Nikon 1 V1 Review
Performance - How well does it take pictures?
Performance starts with image quality, which is the criteria used as the foundation of our digital camera ratings. Ergonomic issues may get in the way, but in the end, image quality counts the most. For an ILC, image quality greatly depends on the lens used. While color, noise, exposure and dynamic-range are properties of a camera, distortion, vignetting and chromatic aberrations are properties of the lens. Sharpness and contrast depend on the weakest link. That is, a camera cannot capture more details than a lens lets through. Conversely, it is quite possible for a lens to transmit more details than a sensor can capture.
Image Noise & Details
The Nikon 1 V1 shows reasonable image quality with relatively low image noise up to ISO 800. Noise is barely noticeable at ISO 1600 but details start softening a little. Still, that sensitivity is very usable, which is impressive considering the small size of this digital camera. ISO 3200 shows obvious noise but it is not very destructive. It reduces print sizes a little but even a mid-size print is still possible. At ISO 6400, noise becomes visibly more pronounced and fine details disappear. At this point, only small prints are possible.
While this is a similar performance in terms of noise compared to other SLDs which use larger sensors, the weakness of this 2.7X crop sensor comes in the form of reduced dynamic range. Still, this is much better than most compact cameras, showing that this form-factor provides an excellent compromise in terms of image quality. Sharpness is a little soft at the default setting of 2 but setting it to 4 improves things without artifacts.
Color & White Balance
This digital camera does very well in terms of colors. Neutral mode provides the most accurate colors while Standard mode remains quite close to reality. There is a slightly warm tone by default which is easily corrected by add +1 to Hue in the image parameters. To give more punch to results while remaining natural, add +1 to Contrast or -1 to Brightness. The compensates a little for the slightly smaller dynamic-range of the sensor.
The V1 has a quite good white-balance system. AWB captures neutral colors under most situations. It does occasionally fail to correct the strong color-cast of artificial light but not more than most. Custom while balance is also good but not entirely perfect.
The Nikon Matrix metering system used by the Nikon 1 V1 is exceptionally good. Exposure is very consistent and accurate. Highlights are not blown out very often while results are generally bright enough to be used as is. There is no Live-Histogram to preview exposure, nor is there an Exposure-Priority preview, but a luminance histogram is available during image playback.
The V1 features a hybrid autofocus system which can use both Phase-Detection and Contrast-Detection. Phase-Detection is done with 73 points right on the sensor, while Contrast-Detection is measured at 135 points. The camera decides which one to use depending on available light.
Phase-Detection has the advantage of being faster and not needing back and forth lens movements to determine focus. The latter point is particularly important during video which gets recorded as the camera focuses. When light is too low, the camera switches to Contrast-detection.
Autofocus speeds, because of the hybrid system, is highly variable. When light is good to moderate, the V1 actually focuses extremely quickly. Even under typical household lighting, this camera manages to lock focus faster than any SLD so far. As light levels drop and the camera switches to Contrast-Detection, things slow down gradually. When light is not too low, it still manages reasonably well. When combining a slow lens and low light though, it can take longer than 1s to lock.
The Nikon 1 V1 is an extremely speedy camera in general. Every button, dial and menu gets an almost instance response. With Phase-Detection it compares well to advanced DSLRs in terms of autofocus speed. This is an amazing performance is a first for a mirrorless camera. These measurements characterize the performance of the V1:
- Power-On: 1½ seconds.
- Power-On to First-Shot: 1½ seconds.
- Autofocus: Under ¼s in good light. Average ½s and down to 1s in low light.
- Shutter-lag: Nearly instant with about ½s blackout.
- Shot-to-shot: Just under 1¼s
- Playback: Instant to enter, 1/3s to exit
- Power-Off: 1 second
- Video: Nearly instant starting and stopping.
