The Nikon 1 V1 and J1 cameras, along with 1 Nikkor lenses were kindly provided by B&H – the largest photo reseller in the world that I personally use to buy my photography gear.
1) Nikon 1 V1 Specifications
- 10.1 Megapixel CX-format (2.7x crop factor) CMOS Image Sensor
- 13.2mm x 8.8mm sensor size
- Nikon 1 Lens Mount
- Compatible with SD, SDHC and SDXC cards
- 3:2 aspect ratio for still images
- 12-bit compressed RAW image support
- Full 1080p HD Cinematic Video at 1080/60i, 1080/30p, 720/60p video resolutions (16:9 aspect ratio)
- Slow-motion Video at 400fps / 640×240 resolution and 1200fps / 320×120 resolution
- Hybrid phase detection / contrast-detect Autofocus with up to 135 focus points and an AF-assist illuminator
- Subject and face tracking
- ISO sensitivity 100-3200, expandable to ISO 6400 equivalent
- 3-in. LCD monitor with with 921,000 dots
- Built-in HDMI, USB and audio ports/inputs
- 5 Automatic Exposure Scene Modes – Portrait, Landscape, Night Portrait, Close-up and Auto
- 5 Shooting Modes – Still Image, Smart Photo Selector, Movie, Movie Slow Motion and Motion Snapshot
- 6 Exposure Modes – Programed Auto (P), Shutter Priority (S), Aperture Priority (A), Manual (M) and Scene Auto Selector
- Standard, Neutral, Vivid, Monochrome, Portrait and Landscape Picture Controls
- Accessory hot shoe for Nikon 1 accessories such as GPS, Flash, Microphone, etc
- Compact and Lightweight Design
- Features Nikon’s new EXPEED 3 image processing engine
- Active D-Lighting for shadow highlight recovery
- Dust-reduction system with Image Sensor Cleaning
- Electronic color LCD viewfinder with 100% viewfinder frame coverage
- Electronic lens aperture control
- Two shutter types – Electronically-controlled vertical-travel focal plane mechanical shutter and electronic shutter
- Mechanical shutter up to 1/4,000 sec, electronic shutter up to 1/16,000 sec; up to 30 seconds slow shutter for both
- Flash Sync Speed 1/60 (electronic shutter) and 1/250 (mechanical shutter)
- Built-in intervalometer
- Up to 5 fps in standard mode, up to 10, 30 or 60 fps in electronic [Hi] mode
- Spot, Center-weighted and Matrix metering modes
- Focus Modes – Auto (AF), Auto AF-S/AF-C selection (AF-A), Single-servo AF (AF-S), Continuous-servo (AF-C), Full-time Servo (AF-F), Manual Focus (MF)
- An FT1 adapter (must be purchased separately) allows using certain legacy F Mount Nikkor DSLR lenses on the camera
- Battery Life up to 350 shots per charge
- Dimensions 4.4″ x 3.0″ x 1.7″ / 113mm x 76mm x 43.5mm
- Weight: 10.4oz (294g)
Detailed technical specifications for the Nikon 1 V1 are available on Nikonusa.com.
2) Why Mirrorless Nikon?
Why did Nikon decide to enter the interchangeable mirrorless market (also known as “EVIL”- Electronic Viewfinder, Interchangeable Lens), despite the fact that it has a strong presence in both point and shoot and DSLR markets? Because it makes a lot of financial sense for Nikon. Mirrorless falls right in between point and shoot and DSLR in terms of features, size and weight, so it is a nice compromise. Without the need for a reflex mirror, a pentaprism and other heavy and bulky DLSR components, mirrorless cameras can be much lighter and smaller in size. With the ability to use different types of lenses, mirrorless cameras no longer have the disadvantage of point and shoot cameras and open up great opportunities for creative photography – something only the SLR market has been enjoying for many years.
Pioneered by Panasonic in 2008, mirrorless cameras have been in huge demand with a tremendous year after year growth. It makes a lot of sense, because point and shoot cameras have too many limitations and problems, while DSLRs are just too bulky and heavy for everyday use. A mirrorless camera with interchangeable lenses enjoys a sweet spot here. The point and shoot camera market is over-saturated with too many options and with the integration of relatively good compact cameras on mobile devices, the demand for point and shoot cameras will continue to drop. This presents even more growth opportunities for the mirrorless market. A number of manufacturers like Olympus, Pentax, Fuji, Sony and Samsung saw a great opportunity in expanding their markets and introduced a number of mirrorless cameras, while both Canon and Nikon have been quiet, despite statistics and articles like this pouring in from all directions.
It turns out Nikon had been developing its own mirrorless camera since 2006 and spent a considerable amount of R&D time and money to create its own version of a mirrorless “EVIL” camera. That’s how the Nikon 1 camera system, along with 1 NIKKOR lenses came into existence this year, with two new mirrorless cameras – Nikon 1 J1 and Nikon 1 V1, and four 1 NIKKOR lenses – 1 NIKKOR 10mm f/2.8, 1 NIKKOR VR 10-30mm f/3.5-5.6, 1 NIKKOR VR 30-110mm f/3.8-5.6 and 1 NIKKOR VR 10-100mm f/4.5-5.6 PD-ZOOM.
3) Nikon 1 CX Sensor
When Nikon officially announced the Nikon 1 system, the majority of the Nikon community, including me, was disappointed. With Sony and Samsung using a large 1.5x crop factor APS-C sensor on their new cameras and rumors of a potential full-frame mirrorless camera coming out soon, we were all surprised to see a much smaller sensor on the Nikon 1 system with a 2.7x crop factor. Even Micro Four Thirds and Sigma’s Foveon sensors are larger in comparison. Many pros and photo enthusiasts had been wanting a compact camera with DSLR image quality for a long time now. Based on the published specs alone, lots of negative feedback started pouring in and Nikon had to defend its decision to use a smaller sensor a number of times so far.
