Cameras

Nikon V1 Digital Camera Review

See how this debut mirrorless camera from Nikon stacks up in this competitive camera market segment.

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Introduction

The Nikon V1 is the top of Nikon's debut line of "1 system" cameras, small interchangeable lens bodies with a different lens mount than Nikon has used in their DSLRs previously. The V1 joins the Nikon J1 in coupling a 1-inch image sensor with a smaller mount to produce cameras that offer significantly more portable than the company's full-size DSLRs. The V1 differs from the J1 by offering an accessory port for an external flash, built-in electronic viewfinder, a higher-resolution rear screen, and a tackier body coating that enhances grip. The Nikon 1 V1 is available in black or white for $899.95 with the standard 10-30mm kit lens, with multiple lens kits also available.

Front

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Back

Back Tour Image

Sides

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Top

Top Tour Image

Bottom

Bottom Tour Image

In the Box

Box Photo

The Nikon V1 comes packaged in one of three kits (depending on which lenses you purchase with it), as well as the following accessories:

• EN-EL15 Rechargeable Li-ion Battery

• MH-25 Battery Charger

• EG-CP14 Audio/Video Cable

• UC-E6 USB Cable

• BS-N1000 Multi Accessory Port Cover

• BF-N1000 Body Cap

• AN-N1000 Strap

• CD-ROM

Kit Lens & Mount

The Nikon V1 uses a "CX" size image sensor that is smaller than the "DX" APS-C image sensors found in Nikon DSLRs like the D3100, D3200, D40, or D5100. The CX image sensor is also smaller than competing mirrorless sensors like those found in the Micro Four Thirds lineup from Panasonic and Olympus.

With that new smaller sensor comes the 1 system lens mount, designed to fit smaller, much more compact lenses on to the body. As the J1 and V1 are both new to the market, the lens system is understandably quite small, only featuring a few lenses. The kit lens is a standard 10-30mm, which closely resembles the field of view you'd get from an 18-55mm lens on the larger APS-C image sensors.

Of all the lenses in the 1 system we felt the 30-110mm telephoto lens was the best, as it offers a good combination of size and image quality. The 10-100mm powered zoom lens is also nice, but in our opinion powered zooms are only really useful if you're going to use the camera primarily for video, as it's much easier and faster to just manually turn a zoom ring.

Lens Mount Photo

Sensor

The CX image sensor in the Nikon V1 is made by Aptina, and it does well for its size. While we'll dig deeper into the sensor's performance in other sections, we'll say the sensor does struggle to offer dynamic range that can match DSLRs, while also suffering from noisy images at high ISOs. This is to be expected as the first generation of a new, smaller sensors, and it's right in line with what we saw from early Micro Four Thirds cameras. What remains to be seen is how Aptina develops this technology further, and if they can really deliver entry-level DSLR performance on a compact image sensor.

Related content

Convergence areas of different sensor sizes compared

Viewfinder

The electronic viewfinder on the V1 is nice and bright, with a very low response time. As you move around there is little of the motion blur you frequently get with other electronic viewfinders. The viewfinder is triggered automatically whenever it sensors anything in close proximity, so it's available almost immediately after bringing it up to your face. The one complaint we'd have with it is how small it is, as it feels cramped compared to finders on some other cameras, but it's right in line with the finder on a camera like the Sony NEX-7, with far less response lag.

Display(s)

The rear monitor on the Nikon V1 is quite excellent, with a 921k-dot resolution. The display is sharp and vivid in most lighting conditions, though it does suffer in direct sunlight from the glare issue that plagues all rear displays. We found it was more than sufficient for checking focus and other small details, and usually found it easier to use than the electronic viewfinder, when available.

Flash

The Nikon V1 does not include a built-in flash, but instead offers an accessory port for the user to attach one. The flash looks somewhat awkward when attached, as it slots in over the viewfinder like a Tetris block. The only flash available for the 1 system as of this writing is the SB-N5 Speedlight, which offers an effective flash range of two to 66 feet, with the ability to bounce lighting in a variety of directions. The flash can also be used as a continuous light source for up to six seconds, just long enough to take a short video clip. The Speedlight does come at a price, however, at a suggested retail price of $149.95.

Connectivity

The Nikon V1 features built-in HDMI, proprietary USB, and 3.5mm mic ports. All three ports are housed on the left side of the camera behind a small plastic flap. The accessory port for attaching the flash is also located on the left side of the top plate of the camera, with a rubber insert that camouflages it with the body. The mic port separates the V1 from its younger sibling the J1, offering it a little more legitimacy as a video-recording device.

