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The Nikon V1 is the top of a debut line of “1 system” cameras—small interchangeable lens bodies with a specialized lens mount. The V1 joins the Nikon J1 in coupling a 1-inch image sensor with a smaller mount to produce cameras that offer significantly more portability than the company’s full-size DSLRs.
Unlike the J1, the new V1 offers an accessory port for an external flash, a built-in electronic viewfinder, a higher-resolution rear screen, and a tackier body coating for enhanced grip. The V1 is available in black or white for $899.95 with the standard 10-30mm kit lens, though numerous other kits are also available. With an MSRP hovering just under a grand, the V1 has a great deal to live up to in terms of image quality, so we got it over to the lab to see how it would hold up in testing.
Design & Usability
The Nikon V1, designed around the concept that a compact system camera should be as portable as possible, has earned its fair share of headlines for its smallness and style.
While it also includes an electronic viewfinder, the V1 is only slightly thicker than the less expensive J1, and it accomplishes this by minimizing grip, which is a letdown. Once you attach a lens, the camera body’s thickness is practically irrelevant. As such we’d prefer a more substantial grip, but otherwise the V1 features a sleek design with a button layout that is simple to use, if not entirely perfect.
The V1 uses a “CX” size image sensor that is smaller than what Nikon uses in many of its DSLRs, and also smaller than many competing mirrorless models. This Nikon does not include a built-in flash, but instead offers an accessory port for the only flash available for the 1 system as of this writing, the SB-N5 Speedlight, which offers an effective flash range of two to 66 feet.
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 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 needs to be.
Sure, the V1 is a stylish camera, but it's lightning fast, too.
Setting design style aside for a moment, the V1 is one of the fastest cameras on the market. Its sensor readout is remarkably quick, allowing for a readout of 60 full resolution frames per second when using the electronic shutter. This affords the camera not only a rapid shot-to-shot speed, but also high speed video options of 400 and 1200 frames per second, at a reduced resolution. Add those up—the Nikon V1 provides a little more power under the hood than many give it credit for.
This camera also offers three different types of shutter, depending on the level of speed you need. You have the option of selecting a mechanical shutter, an electronic shutter, and an electronic high-speed shutter. The electronic high-speed shutter has speeds of 10fps, 30fps, and 60fps. You can also select single shot, self-timer, remote timer, and interval shooting modes.
Like the J1, the V1 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 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.
On the whole, the V1 is a fairly solid performer, with just a few problem areas. For example, it shows solid dynamic range at its minimum ISO of 100, but it struggles from there on. It also featured one of the most finicky automatic white balance systems we’ve seen yet (since the J1), though it offered very nice color accuracy when you are able to take a custom color temperature measurement.
While shooting with the 10-30mm lens, the V1 produced sharpness in the center of the frame, though that performance lagged a bit towards the edge of the frame. Remarkable color accuracy is possible too, when white balance is spot on, but we highly recommend shooting in RAW (or at least RAW+JPEG) and setting a custom white balance with the RAW developer whenever possible.
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. As you go up the ISO scale with NR activated, you’ll quickly see some detail deteriorate, especially around complicated edges (leaves, faces, text, etc.). The result is some muddled fine detail, but it’s only noticeable at 100% view or in large prints.
Overall, the Nikon V1 is a solid performer for a compact, sub-$1000 interchangeable lens camera that is easy to travel with.
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 Nikons to utilize an entirely new lens mount system and an image sensor smaller than those of competing cameras by 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).
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 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.
For a compact interchangeable lens camera under $1000, one that you can travel with, the Nikon V1 is a solid performer. 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 a viewfinder, but both cameras have us excited for what Nikon will do with this system going forward.
The Nikon V1 (MSRP $899) is half of the debut line-up for Nikon's "1 Series," a set of compact digital SLRs that feature a new lens mount and a smaller sensor than previous iterations. Overall, the V1 is a reliable performer where it counts, but it had a few problems on account of its smaller sensor size.
Sharpness & Stabilization
The 10-30mm lens on the V1 produced acceptable, if not exemplary, results on our sharpness tests.
In the center of the frame, we found a sharpness of around 1300 lw/ph with the V1, though that dropped to below 800 lw/ph near the edge. These results are subject to some manufacturer tolerances, but they are consistent with what we’ve seen before.
Nikon’s image stabilization system, as with their full-size DSLRs, is called vibration reduction. It’s built directly into the lens (and thus tuned for that lens’ specific optical path), and can be turned on or off in the menu. The Nikon V1 also includes an “active” mode, which is capable of countering for camera shake on the fly, rather than just when you take a shot. We found that, when shooting continuously, the regular stabilization produced sharper images on average, while the active mode did well, but didn’t reach the same heights as the vanilla vibration reduction.
The Nikon V1 handles focus well overall, with usable manual focus features and effective, snappy autofocus.
It’s just a hair slower than the autofocus seen on some Olympus Micro Four-Thirds cameras, but the V1's AF 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 in a club. But the manual focus options and viewfinder make it possible to get around that, when necessary.
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, chromatic aberration mostly showed up at the minimum aperture of f/16 in the form of 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 helped the V1, as the worst chromatic aberration occurs at extreme apertures of f/22 and smaller.