Here is a comparison of image sensor sizes (courtesy of Wikipedia):
Did Nikon make a mistake with the Nikon 1 system because of its smaller sensor? The image sensor technology has been advancing to new levels, especially during the last couple of years. The new full-frame and APC-S sensors we have today perform significantly better even compared to previous generation sensors. It is mind-boggling that we can shoot ISO 102,400 on some cameras and ISO 1600, which was once the limit on film, is now “native” ISO on most compact digital cameras. It is clear, that the image sensor technology is getting better, while pixels are getting smaller. Nikon’s strategy with the Nikon 1 cameras follows this pattern. Nikon is putting a big bet on further image sensor technology advancements that will allow using more pixels in a tight area with very low noise levels. As we have seen with some cameras like the Nikon D7000, Nikon can add more pixels while retaining or even enhancing image quality over a previous generation camera. So I would not be surprised to see a higher resolution Nikon 1 camera in a year or two, with better ISO performance than we see on the Nikon 1 J1/V1 cameras today. Why didn’t Nikon go for a 2x crop factor sensor like the Micro Four Thirds? There are several reasons for this (among others). First, it is the cost. Lower cost is an important advantage of a smaller sensor – if it is cheaper to produce, Nikon can bundle more features with the camera, or sell it at a lower price than the competition. Second, Nikon knows that it can produce a smaller sensor and match or even surpass larger sensors from other manufacturers. Third, Nikon knows that sensor size is what we – photography geeks and gurus talk about. Everybody else does not rarely care about the sensor size – they will choose a camera that is slick, easy and intuitive to use and produces good pictures and videos – exactly the aim of the Nikon 1 line. Fourth, larger sensor does not always equate to better image quality and ISO performance. On top of all this, the new CX sensor does not jeopardize any of the DX camera sales. If Nikon released a mirrorless camera with a 1.5x crop factor sensor like Sony did with their NEX-5n and NEX-7 cameras, it could have potentially hurt its entry-level DX camera sales, which historically have been the strongest source of global sales for Nikon. Now if Nikon had released a 2x crop factor sensor similar to the Micro Four Thirds, the Nikon 1 cameras would have been phenomenal, especially considering all the noise reduction algorithms Nikon successfully developed over the years. But again, if the performance of a 2x sensor would have been close to DSLR performance, Nikon could have risked cannibalizing its entry-level DSLR sales. In addition, a larger sensor would have put more stress on optics, which would result in larger and more expensive lenses. Nikon took a different approach by balancing sensor size, lenses and camera features and decided that a smaller sensor is the way to go.
On the flip side, a smaller sensor means larger depth of field, which translates to less opportunities to isolate subjects from the background – an important factor for many photo enthusiasts and pros out there. Nikon will need fast f/1.4 or even f/1.0-f/1.2 glass to compensate for the depth of field loss. On the other hand, a smaller sensor is an advantage for an autofocus system, since it can hide potential autofocus problems. From Nikon’s marketing standpoint and product placement, CX line is advertised as fun, everyday cameras for home, travel and adventure, DX is a much more serious line for photo enthusiasts and seasonal pros, while FX is top of the line for pros.
What about megapixels? Nikon decided that 10 megapixels is enough for most people, which I do agree with. Adding more pixels to a small sensor like this would have resulted in a lot more noise and it would have been a disadvantage for the Nikon 1 cameras. We should not forget that squeezing more pixels per inch results in more noise and can be very demanding on lenses as well. For example, the recent Sony A77 / A65 and NEX-7 cameras have a record-setting 24 megapixels on a 1.5x APS-C sensor, which puts a big burden on lenses and results in high amounts of noise at the pixel level (down-sampled, the images look impressive). A good sensor should have a good balance of megapixels and ISO noise, which I believe the Nikon 1 sensor does.
Taking all of the above into account, Nikon had plenty of reasons to go with a smaller sensor. Whether this was a good or a bad move, we will find out in a few years – only the time will show. Enough said, let’s get back to the Nikon 1 V1 Review and talk about the camera, its features and how it fares against the competition.
4) Camera construction and handling
The Nikon 1 cameras are built to be incredibly small and lightweight. The Nikon 1 V1 is only 113x76x44mm in size – even the smallest Nikon D3100 DSLR is much bulkier and thicker than this camera, measuring 124x97x74mm. Weight-wise, the V1 mirrorless is only 294 grams, while the same D3100 DSLR weighs 455 grams. Here is a side by side comparison image between the two:
This is how the smallest Nikon DSLR fares against the V1. Any other Nikon DSLR, especially something like D300s or D700 looks and feels just massive in comparison. When compared to the mirrorless competition, however, the Nikon V1 is unfortunately both bigger and heavier. The Olympus E-PL3 and the Sony NEX-5n camera bodies are more compact and offer richer specs and less weight. The battery used by the V1 is the same one the Nikon D7000 DSLR has, which certainly helps with battery life, but adds significantly more to the weight of the camera.
When it comes to camera build and construction, the Nikon V1 is built very well. Unlike its plastic Olympus E-PL3 counterpart that has a somewhat similar look and feel, the Nikon 1 V1 has a magnesium alloy body (the Nikon 1 J1 is aluminum). The camera handles quite well and the right-handed grip is OK, although it is no match to the deeply recessed grip on the Sony NEX-5n. I wish Nikon did something similar, even if it meant a slightly larger camera. The NEX-5n handles a world better in comparison, just because of the comfortable grip.
One huge advantage of the V1 over its E-PL3 and NEX-5n competitors is the electronic viewfinder. While it is not as nice and crisp as the EVF on the Sony A77/A65 cameras that I am simultaneously testing, it is good enough for the V1. You can add an electronic viewfinder to E-PL3 and NEX-5n cameras, but at an extra cost and it eats up the accessory hot shoe, so you cannot simultaneously use it with a flash. The camera automatically switches from LCD to EVF when you get close to the viewfinder, with approximately a one second long lag, which is not bad.
As for the button placement and camera layout, Nikon has done a good job, although I do have a couple of complaints. Let’s start from the back of the camera. Most of the back buttons are where they should be and access to the important camera functions are provided with a very minimum number of extra and unnecessary buttons, which is good. Once I got used to the controls, operating the camera was super easy, even while wearing my winter gloves (had to wear those in sub-zero temperatures). The function (F) button on the top of the camera does not get used as much, so it does not bother me. The up/down switch right next to it is very clever – it is used for zooming in/out during playback, changing aperture/shutter speed in various modes and for manual focus. My main complaint is on the rotary camera mode selector switch that I keep accidentally switching while using the camera. I wish there was some sort of a lock on this selector or some other way to switch between different camera modes without the need for this switch. On multiple occasions I found myself in a wrong mode, which was annoying. As for the top of the camera, the on/off switch and the shutter release button are placed well, however, I do not understand the point of having a separate video record button. Once you make a choice to shoot video, the shutter button is what should be used to start recording, not a separate button. The button is also smaller than the shutter button, which makes it even harder to find while looking through the viewfinder. JPEG stills in video mode are captured at 16:9 aspect ratio in reduced HD JPEG size, so this dedicated button is useless in my opinion. Sure, some might find the ability to shoot an image while recording video useful, but those cases are rare. Certainly not worth the extra button, in my opinion. And if you happen to be in a still image mode, pressing this button defaults to 720p/60fps video and you cannot change this behavior either. A rather limited feature indeed.
The typical PASM exposure mode selector dial has also been eliminated from the camera, so you can only change the exposure mode from the camera menu. Other features such as white balance, ISO, image size/format also reside in the camera menu. A simplistic approach when compared to the Olympus E-PL3, but not a huge deal for me, since I do not often change the exposure mode when shooting. Newbies and those coming from the point and shoot world will rarely use it anyway.
What about the LCD? The good news is that the 3″ LCD is large and beautiful. The bad news is that it does not swivel like the NEX-5n and E-PL3 do and it is not touchscreen either. I can live without a touchscreen, but no swivel is a serious disadvantage for the V1, especially for macro and video shooting. It is understandable that the J1 LCD does not offer this due to cost, but the V1, being a higher-end camera should have had an LCD that swivels.