Battery

The battery in the V1 is the Nikon EN-EL15 lithium-ion rechargeable. It is removable from the body, charged in an external cradle that comes with the camera. The battery is quite large for such a small camera, occupying nearly the entire grip. It offers right around 350 shots on a single charge according to Nikon's usage by CIPA standards. Those standards are strictly tested but aren't going to represent the usage pattern of most people. If you're taking a lot of shots in succession, for example, you're going to get far beyond the 350 shots listed.

Battery Photo

Memory

The Nikon V1 makes use of SD/SDHC/SDXC memory cards, which go into a dedicated slot inside of the battery compartment. All SD/SDHC/SDXC cards on the market should work fine, as there doesn't appear to be any upper limit on the size of card that can be utilized—at least not any upper limit that a firmware upgrade won't fix in the future.

Memory Photo

Image Quality

The Nikon V1 features a new 1'' CX-format image sensor that's a bit smaller than Micro Four Thirds sensors and quite a bit smaller than APS-C image sensors. The V1 still manages solid dynamic range at its minimum ISO of 100, but it struggles from there on when you put it up against cameras like the Samsung NX20 and Sony NEX-5N. The Nikon V1 also featured one of the most finicky automatic white balance systems we've seen yet (since the J1), though it offered very good color accuracy when you are able to take a custom color temperature measurement.

Sharpness

In shooting with the 10-30mm lens on the V1, we found that it was able to produce good sharpness in the center of the frame, though that performance lagged a bit as you move towards the edge of the frame. We found a sharpness in the center of around 1300 lw/ph with the camera, though that dropped to below 800 lw/ph in some areas near the edge of the frame. These results are subject to some manufacturer tolerances, but they are consistent with what we've seen with this lens on the J1 (which has the same sensor) and in samples with our V1 as well as other copies of both the body and lens in naturalistic settings. More on how we test sharpness.

sharpness

Image Stabilization

The 10-30mm kit lens that ships with the Nikon V1 was quite capable of producing sharp shots even when subjected to a low level of shake. Our image stabilization rig follows a shake pattern that is designed to replicate the camera shake that would happen when shooting handheld, at a shutter speed of 1/30th of a second. The resulting shots were quite good, but were even better with stabilization active.

Color

In color testing the Nikon V1 we found that it was able to reproduce a standard Gretag-Macbeth ColorChecker chart with an average color error of 2.15 at best with practically perfect saturation. That's quite good for any camera, putting the V1 among the best cameras we've tested—when you get white balance correct. When using an automatic white balance, color becomes a total crapshoot, and it's not uncommon to see color error jump to above 4 in those cases, with a strong green bias. More on how we test color.

NOTE: Because of the way computer monitors reproduce colors, the images above do not exactly match the originals found on the chart or in the captured images. The chart should be used to judge the relative color shift, not the absolute captured colors.

The Nikon V1 is clearly capable of some remarkable color accuracy when white balance is spot on, but we highly recommend shooting in RAW (or at least RAW+JPEG) and using a RAW developer to set a custom white balance after the fact whenever possible. While Nikon's demosaicing algorithms are generally among the best around, the V1 is just too inconsistent to really be trusted for anything other than snapshots, especially in mixed lighting where the white balance system is easily confused.

Color Modes

The Nikon V1 features several of the standard "picture controls" that you'll recognize from any other Nikon camera. These modes include the usual group of standard, neutral, vivid, monochrome, portrait, and landscape. The color modes can be adjusted, with options for sharpening, contrast, brightness, saturation, and hue. You can view the relationship between each of the modes by pressing the zoom toggle, which shows each mode placed on a grid plotted by contrast and saturation.

White Balance

The Nikon V1, like the J1, really struggled to establish white when using the automatic white balance system. This is an issue that really held the J1 back and it rears its ugly head here yet again. The camera couldn't come within 1000 kelvin of a compact white fluorescent light source, with daylight shots coming out much cooler than normal as well. This is despite multiple attempts, turning the camera completely off, removing the battery, taking a custom white balance, and then switching to automatic. After that the daylight shots looked better, but the compact white fluorescent shots continued to look terrible.

What's most dismaying is that the Nikon V1's rear monitor often shows shots that have white balance that is very close to correct. When you take the shot, however, there's a huge gamma shift between what the screen displays and the final shot looks like.

Automatic White Balance ()

The Nikon V1's automatic white balance ultimately performed acceptably under daylight lighting conditions, with an average kelvin temperature error of around 188 kelvin. Under compact white fluorescent, it was a different story, with an average error of 988 kelvin at best. In tungsten lighting conditions, the error actually wasn't so bad relative to cameras at large (most of which struggle greatly with light that warm), but the V1 was still off by 1510 kelvin on average.

Custom White Balance ()

When you take the time to capture a custom white balance the Nikon V1 performs much better. In daylight conditions with a custom white balance the Nikon V1 had an average error of just 218 kelvin, which only jumped to 273 kelvin in compact white fluorescent. Under tungsten lighting we found that error dropped all the way to just 120 kelvin on average, which is quite good.