These are almost all exceptional numbers for any camera. Focus - as mentioned earlier - can be ultra-fast. The shutter-lag for both images and video is great and makes this camera work for action better than most. The only less than ideal number is shot-to-shot speed. Well, compared to the vast majority of fixed-lens cameras, this is fast but it lags behind DSLRs which can really pump the shutter.
The video performance has to be emphasized here because this is the first camera in a long time to accurately preview video framing in any mode and instantly start recording. Continuous Phase-Detect AF is also available in video, something which only much larger SLDs could do until now.
The Nikon 1 V1 is powered by a proprietary Lithium-Ion battery which provides 350-shots per charge without flash use, since this camera does not have a built-in flash. This is below average among SLDs yet should be enough for a day of shooting.
Performance - How well does it shoot video?
The Nikon 1 V1 is a very strong video performer. It can shoot full HD video at 1080p and 1080i with continuous Phase-Detect autofocus and stereo sound. Sound can be recorded using an internal stereo microphone or an external one connected via mini-jack. There is also 720p video at 60 FPS and high-speed video modes at 400 and 1200 FPS. Full PASM exposure-modes are available for video.
Video is saved in Quicktime format using the efficient H.264 codec. This provides good compression and video quality without obvious artifacts. Motion appears smooth with minimal distortion. The autofocus system keeps up reasonably but can occasionally be heard in the audio track when using the built-in microphone.
The great thing about video on the V1 is that it gets almost everything right. In video mode, the standard 16:9 widescreen aspect ratio is previewed and in image mode the usual 3:2 is shown. Video is always captured at the previewed aspect ratio which means a unique 1072x720 resolution in image mode but everything lines up. The sensor is always ready and starts recording immediately, so no action gets missed.
Fast continuous autofocus is possible during video as is manual focus. Unfortunately the internal microphone records the movement of the control-dial used to focus manually. It is therefore highly recommended to use an external microphone or separate audio recording device when filming with the V1.
The Nikon 1 V1 is a excellent SLD that succeed where it counts the most. First, Image quality is to comparable to other SLDs, showing low image noise until ISO 800 and providing usable result throughout the ISO range up to 6400. The Nikon Matrix metering system is extremely well adjusted and image processing products realistic image colors with accurate white-balance under most conditions.
Second, the hybrid autofocus brings top focusing speeds to mirrorless ILCs thanks to Phase-Detection which is also extremely advantageous for video recording. The V1 always remains responsive keeps up the pace nicely except for shot-to-shot times which are longer than ideal but still better than most digital cameras.
Video performance is simply outstanding. The Nikon 1 V1 provides the best integration of photo and video of any current camera thanks to virtually instant capture and accurate framing preview. All auto and manual focus modes are available during video recording and stereo sound can be recorded from the built-in microphone or an external source.
The downsides of the Nikon 1 V1 are few but worth understanding. In low light, this digital camera switches to Contrast-Detect AF which becomes rather slow, so indoor action poses difficulty. For creative photographers, the V1 has good manual controls but those unfortunately require frequent use of the menu system. The last important limitation is the limited number of Nikon 1 lenses available, although this is likely to change soon.
All in all, the Nikon 1 V1 presents itself as an extremely capable camera considering its compact size. Shooting and filming at eye-level with its sharp EVF while zooming mechanically is truly a pleasure. It provides a great sense of connection with the scene without much bulk, all the while its speedy performance keeps the pace quick and smooth.
Nikon V1 Highlights
Sensor-Size: 13 x 9mm
Actual size when viewed at 100 DPI
|10 Megapixels Mirrorless||ISO 100-6400|
|Nikon 1 Mount|
|0.47" Built-in EVF 1.4 Megapixels||Full manual controls, including Manual Focus|
|Automatic Eye-Start sensor||Custom white-balance|
|Built-in Dust Reduction||Spot-Metering|
|60 FPS Drive, 60 Images||Hot-Shoe|
|1920x1080 @ 30 FPS Video Recording||Stereo audio input|
|3" LCD 920K Pixels||Lithium-Ion Battery|
|Secure Digital Extended Capacity|
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