Nikon caused quite a stir at the PhotoPlus Expo in October 2011 with the release of the Nikon 1 Mirrorless camera. It also caused quite a bit of confusion with the J1 and V1 models as consumers weren’t initially sure which model was the right one for them (pun intended). In this article I’ll dive into these topics and more to help you understand my personal opinion of this camera after using it for about 2 months.
J1 vs. V1
The J1 is the version that comes in sexy colors
The J1 model is the dumbed down version of the Nikon 1 cameras. It features sexy colors and a slightly smaller size (including a much lower resolution rear display), but sensor-wise is identical to its V1 sibling.Both cameras use the CX mount so you can mix and match lenses between both the V1 and J1 as you see fit (which can be handy for the his & hers scenarios).
For my review I avoided the dumbed down J1 as I was very unimpressed with it when I first used it at the PhotoPlus Expo in October 2011.
My advice to all readers is that if you are considering a Nikon 1 camera, then go for the V1. It’s build quality, display quality and features all make it a better value than its cheaper sibling (despite the additional cost).
This camera sounds kind a neat on paper. It has a motion snapshot feature where it takes a short video clip with your choice of theme music. In my testing this feature played the audio in-camera, but when playing it back on the computer the audio track was absent.
This camera also has a best shot mode where you press the shutter button once and it will take a burst of shots. In-camera the camera selects the best one, but on the computer (including in Capture NX2) all the images are shown so you must do your image pruning in-camera or this feature is useless.
One nice feature Nikon touts about this camera is that you can take a photo while you are shooting video without interrupting the video. This isn’t something that I normally do so I did not test this feature in-depth.
One very useful feature is the hi-speed electronic shutter. In this mode the camera blasts up to 60fps. Of course this is really just a video that has been broken apart into still images, so most cameras that support video can get the same result simply by extracting single frames from the video. This feature makes this camera sound like a speed demon, but the reality is that this feature is a bit of marketing smoke and mirrors. The real burst mode at full resolution isn’t that impressive at 5fps.
The Nikon 1 V1 has a 2.7x crop factor (versus a 4x for the Fujifilm Finepix X10, and a 1.5x for the Fujifilm Finepix X100). This means that in theory it should have higher resolution image files, but in practice I didn’t find this to be the case.
The Interchangeable Lenses
One advantage of the Nikon 1 V1 over the point and shoots I’ve compared recently is that it offers interchangeable lenses. Here are some photos that show the lenses I tested installed on the Nikon 1 V1 which is attached to a Gary Fong Flip-Cage Pro:
10mm f/2.8 CX Format Lens was a great performer in my testing, but its lack of zoom made it difficult to keep on the camera. However, if you want good images out of this camera this is the lens you should be using. Of course, at this price point the Fujifilm X100 makes a lot more sense. If you are going to be stuck with a 10mm fixed length lens – at least the X100 camera takes amazing quality shots. The x100 also nails the shot once you get a focus lock (which can be tricky indoors sometimes).
Nikon V1 10-30mm f/3.5-5.6 CX Format Lens
Shown on a Gary Fong Flip-Cage Pro
If you have this lens in your line up then it will be the one you’ll keep on your camera most often. However, the problem with that is that this lens disappointed me more often than it made me sing its praises. While I wouldn’t call it a horrible lens, I would say that its image quality is below the quality of your average entry level DSLR kit lens. If you can accept that quality, then you are rewarded with a nice compact zoom with a reasonable range for typical daily shooting.
I wouldn’t advise anyone to buy this lens. Simply put, I think it sucks. The image quality is poor and its freakin huge. Now huge lenses with great image quality like the 70-200 from Nikon are worth the extra weight, but that is not the case here. This beast gives you dull, dark images that look like they were from a really cheap kit lens. Zoom is also done via a motorized zoom on the lens which is slow as molasses (no manual twist zoom is possible).