Lastly, my biggest complaint on the camera body is related to the accessory hot shoe that can be used with such devices as GPS, flash, microphone, etc. Speaking of flash, the V1 is considered to be a higher-end camera at least when compared to the J1, so it would have been nice if Nikon provided a standard hot shoe instead. Creative photography with off-camera flash is kind of out of question with the V1, unless you configure slave flashes to trigger in legacy SU-4 mode and for that you would need the Nikon 1 SB-N5 flash to be mounted on the camera anyway. While a full-size speedlight like SB-900 on the Nikon 1 V1 would have looked massive, something like the SB-400 would have been perfect for the Nikon 1. As for the black cover that goes over the accessory hot shoe when it is not in use, it does not tightly lock in place – I have already lost mine because of this. Another design flaw that should have been addressed. Although none of the current mirrorless cameras have a GPS unit, I wish Nikon had it integrated into the camera. A GPS unit is not shipped with the V1 and it will cost you another $150 on top of what the camera costs. It is rather bulky and kind of defeats the purpose of a compact camera. Nikon has been putting GPS into point and shoot cameras like Coolpix AW100, so why couldn’t they integrate it into the V1?
Despite the solid magnesium alloy build, Nikon recommends to use the V1 camera in 32 to 104°F (0 to 40°C) temperatures, with less than 85% humidity (no condensation). The camera is not weather sealed and has no dust protection like some of the advanced DSLR cameras. I would not worry about these recommendations too much though, since I have used the Nikon 1 V1 in temperatures way below the normal 32°F temperatures and it has been working great without any problems since then. I shot in light rain and moderate snow and the camera is still working fine.
5) 1 NIKKOR Lenses
While I will soon be publishing reviews on Nikon 1 system lenses, I decided to share my general thoughts on the lenses and provide some feedback on each lens individually. For all CX lens line-up, Nikon is using a “1 NIKKOR” name, so the 10mm f/2.8 pancake lens is officially called “1 NIKKOR 10mm f/2.8″. Here are the lenses that Nikon released together with Nikon 1 system:
- 1 NIKKOR 10mm f/2.8
- 1 NIKKOR VR 10-30mm f/3.5-5.6
- 1 NIKKOR VR 30-110mm f/3.8-5.6
- 1 NIKKOR VR 10-100mm f/4.5-5.6 PD-ZOOM
In general, the above 1 NIKKOR lenses have very good performance characteristics with great sharpness and colors, something I expected from Nikkor optics. The CX mount has been completely redesigned with more lens contacts, allowing lenses to exchange more data with the camera. For example, both the 1 NIKKOR 10-30mm and the 1 NIKKOR 30-110mm collapsible lenses automatically turn on the camera when the zoom ring is rotated to the zoom range position. The manual focus ring has been eliminated from all CX lenses. Nikon’s implementation of manual focus is rather poor, as discussed further down in the review.
With the sensor crop factor of 2.7x, you have to multiply the focal length of each lens by 2.7 to get an equivalent field of view of a full-frame camera. For example, the 10-30mm lens is equivalent to a 27-81mm lens, while the 10mm pancake is equivalent to a 27mm lens.
Unlike Sony and some other manufacturers, Nikon stays away from image stabilized camera bodies and prefers to integrate VR into lenses instead, which has been working great for many years now. The Nikon 1 system is no exception here, so image stabilization is again done on lenses. VR can be switched from Normal to Active to Off from the camera menu, unlike the rest of the DSLR VR-enabled Nikon lenses that have a VR on/off switch on the lens. Nikon initially had a problem with VR on 1 NIKKOR lenses, which would result in occasional blurry images with VR turned on. This issue has been identified and corrected through firmware updates for each VR lens (see links below). The 1 NIKKOR lenses, by the way, are the first Nikon lenses with upgradeable firmware.
The 1 NIKKOR 10mm f/2.8 pancake lens is a very compact and sharp lens, which is a great fit for the Nikon 1 system. I wish it was an f/2.0 lens (or faster) though, which would have made it a more useful lens for low-light photography. It has two big weaknesses – lack of VR and obviously inability to zoom, so I do not think it will be that popular among first time buyers. The 1 NIKKOR VR 10-35mm, on the other hand is perfect for the Nikon 1 system. It is compact when collapsed, has a great zoom range of 10-30mm (27-81mm equivalent), has VR and good performance characteristics. I used the 30-110mm telephoto lens (81mm-297mm) the least, mainly because I felt that its starting range was too long for everyday photography. Lastly, the 1 NIKKOR VR 10-100mm is just a monster that is bigger than many Nikon DSLR zoom lenses. While it is a more or less specialized lens, especially for videography (due to its ability to silently zoom via a dedicated zoom button on the lens), it is just too darn big and bulky for the Nikon 1 cameras in my opinion.
The 1 NIKKOR VR 10-30mm f/3.5-5.6 firmware update 1.02 can be downloaded from here, the 1 NIKKOR VR 30-110mm f/3.8-5.6 firmware update 1.02 can be downloaded from here and the 1 NIKKOR 10-100mm f/4.5-5.6 PD-ZOOM firmware update 1.01 can be downloaded from here. Make sure to download and update firmware on these VR lenses before engaging VR. Overall, VR is very effective on 1 NIKKOR lenses and I would recommend to leave it on when shooting hand-held.
If you already own Nikon F mount DSLR lenses, you can use them on the V1 with a special FT1 mount adapter (must be purchased separately). The adapter is attached to the Nikon 1 V1 and the F Mount Nikkor lens is then attached to the adapter. The FT1 will add an angle of view of 2.7 times that of the F Mount Nikkor lens’ focal length. For example, the Nikon 50mm f/1.8G will have an effective field of view of a 135mm lens.
Nikon did not hide the fact that it is working on some specialized fixed focal length lenses for portraiture and other needs, so we soon might see something like 1 NIKKOR 18mm f/1.4, which is equivalent to a 50mm lens. Nikon needs to make fast glass for the Nikon 1 cameras quickly, because that’s exactly what it lacks at the moment.
6) The new EXPEED 3 Processor
The Nikon 1 line is the first to get the new dual-core EXPEED 3 image processor. The new processor can handle a lot more throughput than the previous EXPEED 2 processor, which translates to faster frames per second, faster in-camera image processing, faster video and allows for extra features such as Slow Motion video, Smart Photo Selector and Motion Snapshot (discussed in more detail below). In fact, the Nikon 1 is currently the fastest Nikon camera for capturing images and video. When used in Electornic Shutter (HI) mode, it is capable of capturing 10 FPS while tracking a subject and up to 60 FPS in full resolution without subject tracking, which is pretty impressive. The good news for the DSLR community, is that we will be seeing some of these nice features in the upcoming Nikon DSLRs.
