The Nikon 1 V1 at a glance:

  • 10.1 million pixels
  • 383g body weight with battery fitted
  • 2.7x focal length magnification
  • 1440k-dot LCD electronic viewfinder screen
  • ISO 100-6400
  • Phase and contrast-detection AF systems
  • Choice of mechanical and electronic shutter
  • Max frame rate of 60fps at full resolution
  • Full HD movie
  • New powered hotshoe for battery-less external flash unit

Not all Nikon users will admit to wanting a compact system camera, but most acknowledge that a small model with plenty of control, good optics and excellent image quality would be tempting. They have had to endure a decade of being slightly jealous of Canon’s PowerShot G series, while Nikon’s Coolpix models have failed, until recently, to match up.

It depends how you view these things, of course, but you might see the new Nikon 1-series models, the J1 and V1, as cameras to compete with those super compacts rather than the lower end of the F-mount DSLR range. On the other hand, you might just feel a bit let down that while Samsung and Sony manage small bodies with DSLR controls and densely packed APS-C sensors, your favourite brand seems to have stepped backwards instead of forwards. However good the lenses are and however nicely the 1 cameras are made, they will only be as good as that compact-sized, 10-million-pixel sensor – and 10-million-pixel sensors seem more than a little out of date.

It is quite difficult to get it straight in my head quite who the V1 is aimed at. Nikon claims it targets young couples and early adopters, which rather excludes the traditional AP reader. However, as always, we can ignore what the marketing men say and decide for ourselves whether these tiny cameras have anything to offer those who take their photography a bit more seriously. Nikon says the camera is about the features, not the sensor, but we’ll have to see how those features fit with our requirements.


The Nikon 1 V1 is a digital interchangeable-lens camera that houses a 10.1-million-pixel, 13.2×8.8mm CMOS sensor capable of producing images up to a maximum size of 3872×2592 pixels in raw and JPEG formats.

The camera uses the new Nikon 1 mount, which has a diameter of 40cm. The small diameter of the throat and small sensor size make the camera an ideal target for lens adapters, although currently the only one available is designed to allow the camera to accept Nikon’s DSLR F-mount lenses. At the moment, though, the camera needs a recognisable lens fitted before it will operate, so a simple ring adapter won’t work.

With this size sensor, marked focal lengths need to be multiplied by a factor of 2.7x to discover the equivalent perspective from a full-frame, or 35mm, system camera.

The camera comes equipped with both electronic and mechanical shutters, and users have the opportunity to choose between them. While both shutter modes offer a maximum opening time of 30secs, the shortest mechanical duration is only a respectable 1/4000sec compared to the 1/16,000sec that the electronic shutter can achieve. In mechanical mode, flash syncs at 1/250sec, or longer, but the electronic shutter requires at least 1/60sec.

It is the electronic shutter that allows the V1 to perform some of its cleverest tricks, which rely on an ability to drive at 10, 30 and 60 frames per second. In normal drive mode, accessed via use of the regular exposure modes, the maximum rate at which pictures can be captured is a more sedate 5fps.

It is the high-speed shooting that Nikon is most proud of, though, and which has been used to create motion snapshot and smart photo selector modes and 60fps continuous shooting. In each of these modes the camera is able to work with full-resolution images because Nikon has used its Expeed 3 processor, which, the company tells us, is more powerful than that used in even its professional DSLRs.

Motion snapshot takes a picture as normal, but precedes it with a couple of seconds of movie. The result is a more dramatic entrance to a still, set to jingly music, and is quite effective – though also quite difficult to print. The smart photo selector mode shoots 20 images in very quick and silent succession, and then analyses them to choose the best five for displaying on the rear screen. The idea is to avoid closed eyes spoiling your pictures.

The other aspect of the camera of which Nikon is especially proud is the autofocusing system. Combining the usual contrast-detection system of compact cameras with a DSLR-type, phase-detection array embedded in the imaging sensor, the V1, Nikon claims, has the fastest AF in the world. The user has no control over which type of AF system is used, but the camera alternates according to the situation.

