Nikon V1 Review
by Mike Pasini, Shawn Barnett, and Zig Weidelich
Review posted: 04/02/2012
We are all like Goldilocks, forever sampling the too-much, too-little, just-right of things. In the camera world, it's easy to imagine that's the dSLR, the digicam, and the Compact System Camera.
But even among CSCs, there's the same problem. The Sony NEX with its large sensor could be called too much [Ed: Opinions on this point differ at imaging-resource.com]. The Pentax Q with its small sensor is too little. And those Micro Four Thirds cameras are all just right.
Or so the fable goes.
When Nikon sat down to design a mirrorless camera with more image quality than the Coolpix series could provide and less luggage space than its dSLRs require, there was no NEX, Pentax nor Micro Four Thirds.
Instead, Nikon partnered with Aptina as it conceived the Nikon V1, a San Jose, Calif. company, to design a 12-megapixel CMOS sensor in its new CX format. Aptina traces its development back over 10 years, "beginning when NASA's Dr. Eric Fossum researched what advantages CMOS image sensors had. And they did have advantages, including less power requirements, more portability, and miniaturized imaging systems."
Fossum co-founded Photobit Corp. to commercialize CMOS sensors for scientific, military, and industrial applications. Micron Technology acquired it in 2001 before spinning it off as Aptina in 2009.
Aptina has pioneered some intriguing pixel technology. A-Pix uses a lightguide to funnel light toward a much deeper photo diode than usual, minimizing cross-talk for sharper images with vibrant color even in low light. Aptina's DR-Pix technology enhances low-light captures with a dynamic response pixel that uses a low conversion gain for large charge handling capacity in bright scenes and a high conversation gain mode with increases sensitivity and low read noise for low-light scenes.
We can't confirm either technology is built into the Nikon V1's sensor, but Aptina, whose largest CMOS sensor is 16 megapixels, clearly believes there's more to a sensor than its footprint.
And, in fact, that view was echoed in Dave's interview at the Nikon System 1 rollout in New York with Nikon General Manager Masahiro Suzuki. Suzuki observed that the sensor has "embedded phase-detection AF" and claimed that Nikon was "quite confident that we achieved almost exactly the same quality as our dSLR."
Which is where we come in. "Almost exactly" would make the Nikon 1 System "just right" in our book. Is it?
Look and Feel. While the Nikon V1 is smaller and lighter than a dSLR, it is neither small nor light. The TV commercial of actor Ashton Kutcher slipping a J1 into his coat pocket is pure Hollywood. If it had actually ended up in his pocket, his jacket would have noticeably pulled down with the weight (though the J1 is noticeably smaller and lighter than the V1).
I did find it a bit disappointing that there's no grip on the Nikon V1. There is a small ridge on the front that's more a design element than a grip. It is complemented by a nice thumb pad on the back. And the camera is thick enough that you may not need more than that.
But my first disappointment was confirmed when I asked a few innocent bystanders what they thought. They missed having a grip, too.
Nikon does provide a solution, its $120 GR-N1000 Black Grip which the company describes as providing "a more fitted and reassuring hold on the camera." Fortunately Richard Franiec seems has come to the rescue again with a V1 grip for $34.95.
I used the Nikon V1 with a wrist strap. And carried it in a Think Tank Photo Retrospect 5 bag or a Lowepro holster, depending on what else I wanted to bring along. The holster fit another lens under the camera with a divider as a shelf between them. The bag held a good deal more.
Let's take a tour around the Nikon V1.
On the top panel of the camera is the accessory port, the bump for the EVF (which is omitted on the J1), a slightly raised rectangular Power button, a nice big Shutter button and a smaller Movie record button. There's also a focal plane indicator, helpful for measuring focus in macro setups.
A word about the accessory port, though.
The Nikon V1 (unlike the J1) does not have a built-in flash. On several occasions I nearly left it home because I knew there wouldn't be sufficient available light to shoot at anything short of ISO 3,200. Fortunately I had peeked at the ISO options and saw Auto to 3,200 available. Cheeky, but just what I needed.
Nikon does offer an external flash as an accessory for the V1. And despite its size, it's no slouch, as we detail below.
But the Nikon V1 does not have a standard hot shoe, so if you want external flash, you have to get the V1 flash. This isn't just a proprietary hot shoe, it's an accessory port. You can plug in Nikon's GP-N100 GPS unit as well.
Sadly, the flash doesn't support Nikon's advanced wireless lighting system.
The front of the camera has the lens mount covered by a body cap with a Lens Release button at about three o'clock. There is an Infrared receiver just up the ring from that. On either side of the bump for the EVF are two grills for the microphones. An AF-assist illuminator/Self-timer lamp/Red-eye reduction lamp is just outside the left microphone grill. And a small ridge running parallel to the side of the camera serves as a grip.
On the left side of the V1 is a cover protecting the External Microphone port, HDMI mini connector, and USB/AV connector.
The right side of the camera has nothing on it at all.
On the back of the V1 is the EVF with its dioptric adjustment dial on the right side. It has a sensor on the left of its window so it can tell you've raised the camera to your eye and can turn on the EVF. There is no EVF/LCD button consequently.
Under the EVF is the gorgeous 3.0-inch LCD. All the controls are arrayed to the right of it, starting with the Feature button and the Zoom control lever on a small bump out on top. Below them a thumbpad cradles the Mode dial, which slightly protrudes off the right side. It's easy to knock it off its setting, unfortunately. Even after using the camera for two months, I still found myself shooting in a mode I hadn't set, usually Movie.
The Scroll Wheel navigator surrounds an OK button. The Up arrow doubles as AE-L/AF-L, Right as EV, Down as Focus, and Left as the Self-Timer. The Scroll Wheel is flanked by four other buttons. On top are the Display button to toggle through the LCD display options, and Playback. Below are Menu and Trash.
The bottom of the camera has a metal tripod socket half an inch from the hinge to the battery/memory card compartment. That clears our tripod release plate.
Controls. Nikon gave more than a little thought to the control layout on the V1 and I very much appreciated it. They made it easy to tweak the camera's settings first by putting the EV control on an arrow key just down from the thumb grip and second by putting the Zoom lever to work for shifting other options.
