Nikon 1 System Hands-On Preview

September 23, 2011 | Zoltan Arva-Toth | Compact System Camera | 24 Comments | |
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Having already posted a number of hands-on photos of the Nikon 1 V1 and Nikon 1 J1 cameras and their accessories, it’s now time to share with you our first impressions of the system, based on our limited but intensive use of both cameras and a couple of lenses at the launch event.

Before jumping on the CSC bandwagon, Nikon had a lot of decisions to make. The first of these was whether they needed to launch a new system at all. Back in 2008 when Micro Four Thirds made its debut, Nikon said they would „watch how the new system performs in the marketplace and adjust their plans accordingly”. Well, the new system has been extremely well received, especially in the Far East including Japan where Canon’s and Nikon’s combined share of the interchangeable-lens camera market has reportedly shrunk by an estimated 35% due to the onslaught of CSCs. Thus the answer to the first question was a resounding ‘yes’. Secondly, Nikon had to decide whether to go with DX sized sensors, which would have placed them in direct competition with Sony’s formidable NEX system and risked cannibalisation of their own DSLR sales; or introduce an entirely new sensor size that allows faster signal processing and fills a gap between compact camera sensors and Four Thirds sized imagers but might be perceived as inferior to other offerings. Nikon took the second route and developed a sensor that measures 13.2x8.8mm (to put this in perspective, the 2/3” type sensors used in many older „bridge” cameras as well as the brand new Fuji X10 have a size of 8.8x6.6mm, or exactly half the area of the new Nikon sensor). Thirdly, Nikon had to decide on the target group. Again, the company had to make sure they are not targeting the same people with two different product lines, so they turned their attention to those compact camera owners who found DSLRs intimidating but wanted something faster than their current cameras so they could shoot their kids and pets without having to worry about blurry photos and missed moments.

The new Nikon 1 system is the result of this decision-making process. It currently comprises two cameras, four lenses and a handful of accessories. Yesterday we had an opportunity to try out both cameras and the 10mm f/2.8, 10-30mm f/3.5-5.6 and 30-110mm f/3.8-5.6 lenses. The cameras are made of metal – aluminium to be precise, with the Nikon 1 V1 also boasting magnesium-alloy reinforced parts –, which lends an air of quality and sophistication to them, along with (or in spite of, depending on where you stand) the minimalist design that has already sparked some heated debates among our readers and the photographic community at large. Nikon calls them Advanced Cameras with Interchangeable Lenses (A-CILs), and they do indeed sport a number of advanced features such as raw image capture, manual and semi-manual exposure modes and an intriguing hybrid auto focus system.

The control layout of the Nikon 1 J1 compact system camera

Most of these are found under the hood though – the control layout of both the Nikon 1 J1 and the Nikon 1 V1 looks more like that of a highly automated, you-just-push-the-shutter-and-I’ll-take-care-of-everything-else compact camera. Most notably the standard PASM shooting modes, though found in both cameras, are missing from the mode dial. Similarly, there is no direct-button access to ISO sensitivity, even though you can set it manually from the menu. Nikon says the design of these cameras – including the user interface – is the result of extensive market research, and we have no reason to doubt this. However, we still think it a questionable design decision to include hard buttons for seldom-used functions like the self-timer (and, in the case of the Nikon 1 J1, flash mode too), but none for ISO sensitivity control.

The functions that are accessible via the mode dial are quite interesting though. There might be just one position for regular stills shooting, but there’s also a Smart Photo Selector and a Motion Snapshot mode, both of which might prove invaluable to the target consumer while opening up new possibilities for serious users too. The Smart Photo Selector allows the camera to capture no less than 20 photos at a single press of the shutter release, including some that were taken before fully depressing the button. The camera analyses the individual pictures in the series and discards 15 of them, keeping only the five that it thinks are best in terms of sharpness and composition. In Motion Snapshot mode, the camera records a brief high-definition movie – whose buffering starts at a half-press of the shutter release, so again includes events that had happened before the button was fully depressed – and also takes a still photograph. The movie and the still image are then combined in-camera for a slow-motion clip with background music.

The Nikon 1 J1 and the Nikon 1 V1 are also capable of recording Full HD videos with continuous auto focus. You can start filming by depressing the dedicated movie record button found on the top plate, next to the shutter release. During movie capture, the user can snap a full-res photo at any time by pressing the shutter release button.

Key differences between the J1 and V1 include size (the V1 is significantly bigger and thicker, partly because it uses the same EN-EL15 battery as the Nikon D7000 while the J1 has its own, smaller power source), display resolution (921,000 dots on the V1; 460,000 dots on the J1), the presence of an eye-level EVF and an accessory port on the V1, and a pop-up flash on the J1. Additionally, the V1 gives you the choice of using a mechanical shutter (rated at 100,000 exposures) or electronic gating, while the J1 has an electronic shutter only.