Users have the usual selection of exposure modes, as well as a collection of scene settings to work with. Nikon also provides picture styles that allow enhanced colour, and no colour, as well as access to contrast and saturation sliders to customise the default positions. White balance comes in the usual varieties, as does exposure metering alongside a decent enough ISO range of 100-3200.

The V1, being the more advanced model in the range, is equipped with an electronic viewfinder built in to the main structure of the body. This EVF uses a 0.47in chip containing 1.44 million dots and can provide a 100% view of the image to be captured.

High-speed capture

The Nikon 1 V1 uses its high-speed capture ability in a number of ways. The most obvious is a 60fps mode that captures each frame in full 10-million-pixel resolution. If this were a normal drive mode, rather than a specific program, it would be more useful. ‘Hi’ mode disallows access to many creative controls and so is a little limiting. It is also not an easy mode to work in, as Nikon has disabled certain menu options when Hi is selected.

If you switch the Hi mode on but realise you need an alternative ISO setting, you have to go back to one of the normal shooting modes to make the adjustment. Hi mode is as happy to work with ISO 100 as it is with ISO 3200, but it won’t let you change between them. Slightly more surprising is that the same is true of the AF modes – to switch from single shot to continuous AF requires moving out of the Hi mode first.

The motion snapshot mode, that records a short burst of slow-mo video before the still, is a great feature to view on the camera. Quite what one does with the clip after I’m not sure. Adobe just breaks the snapshot into a still and a movie, and the only place to play the clips is in the Nikon software. Here the clips can be exported as Mov files, but I’m still not sure what their use is.

The slow-motion movies also look great on the rear screen. They are fun and inspirational to create, but once again out of the camera their appeal diminishes slightly. Shot at 400fps you really do get an effective slow-mo clip, but at a resolution of 640×240 pixels the clips look noisy and low resolution on screen – and they can’t easily be integrated into a normal movie sequence. Slow-motion movies shot at 1200fps are even lower resolution – 320×120 pixels.

The V1 is geared around the existence of these high-speed features and, while they are fun to use, I suspect that actually they won’t be exercised very often. When they are dormant the V1 becomes like any other camera, and will be judged on its performance, not its features.

Build and handling

Despite its ‘advanced’ nature, the V1 has few external button controls and dials. DSLR users might initially be a bit distressed and feel access to the principal features and functions is somewhat limited. Altering exposure modes, for example, requires a visit to the main menu screen to find the available options. In reality, though, I suspect that most photographers have a preferred exposure mode that they tend to set and stick to. I set aperture priority and, had I not been testing the camera rather than just using it, I would not have felt the need to seek out the exposure options more than once.

The menu has a memory, so on the pressing of the menu button it returns to the most-recently accessed option, which is quite likely to be close to that which is intended to be changed. I found the modes I most often went in search of were the ISO and white balance settings, which are next to each other and which both take just a few moments to alter. It’s true that a direct access button on the rear of the body would make this process a lot quicker, but I suppose this is part of the price we must pay for such a miniaturised body. There are compact cameras that do manage to offer body controls for these settings, but again we have to take account of the target market Nikon is aiming for – who tend to develop anxiety when shown too much that’s technical-looking.

There is a function button at the top of the camera’s rear, of the type that is so often customisable to a personal preference, but in this case it is fixed to what Nikon believes is best. In normal stills mode, the function button allows us to choose between mechanical and electronic shutters – an option I suspect few will actually find useful. To offer this as a direct access to ISO, for example, might have been my preference.

If you have ever used a Nikon menu before, that of the V1 will cause no distress, as it is clearly and, for the most part, logically laid out and ordered. There are three screens that deal with shooting, reviewing and camera set-up, and none is very long.

In use, with any of the three lenses currently available, the camera feels well balanced and is very comfortable to hold. While we can appreciate the benefits of its tiny dimensions, there is none of the inconvenience that so often comes with products that have been made smaller than usual. At no point in the test did I feel that Nikon’s designers had gone too far. There is a prominent ridge on the front of the body that acts as finger grip and a padded raised platform on the rear for the thumb. Unfortunately, the thumb pad is a little too close to the main mode dial, and I found that without special care when rotating the camera from landscape to portrait orientation, I also often switched it from stills to movie mode as my thumb joint caught hold of the edge of the dial.