7) Camera Menu, Features and Responsiveness
Before I started testing all three cameras, I decided not to touch camera manuals. I wanted to see how easy it is to operate these cameras for a person that is not familiar with them. The Nikon 1 V1 camera menu is very intuitive and easy to use. Depending on which mode you are in, the camera will only display what you should be seeing and switching between playback, mode menu and setup is super easy with the rotating dial on the bottom right side of the camera. Out of the three mirrorless cameras I have tested, the Nikon 1 V1 has the best menu system in my opinion. The Sony NEX-5n menu is also pretty good, but has a lot more options in comparison, which is not necessarily good for most people out there. The worst of the 3 is the Olympus E-PL3. It has a horrid menu system. It sure is packed with a boatload of options and sub-menus, making it very hard to operate the camera. It just sucks in comparison. I will elaborate more on this in a separate E-PL3 review, but I hated the Olympus E-PL3 for this reason alone, despite the fact that its image quality is very good.
On the other hand, the simplistic menu approach of the V1 is missing some serious functions that should be there. For example, image review after a photo is taken cannot be turned off. When shooting a time lapse in very cold temperatures (see more on time lapse below), I wanted to prolong the battery life by turning off image preview and could not find a way to do it. I ended up switching image preview to EVF by pressing the “DISP” button, which I thought would not waste the battery as much as the LCD, but it is just my assumption. In-camera editing options are also very limited to cropping and resizing, which is surprising, since JPEG shooters would probably find those features useful. No HDR and video editing options that Nikon has been bundling on the latest DSLRs. Exposure bracketing is also missing, but that’s understandable, since Nikon does not provide bracketing features on its entry-level DSLRs either. By contrast, the Sony NEX-5n has all of these integrated in its firmware, including in-camera panorama and 3D image processing (and much more).
Camera responsiveness is a mixed bag. The startup and shutdown time, along with switching from EVF to LCD and vice-versa take about one second, which is not bad. When the camera goes to sleep mode, however, the wake-up time is about 2 seconds, which is way too long. I missed some shots at Bosque Del Apache and other places because of this. While you can regulate the sleep timer through “Auto power off” menu setting, you cannot change the timer to completely shut off the camera – another important feature that is missing from the camera menu.
One welcome addition, on the other hand, is a built-in intervalometer for time lapse photography. Sony DSLRs and NEX cameras are notoriously bad for time lapse photography, because they miss an intervalometer and the only option is to buy an accessory to shoot images in sequences. You can put the Nikon V1 on a tripod, set camera parameters, set the interval and the total number of shots (up to 999 shots allowed) and start the sequence. I have shot a number of time lapses and the result came out great. Just remember to set the exposure and white balance manually when shooting in JPEG format. Here is a sample time lapse I shot with the Nikon 1 V1:
The Nikon 1 V1 also sports a dual shutter system that can capture images with either a mechanical or an electronic shutter. The mechanical shutter limits the speed of the camera to 4 frames per second with autofocus, while switching to the electronic shutter can speed it up all the way to 60 fps (a theoretical ability, since the buffer can only accommodate a maximum of 30 images). There are also other differences between a mechanical and an electronic shutter, such as flash sync speed (mechanical 1/250 sec, electronic 1/60 sec) and maximum shutter speed (mechanical 1/4000 sec, electronic 1/16,000 sec).
The great Auto ISO feature we normally see on Nikon DSLRs is replaced by a much more simplified Auto ISO capability. There are three pre-defined Auto ISO modes to choose from – A3200 Auto (100-3200), A800 Auto (100-800) and A400 Auto (100-400). Neither of these options allow setting a minimum shutter speed, which is a huge drawback. There is no way to tell when camera decides to use which ISO and having no control over this threshold is very unfortunate. I understand the point of simplification of this feature for the J1 camera, but Nikon should have provided the ISO threshold option on the V1 camera.
The Smart Photo Selector and the Motion Snapshot modes (on the exposure mode dial) are interesting innovations, but not very useful/practical, in my opinion. The Smart Photo Selector works by firing 20 images in electronic shutter mode before and after the shutter button is pressed (starts when the shutter-button is half-pressed). It then analyzes these twenty images and picks the best 4-5 images automatically for you based on a number of factors, including image blur. To be honest, I am not sold on this feature – but that’s most probably because I am an advanced user and do not like some electronic algorithm to pick an image for me. I would rather do that myself. If a situation is critically important, I would rather set the camera to 60 FPS and spray and pray. As for the Motion Snapshot feature, it feels to be incomplete. The sound effects are limited to a few boring ones and worst of all, the movie files that are produced do not have these sounds embedded into them. You have to use a special Short Movie Creator software to convert it to what you would see on the camera. The movie is saved in MOV format, while the snapshot is saved in JPEG format, separate files. Motion snapshot is too short as well – the 60 FPS capture rate is played back in slow motion at 24 FPS or 2.5 seconds total.
8) Autofocus / Manual Focus Performance and Metering
The Nikon 1 system is also the first Nikon camera to have a hybrid autofocus system – a combination of phase and contrast detect autofocus. Nikon claims that it is very responsive, fast and accurate, which as I have verified, is indeed an accurate statement. And that’s with an impressive 135 focus points! In AF-S (single servo) mode, the camera uses contrast-detect AF and you can use any of the 135 focus points to acquire focus. Surprisingly, the AF performance in AF-S mode is very good, not the sluggish contrast detect we get in Live View modes of current DSLRs. The moment you switch to AF-C (continuous servo) mode, the camera changes to the hybrid AF mode with 73 focus points and does an excellent job at tracking movement in daylight conditions. In indoor environments with less light, the camera seems to switch to the same contrast detect mode and AF slows down.
So far I have taken around 2 thousand images with the V1 and I have yet to find an image that is out of focus. Yes, it does have to do with a larger depth of field due to the smaller sensor on the camera, but I have had a lot of blurry images on point and shoot cameras with even smaller sensors before and the V1 is a world better than any of them. In very difficult low-light, low-contrast situations, the camera might not be able to acquire focus and you will see the focus point flash in red when that happens. Switching to AF-S mode activates the green AF-assist lamp, which helps a great deal in acquiring focus on close subjects.
In short, Nikon’s implementation of hybrid autofocus rocks. I very much hope that this technology will make its way to Live View / Video Modes on future DSLRs. This new AF engine is probably the biggest advantage of the Nikon 1 system over its current competitors.
On the flip side, since the manual focus ring has been completely eliminated from all 1 NIKKOR lenses, manual focus has to be performed through the camera, which is a rather cumbersome and an inefficient process. You first have to switch the AF mode to MF through a dedicated AF button (bottom part of the rotary dial), then you have to hit the middle “OK” button to start manual focus operation. The up/down switch on the top back of the camera is used for zooming in and out, while the rotary dial is used to move the zoom area when pressed and change focus when rotated. Zooming in greatly decreases the resolution, which makes it difficult to obtain precise focus – a similar problem Nikon D90 DSLR has in Live View mode. This problem is obviously only related to the absence of the focus ring on the 1 NIKKOR lenses.
