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.