Living with the Nikon 1 V1
My biggest gripe about this camera is that manual mode is about the only way to get a good sharp shot indoors. It frequently would take images that seemed okay when looking at the wonderful rear LCD, but when evaluating them on the computer most were typically blurry. As a result, of the 24 images I took of my model only the following two were usable:
Unprocessed In-Camera JPEG using Nikon V1 10mm f/2.8 CX Format Lens
Aperture Priority f/5.6 1/25 sec Auto ISO (800)
Lens Distortion and working distance at 10mm was not pleasant
These shots were taken under identical conditions and at the same time as those featured in my X10 and s100 reviews.The V1 even had the advantage of having two lenses used during the testing so it had twice the chance to get great results, but it failed. I did not photograph this model with the 10-100mm due to time restraints (I had to do a real shoot afterwards).
Not only were the images darker than the point and shoot counterparts, they were blurry and generally unimpressive. Now I should have shot the 10mm fixed lens at 2.8, but this was the third camera I shot with so at the time I was trying to choose an aperture that would work for a side-by-side comparison on all three cameras I was testing. In retrospect I’d probably do things differently now, but there’s still no escaping the fact that the camera’s auto ISO didn’t choose a value that was sufficient enough to get me the shutter speed needed to photograph this model who I instructed to be perfectly still for each frame.
Of my casual testing where my wife or I used this camera as I would our G12, we had 95% of the shots come out unacceptably blurry. Fortunately for events like Thanksgiving we had multiple cameras so the event wasn’t lost, but if I was a V1 owner I would have returned it to B&H after the Thanksgiving failure. To be fair, I treated this camera like the point and shoots so I stuck with full auto or aperture priority most of the time. What I learned about this camera in my testing is that those modes can’t be trusted and it is really a camera that requires full manual. When you review the shutter speeds and ISO the camera chose it frequently was just way off. Perhaps a firmware update will address this problem, but I’d have to rate this camera as unacceptable for this reason.
When photographing my 2 1/2 year old toddler, this camera failed miserably every time. This was primarily due to the camera always choosing slow shutter speeds and it having a slow burst mode. During my testing I did not get a single shot worth keeping, despite this camera’s seemingly fast auto-focus system. Getting the focus quickly is only useful if you are in manual or if the camera choosing a reasonable shutter speed, but that didn’t happen in real world testing even in good lighting conditions.
The lack of a built-in flash is troublesome, but the problem is compounded by the fact that in most real-world scenarios you need great glass to give you the light you need. In the case of the V1, the lenses appear to be very substandard. However, that’s not all – the auto ISO feature tends to be too low, so even manual shooters will have to rely on manual ISO settings to get the shot.
Beyond a really great rear LCD and cool design of this camera, there was little that I liked about it in real world use. In fact, in every outing I went out with this camera (and in some cases others for side-by-side comparisons) I was always optimistic that I was getting great shots, but back at the computer most images had a greenish tint (via AWB); were blurry or soft when viewed at 100%; and underexposed by a couple stops. Despite reading the manual and making several trips out to shoot, I was always let down by this camera. In cases where this was the only camera I had, I was always left without a usable shot.
An Alternative To the Nikon Case
Nikon wants $60 for their case, but I found the BlackRapid SnapR 35 to be a brilliant choice with this camera. I’ll be reviewing this case later, but it’s basically a nice case with a built-in mini BlackRapid strap (see my RS-7 review) that is brilliant for point and shoot cameras. You can see above how there is room for this camera with plenty of extra space (although not enough for the beastly 10-100 lens. There’s also nice side-pocket storage as shown below to hold your 10mm lens as well as other goodies:
A Simple Portable Tripod
While reviewing this camera I got my hands on a Gary Fong Flip-Cage Pro, so I used it as my tripod when I was out and about. Given the slow shutter speed issues with this camera this accessory became a mandatory companion to get a good sharp shot. I normally wouldn’t discuss another product like this in a review, but given the slow shutter speed issues with this camera I felt compelled to offer a solution to this problem.