9) Movie Recording
Nikon 1 V1 has some impressive movie recording capabilities, again, we have not seen anything like this on any of the Nikon cameras previously. Full 1080p HD mode (H.264 compression codec in MOV file format) can be recorded at 30 fps and 1080i at 60 fps, while smaller 720 HD movies can be recorded at 60 fps as well. Unlike some of the entry-level Nikon DSLRs, the V1 is not limited to automatic exposure control for videos, which means that you can fully control the exposure in video mode. Just switch the camera to manual mode through the video recording menu and set your shutter speed and aperture to whatever you want. The camera LCD will reflect these changes and you will see exactly what you are capturing. But the biggest surprise here is the ability to autofocus and track subjects while recording videos, which works really well. Say goodbye to a typical camcorder, because the V1 can easily replace one. Video recording is limited to 20 minutes, which is more than enough for most situations.
As I have already pointed out, the Nikon 1 V1 has two separate buttons to record stills and video. This was primarily done to be able to take stills while recording video, but to be honest, I do not really see much value in this feature. I do not think it is worth having a dedicated video button on the top of the camera. A better approach would have been to designate one of the buttons on the back of the camera to capture stills if a video is being recorded. I would rather use one button to capture both stills and video.
One feature I was excited about when I got the camera was slow-motion video recording. Nikon 1 V1 has two slow-motion recording modes – 640×240/400 fps and 320×120/1200 fps, both limited to 5 seconds of action (which translates to roughly 66 total seconds on 400 fps videos, since slow motion is played back at 30 fps). While the resolution is rather low, the 400 fps videos are not bad for posting videos online. The catch with slow motion video is that it requires a lot of available light. In normal indoor environments slow motion videos come out too dark and the video would often flicker. Increasing ISO and decreasing lens aperture definitely helps; you can still fully control the exposure and even use exposure compensation if the scene is too light or too dark. The 320×120 resolution on 1200 fps videos is too small and unusable even for the web in my opinion. Here are a couple of slow-motion videos I shot at 400 FPS:
VR works great for video recording, but you have to be careful when panning the camera with VR turned on, because it will occasionally bump the camera up or down. This is normal VR behavior and the same thing would happen if you were to pan while taking stills.
Other than this, all videos look great with plenty of sharpness, colors and contrast.
10) Dynamic Range / Active D-Lighting
Smaller sensor typically means less dynamic range and with a relatively small 13.2mm x 8.8mm sensor, the dynamic range of the Nikon 1 V1 is nothing to brag about – it is obviously worse than on 1.5x crop sensors, including the Sony NEX-5n. On the other hand, shadow details on RAW images do not look too bad, even when compared to the Olympus E-PL3. As with all digital cameras, increasing camera ISO also decreases dynamic range, so shoot at base ISO of 100 if you want to preserve the most amount of information on your photographs.
HDR photographers won’t be happy with this camera, because it has no built-in HDR mode, and it does not offer any sort of exposure bracketing. Your only option is to set the camera to manual mode, then take images at different shutter speeds.
As for Active D-Lighting, if you shoot RAW and do not use Nikon’s Capture NX2 product, you should just turn it off. For all other cases, leaving Active D-Lighting On works great.
Let’s see how the camera does in ISO performance against other cameras. Choose the next page below.
11) ISO Performance at low ISOs (ISO 100-800)
Some technical junk:
- White Balance: Auto, changed to “Custom”: 4660 Temp, +26 Tint in Lightroom
- EXIF information is preserved in the images
- Tested with 1 NIKKOR VR 10-100mm f/4.5-5.6 lens
- Aperture: f/8.0
- Manual Focus
- Active D-Lighting: Off
- Long exposure NR: Off
- High ISO HR: Off
- Image Format: RAW/NEF
- Imported images into Lightroom and cropped to 100% – no resizing was performed in Photoshop
- No exposure adjustments were performed in Lightroom (besides White Balance)
- Lightroom sharpening: 25, 1.0, 25, 0 (default)
- Lightroom export: sRGB JPEG Quality 80
Let’s take a look at how the Nikon 1 V1 performs at low ISOs. Here are some 100% crops at ISO 100, 200, 400 and 800:
Base ISO 100 looks somewhat clean, similar to DX performance, but ISO 200 already shows some noise.
ISO 400 adds a little more noise and the shadows get a little grainier, but overall it still looks pretty good. ISO 800, on the other hand, seems to be adding larger grain than ISO 400, but image detail is still preserved well.
12) High ISO Performance (ISO 1600-6400)
Let’s see what happens when ISO is boosted to much higher levels:
Even larger grains at ISO 1600 and the shadows get noticeably grainier as well. Details still look very good though. ISO 3200, which is still native ISO, is where things get considerably worse. Noise almost doubles and we see loss of details and colors.
When ISO is boosted to 6400, large grains and artifacts show up all over the image.
Overall, the ISO performance of the Nikon 1 V1 camera is very impressive for a small CX sensor, especially when compared to the competition. Let’s see how it fares against the Micro Four Thirds sensor. Select the next page below.
Compared to Olympus E-PL3
Let’s take a look at ISO performance of the Olympus E-PL3 that has a Micro Four Thirds sensor, which that is about twice bigger than the Nikon 1 V1 CX sensor. The base ISO of the Olympus sensor starts at ISO 200 and it can go all the way to ISO 12,800. Please note that the E-PL3 has a 12.3 megapixel sensor, so I had to move my camera setup back and forth to get a similar field of view. No image resizing and rescaling was performed in Photoshop – these are 100% crops. All images were shot at the same shutter speed and aperture values.
13) Nikon 1 V1 vs Olympus E-PL3 Low ISO Comparison (ISO 200-800)
Here is a comparison of both cameras at ISO 200 (Left: Nikon 1 V1, Right: Olympus E-PL3):
At base ISO 200, both cameras look about the same. The Olympus E-PL3 looks a tad sharper than the Nikon 1 V1, most likely due to better focus or optics.
At ISO 400, the Nikon 1 V1 looks slightly noisier, but the difference is not big.
Looks like ISO 800 is also more or less the same as ISO 400, with E-PL3 having a slight advantage. Let’s compare the two at higher ISOs now.
14) Nikon 1 V1 vs Olympus E-PL3 High ISO Comparison (ISO 1600-12800)
Now here is where things get interesting. The Olympus E-PL3 gets significantly worse at ISO 1600, which is clearly visible across the frame, especially in the shadows; the grain is much bigger in size. Now the Nikon 1 V1 clearly takes the lead – just take a look at the difference in the shadows.
The situation is even worse at ISO 3200 for the Olympus. Large grain specks appear all over the image and in the shadows. Image detail is lost by a great deal. The Nikon 1 V1 again wins here, I would say by a huge margin.
