Nikon 1 V2 at a glance:

  • 14.2-million-pixel, CX-format, CMOS sensor
  • Redesigned body with handgrip
  • 15fps shooting rate while autofocusing
  • New mode dial
  • Expeed 3A processor
  • RRP £799.99 including 10-30mm kit lens

Nikon 1 V2 review – Introduction

Helped by an expensive TV campaign, Nikon’s 1 series has proved to be very popular among photographers wanting a very small system camera with equally small lenses. However, some enthusiast photographers have a few concerns with the first generation of cameras – the Nikon 1 J1 and V1. The sensor size is smaller than APS-C and four thirds, and the sensor resolution is only 10 million pixels. Both of the original 1 system cameras are slim compact-style models. However, many enthusiasts would have preferred the more advanced V1 to be styled like a DSLR.

With the new Nikon 1 V2, some of these points have been addressed. Obviously, the sensor size remains the same, but it is now a higher resolution. A handgrip has been added to the body, as has a pop-up flash, both of which make the V2 look more like a DSLR. These new additions should broaden the appeal of the Nikon 1 system, but I was interested to see just how different the Nikon 1 V2 is to use and what else the new camera has to offer.

Nikon 1 V2 review – Features

While the two first-generation Nikon 1 system cameras used the same 10-million-pixel, CX-sized (1in/13.2×8.8mm), CMOS sensor, the J2 and V2 have different resolutions. The J2 keeps the original sensor of the J1, but the V2 has a new 14.2-million-pixel resolution.

The increase in resolution isn’t huge, and neither should it be with the sensor being smaller than its competitors. Any dramatic increase in resolution would potentially affect image quality by reducing dynamic range and increasing noise. To give an example of what the difference in resolution means for photographers, at a print resolution of 300ppi the new V2 is capable of producing images that measure 15.3×10.2in, which is a moderate increase of 2.4×1.6in compared to the original 10-million-pixel sensor. The 4608 x 3072-pixel-resolution images can be saved as JPEG or 12-bit raw images, with an ISO sensitivity of ISO 160-6400.

One of the most impressive features of the first-generation Nikon 1 system cameras was the powerful processor they possessed. This has been improved further in the V2, which now uses the Nikon Expeed 3A processing engine. It is this powerful system that allows the V2 to shoot at a frame rate of 15fps while the camera is autofocusing. This is very impressive and almost unrivalled for a compact system camera.

Nikon 1 V2 review – Build and handling

The most obvious changes are to the Nikon 1 V2’s body. Like its V1 predecessor, the V2 is well built, and the magnesium alloy and aluminium body feels sturdy in the hand.

However, I feel the V2’s angular design makes it look rather ‘utilitarian’. Yet while it may not be the prettiest camera to look at, the addition of a new handgrip really improves the V2’s handling. The grip almost doubles the width of the slim camera body, and the steep inside curve allows the hand to grasp the camera securely. Handling is much more like that of a DSLR, although it could do with a slight groove or contour to allow fingers to fit a little more snugly.

Another new addition to the body is the pop-up flash. The original V1 lacked a built-in flash, and relied instead on a hotshoe with an accessory socket. Enthusiast photographers will be pleased to know that despite the new flash there is still a hotshoe and accessory socket on the top of the camera should a more powerful flash be required.

On top of the V2 is a new mode dial that allows access to eight different shooting modes. This replaces the more limited four-shooting-mode dial that was found on the V1. Elsewhere, there have been slight tweaks to the button arrangement, with the camera having four buttons on the left-hand side of the rear LCD screen, leaving the right-hand side looking relatively sparse, apart from the usual standard directional control dial and button arrangement.

Overall, the V2 is good to use. The menus are very clear and easy to read, while the button arrangement makes the camera feel like an entry-level DSLR when in use. The new grip allows the camera to feel much more stable in hand, which is great news for those who will use the V2 with the far larger Nikkor F-mount lenses via the FT-1 mount adapter.

Nikon 1 V2 review – Metering

With evaluative, centreweighted and spot metering, the Nikon 1 V2 has all the metering modes you would expect from an enthusiast camera. When combined with exposure compensation and bracketing, achieving a suitable exposure isn’t an issue. In fact, I found that the evaluative metering could be reliably used for the vast majority of images.

In landscape scenes, I found that the V2’s matrix (evaluative) metering works in a very similar way to a Nikon DSLR. In most scenes, the emphasis seems to be on getting the correct exposure for any midtone and shadow areas. This means that skies tend to look quite bright, often with some blown-out highlight areas. The system was predictable, in that it quickly became obvious how it would react to the light in certain scenes. As a result, it was easy enough to switch to spot metering or to simply adjust the exposure compensation.

Nikon 1 V2 review – Autofocus

Like its predecessor, the Nikon 1 V2 uses a hybrid contrast/phase-detection AF system that is extremely fast. In good light, the V2 seems to focus almost instantly. It is not only one of the fastest focusing compact system cameras I have used, but it also holds its own against a DSLR. The fast speed is undoubtedly the result of exceptionally powerful processing and motors, but perhaps what is more impressive is that the speed makes continuous focusing a genuine possibility, unlike other compact system cameras that tend to hunt a lot.

