect. The only flaws I could pick up was a tiny bit of purple fringing in very high contrast scenarios, and in the Auto Modes, I caught a light flash now and then. You’ll see it in the sample video. It didn’t show up in Manual mode, and I’m sure it’s a matter of a firmware update to fix it.
You can even focus manually. I tried some focus rakes with the camera. You’ll see them at the end of the video with the apple. Not perfect, but useful.
At 720p, the camera can shoot at 60fps, progressively, which produces very smooth video, and is great for slow motion. The video still has a lot of detail and is perfectly usable.
The recorded footage is also rugged enough to be able to grade quite heavily, if you needed to. The video produced by the V1 is simply superb.
Then of course, there are the gimmicks. You can shoot slow motion movies at 400fps or 1200fps. At 400fps, resolution drops to 640×240 and at 1200fps, it drops too 320×120. The footage plays out at 30fps then and the resultant slow motion video is very smooth, but the resolution is simply not usable for anything other than amusing yourself.
One feature I don’t get, and don’t care for, is movies shot in stills mode. They are produced at 1072×720, which is basically a 3:2 aspect ratio. This is useless for video and I cannot see the use for it.
The motion snap-shot is another gimmick I don’t care much for. A short video is taken (approx. 5 seconds ate 1920×1080) and played in slow motion. One of Nikon’s built in songs is then added to this snapshot. It seems bit kitsch to my taste.
Audio, as with any other stills camera, was atrocious and better left alone. This camera does have a jack for an external microphone though, which would help a lot. Treat this one’s video as you would any DSLR’s.
This is a camera you want to be seen with. It is by no means perfect, or one of Nikon’s best for that matter. The photos aren’t as detailed as most of the DSLRs and the noise handling isn’t as good either. Getting to the proper settings can be a bit of a mission, more so than any high-end Nikon, and this camera is quite expensive. In fact, it is very expensive, as it comes in even more expensive than the D5100.
The main detractor though is the compatibility with other Nikon gear. You have to buy a special mount if you want to use conventional Nikon lens, and Nikon has developed a special Speedlight for this camera, meaning you cannot use your current Speedlight. This basically means that it isn’t any easier to start-up with this camera if you already own Nikon gear.
But even though it has some detractors, it bounces back with some great features like the 60fps burst rate for full resolution photos and the super-fast (for its class), class leading AF, extremely long battery life and the surprisingly good video.
This is not a professional camera that you go to paid shoots with, yet if your main camera breaks and this one is in the bag, you can still save the day. This camera is aimed at the styling enthusiast, who wants to be seen with his camera, and wants to take higher quality photos than point and shoot cameras can offer, but doesn’t want to be burdened with a DSLR.
This camera is all about the experience. From the moment you pick it up, you know you’ve got something special in your hands. Nikon definitely has better products than the V1, but they do not have any more special cameras than this. The V1 is a smooth operator.