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.
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:
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- Manual focus operation is generally good, but can get very pixelated at 100%. Sony is better with much more control over manual focus.
- No touchscreen! (again, Sony wins here).
- 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.
- 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.