But they made one unfortunate mistake. The Mode dial.
The Mode dial on the V1 has only four options: Motion Snapshot, Smart Photo Selector, Still Image, and Movie. That forces you into the menu system for options that commonly appear on other Mode dials like PASM and Intelligent Auto.
And two of those four options are peculiar. It seems as if the PR guys designed this Mode dial, not the engineers. And they didn't design it for photographers, as you might have guessed, skipping PASM for what used to be called Best Shot Selector and a silly new option no one will ever use that tacks a slow-mo movie onto a still (when you play it back in the camera, anyway).
The sad thing about this design decision is that there's nothing but room on the Mode dial. Just a third of the space on the dial is required for the four modes Nikon has chosen to highlight.
Shawn complained about it on the Nikon J1 and I'm joining the complaint. Maybe we should start a petition to get PASM put back on the Mode dial where it belongs.
And then there's that other issue with the Mode dial: how easy it is to accidentally nudge it out of position. You think it's set on Still Image and taking it out of your camera bag, you find it between Still Image and Smart Photo Selector. I probably wouldn't have ever used Smart Photo Selector in the field if the Mode dial hadn't slipped over to it. But just when I thought I'd learned how to avoid the problem, it started slipping into Movie mode. Infuriating.
So the Mode dial needs to be stiffer, too.
The Scroll Wheel, on the other hand, is worthy of praise. It's smooth and quick without being loose.
You appreciate it especially navigating the Menu system, which like other Nikon menu systems is well designed. You're never confused about what's selected, as we explain below.
The Feature button is another treat that benefits from the scroll wheel. In Still mode you choose the Shutter type, in Movie mode either HD or Slow Motion modes, in Motion Snapshot mode you use it to pick a theme and in Playback you can rate images with it.
The Zoom lever is something you'd think could be safely left off a camera with interchangeable lenses. But Nikon had a better idea. One I very much appreciate.
Most Program modes simply set the aperture, shutter speed and ISO at some "ideal" combination to get an exposure suggested by variously sophisticated metering options. You get to play around with things like White Balance to warm or cool the scene and EV to adjust for dark or light subjects but that's really about it as far as controlling the image. There are other options, I hasten to add, like aspect ratio and image size, that may not be available when you use Intelligent Auto or just plain Auto.
Despite Nikon's marketing the Nikon 1 to consumers, it hasn't forgotten photographers and the Zoom lever in Program mode is one example. Because, as every photographer knows, there isn't just one aperture/shutter speed combination for any particular exposure. There's a range of them.
And with the Zoom lever, you can flip through them, selecting a wider aperture if you want a blurred background or a faster shutter speed if you want to stop motion.
That's pretty much why we dip into Aperture Priority or Shutter Priority -- but the difference is the setting we pick in those modes sticks while the other factor fluctuates. So we can set the lens wide open and it will stay there until we change it.
With Program, we have a lot more flexibility on each shot.
The 3.0-inch LCD itself will win a lot of hearts. It has 921K dots with a brightness adjustment while the EVF has 1,440K dots with a dioptric and brightness adjustment.
Lens. I shot with three System 1 lenses. I appreciated their small size and even their denominations.
I'm weary of converting digicam focal ranges into 35mm equivalents but what else is there? These are nice whole number alternatives, though. Wide angle is 10mm. The kit is 10-30mm. The longer zoom is 30-110mm. The V1's sensor has a 2.7x crop factor, so those translate to the following 35mm equivalents: 27mm, 27-81mm, and 81-297mm respectively.
I had just been using a 35x megazoom, so I wasn't very happy with the 10mm or 10-30mm lenses. They reminded me of those 18-55mm dSLR kit lenses that just don't reach far enough.
The 10mm is a wide angle, period. Not for portraits. I did some street shooting with it but it was like writing sonnets. The form's the thing.
The 10-30mm, while perfect for indoor work where you want to cover a room, just didn't handle sports or outdoor shooting as happily as the long zoom. Although it got nice and close, which is going to have to pass for macro until Nikon releases one. But it was free verse again and I relied on it most of the time.
The 30-110mm was more my kind of poetry when I'm out walking around. The only hitch was that I had the white version, so it looked like I was walking around with a shrunken Canon EOS and L Series zoom.Of course, the reason focal lengths are all over the place is because sensor sizes are. And the V1's sensor size is unique. So this won't solve that problem.
The 10mm is a fast f/2.8 and the 10-30mm is f/3.5-5.6 while the 30-110mm is f3.8-5.6. Both of the zooms feature Vibration Reduction, too.
The beauty of these lenses is their size. Compared to dSLR glass, they're miniatures. But they're also slightly but noticeably (in the hand) smaller than Micro Four Thirds lenses. You can thank the smaller sensor for that.
While the build quality is stellar, I was miffed to find that the 10mm attached roughly to the V1. Since I didn't have the problem with the other lenses, I suspect it was the 10mm's mount. Had I purchased it, I would have returned it as defective, although it did no harm.
I particularly liked the locking mechanism on the zooms. For some reason the 14-42mm Olympus Micro Four Thirds zoom locking mechanism always annoys me. You have to slide a lock forward before you can stow a lens, but you don't have to slide it to open the lens. Nikon's mechanism is a button you push in while turning the lens barrel, both to close and open the lens. That's a lot less acrobatic.
And it has the intelligence to turn the camera on if it's off, too; but not back off again.
The soft barrel on the zooms is another pleasure. You really enjoy grabbing it to zoom in or out.
There is nothing about these lenses that says cheap or compromise. They are a delight to play with, to swap, to zoom, to use.
Focus Modes. Manual focus is accessed with the Down key as one of the focus modes. You press the OK button to use the scroll wheel to change focus on a magnified image. It works well with the high resolution LCD.
In addition to Manual focus there are four other focus modes:
- Single AF (AF-S), for stationary subjects, locks focus when the Shutter button is pressed halfway.
- Continuous AF (AF-C), for moving subjects, focuses continuously while the Shutter button is pressed halfway.
- Auto-Select AF (AF-A) automatically selects between AF-S and AF-C depending on subject movement.