In general we found the white balance to be fairly poor on the Nikon V1 relative to its peers. This isn't surprising, though, as we saw the same issues with the Nikon J1. When you're able to manage a solid color temperature reading the V1 is capable of some very good color accuracy, but the white balance system is looking like a consistent problem across the 1 system cameras.

White Balance Options

On the Nikon V1 you have the option of capturing a white balance measurement, using the automatic white balance, or employing one of several presets. Each of the presets can be adjusted on a four-way grid, which can help combat specific biases in measurements. The only bias we could consistently see was a slight green bias, so ticking the grid one box toward magenta can help, but it's not consistent enough that we'd recommend it in every setting.

Noise Reduction

The Nikon V1 offers an ISO range of 100-6400 when extended, as well as a high ISO noise reduction option that can be turned on or off. With noise reduction turned off we found that noise was kept under 2% through ISO 1600, rising to just 2.2% at ISO 3200 and 3.2% at the maximum ISO of 6400. Typically, we like to see noise under 2% for acceptable image quality. We found that the noise reduction, when activated, kicked in right at ISO 200, keeping noise to acceptably low levels all the way through ISO 6400—performance bought with some of the finer details in your image.

With noise reduction turned on the noise level reached 0.86% at ISO 100 (the same as with NR turned off), but was kept aggressively under 1.5% all the way through the maximum ISO of 6400. As you go up the ISO scale with NR activated you'll quickly see some detail deteriorate, especially around complicated edges such as on leaves, faces, text, or textures. The result is some muddled fine detail, but it's only noticeable at 100% view or in large prints. More on how we test noise.

Other Tests Images_9

Detail Loss

Detail loss isn't as bad on the V1 as on other smaller-sensor cameras, but it's still quite evident once you get up to ISO 1600 and above. Small details like hairs, textures, and low contrast edges get muddled out. We also noticed that specular highlights and darker colors get much flatter with noise reduction activated as the V1 tries to even out the image. Generally speaking unless you're planning to print to 8x10'' or larger, we say just leave noise reduction on when shooting JPEGs in low light, as the damage isn't unmanageable.

Other Tests Images_8

ISO Options

ISO can be set in the Nikon V1's menu, with the option to select from any whole stop value from 100-3200, with a Hi1 option standing in for ISO 6400. You can also let the camera automatically select from a range of ISO values, with three options. All three auto ISO ranges begin at ISO 100, but they cap out at 400, 800, and 1600, respectively. ISO can only be set through the menu, with no quick control menu or dedicated ISO button on the V1's body.

Dynamic Range

Unlike most of Nikon's current consumer-level DSLRs that utilize Sony-developed and Nikon-tuned APS-C image sensors, the Nikon V1 uses an Aptina image sensor that is quite a bit smaller. As a first generation sensor of this size, there are some obvious kinks that need to be worked out. One area where performance suffered relative to some of the newer image sensors we see in this class is high ISO dynamic range. We found that the V1 was competitive at the minimum ISO of 100, with 6.7 stops of dynamic range on our chart registering above a high (10:1) signal-to-noise ratio threshold. That range quickly dropped down to less than 4 stops of "high-quality" dynamic range by ISO 1600, but never dropped below two stops even at the maximum sensitivity of 6400.

The camera was capable of 12.2 stops of distinct range when you discount the sliding signal-to-noise ratio of each stop, but noise is an ever-present limiting factor that hamstrings the usefulness of those lower stops even at that minimum ISO of 100. The high noise floor is a little troubling given that these are already JPEGs that are cooked to some degree, and we see this as a big area of potential improvement in future generations of CX-format sensors. More on how we test dynamic range.

For comparison's sake, the Nikon V1 struggled to match up with some of its competitors that make use of larger APS-C image sensors, but it did well against the Olympus OM-D E-M5, with a better dynamic range score overall. It's still not on the level of the high-end DSLRs, or even Nikon's own similarly priced D5100, but it does match up well against the compact system cameras in its class, such as those from Panasonic and Olympus.

Noise Reduction

The Nikon V1 offers an ISO range of 100-6400 when extended, as well as a high ISO noise reduction option that can be turned on or off. With noise reduction turned off we found that noise was kept under 2% through ISO 1600, rising to just 2.2% at ISO 3200 and 3.2% at the maximum ISO of 6400. Typically, we like to see noise under 2% for acceptable image quality. We found that the noise reduction, when activated, kicked in right at ISO 200, keeping noise to acceptably low levels all the way through ISO 6400—performance bought with some of the finer details in your image.