It becomes frustrating when you go to shoot a still at the perfect moment only to find you are focusing the lens for a movie to be made. Perhaps a small dial lock would solve this.The rear rocker dial provides quick access to a neat exposure compensation scale, AF modes and the self-timer. The upper button can be programmed either to lock exposure or focus when pressed, and by default does both. You might expect the external ring of the dial to alter apertures or shutter speeds in priority mode, but in fact it does nothing, giving up this more natural function to an up/down lever marked as the magnifying zoom for playback. It is no inconvenience once you are used to it, but it remained surprising for the duration of the test.

I spent some time determining the best way to ensure the camera was ready to shoot at a moment’s notice after a period of inactivity, such as occurs when walking along the street looking for a subject to appear. The camera goes to sleep after a defined time that can be set in the menu, but switching that off so the camera remains active and ready the whole time causes the rear screen to play and the battery to heat as well as drain. The issue came about because, while the camera is quick to start from an off position, it takes a few seconds to come back to life from a deep sleep – something that cost me missed shots. In the end, I made the most of the lens button that extends the zoom and simultaneously activates the body. Switching the camera off completely and defibrillating it back into the world by turning the lens with the button depressed actually proved to be the quickest method – and one that is less complicated than it sounds. The camera appears to have two levels of sleep, the second much deeper than the initial.

My overall impression of the body is of one that is very well made and which is comfortable to hold as well as use. It seems to me that it has been made to be small rather than just being made small – a somewhat fine difference of design.


The camera offers the usual three metering options one would expect to find on a full-sized SLR, with a 2mm spot being the finest method of measurement. In use I found the system to be really pretty predictable, which is always a good thing, and it seems to act in a consistent and reliable manner. As with so many cameras, the V1’s desire to produce a nice print-ready image shifts it towards creating files that seem a little light for my liking, and which increase the risks of the burnt-out highlights that are inherent in small sensors. To this end, I quickly made use of the exposure compensation button and dialled between -0.3 and -0.7EV for all but the most obviously backlit subjects. Beyond that, though, the system is not easily fooled and seems to deal very well with all that is thrown at it.

Image: The matrix metering system needed a +0.6EV boost for this contrasty scene 


Cameras that lack a mirror tend, on the whole, to rely on a system of contrast monitoring via the imaging sensor to drive automatic focusing. While this is the way focusing is managed in practically all compact cameras, as well as compact system cameras, it is a method that lags somewhat behind the phase-detection systems used in DSLRs. Nikon, however, has managed to incorporate a phase-detection system into the sensor of its V1 and J1 models.

Using dedicated pixels in lines across the sensor, the camera is able to switch between contrast- and phase-detection modes according to the lighting conditions. As the sensor is pretty small, the distance between the phase-detection pixels can’t be that great, and thus the ‘base’ of the system is probably somewhat shorter than in a normal SLR. Having ‘eyes’ closer together makes it more difficult to judge distances, but Nikon is still happy to claim that this is the fastest AF system in the world.

In good conditions, and actually in average conditions, too, I did find that the camera focuses very quickly, but in low light it struggles a bit. The degree of struggle is not unexpected, however, and I think it is fair to say that the V1 AF system works in light levels many others would not. Subject detection in close-focusing situations can be tricky, and macro focusing is not always straightforward. I found it frustrating at times to see the subject come in and out of focus without the camera being able to lock on, but in reality this is a very small issue. Where the AF system really shines is in its continuous mode, in which it discovers and tracks subjects or shifting distances under the AF point extremely quickly.

Noise, sensitivity and resolution

Image: There is reasonable noise control at ISO 3200, but the 1-series lenses exhibit a lot of barrel distortion

That we are working here with fewer pixels than perhaps we might be used to definitely has an impact on the total image quality this camera system is able to produce. I think, though, that when considering the V1 we have to accept from the beginning that we have 10.1 million pixels, and that we have chosen that way of working, and that surely has to alter the way image quality is examined.