- Full-time AF (AF-F) continuously focuses and unlike AF-A and AF-S will fire the shutter whether or not the camera finds focus.
In Dave's interview with Masahiro Suzuki, Nikon revealed, "This camera's image sensor has embedded phase detection AF, so that achieves very fast focusing."
On a handful of occasions the Nikon V1 failed to find focus at infinity. I wish, on those occasions, it had just guessed and set the lens to infinity because that's where I was going. But failing to find focus prevented the shutter from being released.
I never did figure out what the problem was. Lack of contrast is the usual culprit. One occasion was the dark corner of the yard, another the horizon at dusk in the Pacific.
Sensor Cleaning. Which brings up the subject of sensor cleaning. Every time you take the lens off you are exposing the sensor. There's no mirror or closed shutter to protect it.
Or, to be more precise, you are exposing the low-pass filter (which helps prevent moiré) covering the sensor. But the problem is simply that anything that gets on it also gets on all your images.
In the manual, Nikon warns against touching the filter at all. It doesn't even want you to use a blower.
So how do you clean the sensor? Nikon thinks it has it covered with a cleaning routine that occurs whenever you turn the camera on or off. The low pass filter vibrates to shake off the dust. If you operate the controls or rapidly power the camera on and off, that cleaning routine is canceled.
Nikon wants you to return the camera for cleaning if that doesn't do it. But I suspect the usual soft Giottos blower puff should do the trick. And I can't imagine why a wet cleaning would be any more dangerous on this filter than any other. No doubt it's what Nikon does when you return it for a cleaning.
Still, I found the vibration cleaning sufficient despite many lens switches over two months.
Shutters. Not many cameras give you the option of choosing to use a mechanical or an electronic shutter, but the Nikon V1 distinguishes itself here too.
You select a shutter type from the F button near the top right corner of the LCD. There are three options:
MECHANICAL. Suited for most occasions, Nikon claims in the manual, it makes a decidedly un-Nikon squish sound.
ELECTRONIC. This provides a silent shutter. Rather than a Spy mode, we like to think of it as a Do Not Disturb setting, appropriate at your kid's theater production (where people are capturing video all around you, say) or the museum.
ELECTRONIC (HI). Focusing on the center of the frame with face detection disabled, this mode captures at least 10 frames per second. It also supports 30 and 60 fps, although focus and exposure are fixed after the first frame. You simply select which option from the Shutter type Camera menu option.
Flash sync speeds are also affected by your choice of shutter. But oddly enough the mechanical shutter syncs at a faster 1/250 second than the 1/60 second of the electronic shutter.
Manual mode shutter speed is also affected by your choice. Shutter speeds are 1/4,000 second to 30 seconds for the mechanical shutter or 1/16,000 second to 30 seconds for the electronic shutter, both with a Bulb option.
Firmware Updates. In the midst of our testing this system, Nikon issued firmware updates for its zoom lenses to correct an issue where the aperture was written to the Exif header and another where focus was blurred after the camera had been moved quickly or shaken.
I downloaded the firmware updates from Nikon's support pages and copied the .bin file for each lens to an SD card. With the correct lens mounted, I inserted the card, turned the camera on and went to the Setup menu's Firmware option.
On that screen, the current firmware versions are listed for the camera (A, B), lens (L), and flash (S) if attached. With the updater file on the card, an additional Update menu option is available.
I selected that and waited a few seconds for the update to install and I was back in business. Very simple.
Flash. There's only one flash you can attach to the Nikon V1. It's the SB-N5, which seems on the small size. In fact, the word "size" gives a misleading impression. It has all the "size" of those miniature telephones you buy for a doll house.
One reason for that is it requires no batteries of its own, relying on the V1 for power. That might seem like a mixed bag (depleting your main battery much more quickly), but it wasn't an issue in my experience. The battery held up fine.
Controls are simple, too. Just a Power switch and a small lever to unlock it from the accessory port when you want to slide it off.
There's also what Nikon calls a "capture illuminator" on the front, which is a white LED that illuminates a scene in Smart Photo Selector mode, and for the movie capture of Motion Snapshot Mode.
The connector itself is not as delicate as it looks but the contacts are exposed, so Nikon has included a plastic cover to snap over them for protection.
What I really appreciated about this small accessory, though, was that the head can be rotated up 90 degrees to bounce the light off the ceiling. And you can also rotate the head a full 360 degrees to give you even more flexibility bouncing the light. That's huge.
Add to that some nice power control with i-TTL or Manual modes (down to 1/32 power) and -3.0 to +1.0 Flash EV and you can perform some lighting tricks.
Remote Trigger. I fired a Photoflex StarFlash monobloc with the SB-N5 flash head swiveled back and angled up in Manual mode at 1/32 power and with -3.0 EV. I selected Manual exposure mode and shot at 1/60 second and a small aperture to get my shots.
Using the flash set in TTL mode fired the monobloc prematurely with the SB-N5 preflash. The trick was to use Manual mode, in effect disabling preflash.
Straight Flash. More typical use of the SB-N5, however, is as the primary illumination of the scene. Here, though, we encountered some interesting behavior.
Encouraged by some initial test shots bouncing off a white ceiling, I used a rubber band to mount a business card to the flash, bouncing the light directly off that, an old trick for bounce flash.
The results were dismal. Uniformly underexposed. But why? The test shots had been fine using a white ceiling, farther away.
The short answer is ISO. In Fill mode, the V1 had fired the flash after setting the ISO to 3,200. We had normally used the V1 with Auto ISO allowed to run up to ISO 3,200. Between my test shots and the card bounce shots, I had fixed ISO at 100. I had expected the V1 to use a low ISO for flash shots, but that isn't the case.
Knowing that Nikon had spent four years developing this system, we did a little research in the manual to learn a bit more about how the flash system functions.
There are five Flash modes:
- Fill Flash supplements available light.
- Red-Eye Reduction fires a pre-flash to make your subject's pupils close.
- Slow Sync (P or A modes only) slows the shutter speed to capture available light.
- Red-Eye Slow Synch (P or A modes only) combines the pre-flash with a slow shutter speed.