Here are some unprocessed in-camera JPEG images taken with the V1 during my testing:
This is my favorite V1 shot that looks good mostly due to overhead Solux lights
I was so disappointed with my first two sets of photos that I decided to try again on 12/20/11 to just triple check that I wasn’t doing anything wrong. I decided to mostly shoot in manual, but I did rely on the camera meter for the correct exposure. When using auto-ISO this resulted in dark photos.
I also decided to shoot more colorful objects and to use my Gary Fong Flip-Cage Pro or a stationary object (i.e., railing, table, garbage can, etc…) wherever possible to reduce the influence of camera shake. In fact for all flip cage shots I used a 2 or 5 second timer depending on the stability of the surface (i.e., grass = 5 sec, concrete = 2 sec).
Using Gary Fong Flip-Cage Pro
This has perfect lighting conditions, but the shot still left me underwhelmed
Spot Metering Example
See a large sample of real-world test images (unedited and straight from the in-camera JPEG’s) at http://ronmart.smugmug.com/Blog/PointAndShoot/NikonV1
Click here to see my video comparison article.
Despite the fact that I am a Canon DSLR shooter, I loved the Nikon D7000. I’d love to own a D3s as well, but like many I just can’t afford it. I mention all of this to point out that I’m not a Canon fan boy, but rather that’s just where I invested my money years ago and its too expensive to swap platforms now. With that disclaimer I’m going to buck the trend of photographers gushing over this camera and say that I flat out do not like this camera.
My dislike for this camera starts with simple economics – you can get a nice D3000 with better sensor (1.5x crop vs 2.7x on the V1), features and image quality for about $500, yet the cheapest you are getting one of these is just under $900. What’s worse is that you are committing yourself to the unproven CX Format lens system with much less choices than full DSLR’s from Canon and Nikon.
My second biggest dislike of this camera is the very poor control layout scheme. While it can be manageable after you’ve deciphered it, I really despise having to navigate a web of complex menus to do things like change my camera mode.
Now all of these gripes could be forgiven if this was a great point and shoot camera with interchangeable lenses, but alas it is not. Instead you have a camera with no built-in flash (and an impossible back order for getting an external one). What’s more is that you can’t even have a flash if you want the GPS unit – a feature common in point and shoots these days.
As a result of all of this you end up with a camera that cost more than DSLR yet isn’t as flexible or as good as a much cheaper point and shoot. This begs the question – who is this quirky camera really intended for? It will frustrate the hell out of the DSLR photographer and be utterly useless to the point and shoot photographer, so you end up with an over-priced camera in the middle of both markets that does neither very well.
If Santa gave you one for Christmas then enjoy the cool display and video, but if he also included the gift receipt I’d say send it back. I’ve had more dark, off-color and blurry images with this camera than any I have ever tested. The problems begin with a horrible auto white balance, followed by a terrible auto ISO logic that hurts manual shooters as well. The brightness of the glass plays a big factor too, and these lenses are closer to old Sigma and Tokina lenses than they are Nikon lenses.
There’s a lot more great products to be had for this price point, so it makes even less sense than a Fujifilm X100 in my opinion. I chose the X10 as my camera and my point and shoot of the year for 2011, and after using the Nikon 1 V1, I’m so glad I did!
If you want a DSLR, check out my Which DSLR Should I Buy? article, and get a proper DSLR. If you want a point and shoot, then check out my article entitled COMPARISON: Nikon 1 V1, Fuji x10, & Canon s100 (plus Fuji x100 and Canon G12 & s95). However, I have to give this camera a NOT RECOMMENDED rating based primarily on its poor value and limitations at this price point.
B&H provided me with a loaner camera and lenses for the purpose of writing this review. These items were returned to B&H at the conclusion of my comparison research. I was also provided a SnapR by BlackRapid and a Flip-Cage Pro by Gary Fong, Inc for review.
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