My job initially is to compare with what already exists in the market, and yours will be to decide whether that suits what you do and whether the price is worth paying for the size and weight of the system.

I have spent quite a lot of time shooting in low light as this is both where my own interest in using the system lies as well as where the system will be tested against its weakest points. In the event, though, the results have turned out well and what we might have remembered from previous 10-million-pixel sensors, even ones larger than this, has moved on in the intervening years.

Nikon, already well respected for an ability to reduce noise in high ISO settings, has clearly applied a good deal of expertise to the way it treats the pictures recorded by this camera. While noise is, of course, present and obvious at the higher settings, it never becomes an overriding reason not to adjust the sensitivity beyond ISO 800. I have been quite impressed and my expectations have been at least matched in most cases. Noise reduction is effective.

When studying the images taken by this camera closely, it becomes clear that some fine detail is missing. I am used to cameras that turn grass into carpet when resolution runs out, but that doesn’t happen here. There are no active signs of a lack of detail – no blurring or fuzziness – but when you go to look for that detail you’ll find that actually it’s not there. This was something I noticed in real-world imagery before I examined the results of our lab resolution tests. These tell the same story, but in a more graphic and alarming way – that resolution is actually quite limited.

Scoring just about 20 on our resolution chart, the camera is outperformed by some of the top-end compacts, such as the PowerShot G12 and Samsung EX1. There is no obvious appearance of low resolution in normal pictures, but it does rather limit the amount images can be enlarged.

Resolution and noise: These images show 72ppi (100% on a computer screen) sections of images of a resolution chart, captured using the 10-30mm lens at its sharpest f/8 setting. We show the section of the resolution chart where the camera starts to fail to reproduce the lines separately. The higher the number visible in these images, the better the camera’s detail resolution is at the specified sensitivity setting.

Dynamic range

Nikon gives us the benefit in the V1 of its D-Lighting dynamic range optimiser with settings simply for off or active. With active selected, contrast controls in the picture modes are switched off, which makes sense should users try to increase contrast and optimise dynamic range at the same time. The metering system favours a bright image, which in turn damages the chances of recording detail in bright skies and side/backlit areas of the scene.

While we might not expect too much from small pixels, Nikon has got plenty from these ones, and I didn’t often lose detail in shadows or highlights. As ISO sensitivities increase it seems shadows are automatically lightened to avoid an almost inevitable emphasis on the contrast between light and dark. I found that while this is well intentioned, I often added contrast back in at the image-processing stage on the computer.

White balance and colour

I’ve been pleased that in a camera designed to impress the masses, Nikon has managed to avoid making colours oversaturated and bold for that instant impact so many manufacturers believe people want.

When the white balance is accurate, you’ll find the relationships between the colours in pictures are accurate and believable, too. There are no powerful reds and overbearing greens, although should that be desired there are customisable picture modes that will provide them.

Image: Colours are well controlled in the default setting, with moderate saturation

I spent most of my time shooting with the white balance set to daylight, and in direct sun the setting proved itself. Options for shade and overcast proved not to suit the conditions quite so well, with a dank yellow/cyan cast rather spoiling things.

This can be adjusted in-camera with an advanced colour-shift chart where users can add or subtract colours to their heart’s content. This seems a somewhat complex and sophisticated piece of software for the masses, but useful to those with an eye, nonetheless.

I was very pleased with how easily and quickly a custom white balance can be made and applied. With the menu selected, a picture is taken of a white or grey object and the process is quickly completed.

Image: The in-camera black & white mode seems to make most use of the green channel

LCD and viewfinder

A good deal has been made recently about the differences between electronic and optical viewfinders, and in this model Nikon gives us a good chance to investigate some more. While a 1.44-million-dot resolution isn’t the highest that exists in an EVF camera, the viewfinder of the V1 proved itself rather nice to work with during this test. It is clear enough and bright, and seems to refresh at a rate that does not induce blur or an especially obvious delay between the action happening in real life and on the screen. In low light there is a bit of drag and the amplified image does appear slightly grainy, but both are preferable to not being able to see what you are taking a picture of.

