“High-speed” and “compact body” aren’t features we often see together, but Nikon is relying on this compelling combination to sell its new “1” series of system cameras, which debuted in September 2011 with the J1 and the V1. The small form factor of this series appeals to both shutterbugs and soccer moms, but when those soccer moms start shooting their eponymous soccer games, they’ll find this 1-inch sensor is capable of class-leading continuous burst performance.

On the other hand, we’ve been critical of the 1 series so far, mainly due to problems with noise reduction, white balance, and handling. For the Nikon 1 V2 (MSRP $799.95 body only), a huge new hand grip has been added, however image quality has remained tragically unchanged.

Physical handling of the V2 is vastly improved over the V1 and especially the J1.

We’ve been very critical of the 1 series’ handling so far, but Nikon has gone out of their way to put our complaints to rest. A huge new right hand grip has been built into the body and wrapped in a layer of rubber, making the camera much more stable than previous models.

A huge new right hand grip has been built into the body and wrapped in a layer of rubber, making the camera much more stable than previous models.

On the rear panel, all buttons and dials save for the rotating directional pad have been moved away, making room for a large rubber thumb rest. The new mode and command dials are still within easy reach of the thumb, yet sufficiently far away to avoid accidental adjustment.

The V2’s control scheme has been completely overhauled since the V1. Except for the rotating directional pad, all buttons and dials have been relocated to either the top panel or the left side of the LCD monitor. The two new dials on the top panel are a mixed bag: the mode dial is sturdy and satisfying, but the new command dial is loose and has poor tactility. The command dial does have a convenient secondary click, but this feature isn’t used to great effect in the menus.

To the left of the LCD you’ll find four vertically-arranged buttons for playback, menu, display, and delete. Since the menu key is so commonly used, a few problems arise. First, the need for two hands becomes much more frequent. Second, your fingers will accidentally pass by the EVF’s eye sensor more often, introducing an annoying delay. And third, while pressing the menu button—or any button in that cluster—the most natural home for your pointer finger is going to be directly on top of the soft lens release on the front panel, so you may find yourself accidentally unlocking the lens with alarming frequency.

While the V2 offers a full complement of the features we’ve come to expect from system cameras (competent video, detailed manual control, etc.), this series’ selling point continues to be speed.

Our tests confirm this little camera is capable of an amazing 60 frames per second continuous burst, and while the buffer fills after only 40 shots, this is still an incredibly impressive figure. If you need your bursts to be a little bit longer than two-thirds of a second, the V2 may also be configured for 30 fps or 15 fps bursts, as well as a mechanical shutter 5 fps continuous mode that can shoot indefinitely.

Our tests confirm this little camera is capable of an amazing 60 frames per second continuous burst.

Just to be 100% clear, these are full-resolution, fine compression quality or RAW stills we’re talking about here. Even at 60 frames per second, shots incur no image quality penalty.

The V2's preoccupation with speed extends to video shooting as well. In addition to high definition 1080/30p or 720/60p, the V2 also supports high speed videography at 400 fps or, if you're willing to sacrifice image quality, 1200 fps. Though such footage is certainly noisy and pixelated, you can still shoot some pretty amazing content. Like this...

While there are certainly a few new bells and whistles, the V2 has an almost identical performance profile to its direct predecessor, the V1.

White balance remains problematic for this series.

Once again, the main problem here is image noise. Even at minimum ISO, the V2’s 1-inch sensor produces far more noise than we like to see. This problem only gets worse as sensitivity increases. This purportedly Aptina-made, Nikon-designed chip just cannot keep pace with competitors using APS-C sensors, though scores also lag behind the Sony RX100 which uses a similar 1 inch sensor.

White balance also remains problematic for this series. Shooting in daylight is fine, as is the case for many cameras, but the automatic algorithm cannot handle artificial light. Color temperature errors will cause shots captured under fluorescent or incandescent light to take on an orange tint. It’s a shame really, because the V2’s color accuracy is actually quite strong. Unfortunately, indoor photographers won’t see this advantage until they take a custom white balance or shoot RAW.