- Rear-Curtain Slow Sync (S or M modes only) fires the flash at the end of the exposure so moving objects lead rather than trail moving light sources.
Shutter speeds vary depending on exposure modes and shutter type. For the mechanical shutter:
- Scene mode: 1/250 to one second
- S mode: 1/250 to 30 seconds
- M mode: 1/250 to 30 seconds plus Bulb
- Other: 1/250 to 1/60 second
And for the Electronic shutter:
- Scene mode: 1/60 to one second
- S mode: 1/60 to 30 seconds
- M mode: 1/60 to 30 seconds plus Bulb
- Other: 1/60 second
So was our mistake to use Fill where we should have picked Rear Curtain?
Apparently not. Fill is the new Auto. In Scene mode, the only options are Fill and Red-Eye Reduction.
We took a series of bounce flash shots with our business card attached. First Scene mode then A mode. First Electronic shutter, then Mechanical. And in A mode, we tried 1/60 and 1/250 second. We also gave Rear Curtain a shot (and it took a 1/10 second exposure).
Of all those combinations, only the Scene mode option did not shoot at ISO 3,200. Scene mode used ISO 800 instead.
The V1 manual reveals that the Guide Number for the SB-N5 is 8.5/27.9 (m/ft, ISO 100). For comparison, the Nikon SB-600 has a Guide Number of 30/98. So it isn't a very powerful unit.
Put all that together and really there is no Auto mode for flash. It really is just fill. The camera is going to boost ISO as far as you let it before popping the flash with enough light to make the exposure.
GPS. The other (current) use of the accessory port is to attach the GP-N100, Nikon's GPS unit for the V1. This compact accessory, not much larger than a frame of 35mm film, has the same latch release as the SB-N5 flash, but no power switch. Power is supplied by the camera and the unit remains powered up to three hours after the camera is turned off. To disable the unit (on an airplane, for example), you have to remove it from the camera.
On the side, there's a standard Mini-B USB port (and a USB cable is included). More on that in a bit.
It also supports Assisted GPS, which uses supplemental information for faster acquisition of GPS data to supplement or replace satellite radio signals when the latter are confusing or unavailable.
That's where the USB port comes in. We plugged a USB cable connected to our laptop into the unit. It flashed a red LED signal for a while. Not good. So we looked it up in the manual and found out we had to download the GP-N100 Utility Software (which has its own manual).
After installing the utility software, you connect the unit via USB to your computer, start the utility and click the Start button to acquire A-GPS data from Nikon's servers and download it to the unit. An expiration date (valid for about two weeks) will be updated to indicate success and you can then disconnect the unit.
Nikon's support of A-GPS data is to reference this file in the unit itself rather than use the cellular network.
We'd hoped we could download a log of images or something using the Utility, but apparently no tracking log is kept on the GP-N100 itself.
The GP-N100 GPS module records latitude, longitude, altitude, and Coordinated Universal Time in the Exif header of images taken when it is on the camera.
Like the flash, you attach it with the camera powered off by simply sliding it into the connector.
Nikon calculates the time to acquire a signal from the GPS satellites under an open sky with no nearby obstructions as about 40 seconds from a cold start and three seconds from a hot start. Depending on the environment, however, you can be waiting for that cold start acquisition for up to 12.5 minutes. On a few occasions we were not able to acquire a signal at all.
The unit will blink its red LCD while searching for signal. It will blink its green LCD when it is receiving a signal and will show a steady green LCD when it is receiving signals from four or more GPS satellites. At least three satellites are required to record GPS data.
Position is updated every second and is accurate to 33 feet horizontally, Nikons claims.
With the unit attached, the Setup Menu enables a GPS item with three options:
- Auto Power Off: Enables or disables automatic power off of camera displays after a set time with the unit attached.
- Position: Display latitude, longitude, altitude and Coordinated Universal Time, assuming the unit is currently synched.
- Use GPS to Set Clock: Synchronizes the camera clock to the time reported by the unit.
GPS fields. The GPS fields saved in the Exif section include:
GPSVersionID: 18.104.22.168 GPSLatitudeRef: North GPSLongitudeRef: West GPSAltitudeRef: Below Sea Level GPSTimeStamp: 19:15:23 GPSSatellites: 08 GPSMapDatum: WGS-84 GPSDateStamp: 2011:11:25
and in the Composite section:
GPSAltitude: 33 m Below Sea Level GPSDateTime: 2011:11:25 19:15:23Z GPSLatitude: 37 deg 47' 28.92" N GPSLongitude: 122 deg 23' 24.00" W GPSPosition: 37 deg 47' 28.92" N, 122 deg 23' 24.00" W
Modes. The Mode dial on the V1 has only four options, two of which you'll rarely use, forcing you into the menu system for options that commonly appear on other Mode dials. Just a third of the space on the dial is required for the four modes Nikon has chosen to highlight. They are:
MOTION SNAPSHOT. Press the Shutter button and the Nikon V1 records a still image with about a one-second movie without audio. During Playback, the movie plays in slow motion for about 2.5 seconds followed by the still image. You can select a Theme (Beauty, Waves, Relaxation, Tenderness) to add music if you don't like the default based on automatic scene selection.
You can use the SB-N5 in this mode because its "capture illuminator" lights for the movie capture.
On any other camera, this would be an obscure Scene mode no one would ever use. And, frankly, I avoided it because to make any sense of it, you have to play it back on the camera.
SMART PHOTO SELECTOR. Not to be confused with the intelligent auto modes of other cameras, Smart Photo Selector is more like Nikon's venerable Best Shot Selection in that when you press the Shutter button, a series of images is captured. The best shot is saved as well as four alternatives.
The camera continually adjusts focus as long as the Shutter button is half pressed. The selection of shots is taken from the moment you half press the Shutter button to slightly after you fully press it.
Again, you can use the SB-N5's capture illuminator. But you can't use this with movies, obviously. Pressing the Movie button does nothing.
And again, this has always been a Scene mode or Menu item option called upon only in duress. You might think it would help capture the right moment, but you don't get a vote in the selection of images saved to the card.