That the EVF is built in rather than an accessory, as happens quite often in compact system cameras, makes a big difference. Compared to many, the viewfinder seems bold and large, and the experience is a long way from looking down a tunnel. The colours seem to match those of the rear screen well, and while both are somewhat simplified compared to what the eye sees, they are good enough to render a clear idea of what will be captured and the accuracy of the white balance setting in use. One does not quite get the same connection as is possible with a very good optical viewfinder, but those are not as common as people seem to believe and this, I think, makes a more than satisfactory method of viewing the scene.

The camera’s rear screen measures a generous 3in across and has a resolution of 921,000 dots, which is just about enough for a meaningful manual-focusing experience. I found it fine to view in bright light and easy on the eye in dark conditions.


Left Image: Panasonic Lumix DMC-GF3 Right Image: Pentax Q

What competes with this camera depends to a large extent on what your main reason for considering it is. If you are looking for a very small body you might also look at the Pentax Q, but that really isn’t much of an option at all.

Closest in size beyond that are the micro four thirds cameras from Panasonic and Olympus, particularly the Lumix DMC-GF3 and Pen E-PL3. These offer more pixels and a form of handling that might better suit the DSLR user. They are both larger than the V1 and both use lenses that will require more space in the camera bag – but neither can match the shooting rates of this Nikon.

If you are not so bothered about a camera being really small, you could look at any of the other compact system cameras on the market – and there are now plenty. For a combination of small size and high resolution, the Sony NEX-7 might prove hard to beat – but at a higher price.


It is easy to cite the pixel count of the V1 as a reason not to be impressed, but I have to consider that the 10.1-million population could be the benefit that Nikon claims rather than the disappointment Nikon F users suspect.

In the event I’ve not been especially bothered by the ‘low’ pixel count, and while there is a definite undercutting of absolute detail resolution, those printing not larger than A4 will be happy. If that’s you, the benefits of the small system can be enjoyed – and it is an enjoyable camera. However, there’s a voice in my head whispering that for just a bit more weight and bulk I could be using a camera that allows larger prints, records more fine detail and which will let me crop dramatically if I want to. When I listen to that voice it is much more difficult to remember what the benefits of the V1 are.

It is a fun camera to use, it is truly small and it does have entertaining features, but if image quality is your ultimate aim there are other cameras that will serve your purposes better. Nikon says the camera is about the features, not the sensor, but the high-speed features don’t constitute an enduring reason for me to buy. That just leaves the sensor.

Nikon 1 V1 – Key features


The camera doesn’t have a built-in flash, but via this powered accessory port it accepts the SB-N5 external gun. I suspect the port will be used for other accessories in the future, too

Rear screen

This is a good-sized screen that is easy to view even in bright conditions. Images appear sharp enough that focus can be checked with some degree of certainty

Main menu

The main menu is laid out in almost exactly the way a regular Nikon user would expect. The options are clearly marked and a press to the right takes you to the sub-menus and settings for each feature.

Vibration reduction

The camera offers three vibration reduction modes – normal, active and off. While the normal setting works very well, I found the active mode a little over-enthusiastic and the cause of shake in some cases.

Movie modes

The movie function of the V1 is quite sophisticated, with a range of metering options, as well as frame sizes and frame rates. The maximum clip duration in best quality is 20 minutes.
Information display

Information display

If Nikon is hoping not to scare away the newcomer, let’s hope they don’t press the display button too many times. The full display has all the information for which a DSLR user might hope.

Mode dials

The main features of the camera are controlled from these two dials. The upper dial switches between still, movie and motion snapshot and best shot selector. The lower dial controls more traditional functions

Electronic viewfinder

The V1 has an electronic viewfinder that switches on and off via a sensor at the eyepiece. The screen has a high enough resolution to be very useful, and provides a good idea of colours and contrast