With noise reduction turned on the noise level reached 0.86% at ISO 100 (the same as with NR turned off), but was kept aggressively under 1.5% all the way through the maximum ISO of 6400. As you go up the ISO scale with NR activated you'll quickly see some detail deteriorate, especially around complicated edges such as on leaves, faces, text, or textures. The result is some muddled fine detail, but it's only noticeable at 100% view or in large prints. More on how we test noise.

ISO Options

ISO can be set in the Nikon V1's menu, with the option to select from any whole stop value from 100-3200, with a Hi1 option standing in for ISO 6400. You can also let the camera automatically select from a range of ISO values, with three options. All three auto ISO ranges begin at ISO 100, but they cap out at 400, 800, and 1600, respectively. ISO can only be set through the menu, with no quick control menu or dedicated ISO button on the V1's body.

Focus Performance

The Nikon V1 handles focus well overall, with usable manual focus features and autofocus that is effective, and quite snappy. It's just a hair slower than the autofocus seen on some Olympus Micro Four-Thirds cameras, but it more than holds its own in dim, indoor lighting. As with other contrast detection systems, the AF really struggles when light drops to very low levels such as at a club. That's when you're going to have the most trouble with the V1, though the manual focus options and viewfinder make it possible to get around that, when necessary.

Video: Low Light Sensitivity

We found the Nikon V1 was able to produce an acceptably bright image (which we define as reaching 50 IRE on a waveform monitor) with 20 lux of light at its maximum ISO speed with the 10-30mm kit lens. That's a very dim lighting setup, so the V1 should be able to ably capture video in a dark bar, but that's still quite a bit worse than what we're used to seeing from DSLRs (most of which only need 7-15 lux to produce the same image brightness.)

Chromatic Aberration

We found only minimal chromatic aberration with the 10-30mm kit lens, though it did injure sharpness near the edge of the lens. In our test shots it mostly showed up at the minimum aperture of f/16 as blue-green fringing around the edge of high-contrast targets. The fact that the 10-30mm lens we tested doesn't offer apertures below f/16 did help the V1, however, as we see the worst chromatic aberration at extreme apertures such as f/22 and smaller.

Distortion

The 10-30mm lens on the Nikon V1 roughly equates to the 18-55mm lenses you'll see on DSLRs with APS-C image sensors, and we found the lens had a distortion profile similar to the 18-55mm Nikkor lens. The biggest issue is the barrel distortion apparent at the widest field of view, which registered at 2.54% according to our tests. By the middle focal point of 20mm that was already almost completely gone, with 19mm registering just an inconsequential 0.13% of barrel distortion and 30mm having a pincushion distortion of 0.14%.

Motion

In testing we found that the Nikon V1's 1080/60i video mode suffered from a slight bit of artifacting, with some hitchy motion and ghosting and trailing. In our motion rig, this was easiest to see around the RGB and monochrome pinwheels, with some slight motion blurring around the moving train. The 1080/30p mode, however, was much smoother, with greatly reduced trailing and motion blur. The 30p mode did also have the same artifacting issues that we saw in 1080/60i mode.

The high speed video modes provide an alternative way to capture motion, and they render even quick actions very smoothly. The Nikon V1 is one of the few cameras in the market to offer video speeds upwards of 400fps and 1200fps. With the others being Casio point-and-shoots and much more expensive cameras, the V1 and J1 from Nikon offer a solid middle ground for anyone looking to do high-speed videography/photography (such as to record a golf swing) along with solid image quality for stills.

When shooting high speed video, you understand that your resolution is going to be greatly diminished, and the final video is not going to be of the same quality as when recording in full HD. It will require a great deal of light, solid framing, and a subject that doesn't move a great deal laterally. The results are impressive, however. If anything, we wish Nikon had included a higher quality 120fps or 240fps mode, however, as that would likely strike a better middle ground between quality and speed. More on how CamcorderInfo tests motion.

Video Sharpness

The Nikon V1 was able to produce acceptable sharpness in our video test, on par with the Nikon J1. We saw up to 750 LPPH of horizontal sharpness in bright light, with that dropping to right around 600 LPPH in our vertical sharpness test. These are good numbers and are a substantial jump over the low light sharpness results. We found better sharpness results in the 1080/60i mode; both that and the 1080/30p mode were sharp, but the 60i had the added benefit of reducing moire. The interpolation in the 60i mode seemed to function as an extra anti-alias filter, as most of the finer lines on our chart were rendered as flat gray. More on how CamcorderInfo tests video sharpness.

In low light we saw sharpness dip somewhat, with our test coming up with 600 LPPH horizontal sharpness and just 500 LPPH vertical. The moire effect (the ugly discoloration you get along with wavy lines when a camera tries to reproduce a pattern that's slightly too fine) was much worse in low light than in bright light, as well. We found low light sharpness was better in the 1080/60i mode than in 1080/30p. In 1080/30p sharpness dipped to just 500 LPPH horizontal and 450 LPPH vertical.

