A simple, elegant design that will intimidate exactly nobody. It's the Matthew Broderick of cameras.
The S1 looks just like the Nikon 1 J-series cameras, save for the lack of a physical mode dial. With a smooth plastic finish, minimalist aesthetic design, and just a single control wheel, it's a true entry-level model. The handsome, Ashton Kutcher–approved looks give the camera a wide appeal, even if it lacks the handling and control that enthusiasts may be after.
More than any other 1-series body, the S1 is aimed directly at those stepping up from compact cameras. There's nothing intimidating about its design, user interface, or control scheme, and novices should be able to pick it up and shoot with ease. The body has just a few choice controls, with the back plate sporting a control dial/directional pad and keys for playback, menu access, and photo deletion. The control dial is easy to manipulate, also functioning as a four-way directional pad with options for manipulating exposure, flash, drive mode, and the "F" context-sensitive function button.
The menu system is the same as we've seen on previous 1-series models, though the initial menu screen is organized into six categories (similar to the main menu on Sony's NEX cameras). From this screen you can quickly access submenus for shooting mode, playback, shooting settings, movies, image processing, and setup. The software-based mode selection method includes creative modes as well as the full suite of program auto, shutter and aperture priority, and manual exposure modes.
The Nikon 1 S1 is built for speed, not comfort.
The Nikon 1 series is designed to be a simple, lightweight introduction to the world of interchangeable lens cameras. But despite the simple design, the 1 series also is capable of some serious speed. The Nikon 1 S1 may be the entry-level option in their mirrorless line, but it doesn't lag behind the rest of the lineup when it comes to features.
The S1 is capable of continuous image capture at a rather remarkable 15 frames per second, with continuous autofocus and a maximum shutter speed of 1/16000th of a second. This is far beyond what you get with even enthusiast DSLRs; the S1 is clearly making very good use of its hybrid autofocus system.
While we're reserving judgement until we see a final production sample, previous 1 series entrants have been able to easily track fast moving subjects across the frame, so we expect the S1 to be a great choice for amateur sports and action shooters. If zone focusing is your thing, you can also capture full-resolution shots at up to 60 fps when autofocus is disabled. Reduced-resolution videos can also make use of 400 and 1200 fps modes for extreme slow-motion playback.
Like most entry-level cameras, the S1 is stuffed to the gills with "creative" shooting modes. The unique "Motion Snapshot" feature from earlier Nikon 1s has been expanded with a longer video section and more control. In addition, there are options for black-and-white shooting, D-Lighting, creative color control, and scene modes including panoramas. The S1 can also capture 1080/60i videos with the ability to simultaneously grab full resolution stills. With the FT-1 adapter, S1 users can make use of any full F-mount Nikkor lens (with the effective focal length more than doubled, and including autofocus with modern AF-S lenses).
The Nikon 1 series hits a new low—in price. That's a great thing.
The Nikon 1 S1 is not a radically new model 1-series camera; it's a little smaller, a little more newbie-friendly, and a little cheaper. It's also a very smart addition to the family. It's possible that its full feature set and low $499.95 price might undercut the Nikon 1 J3 a little bit, but that's Nikon's problem. For consumers, it's a big win. Those looking to step up to an interchangeable lens camera or pick up a second body for travel or weekend shooting will appreciate what the 1 S1 has to offer.
The largest camera manufacturers have been apprehensive the move to mirrorless, but that's to be expected. Mirrorless cameras are the enemy, eating away at their entry-level DSLR market share, but they're also still (to some extent) an unproven commodity. No one is certain how far mirrorless can go, and the industry titans are hesitant to jump on board with an unclear outlook.
In 2013, Nikon finally seems to have gone all-in on mirrorless, though. In terms of image quality, the 1 series has developed to the point where it's a real alternative for those who don't want to deal with the size and weight of an entry-level DSLR, with the added benefit of some really impressive continuous shooting speeds. The S1's simple design also is sure to win over customers accustomed to point-and-shoots—it's the kind of camera anyone can pick up and begin shooting with immediately.
Nikon could have easily used the S1's low price to justify cutting big corners off the J3, but they didn't. It seems that the company's engineers really tried to put out the best product they could, given the price tag, and as a result the S1's competitive feature set provides a truly compelling option for those looking to step up their photographic game on the cheap. Of course, the big question mark is image quality, but that's a matter we'll settle as soon as we can get the latest 1-system cameras into the lab.
The Nikon 1 system has already gone through three generations in the scant year and four months since its September 2011 debut. The original J1 and V1 were similar enough that some consumers had trouble telling them apart, but the recently announced J3 and V2 models are far better differentiated. That means it's time for Nikon to mix things up again: Enter the Nikon 1 S1.
The S1 is the new entry-level model, and at first glance it looks like a slightly smaller version of the original J1. The most notable design change is the lack of a physical mode dial, but beyond that omission the Nikon 1 S1 is hardly lacking where it counts. With a 10.1-megapixel CX sensor, hybrid autofocus system, and continuous shooting (with continuous autofocus) of up to 15 frames per second, the S1 is no lightweight. That you can get all this and an 11-27.5mm kit lens for just $499.95 is fairly remarkable, and a real selling point for the 1 system in a crowded mirrorless camera market.
Meet the tester
TJ is the Executive Editor of Reviewed.com. He is a Massachusetts native and has covered electronics, cameras, TVs, smartphones, parenting, and more for Reviewed. He is from the self-styled "Cranberry Capitol of the World," which is, in fact, a real thing.
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