STILL IMAGE. Ah, now we get back to photography. There are actually five options for this one setting, all of which require a trip to the Menu system. The options are:
SCENE. This is that intelligent auto mode we were looking for on the Mode dial. The Nikon V1 can detect Portrait, Landscape, Night Portrait, and Macro scenes. Failing that it defers to an Auto setting.
PROGRAM. As on other cameras, Program automatically sets the aperture and shutter speed but gives you control over other exposure options (like EV, which is very easily accessed from the Right arrow, changed with the Scroll Wheel and set with the OK button). Unlike some other cameras, though, you can press the Zoom lever up for a combination with a larger aperture for reduced depth of field and faster shutter speeds or down for a smaller one to increase depth of field and slower shutter speeds. Outright prolonged applause for that option.
SHUTTER PRIORITY. You select a shutter speed using that same Zoom lever. The camera adjusts the aperture.
APERTURE PRIORITY. You use the Zoom lever to select the aperture while the camera sets the shutter speed.
MANUAL. You set both the shutter and aperture using the Zoom lever for shutter speeds and the Scroll Wheel for aperture. Shutter speeds are 1/4,000 second to 30 seconds for the mechanical shutter or 1/16,000 second to 30 seconds for the electronic shutter, both with a Bulb option that leaves the shutter open as long as you hold the Shutter button down. A Time option is available with the optional ML-L3 remote control, which leaves the shutter open until you press the remote control a second time. Aperture depends on the lens.
MOVIE. You can capture High Definition movies and Slow Motion movies but not Standard Definition (640x480) movies on the V1. One very nice feature on the V1 is an option to fade the video in and out from black or white.
HD capture options include 1080/60i at 59.94 fields per second and a bit rate of 24 Mbps, 1080/30p at 29.97 frames per second and 24 Mbps, or 720/60p at 59.94 frames per second and 16 Mbps. Image size at 1080 is 1,920 x 1,080 and at 720 it's 1,280 x 720. The V1 records movies in H.264 MPEG-4 AVC format with stereo AAC audio.
1080 HD movies can be captured up to 4GB or 20 minutes with 720 HD captures as long as 29 minutes, although card speed plays a role with slower cards managing less capacity. The V1 supports UHS-1.
You can take up to 20 16:9 stills during each movie clip but not during slow motion movies.
Press the F button to select between HD or Slow Motion modes. HD is a captured with a 16:9 aspect ration. Slow Motion is captured at 8:3 with a frame rate of 400 fps for playback at 30 fps.
Slow Motion's default exposure mode is Program. Scene is not available and no audio is recorded. The image size is a bizarre 640 x 240, which is half an SD frame. There's also a 320 x 120 mode, captured at 1,200 fps but also played back at 30 fps.
In Still modes, you can capture movies using the Movie button. Movies will be captured at 1,072 x 720 with an aspect ratio of 3:2.
Movie Sound options include Microphone Off and Wind Noise Reduction.
There is also a Flicker Reduction option to minimize flicker under certain light sources like fluorescent and mercury vapor.
Other Modes? I start shooting with a review unit immediately, even before I look at what else is in the box. It gives me a quick sense of the design's success and a feel for ease of use. But it leaves the goodies for later, so I often make a few notes about what I haven't done yet.
With the Nikon V1 I made a lot of notes. How do you do a panorama? Is it an intelligent sweep panorama, built in the camera? How about Handheld Twilight mode? And where's the HDR mode? You know, stuff we're finding in a lot of digicams this year.
I should have saved my ink. The Nikon V1 doesn't go there. As Shawn speculated in his Nikon J1 review, "It's as if the feature list were established two years ago and these were left out because they weren't part of the standard set of expectations."
It proves Nikon has been working on the Nikon 1 System a long time, presumably, but those are big omissions I would expect to see in 2012 bodies. And I can't tell you how thrilled I am to think they'll have to redesign the Mode dial to do it.
Menu System. Nikon designs some of the best menu systems in the business. And the Nikon V1 is no exception, despite being a new design. It uses the traditional black/gray with yellow highlighting design of previous Nikon menu systems, a scheme that leaves no doubt about what's selected.
Pressing the Menu button takes you into the system, which displays a set of icons along the left side of the screen representing the three menus available: Playback, Record, and Setup.
When you use the navigator to cursor to the menu you want, you simple use the Right arrow to move into the options. They take up most of the width of the screen so there's plenty of room for descriptive names like "Reset shooting options."
If there are options for any particular choice, the current setting is shown in a narrow column along the right side of the screen. Exposure Mode, for example, shows P for Program. Clicking the Right arrow again slides the Record options to the left under the three main options so you can see all the Exposure Mode options across the rest of the screen. That's how you find Scene, Program, Shutter Priority, Aperture Priority, and Manual modes.
You only need a two keystrokes to select an setting and set its options, but you do a lot of scrolling. That's made tolerable by the scroll wheel on the navigator itself. And it helps that the system remembers where you were when you return to it, so it's easy to reset an option.
To take just one example of this system at work, let's look at Custom Picture Control. Basic Picture Control lets you select among Standard, Neutral, Vivid, Monochrome, Portrait, and Landscape renderings of the scene. Custom Picture Control, just below it on the menu list, starts with an Edit/Save, Delete, and Load From/Save to Card menu.
Edit/Save leads to the same set of options you see on the basic Picture Control menu but they're editable by moving right again to the next screen. There you can adjust Sharpening, Contrast, Brightness, Filter Effects, and Toning (for black and white tone) or Hue. Make your changes, press Menu, and save up to nine custom configurations. No wrestling, just press the Right arrow to go deeper.
Storage & Battery. The Nikon V1 uses SD/SDHC/SDXC cards with support for UHS-1. A 16GB card will store 659 RAW+JPEG images with Fine compression or 2,300 JPEG Fine images. The same card will hold 1 hour 27 minutes of 1080 Full HD or Slow Motion video or 2 hours 10 minutes of 720 HD video.
You have several options for saving your captures. The Nikon V1 will save JPEGs with compression levels of Fine (1:4), Normal (1:8), and Basic (1:16). You can also save a RAW compressed 12-bit image file and a RAW+JPEG Fine pair. I didn't notice any delay when saving RAW images and consequently the Gallery shots have quite a few.