Dynamic range is acceptable, but hasn’t improved over previous models, and while the kit lens manages to avoid distracting chromatic aberration, it isn’t particularly sharp either. So the primary draw of this camera, like the rest of the 1 series, continues to be speed.

Improved control but little else

You’ve got to hand it to Nikon. Like several other review outlets, we were critical of the physical design of the J1 and V1 when they debuted. These were slippery, troublesome cameras, and in certain conditions that can really rob the shooting experience of its charm. But take one look at the Nikon 1 V2, and you’ll see the company has attacked this problem head on, implementing a huge new rubberized hand grip and redesigning the control scheme entirely.

If only Nikon had paid so much attention to image quality.

We recommend the V2 only for users who spend the majority of their time shooting action, for whom a larger DSLR simply isn’t an option. The 1 series’ small footprint is no longer compelling in the ever-more crowded mirrorless market (and don’t forget the smaller, cheaper Sony RX100 either), while the sensor’s indoor and low-light performance is worse than what we expect from this price point. There are plenty of better options on the market today, including of course a used V1, which offers similar burst features and practically identical image quality.
We observed many problems with the V2’s image quality. Although color accuracy technically scored well, the camera’s inaccurate white balance renders this irrelevant. A much worse problem is the sensor’s propensity for image noise, which crops up even at low sensitivity levels. Sharpness of the 10-30mm kit lens was also disappointing, though chromatic aberration isn’t too bad.

No improvement over the V1

Considering only “usable” image data, which we define as a signal-to-noise ratio of 10:1, the V2 offers a maximum dynamic range of just over 6 stops. This score is dragged down by the importance of image noise to our testing method, and the V2’s lackluster performance therein.

Dynamic range holds steady at 6 to 5.6 stops through ISO 400, before dropping off steadily from there. The V2 is capable of 4.71 stops at ISO 800, 3.77 stops at ISO 3200, and finally 2.58 stops at ISO 6400. Unfortunately, this doesn’t appear to distance the V2 too far from its predecessors, as this is hardly a quantum leap forward in sensor technology. While 1-inch sensors provide a great advantage over typical compact point-and-shoots—our favorite point-and-shoot, the Sony RX100, also has a 1-inch sensor—the 1 system sensors to this point lag behind the rest of the mirrorless system camera field.

Accurate color when the white balance is working

Of course, if you’re not shooting RAW, a strong color accuracy score is nothing without equally strong white balance. Unfortunately, the 1 series continues to disappoint in this test. The V2 does a poor job automatically measuring white balance under artificial light. Fluorescent light results in average color temperature errors of just under 1800 K, while challenging incandescent lights lead to average errors over 3200 K. For reference, the same algorithm produces errors of only 200 K on average under daylight.

Taking a custom white balance results in average white balance errors of only 150 K and 200 K under incandescent and fluorescent lights respectively, so it’s always a good idea to take a custom reading while using the V2 indoors.

Noise is a problem at every ISO

The presence of image noise is a major problem in shots captured with the V2. With noise reduction turned off, the sensor produces more than 1.2% image noise even at the lowest ISO sensitivity. This is a drawback we normally associate with cheap point-and-shoots, so the result is rather appalling in an $800 camera.

By activating noise reduction, it’s possible to delay the 1.00% noise threshold until ISO 400 (ISO 200 squeaks by with 0.96%), but that’s still a disappointing performance for any camera. In all cases, noise rates increase steadily until ISO 6400, at which time they spike drastically.

Meet the testers

Christopher Snow

Christopher Snow

Managing Editor

@BlameSnow

Chris was born and raised less than ten miles from our editorial office, and even graduated from nearby Merrimack College. He came to Reviewed after covering the telecom industry, and has been moonlighting as a Boston area dining critic since 2008.

See all of Christopher Snow's reviews

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