Nikon 1 V1 Mini-Review

Update: A full and detailed Nikon 1 V1 Review has been posted.

Before I take off to another trip to continue testing the Nikon 1 V1 / J1 and other cameras, I decided to post a quick mini-review of the Nikon 1 V1 camera, along with some image samples + a short bonus time lapse video. I have had the camera for about two weeks now and I have a few things to report about. Let me start off with some general impressions and notes.

Nikon V1

First of all, the Nikon 1 system is not as bad as I thought it would be. When compared to the competition, and I am simultaneously shooting with the Sony NEX-5n and Olympus E-PL3 (Samsung NX200 is on the way), the Nikon 1 cameras actually perform really well in many ways. The first major advantage I want to point out is Autofocus – it is very fast and accurate. I am reviewing over 2 thousand images from my past trip to Utah and I have not yet seen a single image with bad/incorrect focus. Granted I have been primarily shooting at apertures between f/5.6 and f/11 and many of the shots are focused at infinity, it is still pretty darn impressive. Took some images of the kiddos at largest apertures and close distances and all images came out tack sharp. Nothing like the problems I had with the Fuji X100 before.

Another huge plus is the menu system that Nikon has incorporated into the V1/J1 firmware. It is simplistic, intuitive, elegant, slick and puts all current Nikon DSLR menu systems to shame. It is really that different and that much more better! As you switch from one mode to another, the firmware presents different options, making it super easy to use the camera. Just put the battery in, set the date/time and timezone and you are ready to go. I specifically did not touch any of the mirrorless camera manuals. I wanted to see which camera is the easiest to use and whether I need to invest time in learning the cameras before I use them. So far, the Nikon V1/J1 cameras are the easiest ones to use and operate, followed by the Sony NEX-5n and lastly by the horrendous Olympus E-PL3.

Boy, I have come to hate that Olympus micro four thirds camera. It does take good pictures, but it has a crappy layout, really bad (and I mean really really really bad) menu system that is very hard to understand and operate. Its menu system feels like it was written by the open-source community (no offense) and as if all they cared about was putting tons of useless or hard to understand crap to make everything look overly complex and confusing. The Sony NEX-5n, on the other hand, is very similar to Nikon in terms easy to use camera interface, although I must admit that it was confusing to find White Balance and ISO settings in the “brightness” sub-menu (seriously, why?). Once I got to know the basics, everything else seemed to be easy to find.

Nikon 1 has a superb metering system. I rarely had to adjust exposure compensation when shooting in matrix metering mode. All regular modes like Program, Aperture Priority, Shutter Priority and Manual Mode work as expected. I have been primarily using Aperture Priority mode, although I did shoot quite a bit in Manual Mode for panoramas and other things.

Let’s talk about image quality now. I know a lot of people will be looking for direct comparisons between these cameras in terms of image quality, dynamic range, colors, etc. All that will be provided in full reviews of the Nikon 1 V1/J1 cameras. For now, I will just talk about what I am seeing so far in images. The Nikon engineers that have been working on the Nikon 1 system since 2006 developed an impressive sensor. While it is smaller than sensors on competitors’ cameras, it produces beautiful, almost noise-free images (at base ISO) with plenty of dynamic range, colors and tones. Medium to high ISO performance is also very impressive for a sensor this small.

Click here to download the full-size version of the above image.

Click here to download the full-size version of the above image.

As for lenses, I will have small reviews on each of the new Nikon 1 lenses after I publish the full V1 review. Overall, the lenses are very good and nicely compliment the V1/J1 cameras. I really like the 10mm pancake and 10-30mm lenses. The longer 30-110mm lens is not very practical for this camera in my opinion, unless you are after portraits and wildlife. The 10-100mm superzoom lens is excellent, but too darn massive and heavy, especially for the J1.

The 400 and 1200 FPS video modes are cool, but not very practical. The camera needs a lot of light to do slow motion video. I was not very successful at trying to do anything indoors – the slow motion video was flickering all the time due to insufficient light. I finally decided to give it a try when photographing landscapes in Utah. Here is a video of me performing an aerial 360 kick. Note that it was pretty darn cold and I was doing this on a rough surface right next to a deep canyon, so this is not my best performance, LOL :) I was also wearing very heavy waterproof hiking boots:

Unfortunately, the video is only 640 pixels wide, so its quality is pretty bad…

It is also very nice that Nikon included an intervalometer on both J1 and V1 for time lapse photography. I ran a sequence of 400 images before my batteries fully drained (very cold temperatures lower battery life rather quickly), so I could only do a very quick 16 second video. Unfortunately, you are limited to 3 second exposures, even when using very fast SDHC/SDXC cards. Now this video you have to watch at full 1080p resolution! It is worth noting that the 1080p video both cameras are capable of creating are equally good in quality:

Let’s now talk about the bad – things I did not like about the V1:

  1. No live change on LCD when changing camera settings. This is a major drawback. If I am about to take an underexposed image (whether with exposure compensation or in manual mode), the screen should show what I am about to capture. Everyone does this, Nikon should do it too. If an image is blown out or underexposed, you see it after taking the image.
  2. The screen does not swivel, making it tough to shoot videos and stills in odd angles. The Sony NEX-5n has a serious advantage here.
  3. The camera mode selector on the right side of J1 and V1 is in a very bad spot. I kept on accidentally changing camera mode from stills to video, etc. I wish it was located on the top of the camera or elsewhere.
  4. Manual focus operation is generally good, but can get very pixelated at 100%. Sony is better with much more control over manual focus.
  5. No touchscreen! (again, Sony wins here).
  6. Proprietary flash socket on the V1. Why couldn’t Nikon let us use the existing speedlights? Yes, they are massive, but I want to have options to trigger flashes using pocketwizards and Nikon speedlights.
  7. The black plastic piece that covers the hot shoe on the V1 does not sit tight. I already lost mine.

P.S. I have just received an email from B&H that Nikon 1 cameras will be on sale this week (up to $150 off). Here is the link to Nikon 1 V1 / J1 rebates. I have also updated this article on current rebates.


Avatar of Nasim Mansurov About Nasim Mansurov

is a professional photographer based out of Denver, Colorado. He is the author and founder of Photography Life, along with a number of other online resources. Read more about Nasim here.

Comments

  1. 1
    ) Peter

    I’m beginning to think that the digital camera world is getting so complex that it is impossible to predict anything! Nikon’s customer research is obviously data rich and far ahead of a singular point-of-view like mine! I was wrong about this one.

    Who knows what the future will bring. But tell me, does anyone need a 36 MP D800? Probably wrong again.

    • Peter, I need a 36 MP D800 :) I will buy it the day it comes out, have been waiting for a high resolution affordable Nikon for a while now. Landscape photographers will be very happy!

      • 5
        ) Peter

        OK, Nasim, now, tell me what the benefits are with a 32 MP under these specific circumstances:
        1) I take a landscape photo of XYZ with a 12 MP D700 (RAW of course on all these shots).
        2) I take the same landscape (XYZ) as a high dynamic range image – 5 shots with a D700
        and process with Photomatix.
        3) Now, I take the same landscape (xyz) with a D800 32 MP.

        ISO the same on all images.

        I enlarge all thes 3 photos using 13×19 inch Epson paper on an Epson printer.
        Assume that I know what I’m doing and can optimize all these photos in post-processing with a variety of software and know how to print.

        Will I or others really see a WOW differerence with a 32 MP D800 and decide number 1 and 2 above can’t compare with 3? Or are we splitting hairs?

        • 9
          ) Jens Johansson

          If viewers thought your first two prints where acceptably sharp a 36 mp shot of that same scene could be printed att 300% the size and people would still find sharpness good, how is that not a good thing? For landscapes any extra resolution without having to go medium or full format is a good thing.

        • Peter, it depends on how large you want to print. Obviously there are many different variables here – lens quality, technique, post-processing, etc. If everything is done right, you will see a huge difference between a 12MP and 32MP image when printed on 24×36 and larger paper. You will also notice a difference even when printed on 13×19 paper. For a landscape photographer, the bigger the print, the better.

          • I too will be very happy with 24+MP for higher resolution panoramas, especially “zoomable” ones on the web. I would hate to give up 8fps or excellent ISO 3200 performance to achieve it though, but we’ll see. I could get much higher resolution 360°x180° panos at 24mm without having to take hundreds more photos (thus taking a much longer time) at 35mm or 50mm to get the same zoomable effect. And who knows, maybe the price of 2TB+ drives will be back to reasonable by the time a D800 can be purchased. :-)

    • 21
      ) anthony p kelly

      i think me personnally maybe sometime i like to see the blur ova exp or just plainly nasty photographs maybe see think it different maybe a little human era exp something else beside these brilliant photos all time but what i know

  2. 3
    ) Morten

    Great little review Nasim, and as usual very thorough. It seems like a very good suplement for my D7000, but then again I am not going to spend that kind of money on an extra camera body compact or not.

    P.S….. D800….oh boy I will be looking for your review on this baby. Maybe sell off my D7000 but it depends on if D800 have some kind of DX mode. I will not be shooting 36mp all the time…. :-)

    • Morten, thank you! Can’t wait for the D800 announcement!

      • 14
        ) Ravi

        I am curious what you think about the Pentax 645D.

  3. 4
    ) Mark

    Dear Nasam,
    Thanks for the review, look forward to the full review. It looks like the camera packs quite a punch for its size and the photos look sharp, although perhaps not quite the dynamic range of a DX or full FX sensor, let alone a D800 36MP FX sensor…
    Although it’s not perhaps very useful for landscape photography, how well do you find this ‘smart photo selector’ feature? Is it just a fancy word for burst mode or does it deliver something extra or have any drawbacks?
    Thanks again for the review, your photos always make me want to visit Denver and see this stunning scenery.
    Mark.

    • Mark, in my opinion, the “smart photo selector” is a waste. I tried to use it and it is only usable in situations when you photograph a person. For landscapes and other photography, it does not really do anything good, in my opinion.