I used an Eye-Fi Pro X2 in the Nikon V1 but had problems with it, at least with firmware v1.00. The V1 would complain that it couldn't use it. It would stumble saving a file to it, using the same sequence number (and appending an _1 to it to avoid duplication). And the default timeout didn't allow for transmissions of many images, which is easy to work around but proved Nikon had provided no Eye-Fi compatibility mode.
The problem seemed to happen when I was shooting RAW+JPEG. The RAW wouldn't get written to the card and the error message would appear. Usually the RAW file is promptly written to the card but occasionally it got interrupted, apparently. I'd press Playback to see if I'd captured the shot and then I'd get the error message.
Looking at one sequence is interesting, though. I was shooting RAW+JPEG in Program mode. The last good pair is 1549. 1550 is just a JPEG, not RAW. 1550-1 is a JPEG that matches the 1550 RAW. So one RAW didn't get written and screwed up the counter.
Seems like it would be easy enough to fix this in one firmware update or another, more likely the Nikon V1 (which is doing the writing that should not be interrupted) than the Eye-Fi. To recover, I just shut the camera off and on again.
And, in fact, I kept using the Eye-Fi X2 Pro card as if there wasn't a problem. Partly that was to figure out what was going on. But I also suspected I was the culprit. Still, the Nikon V1 should be wary of people like me and protect itself.
The Eye-Fi camera compatibility page does list the V1 as compatible now (it didn't when I ran into this problem). Since I shot with the V1 and Eye-Fi Pro X2 card, there have been firmware updates to both. But I didn't get a chance to confirm if the issues I experienced have been resolved.
The Nikon V1 is powered by a large, heavy EN-EL15 lithium-ion battery. The 7.0 volt, 1,900 mAh battery does a lot of work, powering not just the camera but the flash or the GPS unit accessories when attached. Both are big power draws. Unlike a digicam, though, it doesn't have to power the zoom, unless you mount the 10-100mm f/4.5-5.6 PD-ZOOM lens with power zoom.
Using CIPA standards, Nikon reports battery life as about 400 still images or 350 with the SB-N5 flash or 120 minutes of HD video at 1080/60i, with the 10-30mm f/3.5-5.6 VR lens.
You can view battery information from the Setup menu. Charge Remaining and a five-level Battery Age are reported.
I never happened to run the battery down despite failing to charge it between shoots and using the GPS or the flash all day. The battery seems to have the capacity to handle a heavy load.
It uses one of the oddest battery chargers I've ever seen, the same as the charger for the Nikon D7000, in fact. The EN-EL15 battery itself is bulky and the charger is as big as your father's wallet. Plus it has a swivel plug you can use in either its straight or 90-degree position. A window apparently vents the battery as it charges.
An optional AC power adapter is also available: the AC Adapter EH-5b, which requires the Power Connector EP-5B.
Video. I took some nice video with the Nikon V1 -- and that isn't my usual result. Small cameras and video just seem impossible to start and stop smoothly or to zoom smoothly. My old Bolex Super 8 was an awful lot easier to use.
But I bolted the Nikon V1 onto a Cotton Carrier Steady Shot. The Steady Shot is a three-piece armature that connects to a Cotton Carrier vest using the Lexan mount. Unlike the Tiffen Steadicam Smoothee (designed for smaller devices), there's no play in the arrangement. The camera is steadied by virtue of being attached to your chest not by a counter-weight. So it jogs as you walk, for example.
But the Steady Shot does provide a stable platform for starting and stopping video and holding the camera still as you zoom. All those were improvements over our usual methods.
And the Nikon V1 was light enough not to stress the Steady Shot's mount.
Shooting. Yes, 10 megapixels isn't exactly state of the art, but there's more to image quality and camera performance than the specs. The more you weigh the specs, the more confused you become. Is a 16-megapixel digicam a better camera than the 10-megapixel Nikon V1 because it resolves more lines? Uh, no.
The real measure of a camera is what you think of using it and how much you enjoy the images you've captured. That brings us to our Shooter's Report.
In the decades I've been writing camera reviews, this one has to be the one that has been the most involved. I took over 700 shots with the Nikon V1, roughly 80 with the 10mm prime, 460 with the 10-30mm, and another 160 with the 30-110mm. That entailed 58 focal lengths, 19 apertures, and 31 shutter speeds. ISO varied over the whole range as well, with over 140 at ISO 3,200 or above and over 200 at the base ISO 100. Rain and shine for nearly two months, a lot longer than I thought I'd have it.
To my surprise I usually shot RAW+JPEG rather than just JPEG. There was simply no penalty for including RAW, except for slower buffer clearing after a long burst.
I even shot eight movies. And took over 60 flash shots, something I rarely do. And captured GPS data in about 200 shots. Crazy, I know.
That made selecting a few shots for the gallery an agonizing ordeal. I usually solve agonizing ordeals like this by including a lot of photos in the gallery, more than usual, certainly. But I couldn't dump even half of them on the server. Especially with RAW equivalents.
I had to be very discriminating this time.
There were quite a few different shoots to choose from. A lot of food shots under various lighting (given the season, naturally). A few of the old standards (my low light subjects, macro subjects, zoom series, etc.). A black and white session in an industrial part of town. Some nature hikes. Night shots. A long walk along the Embarcadero on an overcast day. A museum. A few cars that should be in a museum. Buildings (even a windmill). Ginger bread houses. Bikes. Urban explorations. An Occupy SF march. Buses (inside and out).
Obviously, the Nikon V1 is at home in a number of situations.
There's a reason for that. Nikon is one of the great camera system builders. And the Nikon 1 System of which the V1 and the J1 are the first two bodies, arrives with a set of three lenses (one of which is a prime), a flash, a GPS unit and an adapter for 35mm Nikkor F-mount lenses. So right out of the gate, Nikon offers a collection of tools for the Nikon 1 System that's more extensive than most.
When you buy a Compact System Camera, after all, you're making an investment in a system. The Nikon 1 System, while it doesn't integrate entirely with Nikon's 35mm gear, it offers a healthy lineup at the start.