ISO 6400 is even worse for the Olympus E-PL3 – now the grain is killing the details. Letters are now mixed with grain and the shadow detail is completely lost. To be honest, I do not see the reason why Olympus decided to provide ISO 12800 capability – it is simply useless, as can be seen below:
15) Nikon 1 V1 vs Olympus E-PL3 Summary
As you can see from the image crops above, both cameras perform about the same at ISO speeds between 100 and 800, although the Olympus E-PL3 seems to have slightly cleaner images. The same cannot be said about its high ISO performance though – the Nikon 1 V1 takes over from ISO 1600 and clearly has an advantage in the amount of noise, especially in the shadows – all the way to ISO 6400. The ISO 12800 on the Olympus E-PL3 is useless; I do not even know why Olympus decided to leave it as an option. The 2 megapixel advantage does not make much difference either; even if the image is down-sampled to 10 megapixels, the Nikon still wins in high ISO performance. So much for the E-PL3 sensor that is twice bigger in size. A quick side note – Olympus used a 3 year old Micro Four Thirds sensor on the E-PL3 camera. The new Micro 4/3 sensors on such cameras as Panasonic DMC-GH2/G3 perform much better in comparison. Unfortunately, I could not obtain a GH2/G3 sample on time to perform additional comparisons.
The Nikon 1 V1 also has a clear lead in the autofocus area – its hybrid AF system is much faster in comparison, especially in daylight environment. In low-light situations, both cameras seem to autofocus about the same with contract detect AF. The Nikon 1 V1 has a built-in EVF, while you have to buy one for the Olympus E-PL3, so that’s another advantage on behalf of the Nikon. I also prefer the ergonomics and the button layout of the Nikon 1 V1 (except for the video recording button) – the E-PL3 has 6 tiny buttons scattered on the back of the camera (excluding the dial), while the Nikon 1 V1 has everything neatly organized with large and accessible buttons. On the other hand, the Olympus has a traditional PASM selector on the top of the camera and its video recording button is neatly placed on the top right side of the camera rear – something I wish Nikon did the same with the V1.
The biggest difference between the two, in my opinion, is the menu system. The Olympus E-PL3 has the worst menu system I have seen to date. It truly is horrendous when compared to the Nikon 1 V1 and it took me a long time to figure basic things out, like finding where to change image format from JPEG to RAW. To change ISO, you have to go two levels deep from the Custom Menu and find it somewhere in the middle of the menu. It was ridiculous and I wasted too much of my precious time figuring basic things out. I would never buy the E-PL3 if I were a beginner – the camera will scare the hell out of any beginner for sure. Sure, it has some great features like bracketing (exposure, white balance, ISO, etc), multiple exposure, customizable buttons and much more, but they are of little use if they are not easily accessible. Where Olympus right now truly has the lead is in the lens department – Olympus has a wide array of lenses that cover everything from wide angle and macro to portraits/telephoto. Nikon is committed to the CX format and we should be seeing a wider selection of all kinds of lenses very soon.
Overall, I personally would not buy the Olympus E-PL3 for the above reasons. Despite its smaller sensor size, the Nikon 1 V1 is a better camera in many ways. Oh and one more thing, coming from a Nikon DSLR background, I do prefer the aspect ratio of the V1 instead of the Micro Four Thirds 4:3 aspect ratio.
Nikon 1 V1 vs Sony NEX-5N
Let’s see how the Nikon 1 V1 compares to the Sony NEX-5n, which has a much larger 1.5x crop factor sensor – a similar size sensor used on the Nikon D5100 and D7000 DLSRs. I had a hard time matching up images, because there is a huge difference in resolution – the Nikon 1 V1 sensor is 10 MP, while the Sony NEX-5n is 16 MP. Therefore, the Sony crops below look a little bigger.
16) Nikon 1 V1 vs Sony NEX-5n Low ISO Comparison (ISO 100-800)
Here is a comparison of base ISO 100 on both cameras:
At base ISO 100, both cameras seem to perform about the same, although the shadows on the Sony seem to be a little brighter, probably because of higher dynamic range.
ISO 200 seems to be a little cleaner on the Sony NEX-5n.
The same with ISO 400 – the Sony NEX-5n is a tad cleaner.
And even at ISO 800, the NEX-5n has a very slight advantage over the V1. The strange thing is, while the shadows are a little brighter, they also seem to be slightly noisier on the Sony. Let’s see how the cameras compare at high ISO levels now.
17) Nikon 1 V1 vs Sony NEX-5n High ISO Comparison (ISO 1600-25600)
Unlike the Olympus E-PL3, the Sony NEX-5n does a great job at ISO 1600. There is very little grain in the image and I would say that it looks better compared to the Nikon.
Increasing ISO to 3200 adds more noise to both images, but the Sony NEX-5n still looks better. Grain is smaller and a little more manageable than on the Nikon 1 V1.
Nikon’s maximum ISO boost is 6400 and it is the last image that I can compare against the Sony NEX-5n, which has two extra ISO levels. Again, the cameras are comparable, but the Sony NEX-5n seems to be slightly better. Both cameras seem to retain good colors at high ISOs. Here are two extra ISO levels on the NEX-5n:
The ISO 12800 crop looks pretty good, but the ISO 25600 shot is unusable for my taste.
17a) Nikon 1 V1 vs Sony NEX-5n Down-Sampled High ISO Comparison (ISO 800-6400)
Comparing sensors with different resolutions can be challenging. The above comparisons show pixel-level performance, which is typically in favor of a lower resolution sensor. Without a doubt, a camera with more pixels per inch equals more noise due to simple physics – the smaller the pixel, the more the noise. Let’s see what happens when images from both cameras are normalized, which in this case means the Sony NEX-5n 16 MP image gets reduced to 10 MP. Since there are many different ways to down-sample an image in Photoshop, I tried a few different methods and came to a conclusion that the regular “Bicubic (best for smooth gradients)” resizing algorithm results in the least amount of noise, which is what I used for the below images.
As expected, the results are in favor of a high-resolution camera, which in this case is the NEX-5n:
The differences are obvious right at ISO 800 – the NEX-5n looks very clean with smaller grain. In fact, if you take the ISO 1600 sample from the NEX-5n and put it against the ISO 800 sample from the V1, you will see that NEX-5n still looks a tad better, which means that there is more than a stop of difference between the two, when down-sampled to the same resolution. The NEX-5n images will also look sharper due to this down-sampling technique.
The same story with ISO 1600 – NEX-5n looks very clean in comparison.
When putting NEX-5n ISO 3200 against V1 ISO 1600, the image from the NEX-5n is still a tad cleaner, so there is still over a stop of difference between the two.
ISO 6400 on the V1 has plenty of large grain, while the same on the NEX-5n looks cleaner with smaller grain.
Again, this test shows what happens when both cameras are at 10 MP – the extra 6 MP of resolution on the NEX-5n results in over a stop of high ISO advantage.