Low Light Sensitivity

We found the Nikon V1 was able to produce an acceptably bright image (which we define as reaching 50 IRE on a waveform monitor) with 20 lux of light at its maximum ISO speed with the 10-30mm kit lens. That's a very dim lighting setup, so the V1 should be able to ably capture video in a dark bar, but that's still quite a bit worse than what we're used to seeing from DSLRs (most of which only need 7-15 lux to produce the same image brightness.)

Usability

The Nikon V1 and J1 are nearly identical in terms of how they control. They both feature the same confusing, barren mode dial, but both are designed around helping beginners adapt to life with an interchangeable lens camera. The menu system is closer in design to Nikon's point-and-shoots which is less intimidating, but difficult to get around for advanced shooters. We feel novices are going to be more than capable of learning the ins and outs of the camera's operation in time, but the lack of in-camera help makes the learning curve worse than it needed to be.

Automatic Features

The Nikon V1's main advantages for beginners are its relatively uncomplicated control scheme and straight to-the-point menu system. It's still not as intuitive as those found on Canon DSLRs, but it's miles better than what Nikon generally offers in their interchangeable lens cameras. The easiest thing about the camera is that, in every shooting mode, when you press menu the first option that is available is the "Reset shooting options" setting. This means that whatever you screw up, you can easily return to normal with just a couple of button presses. This should go a long way toward easing the fears of those stepping up from point-and-shoots who just want to learn the camera at their own pace.

The other feature that really aids beginners is the smart photo selector mode, which is right on the physical mode dial. This mode takes a large buffer of images from the time you half-press the shutter button until you take a photo. It then captures what it feels are the five best shots from before and after you pressed the button, saving those to the memory card and showing you the best one.

Buttons & Dials

The buttons on the Nikon V1 all look very stylish and are easy to use, offering a solid response and an audible click when they've been engaged. The buttons have very little travel, and it's easy to navigate through the menu or multiple options as a result. The rear control dial feels a little loose, but it's easy to rotate it several times with the thumb, as it doesn't require much force to go from point to point.

Effects, Filters, and Scene Modes

The Nikon V1 doesn't include much in the way of selectable effects, filters, or scene modes on the camera. You can use the four standard PASM modes or the scene auto selector, which automatically decides which scene mode that it wants to employ, with no user overrides. In playback you can do some very minor editing, but nothing that would drastically or creatively alter your images to any great degree.

The menu on the Nikon V1 is practically identical to the menu on the J1. It's laid out in a manner similar to Nikon's DSLRs, with three tabs on the left side of the screen that are accessible by pressing the left key on the rear control pad. Within each tab, options are presented in a long list, with no easy way to move between pages. This is in line with what they've done in the past, and it's a shame because it can often involve scrolling through a page or two of options before getting to the one you want.

The loose control dial does help here, though, as you can quickly scroll down many options with a few turns of the dial. Still, this method is definitely inferior to the way Canon and Samsung lay their menus out, with tabs aligned horizontally on the top of the screen and multiple pages that don't require scrolling to get through. This is a fundamental issue with Nikon's menu system that really needs to be changed in the future, as it slows down menu navigation and only steepens the learning curve.

Instruction Manual

The Nikon V1 includes a printed manual and a more in-depth reference guide on a CD-ROM. The reference guide is available in .pdf format in English, Spanish, French, and Portugese. The manual does a good job of explaining the basics, with diagrams and step-by-step guides for using certain features. Nikon also has an online service called Digitutor which is available with specific instructions for the V1, available at Nikon USA's website.

Handling

When we reviewed the Nikon J1, our chief complaint against the camera was its sub-par handling owing to its slick exterior and complete lack of grip. The Nikon V1 counters that with a rougher exterior, a small nub for a grip on the front, and altogether an easier-to-grip body than the J1. The V1 still isn't perfect, especially compared to competing compact system cameras which still offer a grip despite their small size. That said, the V1 feels secure in your hand, even when using a larger, heavy lens like the 10-100mm powered zoom lens.

Handling Photo 1

While all compact system cameras trade some measure control for portability, the Nikon V1 and J1 are definitely on the more compact end of the spectrum. The V1, even with its built-in viewfinder, is very easy to carry around in a jacket pocket with one of the smaller 1 system lenses. You certainly won't mind having the camera with you for a day of shooting with either the 10-30mm or 10mm pancake lens options. All in all the V1 is the better handling of the debut 1 system Nikons, but we hope for an even better handling experience whenever Nikon updates this line of cameras.

