Kitchen Table Reviews:

The Nikon 1 V1

120studio.com
April 2014
  


Just a quick pic, no fancy lighting... this here's a kitchen table review, buddy.


Intro

Here it is, sitting on the kitchen table.  I borrowed this camera for a quick round of testing. 

I'm going to talk about the Nikon One V1 and its relevance in 2014.  Why?  Well, recently I had occasion to try one out for a while, and I must say I'm pleasantly surprised.  That's something, because I wasn't even going to give it a second look.  Glad I did, though.

Let's see.


The Big Small Sensor

The Nikon One system was introduced in 2011, back when tiny, tiny sensors were the norm for compact cameras.   1/2.3 inches is typical for compacts.  We're talking about sensor areas of maybe 28 square millimeters.   Some have 1/1.7 inch sensors, which push camera prices considerably higher;  however, these are still only 43 square mm.

The Nikon One has a CX sensor, which has about 116 square millimeters of area.   My Canon T3 has an APS-C sensor with about 328 square millimeters, just for comparison.  In other words, the Nikon One's sensor is about four times larger than you get with a typical compact camera, but it's only about 35% of what you get in a DSLR, even a cheap one. 

When the Nikon One hit the market in 2011, it was rare for a compact camera to have a sensor even that big.  The camera companies figured if you were a compact user, you probably cared more about convenience than image quality.  That bet still sort of holds true for smartphones, but even that's wearing a little thin now.  Today, more and more people are realizing that bigger sensors give nicer-looking, mellower images with better dynamic range.  Consumer demand is shifting.  There are some who just want "a picture", but there are many who want the best pictures they can make.

It's 2014 now, and there are more large-sensor compacts on the market than ever before.  There will be even more of them as time goes by.   Does the Nikon One V1 still have a place?  Can its bigger-than-tiny-but-still-diminutive sensor compete meaningfully with what's out there?


Controls

Most of the functions are menu-driven.  That's kind of a drawback, which was addressed in the more-expensive Nikon One V3 (it has a P,S,A,M dial). 

The menu-driven system is the one thing I really don't like about the V1.  Just to switch between Aperture Priority, Manual mode, or whatever, you have to go through the menu.  Slow!!



At least they put the AE-L / AF-L button on the camera instead of in a menu.......

Also, the exposure compensation control is readily accessible as well.  And the little rocker / flip switch up top, next to the F button, allows for changing the aperture.  Passable, I guess.

Ok, the controls are not tops, but how about the

Image Quality?

Most of us want to take pictures indoors.  We like to use ambient light.   The minimum ISO we're talking about here is 800, because your typical digicam does not offer very wide apertures.  I can take pictures almost at night with a Yashica Electro 35 and some 400 film,  but not so with most digicams.

So, let's do a little comparison.  Here's the basic scene.  I'll show you some 100% crops from this scene, using each camera at ISO 800.


My Pet Rabbit Doesn't Eat Very Often
(but when he does, it's fake Easter eggs)

Nikon One V1
10-30mm @ 30mm


On the first two, high-ISO Noise Reduction was turned off.  I wanted to see what the sensors can really do without relying on software. 




(By the way, the Nikon 1 has the better kit lens, so that's a factor here in the image detail.  Put a better lens on the T3, and you'd see a sharpness improvement.)

Just for fun, here's a 100% crop from the Canon SX50, my favorite small-sensor camera.  High ISO NR set to "Low", because there's no "Off":



The Nikon's CX sensor gives a warmer, richer image than the Canon SX50, but then again, the SX50's color mode was set to "Neutral".  That gives kind of a dull-looking image.  Main point:  at ISO 800, the Nikon One V1 with its larger CX sensor gives a somewhat more pleasing image than the SX50.

Meanwhile, the Rebel T3 image doesn't have as much luminance noise.  That's no surprise, given the larger sensor.   It has just a tiny bit more chroma, but then again the T3 has an older-generation sensor. 

Either camera can be used at ISO 800 with High ISO NR turned off, and the images are acceptable.  The DSLR has a bit of an edge, even more so because chroma noise is easier to remove without degrading an image.  Still, the Nikon One didn't do too badly.  I wouldn't push the ISO past 800 though.  (The inexpensive DSLR can give nice pictures at 3200, so if that's what you need, go for the DSLR.)

The Nikon One has an Auto ISO setting that picks 800 as its max value.  But if you have a scene too dim for ISO 800 and it's an important shot, just use the flash.  More about that later.


Depth of Field

Right out of the box, the Nikon One gives nowhere near the amount of background blurring you can achieve with a DSLR.  It does, however, give a lot more than you can get with a small-sensor compact. 

First, here's the Canon SX50 with its 1/2.3 inch sensor.  Aperture setting is f/5.6.  35mm zoom equivalent here is about 71 mm:


It Was A Good Day In The Land of Fake Easter Eggs

Next up, here's a photo taken with the Nikon 1 V1.  Zoom lens at 30mm, f/5.6.   (35mm zoom equivalent:  about 81 mm).


It Was A Better Day In The Land of Fake Easter Eggs

Technically there is a focal point difference here... the Canon focused on the objects directly in the center, while the Nikon's focus algorithm decided to grab the nearer (correct) objects.   If the SX50 had focused on the near objects as I'd wanted it to, there might be just a hint of background blurring, but not much.  The N1 V1 would still give shallower depth-of-field with its 4x larger sensor.

Because of this, the Nikon 1 V1 is a better portrait camera than the SX50 or pretty much any other bridge camera (even though I like 'em).  It's also a better portrait camera than a smartphone is (by far). 