18) Nikon 1 V1 vs Sony NEX-5n Summary
Initially, I published only 100% crops from the top of the page, where I show the pixel performance between the two cameras. I received a number of complaints from our readers that the test was rather biased, because it showed the Nikon 1 V1 performing almost as good as the Sony NEX-5n, which has a lot more resolution (this was despite the fact that I clearly stated that when images are down-sampled, the NEX-5n would have over a stop of advantage). Hence, I added one more test to this page showing “normalized” images at 10 MP, which clearly shows that the NEX-5n has over a stop of advantage compared to the V1. Don’t forget that the sensor of the NEX-5n is over 3 times larger than the one on Nikon 1 V1, so the V1 stands its ground really well with its tiny sensor. A larger size sensor also means larger lenses – and that’s Sony’s biggest weakness. It has a very compact camera body, but much bigger camera lenses (with the exception of the 16mm pancake lens). When shooting with mirrorless cameras, the Nikon 1 V1 fit my jacket pocket much easier than the Sony NEX-5n.
At the same time, a large sensor also means two things: shallower depth of field and better dynamic range – two major factors that work in NEX-5n’s favor. Sony has a few other advantages, such as swivel / touchscreen LCD, in-camera editing, HDR, panorama and 3D modes, but lacks a serious feature that the Nikon 1 V1 has, which is a built-in electronic viewfinder (EVF). An excellent high-resolution OLED viewfinder can be purchased separately, but for $350 more; plus it eats up the same socket that can be used for mounting a flash unit. I also really like the ergonomics of the NEX-5n when compared to the V1. The grip is great, much better than the little bump on the front of the V1.
Sony’s menu system is very good, but has a lot more options than on the Nikon, so beginners might find the Nikon 1 V1 easier to operate. Nikon’s stronghold is its hybrid autofocus, which works faster than Sony’s AF. So the Nikon is clearly better at tracking and shooting action / sports. On the other hand, Sony lenses have a manual focus ring and manual focus operation is much easier. Simply turning the focus ring automatically zooms in at high resolution and you can use the touchscreen to move to any area of the image you want. You could even zoom in all the way to 9.5x for even closer and more precise focus adjustment.
Comparing these two cameras, I would say that they are targeted at different audiences. The Sony NEX-5n suits photo enthusiasts and pros that shoot landscapes and portraits, because of a larger sensor, more megapixels, shallower depth of field, higher dynamic range and great image quality / ISO performance. The Nikon 1 V1, on the other hand, is a great everyday camera that can shoot action and sports – something soccer moms and birders will appreciate.
Compared to Sony A65/A77
Since I have been simultaneously testing the Sony A77 and A65 cameras, I could not resist the temptation to compare the Nikon 1 V1 ISO performance against the highest resolution APS-C sensor in the world. The Sony NEX-7 mirrorless, A65 and A77 DSLRs all share the same 24 megapixel sensor, so the below crops should be about the same for these three cameras. The translucent mirror on the A65 and A77 cameras does actually block some light, so the NEX-7 might actually perform a tad better. Again, matching field of view was difficult, so the below images appear slightly larger. Let’s take a look!
19) Nikon 1 V1 vs Sony A65/A77 Low ISO Comparison (ISO 100-800)
The base ISO performance of the A65/A77 cameras seems to be on par with Nikon 1 V1 performance. Noise levels are relatively low both in highlights and shadows.
ISO 200 is also clean on both with a slight advantage on behalf of the Sony.
ISO 400 does not change much and noise levels are also comparable.
At ISO 800 we start seeing bigger grain on the Sony A65/A77 sensors and the Nikon 1 V1 takes over, especially in the shadows.
20) Nikon 1 V1 vs Sony A65/A77 High ISO Comparison (ISO 1600-16000)
The Sony sensor looks similar to the Olympus E-PL3 in terms of pixel-level performance at high ISOs. Anything above ISO 800 is very grainy, including ISO 1600. As can be seen from the above crops, the Nikon 1 V1 has much less and smaller grains in the image. But mind you, we are comparing 24 MP versus 10 MP!
ISO 3200 is even worse for the 24 MP Sony sensor – noise levels are very high with large grains and there is visible loss of details across the frame. Some colors are also lost as a result. The Nikon 1 V1 looks much cleaner in comparison (again, with a lot less pixels).
And ISO 6400 looks pretty unusable for my taste when viewed at 100% on the Sony A65/A77 cameras. Too much detail and colors are lost.
It is unfortunate that Sony is allowing ISO 12800 and 16000 on the new sensor for marketing purposes. These images look horrid and completely unusable.
20a) Nikon 1 V1 vs Sony A65/A77 Down-Sampled High ISO Comparison (ISO 800-6400)
Let’s see how the sensors compare when the Sony A65/A77 image is down-sampled to 10 MP. Obviously, there is a huge difference in resolution here, which works in A65/A77′s advantage. Here is ISO 800 down-sized to 10 MP:
Similar to the NEX-5n, the difference between A65/A77 and the V1 is a little over 1 stop when normalized. Here is ISO 1600:
At ISO 1600, the difference seems to be slightly less, right around 1 stop. If you took the ISO 1600 crop from the A65/A77 sensor and compared it to the ISO 800 crop from the V1, they would have roughly the same amount of noise, with slight differences here and there.
ISO 3200 is not much different than ISO 1600 in terms of noise – roughly 1 stop of difference. And finally, here is the not so pretty ISO 6400:
21) Nikon 1 V1 vs Sony A65/A77 Summary
I won’t go into feature differences between these cameras, because we are not comparing apples to apples here. But one thing is clear – high resolution and small pixel size equal more noise for the new Sony sensor, when viewed at the pixel level. When down-sampled and resized to 10 MP, however, the Sony A77/A65 still shows superior performance compared to the Nikon V1 at high ISOs. The difference is not as big as between the Sony NEX-5n and the Nikon V1 (which is more than a stop), but a little less – I would say about about a stop. If you take the ISO 800 crop from the Nikon 1 V1 and compare it to the ISO 1600 crop from the Sony A65/A77, the noise levels will look about the same; maybe except for the shadows, where the Nikon 1 V1 seems to be working its firmware magic to suppress more noise. If you compare the NEX-5n high ISO crops to the A65/A77 crops, you will see that the former has slightly less noise when both are down-sampled to 10 MP.
Put into a different perspective, when down-sampled, the Sony A65/A77 looks slightly worse than the Sony NEX-5n at ISO levels above 400 (but beats it at low ISOs due to much higher resolution). Both are better than the Nikon 1 V1 by a stop or more at pretty much all ISO levels.
Compared to Nikon D700/D3
Last, but not least, I wanted to show you how the new CX sensor compares to Nikon’s full-frame FX sensor from the D700/D3 DSLR cameras. Again, the comparison is far from being fair, so this comparison is provided simply as a reference. Please note that D700′s base ISO is 200, but the camera provides an option to boost to ISO 100.
22) Nikon 1 V1 vs Nikon D700 Low ISO Comparison (ISO 100-800)
Nikon’s legendary full-frame sensor is a reference of practically noise-free performance at low ISOs.