Handling Photo 2

Buttons & Dials

The buttons on the Nikon V1 all look very stylish and are easy to use, offering a solid response and an audible click when they've been engaged. The buttons have very little travel, and it's easy to navigate through the menu or multiple options as a result. The rear control dial feels a little loose, but it's easy to rotate it several times with the thumb, as it doesn't require much force to go from point to point.

Buttons Photo 1

The one point of contention we'd have with the design of the V1's button and dial layout is the mode dial. The dial at its present size has room for around 9 options, yet Nikon has given it only four. The four include motion snapshot, smart photo selector, still shooting, and the movie mode.

This keeps the usual group of PASM exposure modes hidden in a menu, with the user having to go into the menu to designate which mode they want to shoot in. It wouldn't take much to include those four modes right on the physical dial (which has quite a bit of empty space left on it), at least for still photography. As a result switching from automatic video shooting to aperture-priority still photography requires turning the mode dial, a trip to the menu and back when, on most cameras, it's as simple as turning a dial. It's an extra step that is, frankly, unnecessary and a problem that would be fixable without any real change in the physical design of the camera.

Buttons Photo 2

Display(s)

The rear monitor on the Nikon V1 is quite excellent, with a 921k-dot resolution. The display is sharp and vivid in most lighting conditions, though it does suffer in direct sunlight from the glare issue that plagues all rear displays. We found it was more than sufficient for checking focus and other small details, and usually found it easier to use than the electronic viewfinder, when available.

Viewfinder

The electronic viewfinder on the V1 is nice and bright, with a very low response time. As you move around there is little of the motion blur you frequently get with other electronic viewfinders. The viewfinder is triggered automatically whenever it sensors anything in close proximity, so it's available almost immediately after bringing it up to your face. The one complaint we'd have with it is how small it is, as it feels cramped compared to finders on some other cameras, but it's right in line with the finder on a camera like the Sony NEX-7, with far less response lag.

Image Stabilization

The 10-30mm kit lens that ships with the Nikon V1 was quite capable of producing sharp shots even when subjected to a low level of shake. Our image stabilization rig follows a shake pattern that is designed to replicate the camera shake that would happen when shooting handheld, at a shutter speed of 1/30th of a second. The resulting shots were quite good, but were even better with stabilization active.

Shooting Modes

The Nikon V1, like the J1, offers a variety of shooting modes accessible through both the camera's menu system and the rear physical mode dial. This creates some problems, however, and we can't figure out why the rear mode dial doesn't include the standard PASM modes when they're all included in the menu. When the dial can easily accommodate four extra modes, it doesn't seem to make much sense to leave them stuck in the menu.

The Nikon V1 also includes two new modes, called "motion snapshot" and "smart photo selector." Motion snapshot will basically take a combination of a short video leading into a still shot. This is great for motion and action shots, and it gives still shots more life. These can be accompanied by sound as well, with the camera including several short jingles to go with your snapshots.

The other mode, smart photo selector, will optimize exposure, focus, and, if a face is detected, keeping eyes open. When shooting in this mode the user pressed the button halfway down to lock focus. Once this is one the V1 continuously records images to its internal buffer until the shutter button is pressed completely down. The camera then compares all the images it captured before and after that point, picking 5 frames that it dictates are the best, determined by optimal exposure, focus, sharpness, and, if faces are detected, if eyes are open or not. The camera saves all five of these shots to the memory card and displays what it thinks the best are on the rear screen.

Manual Controls

The Nikon V1 includes a rear control dial, an "F" function key, and a manual zoom toggle, with little else. It's a very point-and-shoot design, without manual controls and dials that might scare away beginners. If you want to change ISO, for example, you're stuck digging into the menu. On the one hand that's a bit restrictive for advanced shooters, while on the other it's another option a novice will likely ignore that's hidden out of sight, where it can't be accidentally triggered.

Focus

The Nikon V1 handles focus well overall, with usable manual focus features and autofocus that is effective, and quite snappy. It's just a hair slower than the autofocus seen on some Olympus Micro Four-Thirds cameras, but it more than holds its own in dim, indoor lighting. As with other contrast detection systems, the AF really struggles when light drops to very low levels such as at a club. That's when you're going to have the most trouble with the V1, though the manual focus options and viewfinder make it possible to get around that, when necessary.

The Nikon V1 allows users to select autofocus, manual focus, and autofocus with a manual focus override. The manual focus is usable, with a digital zoom to assist in detecting small details. The focus is otherwise very snappy, with options for single AF and continuous full-time AF, depending on your subject. It wasn't perfect at tracking faster subjects, but the face detection did well to keep up with a walking subject.

Recording Options

The Nikon V1 allows users to capture shots in several different resolutions and qualities, with the maximum resolution being 3872x2592 (large), with options for 2896x1944 (medium) and 1936x1296 (small) sizes. The camera offers the option of recording in JPEG, RAW, or RAW+JPEG. RAW files are in the standard Nikon .NEF format, and are 12-bit compressed files.