      As for its dynamic range and other capabilities, I am actually impressed with it more than I am with some other cameras like Olympus E-PL3. Nikon did a really good job with the Nikon 1 cameras and lenses…

  4. 6
    ) KSPGM

    Thanks for the speedy review Nasim!

    I replied with my early thoughts on your earlier thread and what you are saying here confirms my findings. I really like this camera and it continues to astound me with its autofocus accuracy and effortless picture quality. No. it won’t replace my D300S + 70-200 but I am serieously wondering if I will ever go out again with my D300s+28-300 . yes it’s that close that the change in size and weight is a ‘game changer’. Only time will tell … but I feel Nikon has got it generally right with thier new ‘baby’

    regards

    Kelvin

    • I agree Kelvin, after over 1500 clicks on the V1 and J1, I am very impressed.

  5. 7
    ) KSPGM

    … oh and why all the talk here of D800? The body for that alone will cost over twice the complete V1 system and weight twice without even attaching a lens. There is no comparison to be made – they are different tools for different tasks, in my opinion!

    • 8
      ) Peter

      Here’s the reason: If one is going to spend $1000′s for a new camera, one would like to know what his options are down-the-road. That’s all. What is next in line.

      The digital camera market is becoming a “crap shoot” so it makes sense to know what going to happen in the next 6-12 months.

      Try getting a price for your used D300 or D700 and see what’s it’s worth on Usescamerabuyers.com if you want a reality check. The US stock market is easier to predict than the used digital camera market!!!!

  6. I agree on your assessment, having had the V1 for a bit. One area you don’t cover tremendously in this post is low light performance where much casual use is likely to take place (night out, kids’ basketball games in dimly lit gyms). Here, I would say it’s only adequate. You can get decent small images out of it, but there’s a lot of noise. The flash might help here as well as shooting wide open on the pancake lens.

    But, for my money, the size/weight advantage offsets many of these disadvantages.

  7. 17
    ) Igonin Aleksey

    Просто Джеки Чен. Хорошее учебное видео по маваши-гири:)

  8. Very precise and indepth review that confirms my amateur use of this wonderful camera. I usually have fun with the D300s/D700 + many pro Nikon lenses including the 200-400 and the 500 but since I have the V1 have hardly used them for casual photography. Birding, my passion, is another issue altogether.

    Afraid that Nikon will find that the V1 will eat into the larger DSLR market in spite of its wishes. We are moving to a lighter quality box market, its in the cards.

    Thanks again for your gorgeous photos and your excellent review, and happy to note a harmonious couple working together so well, as I do with my wife. Peter

  9. 20
    ) Maury

    I have a Canon 60D and bought my wife the Nikon 1 10-30 lens for Christmas. Neither of us were able to take a sharp picture. Didn’t try landscapes. Real disappointed. Had no trouble returning the camera. In fact, I was told others had retuned the Nikon with the same problem. Really loved the cool look of the camera.

    • 22
      ) Alexander

      Sigh, comments like the one from Maury are not very helpful. I’m not sure if the problem was the camera or their bad eyesight. Come on, I (and many others) have shot hundreds of pictures with the Nikon J1 and V1 and I never had any sharpness issues. In fact, I seldomly feel the need to sharpen my images a lot. They are just razor sharp. Maybe Maury shoots JPG instead of RAW. That might be an explanation. Anyway, to say that sharp images are impossible is nonsense. The image quality of Nikon 1 system is very good, especially considering the small CX sensor. Ten megapixels is enough to make beautiful prints up to A2. More then most of us need actually. Think about it, when was the last time you printed anything anyway (let alone big)?

  10. 23
    ) Cheaw Hon Ming

    I had to have another camera for my wife and as a back-up for my Nikon 5200 and Lumix G1 which can give me video capabilities and I did not want to spend too much while I await my Olympus EPL2 return from the service center. Seeing my friends’ photographs with the V1 coupled to a Swarovski scope+30x eyepiece convinced me to buy one V1+10-30mm lens kit and attached my 70-300mm VRII to it with the FT mount for my Africa trip although I was to take delivery of one from the USA a friend had bought for me. I didn’t regret it. Now my wife is enjoying the new toy very much and no more fuss about buying a p&s camera like the Sony RX100 (my wife’s Nikon P5100 decided that all pictures taken would be in red hue and Nikon assured us there’s no cure other than buying a new one) to couple with the scope as it is faster to locate the subject and focus/shoot it with that combo. Taking delivery of the 2nd V1 and coupling it with my Kowa 884 gave very sharp pictures too. Our main grouse is that it often “hunts” during focusing although we have updated it with the latest firmware. Another grouse was the 10.2 mp sensor limitation which would not allow us to crop the photos and still yield reasonably sharp details. Maybe Nikon should consider using the Sony BSI Exmor’s 20.2 mp sensor which is the rave of many digiscopers and enthusiast photographers (and upgrade the processing engine). Nikon, please don’t take a long time to catch up.

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