While the Nikon 1 V1 does pretty well with noise, the difference is clear, especially at ISO 800 – the D700 is very smooth in comparison.
23) Nikon 1 V1 vs Nikon D700 High ISO Comparison (ISO 1600-25600)
Let’s take a look at what happens at high ISO levels:
At ISO 1600, the Nikon 1 V1 performs well, considering how small of a sensor it has compared to the full-frame D700.
Nikon 1 V1 loses plenty of detail at ISO 3200 when compared to the D700, which stays relatively clean and perfectly usable.
Boosted to ISO 6400, the Nikon 1 V1 suffers and plenty of details are lost in comparison.
The extra 2 ISO levels on the D700 are very grainy, pretty much unusable for my taste.
24) Nikon 1 V1 vs Nikon D700 Summary
I was rather surprised to see how well the Nikon 1 V1 performs against Nikon’s high-end full-frame sensor. With a more than 7x smaller surface area, the Nikon 1 V1 is only about ~2 stops behind the D700 sensor in ISO performance. This is great news for the DSLR users, because it shows how superb the future sensors will be on the upcoming Nikon DSLRs. Another good news for the Nikon 1 V1 is color reproduction – colors look almost as good as on the D700.
Again, the above comparison is provided only as a reference, since we are comparing a small-sensor mirrorless camera to a high-end DSLR.
Summary and Image Samples
25) Summary and Image Samples
Overall, I am impressed by the Nikon 1 V1 – it is a solid, high-quality camera with excellent performance characteristics. While my initial thoughts after the Nikon 1 system was announced were rather negative, after using the camera actively for over a month, I got to like it, at least when compared to the competition. It does have a few problems though, as I have expressed in this review. The biggest source of complaints for the Nikon 1 system is its tiny CX sensor, which is almost twice smaller than Micro Four Thirds, over 3 times smaller than APS-C and over 7 times smaller than full-frame. As a result, many dubbed the Nikon 1 system as a glorified and expensive point and shoot camera, which it is not.
As I have shown in my ISO tests, the Nikon 1 CX sensor performs very well for its size. It easily beats the Olympus E-PL3 (which unfortunately uses an old Micro 4/3 sensor) at high ISOs, even when the latter is down-sampled to 10 MP. Both Sony NEX-5n and Sony A77/A65 sensors have a resolution advantage over the Nikon 1 V1, with the latter having more than twice the number of pixels. This obviously translates to better performance when high-resolution images are down-sampled to 10 MP, with NEX-5n leading the comparison with over a full stop of difference and A65/A77 with a slightly worse 1 stop of difference. But then, we are comparing a much smaller CX sensor to an APS-C size sensor used in DSLR camera bodies. It is expected that the Sony cameras perform better and they should, given their 3x sensor size advantage. Had Nikon used a larger, more equivalent sensor, we would have seen better ISO performance. How does Nikon achieve these kinds of low noise levels at high ISOs with such a small sensor? The answer lies in noise-reduction techniques that Nikon has developed over the years. It has done it on DSLRs like Nikon D3s and D7000 and it is also doing the same thing on the Nikon 1 V1 / J1 cameras. Images coming out of the sensor get polished and noise levels reduced, even at the RAW image level. Some might call this a dirty technique or cheating, but I do not see anything wrong with doing that. At the end of the day, it is about what I get from a camera. An average user would not care if the manufacturer uses noise reduction at high ISOs – as long as the image looks clean and details are retained (and they are). Nikon decided that 10 megapixels is good enough for most people, which I do agree with. As I have already said before, a good general-purpose sensor should have a good balance of megapixels and ISO noise, which the Nikon 1 sensor does with 10 megapixels on its small 13.2×8.8mm CX sensor. And its color reproduction is also very good, on par with modern Nikon DSLR cameras.
Other advantages of the Nikon 1 V1 camera worth noting are the built-in electronic view finder (which turned out to be a big deal, since none of the other mirrorless cameras I tested have one; you have to purchase them separately), instant hybrid autofocus, very quick image and video recording speeds, great ergonomics (except for a few annoyances, as pointed out on the first page of the review), built-in intervalometer, excellent metering, great battery life and ease of use. On the flip side, the smaller sensor results in larger depth of field and lower dynamic range, camera menu is missing some important features, no live exposure preview in manual mode, Auto ISO is implemented poorly with no customization options, lack of in-camera editing, non-swivel/non-touchscreen LCD and a few other annoyances. Except for the sensor size and the camera body, most of these issues can be addressed through firmware updates. To compensate for the large depth of field issue, Nikon should quickly release fast-aperture f/1.2-f/1.4 lenses that can help isolate subjects better than the current slow lenses available today. The 1 NIKKOR lenses are as good as all other Nikkor lenses in terms of sharpness, contrast and colors. I am glad that Nikon has incorporated much more advanced capabilities to these lenses, which give us the ability to fix lens issues via firmware updates – something we have never been able to do before. In fact, one serious issue with image stabilization / VR has already been identified by Nikon and firmware updates for all new VR lenses have been recently released.
As for the cost of the camera, at first, its price of $900 for a single 10-30mm lens kit sounds steep, but then compare it to the Olympus E-PL3 + 14-24mm kit that costs $679, which quickly goes up to $860 with an EVF added. Or the Sony NEX-5n, which easily goes over $1K with an EVF added (granted you would be getting a much better OLED EVF). True, the E-PL3 and the NEX-5n come with flash units, but you cannot even remotely compare those little flashes to the SB-N5 speedlight for the Nikon 1 system. To me, they are no better than the crappy built-in flash on the Nikon 1 J1 camera. Oh, and once you mount an EVF on either the E-PL3 or the NEX-5n, you cannot simultaneously use the flash, which is not a problem for the Nikon 1 V1. The biggest difference is once again the sensor size, but as I have demonstrated in this review, a larger sensor does not automatically mean better image quality. In fact, as in the case with the Sony NEX-5n, larger sensors require larger lenses, which sort of defeats the purpose of a compact camera system.
At the end of the day, it is all about one’s needs. Pros, semi-pros and photo enthusiasts that need a smaller camera than a DSLR will probably choose the Sony NEX-5n/NEX-7 cameras for their larger sensors, more megapixels, higher dynamic range, etc., while the Nikon 1 V1 is a great fit for everyday and fast-action photography. It will be interesting to see how Nikon will continue to develop the Nikon 1 system. I hope that the issues pointed out above will be addressed through firmware updates and better and richer features will be delivered in upcoming Nikon 1 cameras. We should be seeing more lens choices very soon, so I am looking forward to another evaluation of the Nikon 1 cameras when those lenses are announced.
Meanwhile, I am excited about the upcoming DSLR cameras, because I am hoping that some of the great technology found on the Nikon 1 V1 will make its way into new DSLR cameras that will be announced in 2012.
26) Where to buy and availability
27) More image samples
Click here to download the full-size version of the above image.
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Click here to download the full-size version of the above image.
Click here to download the full-size version of the above image.
Click here to download the full-size version of the above image.