Speed and Timing

The Nikon V1 offers three different types of shutter depending on the level of speed you need with your shooting. You have the option of selecting a mechanical shutter, an electronic shutter, and a electronic high-speed shutter. The electronic high-speed shutter speeds of 10fps, 30fps, and 60fps. You can also select a single shot mode, self-timer, remote timer, and interval shooting modes.

When you're looking to capture continuous frames, your options are limited to the mechanical, electronic, and electronic high-speed options. You can select between these three modes by pressing the "F" function button in most shooting modes. If you want to change the speed at which the electronic high-speed mode fires, you have to go into the menu and select the shutter type from there. The two slower modes are able to capture roughly 100 frames according to the manual until the buffer wears thin and they slow down further. The high-speed mode captures shots much quicker, but it also fills the buffer almost instantly and stops firing entirely.

The camera's mechanical shutter can fire at up to 5 frames per second (more typically we clocked it at around 4.2fps), with an electronic shutter working at around the same speed. The electronic high-speed shutter puts it in a class on its own, with our test showing it capable of capturing a burst of up to 30 full resolution frames at a speed of roughly 60 frames per second, with exposure and focus locked on the first frame.

While competing mirrorless cameras like the Sony NEX-7, NEX-5N and Olympus E-M5 are all capable of lightning quick shooting, even these top out at just 10 full-resolution frames per second. While the usefulness of the 60fps burst is questionable with focus and exposure locked in, it still gives you the extra bit of speed that might capture a great shot where other cameras would simply miss.

The Nikon V1 offers both an interval shooting mode and a self-timer. The self-timer options can be accessed by a dedicated key on the left side of the rear control pad. From there you can select 10 second delay, 5 second delay, a two-second delay, a remote timer, or a remote timer with a two second delay. The one hangup we have with the self-timer is that it resets after each shot, so if you want to take multiple shots with the self-timer in succession, you have to either set up an interval session in the menu or go back into the self-timer menu and scroll down.

The interval timer in the menu allows you to shoot up to 999 frames at an interval of up to 24 hours each, assuming you can keep the camera powered for that length of time. It will inherit whatever settings you currently have the camera at and can be adjusted down to just two shots with as little as a one second interval, if you so choose.

Focus Speed

The Nikon V1 handles focus well overall, with usable manual focus features and autofocus that is effective, and quite snappy. It's just a hair slower than the autofocus seen on some Olympus Micro Four-Thirds cameras, but it more than holds its own in dim, indoor lighting. As with other contrast detection systems, the AF really struggles when light drops to very low levels such as at a club. That's when you're going to have the most trouble with the V1, though the manual focus options and viewfinder make it possible to get around that, when necessary.

The Nikon V1 allows users to select autofocus, manual focus, and autofocus with a manual focus override. The manual focus is usable, with a digital zoom to assist in detecting small details. The focus is otherwise very snappy, with options for single AF and continuous full-time AF, depending on your subject. It wasn't perfect at tracking faster subjects, but the face detection did well to keep up with a walking subject.

Features

The Nikon 1 system has earned its fair share of headlines for its compact nature and stylish design. While it certainly checks both those boxes, it's also one of the fastest cameras on the market. Its sensor readout is remarkably fast, allowing for a sensor readout of 60 full resolution frames per second when using the electronic shutter. This affords the camera not only that fast shot-to-shot speed, but also high speed video options of 400 and 1200fps, at a reduced resolution. Add those up and the Nikon V1 provides a little more power under the hood than many give it credit for.

Recording Options

With the Nikon V1 you have the option of recording video in 1080/30p, 1080/60i, and 720/60p HD. You can also record slow-motion video at a resolution of 640x240 at 400fps, or 320x120 at 1200fps. The camera also records full 1080/60p motion snapshots, though they are played at just 24p. The motion snapshot just records a short video clip that leads into a still shot, recording a "living" snapshot that better captures short events, such as someone jumping into a pool.

The videos are all recording in .H264/MPEG-4 compression, with AAC audio files contained in a .MOV file. The normal 1080 HD video is recorded at a 24Mbps bitrate, with 720p recorded at 16Mbps. The maximum clip length for full HD is 20 minutes, which extends to a full 29 minutes with 720p. The slow motion video is of substantially lower quality, with 400fps recorded at just 1.8Mbps and 1200fps at 0.6Mbps. Find out how the performed in our video image quality test./r:link_to_content

Video Controls

The Nikon V1 allows for full exposure control while recording, though you have to designate in the menu that you are using the manual exposure program after you switch the physical mode dial to the video recording mode. In this mode the rear zoom toggle controls shutter speed while the rear control dial controls aperture. You can also adjust focus type and exposure compensation on the fly, though ISO has to be set prior to recording.