I very much enjoyed matching the gear to the task with the Nikon 1 System, which is why I shot so many flash images.
And after so many images and lens changes, I was surprised I never caught a spec of dust in my images. Despite exposing the sensor cover every time you change lenses, the sensor cleaning function of the V1 seems to be up to the task.
Let's go through a few of the images in the Gallery.
On a digicam, I'm nervous setting the ISO over 400. On most dSLRs, the limit is 1,600 although 800 is more comfortable. And I'm not any more annoyed by noise than I was by grain when I was shooting Tri-X (ISO 400).
But Nikon's Auto to 3,200 ISO mode threw down the gauntlet and I accepted the challenge, shooting mainly in that enhanced Program mode that let me choose from a range of exposures.
The first shots around the house proved the images, although well massaged, held up, so I stayed with this plan. You can see the high ISO range (800/1,600/3,200/6,400) shots of the bookend and dolls. There's detail and color in both. It's still recognizably high ISO stuff, but it's unusually well handled.
So I didn't hesitate to shoot some parties with it. ISO varied a lot under the house lighting with handheld exposures as low as 1/15 second. There's some slight blur at that speed but the image is acceptable with the 10-30mm lens's Vibration Reduction.
The Nikon V1 is small enough to pack along all the time, which I can't say of a dSLR. It seemed to have a slight advantage in that department over the Olympus E-PL1 I've been using, although they're about the same size (note that later Olympus MFT cameras, like the E-PL3, are more compact). The compactness of the lenses makes the difference.
I took the Nikon V1 on a number of urban hikes when the sun had shifted low in the sky and the light was unusually dramatic. It didn't miss a beat, capturing exactly what captivated me. On these bright shots, it shifted ISO to 100 and still let me use small apertures for the most depth of field.
Among these shots, I particularly like the one of Nineteenth Ave. Voluminous clouds are shaped by the sunlight that bleaches the front of the row houses in late afternoon.
The museum shots enjoyed theatrical lighting, dramatic in their own right. The one that particularly challenged me was the shot of the old man in clay framed by the boy in marble. The problem was that autofocus kept the boy in focus when it was the old man in the center of the shot that I wanted sharp. Moving off center and locking focus didn't help.
So I resorted to manual focus. And that did the job easily.
There are some night shots as well. I took a walk to look at the Christmas lights in the neighborhood and shot some peculiar close-ups, two of which are in the gallery.
The gnome was indeed very dimly lit but at ISO 1,600 and 1/30 second remains sharp. The candles took a bit of work to focus and more to compose because they were leaning and the wire fence was straight. I also needed an EV adjustment for this very dark scene, as I did with the gnome.
Later in the gallery are a couple of shots on Chestnut street of a store window and a restaurant exterior. I did nothing special at all for either and they came out very nicely, even at very slow shutter speeds with a VR lens.
As a sort of personal challenge, I put the 10mm wide angle on the Nikon V1, set it to monochrome and took a walk through an industrial part of town near Dogpatch. It's deserted but there's a very small public access area to the bay.
Four of the shots are in the gallery and for my money are all a bit flat. But I found working with them in Carousel was a great deal of fun. I was able to bring out the drama easily. And, of course, that flatness, should I object, could be addressed in a custom Picture Control setting.
My usual trip up Twin Peaks was taken on a couple of occasions as the weather shifted. The zoom series is actually two for the two zooms. And you can compare them to the Canon ELPH 310HS and Nikon AW100 that I took with me to further illustrate the resolution issue.
One shot into the sun at the side of a hill did not turn out well. If you look closely in the left third of the image, you'll see a green spot. We kicked this around the virtual water cooler and concluded it's lens flare.
Oddly enough, you don't see it in the more direct into-the-sun shot. I tend to take a lot of these for some reason. But only this once saw the green spot.
My first flash shots were under fluorescent lighting and uncorrected. You can see the high ISO even with a -1.0 EV setting (which, frankly, was a mistake, but I one I liked). I bounced the flash, which accounts for the soft light. But the fluorescents dominated and I should have corrected for that in the camera.
There are a few more shots from a walk along the Embarcadero using the GPS device. I did change lenses along the way, using both the 10-30 and 30-110, without getting any dust on the sensor. Indoor and outdoor shots with available light. No problem. Just fun.
So, apart from the slipping Mode dial (and the lack of aspect ratios to play with), the Nikon V1 was a great photo companion. Having a set of lenses along for the ride sounds like work, but they are easy to handle, so when the situation called for it or when I felt like a change of pace, I easily switched lenses.
I kept wondering if this is the camera that most resembled my Nikon FM2 experience. A basic, reliable camera small enough to take along on any excursion. With the 10mm lens shooting black and white, it indeed came close to that experience.
But it also felt a little like the old Coolpix 990 with its convenient lens converters to go wide or long.
The images themselves printed well (several ended up as family Christmas cards) with compelling color and satisfying detail, more than I could see at the scene, in fact.
Nikon V1 Image Quality
The crops below compare the Nikon V1 to a couple of premium Point & Shoots (the Canon G12 and Nikon P7100), as well as an entry-level DSLR (Nikon D3100), and a couple of Compact System Cameras (Olympus E-PM1 and Sony NEX-5N). Though we normally start with ISO 1,600 here, we thought we'd start with base ISO to show the best that each camera can do.
Note that these images are best quality JPEGs straight out of the camera, at default settings including noise reduction. Each camera was shot with the sharpest lens on hand, though we have no reference lens for the Nikon 1 system yet, so we had to use the 1 Nikkor 10-30mm f/3.5-5.6 VR. The new lens seems to be quite good, with very good sharpness across the frame at 30mm. The point and shoot cameras we've included here obviously used their fixed lenses.