With a fast 30mm prime lens, the N1 V1 would be a treat.  Or, get the 30-110mm lens for it and achieve shallower DOF that way instead.  Actually, at 30mm that 30-110 lens gives you f/3.8, while the 10-30 lens at 30mm gives f/5.6.  That's another DOF advantage right there.

Another option is the 18.5mm lens, which can do f/1.8 but isn't quite the focal length I'd choose for portraits.  All-around use, definitely.  It's a "pancake", sort of, so it's fairly compact.  And with f/1.8, you can actually use this camera indoors at ISO 800.   Now yer talkin'.

    

It would be nice if the Nikon One had a bigger sensor, because then you could blur the background even more.  Oh well... Nikon was aiming to have a camera system with small, lightweight lenses.  Smaller sensor = smaller lenses.  The CX form factor was an alright compromise, I guess. 

Then again, a Canon T3 is really not much more bulky, and it can really blur out the background if desired. 

What the T3 doesn't have, though, is the incredible autofocus and the more compact bounce-flash option.  Let's talk about that.


Flash

This is where I'd actually consider the Nikon One instead of the larger-sensor compacts on the market.  Your APS-C compact might be hot stuff, but a ten-month-old kid can defeat it.  Actually a two-month old can defeat it.  At ISO 3200 with a typical kit lens, you're in the 1/8th to 1/30th of a second range in average home lighting.   If the baby moves, which babies like to do, your picture will blur.  In other words, this is one area where flash is more important than high ISO.

The Nikon One accepts the SB-N5 Speedlight.  This gives you the capability to use bounce flash.  This is a pretty significant pro feature that balances out some of the camera's shortcomings.   Lighting is everything in photography, so bounce flash is a pretty huge consideration.

The SB-N5 is small.  Together, the flash and camera don't create much bulk.  You could casually bring this camera somewhere and blend in with amateurs who don't want to be seen with big cameras.  That doesn't mean much to me, but I know it means something to a lot of people who don't want to be seen as "too into" photography.   Some people like to show a casual disinterest in what they're doing.  I guess.   Me, I like to take good pictures, and if it takes a 5-lb camera from 1946 to achieve what I want at that moment, then that's what I'll use.  Everyone else, carry on.

Then again, sometimes it's nice to have a camera that's not big and clunky.


Autofocus

This and the Speedlight capability are the biggest reasons for getting a Nikon 1 V1.  You have ultra-fast autofocus and the ability to use bounce flash.  Together, these allow photography of fast-moving toddlers, pets, or sports.  That is, as long as you don't need high-ISO shots in ambient light. 

The autofocus is awesome.  Its 73-point system really sets this camera apart.   (The Nikon D7000, which is impressive in its own right, has only 39-point autofocus.)   While everyone else's camera is busy deciding which wrong thing it will focus on today, the Nikon One locks on to the subject immediately.  That green square seems to be in the right place every time.   I'm sure you'll find situation where it's not, but this camera picks out faces and gets the focus right.  And guess what... continuous autofocus works in video mode, too.   When your toddler constantly plays the game of "defeat the autofocus", the Nikon V1 actually has a chance of winning.  (If that sounds like your situation, get one here and you can help support my site.)

Yep, the autofocus is great... probably better than any other compact on the market.  It even gives the better DSLR's a run for their money. 


Nikon 1 V1
10-30mm @ 30mm
ISO 800
High ISO NR Off
Curve adjustments, etc.

Low light, indoors, moving subject... there are a lot of compact cameras that would blur a picture like this. 


Viewfinder

Another big plus is the electronic viewfinder, which is actually pretty good.  It's clear and bright.  It's way better than the EVF on my Canon SX50. 

It gets pretty tiresome to use a compact that has no viewfinder, because in bright sunlight you can't see the picture on an LCD screen.  And when you can, it still doesn't give an idea of whether the picture was correctly exposed.  Any semi-serious camera has to have a viewfinder.

One trick the camera companies have been using is to offer large-sensor compacts, but without a viewfinder.  Or, they charge extra for one.  Nikon just made two different models here.  The J1 has no viewfinder, but the V1 has it.  I would pick the V1 every time, just for this reason. 



Summary

The Nikon One V1 may not be the king of high ISO, even though it's not bad.   It doesn't have that big of a sensor, and its controls are mostly menu-driven.  In spite of these drawbacks, it has two major features that make it worth getting:   the autofocus, and the ability to accept a compact Nikon Speedlight.   It also has some of the other Nikon DSLR features we all know and love (Active D-Lighting, for one).  Performance at ISO 800 is actually not bad.  It has good detail and tone retention.  I could live with this for a lot of uses.

The Nikon One V1 has an MSRP of about 900 bucks, but right now it goes for quite a bit less than that here.  Nikon could push it up again to try to get you to buy the V2 or V3, but really they shouldn't do that, because technology keeps advancing.  And like I said, there's more competition now in large-sensor compacts.    

The Nikon SB-N5 speedlight can be bought here.    Together these should cost less than the V1 alone did when first introduced.


         

Is the Nikon V1 worth getting?  If you want great autofocus in a small package, on a camera that can accept a compact bounce flash, then I'd say yes, absolutely.   For other uses, consider what you want to do with the camera. 

I hope you've found this article helpful.  As always, thanks for visiting this website.



P.S.  You can really help me out by purchasing your stuff through any of the links on this site.   Here's another way to help keep this site going:


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