Auto Controls

When you set the physical mode dial to video, you can designate in the menu to shoot in aperture priority, shutter priority, program auto, manual, or scene intelligent auto. Only manual mode doesn't, in some way, automatically set an exposure value for you. The two priority modes let you pick either shutter speed or aperture, with the camera adjusting the opposing value to maintain brightness in the scene. The scene intelligent auto mode decides exposure entirely automatically, while attempting to employ various scene modes depending on what type of video it thinks you are trying to capture.

Zoom

The Nikon V1 features a zoom toggle on the back of the camera that is used primarily to control exposure while recording video. The only lens in the Nikon 1 system that features a zoom motor is the 10-100mm powered zoom lens, which has a zoom toggle located on the barrel of the lens. The other 1 system lenses that are not primes utilize a manual zoom ring that has to be turned by the user, which is less steady for video. The powered zoom lens, when zoom is engaged, is almost completely inaudible and has a very smooth transition through the focal range.

Focus

You have the option of single AF, continuous AF, and manual focus while recording video on the Nikon V1. You can even switch between focus types while recording a video. We found the single AF to be the most responsive. The manual focus will work better on lenses that offer a focus ring, but the 10-100mm powered zoom lens does not, meaning manual focus must be adjusted using the rear control dial. The continuous AF works, but it is not as responsive as you might like, and it's mostly used just for transitioning from close up objects that mostly fill the frame to objects in a different focal plane that also fill the frame.

Exposure Controls

When shooting video you have the full range of aperture, shutter, and ISO options available to you, with the exception of shutter speeds slower than 1/60th of a second when recording HD and 1/400th or 1/1200th of a second when recording in 400fps and 1200fps slow motion modes, respectively. You can designate any of the ISO settings that you wish in the menu, including the three included auto ISO ranges.

Audio Features

The Nikon V1 includes both a 3.5mm microphone port and a built-in stereo microphone located on the front of the camera. The camera also includes some audio adjustment, with three levels and an automatic mode available. You can also activate a wind cut feature that will attempt to reduce the muffling sound of wind striking the front of the camera, but it only has moderate success in our experience.

Mic Photo

Conclusion

When Nikon announced their new "1 System" of compact interchangeable lens cameras, they debuted with two models, the J1 and the V1. The cameras are the first digital Nikon cameras to utilize an entirely new lens mount system, and an image sensor that is smaller than those used in competing cameras from Olympus, Panasonic, Sony, and Samsung.

The question begs, why would Nikon choose to use this smaller sensor, with all the performance challenges that come with that choice? The answer to that question is speed. The Nikon V1 is capable of some blistering speed, with the ability to capture nearly standard definition video at 400 frames per second (and 1200fps if you're willing to sacrifice quality).

In addition the V1, like the J1 we already tested, can capture full resolution still frames at 60 frames per second. Its buffer can only manage to capture 30 shots at that speed, but these are full resolution stills. That puts the V1 and J1 in a class of their own in terms of raw speed when you need it. It also improves the video quality when shooting at 1080/30p, as the "jello vision" you normally see in video from CMOS-packing DSLRs is greatly reduced due the fast sensor readout.

Unfortunately, this first generation of "1" System cameras still has some performance hurdles to overcome. The smaller sensor really limits dynamic range, and noise levels are higher than we'd like. The noise reduction system employed in the camera keeps ugly grain under control without throwing away too much fine detail, but it's not perfect, with plenty of artifacting in high ISO shots.

Our main complaint with the J1 also holds true for the V1: this camera simply can't white balance consistently when you let the camera make its own decisions automatically. When you take a custom reading it does much better, but it's still among the most finicky cameras we've tested, especially under artificial light.

When it does achieve correct white balance the Nikon 1 V1 offers great color accuracy, with little chromatic aberration and acceptable sharpness with the 10-30mm kit lens. We'd certainly recommend shooting RAW where possible, though, to get the most out of your photos and bypass the need to rely on the in-camera white balance.

The one question that persists is whether the V1 is worth getting over the J1. The J1 has a much slicker surface, making it harder to grip, but otherwise offers nearly identical performance. The built-in electronic viewfinder and high-end screen on the V1 are nice, but ultimately your pictures are going to be nearly identical. It's good of Nikon to not hamper the J1 by stripping out software features, but we think most shooters will get by just fine without the viewfinder on the cheaper of the two models.

Overall, the Nikon V1 is a solid performer for anyone looking for a compact sub-$1000 interchangeable lens camera that is easy to travel with. The initial lens lineup from Nikon is small, but strong, with more compact options than the competition. The J1 may be the better value if you can live without the viewfinder, but both camera give us reason to be excited for what Nikon can do with this system going forward.

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