Nikon V1 versus Canon G12 at base ISO
Nikon V1 at ISO 100
Canon G12 ISO 80
Nikon V1 versus Nikon P7100 at base ISO
Nikon V1 at ISO 100
Nikon P7100 at ISO 100
Nikon V1 versus Nikon D3100 at base ISO
Nikon V1 at ISO 100
Nikon D3100 at ISO 100
Nikon V1 versus Olympus E-PM1 at base ISO
Nikon V1 at ISO 100
Olympus E-PM1 at ISO 200
Nikon V1 versus Sony NEX-5N at base ISO
Nikon V1 at ISO 100
Sony NEX-5N at ISO 100
Most decent cameras produce very good results at base ISO, so we like to see what they can do at higher settings. Recent advances in sensor technology have made ISO 1,600 look a lot more like ISO 100, but there are still cameras whose quality starts to fall apart at this setting. We also choose 1,600 because we like to be able to shoot at least at this level when indoors and at night.
Nikon V1 versus Canon G12 at ISO 1,600
Nikon V1 at ISO 1,600
Canon G12 ISO 1,600
Nikon V1 versus Nikon P7100 at ISO 1,600
Nikon V1 at ISO 1,600
Nikon P7100 at ISO 1,600
Nikon V1 versus Nikon D3100 at ISO 1,600
Nikon V1 at ISO 1,600
Nikon D3100 at ISO 1,600
Nikon V1 versus Olympus E-PM1 at ISO 1,600
Nikon V1 at ISO 1,600
Olympus E-PM1 at ISO 1,600
Nikon V1 versus Sony NEX-5N at ISO 1,600
Nikon V1 at ISO 1,600
Sony NEX-5N at ISO 1,600
Today's ISO 3,200 is yesterday's ISO 1,600 (well, almost), so below are the same crops at ISO 3,200.
Nikon V1 versus Canon G12 at ISO 3,200
Nikon V1 at ISO 3,200
Canon G12 ISO 3,200
Nikon V1 versus Nikon P7100 at ISO 3,200
Nikon V1 at ISO 3,200
Nikon P7100 at ISO 3,200
Nikon V1 versus Nikon D3100 at ISO 3,200
Nikon V1 at ISO 3,200
Nikon D3100 at ISO 3,200
Nikon V1 versus Olympus E-PM1 at ISO 3,200
Nikon V1 at ISO 3,200
Olympus E-PM1 at ISO 3,200
Nikon V1 versus Sony NEX-5N at ISO 3,200
Nikon V1 at ISO 3,200
Sony NEX-5N at ISO 3,200
Detail: Nikon V1 vs. Canon G12, Nikon P7100, Nikon D3100, Olympus E-PM1, and Sony NEX-5N
Nikon V1 Print Quality
Very good print quality overall for 10 megapixels, with up to 16x20-inch prints at ISO 100 and good 5x7-inch prints at ISO 6,400.
Print quality is an important measure for a camera like the Nikon V1, because pixel peeping onscreen doesn't tell the whole story. Note: the Nikon V1 performs identically to the Nikon J1, tracking the same as described in that review.
As a 10-megapixel camera, it's impressive that the Nikon V1 can output a 16x20-inch image at ISO 100. There's a little chroma noise in the shadows, as can be seen in the crops, but it's not bad. Reduction to 13x19 inches renders them negligible.
ISO 200 shots are usable at 16x20 inches, but print a little better at 13x19 inches. Chroma noise is visible only in the shadows on close inspection.
ISO 400 images also look quite good at 13x19 inches, and the appearance of chroma noise seems less than it was at ISO 200.
ISO 800 images are slightly soft in only a few areas at 13x19, mainly in red and shadow areas. Shadows appear blurry mostly due to noise suppression, but higher-contrast detail looks just fine. Reducing print size to 11x14 reduces this effect somewhat, but not completely.
ISO 1,600 shots are quite contrasty and oversaturated, and noise suppression has taken a toll on red detail, but they're easily usable at 11x14, and quite good at 8x10 inches.
ISO 3,200 images are also pretty good at 8x10, but you can see detail and nuance in solid colors disappear thanks to the increase in saturation. Higher contrast detail is good, though.
ISO 6,400 images print surprisingly well at 5x7, though they carry a slight yellow cast that wasn't as prominent at the other settings. Saturation is also quite pumped.
Note that these results are from printing JPEGs at default settings, and one could expect to get better quality from RAW images. It's a very good performance, an even-keeled descent in print size as ISO rises, a credit to Nikon's efforts with this new sensor.
In the Box
The Nikon V1 retail box ships with the following items:
- The Nikon V1 digital camera with the BS-N1000 multi accessory port cover and a BF-N1000 body cap
- An EN-EL15 battery
- The MH-25 battery charger (in some countries an AC wall adapter is supplied)
- EG-CP14 AV cable
- UC-E6 USB cable
- Kit lens
- AN-N1000 wrist strap
- Documentation including ViewNX 2/Short Movie Creator CD, Warranty, Quick Start Guide, User Manual, Reference Manual CD
- Extra battery pack
- SB-N5 flash unit
- EP-5B power connector and EH-5b AC adapter
- ML-L3 infrared wireless remote control
- FT-1 F-mount adapter (if you want to use Nikon F-mount lenses)
- TA-N100 tripod adapter (if using lenses with a large diameter)
- Protective case
- Large capacity, high-speed SDHC/SDXC memory card. 8-16GB or larger makes sense if you plan on shooting lots of HD video. Look for a speed grade of at least Class 6 for HD video capture.
Nikon V1 Conclusion
Good cameras are too big. Little cameras aren't good enough. But are Compact System Cameras just right? Or are they merely compromises? You might think they are compromises if you continually found them wanting in one area or another. But that wasn't the case with the Nikon 1 System. There are, at introduction, a wealth of accessories and options (even two bodies) to address your needs. They aren't quite just right yet either, though. Minor annoyances like the Mode dial are one thing but the absence of some of the more popular shooting modes of the last two years is quite another. As we found with the J1, though, the Nikon V1's image quality is pretty good for its size. Sadly, it doesn't quite rival the image quality of competing Micro Four Thirds and APS-C compact system cameras at higher ISOs, but when compared to premium pocket cameras like the Canon G12 and Nikon P7100, the Nikon V1 does well.
Still, this reviewer shot over 700 images with the V1 in various configurations and all sorts of situations from blinding daylight to the dark of night. They will be a treasure to mine for years to come, too. Nikon burst out of the gate with the Nikon 1 System, and the Nikon V1 as the current flagship easily earns a Dave's Pick.