In low-light conditions with less contrast, the AF does slow down, seemingly because the contrast-detection AF is being used. However, overall, this doesn’t hinder performance too much, and the AF is still comparable to other similar cameras.

Nikon 1 V2 review – Dynamic range

Given the size of the Nikon 1 V2’s sensor, you would expect the dynamic range to be restricted. However, I could see little difference in the dynamic range of images from the V2 and those from a similarly priced DSLR. There was enough detail in shadow areas to allow editing of the exposure in raw-editing software, although some noise did start to creep in. Similarly, highlights may tend to clip just slightly before you would expect them to, but for the most part the dynamic range was fine for a camera of this type and it shouldn’t prove a hindrance, especially as the camera is really designed as a travel camera for use outside during the day.

Nikon 1 V2 review – Noise, resolution and sensitivity

These images show 72ppi (100% on a computer screen) sections of images of a resolution chart, captured using the Nikkor 10-30mm f/3.5-5.6 VR lens. 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 at the specified sensitivity setting.

The Nikon 1 V2 resolves about as much detail as you would expect for a camera with a 14.2-million-pixel sensor. It reaches a little higher than 24 on our resolution chart, which is good without being outstanding. JPEG images look fine, although, as usual, a slight tweak of the sharpening and local contrast can help prise a little more detail out of raw files.

In terms of noise, it is clear that the sensor of the V2 is slightly smaller than that found in most of its competitors. There is a slight bruising of colour noise in the darkest shadow details, even at ISO 400, although this doesn’t get particularly bad, even at the maximum ISO 6400 setting. All in all, colour noise is handled well in JPEG files, and is fairly straightforward to reduce in raw files.

Luminance noise is also visible, but Nikon has been very sensible in keeping the default reduction settings fairly low. This means that while speckled luminance noise is visible from ISO 800, fine details aren’t lost through harsh noise reduction.

Nikon has done a good job of keeping noise to an acceptable level while maintaining detail. Much of this is also to do with having a reasonable maximum sensitivity, rather than pushing it higher where image quality would be more significantly affected.

Nikon 1 V2 review – White balance and colour

Image: The strong colours in this sunset didn’t fool the V2’s AWB, and the image is very good straight out of the camera

I found that the colours produced by the Nikon 1 V2 were pleasing, with only slight adjustments needed when it came to editing raw files. The AWB worked well in most scenes, although it did have a tendency to be slightly on the cool side. With a very strong sunset, the colours were as rich and as vivid as they were in reality, with the camera seemingly doing little to reduce this.

There are only six preset white balance settings in the V2, as well as AWB and a preset manual setting. However, each setting can be adjusted if you prefer your images slightly warmer or cooler, which is useful for customising the colours to your own taste.

There are six image styles in the image control menu, and each of these can have their level of sharpening, contrast, brightness, saturation and hue adjusted. Should you wish to save your own style, there is an impressive nine slots available, making it possible to have your own portrait, landscape, black & white or vivid colour styles, as well as the default ones. Just like Nikon DSLR cameras, these custom picture styles can also be loaded from a memory card should you wish to copy a style from another camera.

Image: Strong autumn colours can fool the AWB, so I found shooting in the daylight setting a better option

Nikon 1 V2 review – Viewfinder, LCD and video

The built-in electronic viewfinder on the Nikon 1 V2 has the same 1.44-million-dot resolution as its predecessor, and I found it to be bright and detailed. While it isn’t quite as detailed as the more recent 2-million-dot screens we have seen on other cameras, it is comfortable to use. The V2 handles well when the EVF is used, giving the feeling that you are using a DSLR.

I prefer to use a viewfinder with a system camera, so I tended to use this instead of the 3in, 921,000-dot screen. Not that there is anything wrong with the screen, as it has a very high angle of view and a good level of detail and contrast.

The range of video options is also quite impressive, and is once again made possible by the powerful Expeed processor. Full 1920 x 1080-pixel HD video can be captured at either 60i or 30p, with footage saved as a MOV file with H.264 MPEG-4 compression. Stereo audio can also be recorded in-camera, or the hotshoe and accessory port can be used with the optional ME-1 stereo microphone for better-quality audio capture.

Nikon 1 V2 review – Our verdict

The Nikon 1 V2 is an impressive little camera, and if you can look beyond the relatively small sensor and resolution there are some superb features. Its AF system is extremely fast in good light, and the EVF, fast shooting rate, and build and handling all add to the camera’s appeal.

Image quality is also very good, and while it cannot quite match the quality of a camera with a larger sensor, it will be more than enough for enthusiast photographers, particularly if used as a secondary camera to an existing Nikon DSLR.

Although the V2 will face strong competition from Olympus, Panasonic, Samsung and Sony cameras, it certainly has its place in the market. The built-in flash and new body style, not to mention the increased resolution, will appeal to enthusiast photographers looking for a very small high-quality camera. Overall, the Nikon 1 V2 is perhaps more like the camera we initially wanted when we first heard that Nikon planned to release a compact system camera.