The Nikon 1 J1 lacks the accessory port of the V1 model but comes with an integrated pop-up flash

In use, we have found both cameras to be extremely fast, especially on the auto focus front. The 10mm, 10-30mm and 30-110mm lenses all locked focus on the subject immediately, even when alternating between close-up and faraway subjects. Both the Nikon 1 V1 and the Nikon 1 J1 feature a hybrid auto focus system that uses both the contrast detection and phase-difference detection methods, though not at the same time. It’s always the camera that decides which method to use; we haven’t found a menu item that would allow the user to pick one over the other. We similarly struggled to find out how to manually select an AF point, though this might have more to do with the limited time we had with the cameras than anything else.

Both cameras can take full-res photos at up to 60 (yes, sixty) frames per second, although if you want continuous focus tracking you apparently have to content yourself with 10fps (which is still an insanely high figure for stills photography). The length of a burst is limited by the size of the buffer though, with the J1 being able to capture 12-13 shots and the V1 being capable of taking up to 34 frames in a single burst. We won’t comment on buffer clearance speeds here, as the cards provided for yesterday’s brief test were far from being the fastest available today.

Neither camera’s LCD screen was easy to see outdoors in strong daylight, so the eye-level electronic viewfinder of the Nikon 1 V1 was a real boon. It’s a smooth, fluid, high-resolution EVF with very natural-looking colours and tonality but a somewhat low magnification and apparent size. Make no mistake, the finder isn’t small - but could be a bit bigger in our view.

Using the cameras on full auto is a breeze, but once you want to take control over the picture-taking process, you’ll quickly realise that the user interface isn’t all that intuitive. We’ve already mentioned the missing ISO button and the lack of PASM positions on the mode dial – but even after you’ve found your preferred shooting mode in the menu, it’s still not easy to find out how to control the primary shooting variable (e.g. aperture in A mode). Rotating the scroll wheel made no difference, and it took us some time to figure out that changing the aperture is done by way of the same rocker switch that controls zoom/magnification in Playback.

Both of these cameras are extremely well suited to discreet, unobtrusive photography. With the electronic shutter, they are both essentially silent (once you disable the focus confirmation beep, that is), and the mechanical shutter – only available on the Nikon 1 V1 – is also pretty quiet. Both cameras are capable of extremely fast shutter speeds, although the flash sync speed is a slow 1/60th when using the electronic shutter. The V1, however, can sync with the optional SB-N5 flash at a speed of 1/250th second when using its mechanical shutter.

The Nikon 1 Nikkor 10mm f/2.8 and 10-30mm f/3.5-5.6 lenses

The lenses feel well made, with the zooms sporting a collapsible-barrel design. The 10mm (~28mm equivalent) pancake and the 10-30mm (~28-80mm eq.) standard zoom are not that different in size to their Micro Four Thirds counterparts (in fact they are quite possibly bigger, though I didn’t have any Olympus or Panasonic lenses at hand to make a direct comparison) but the 30-110mm (~80-300mm eq.) telephoto zoom lens is remarkably compact. It is a clever design touch that unlocking the attached lens powers on the camera without the user having to press the on/off button on the body.

At the launch event, Nikon organised a greyhound racing demonstration for the assembled press, allowing us to put the cameras’ focus tracking ability to the test. Some of the dogs were capable of running at speeds of up to 60 km/h – a tough test for any AF system, especially at close distances. Despite the challenging circumstances, the cameras’ keeper rates were surprisingly high. Below you can find a few photos taken at this event using the Nikon 1 V1. Given that not all of the cameras provided were running final firmware, Nikon has asked us not to post these photos at full resolution, and to refrain from commenting on aspects of image quality like noise, dynamic range, colour or resolution. However, they may still serve as an indication of what you can expect from the camera in terms of its ability to capture really fast-moving subjects, at least outdoors in good light.

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24 Comments | Newest Oldest First | Post a Comment

#1 Howard

The pics look good to me. Maybe a camera for the soccer mom and dads.

3:18 pm - Friday, September 23, 2011

#2 Rolli

Surprisingly good pictures - impressive. Looking forward to a full fledged review...

3:33 pm - Friday, September 23, 2011

#3 BJN

Please explain how these were shot. Does the finder freeze in burst mode as in comparable cameras? That is, you frame the shot but can't visually track the action through the viewfinder. I assume that's the case, but nobody has bothered to describe that "little" detail.

6:29 pm - Friday, September 23, 2011

#4 Zoltan Arva-Toth


The finder does freeze for split seconds while shooting at 10fps, but it does not black out for the entire duration of the burst so you can track your subject, even if it requires a bit of getting used to. Also, please consider that we did not have enough time to explore all the continuous shooting options, so it's too early to draw conclusions yet. We plan on conducting a full in-depth review of each camera in the near future, though.

6:45 pm - Friday, September 23, 2011

#5 alansky

Nikon's V1 targets the point-and-shoot crowd, many of whom may be "intimidated" by DSLR's. However, it seems to me that cameras like the V1 will never appeal to the masses because (a) the are too expensive and (b) the vast majority of point-and-shooters are perfectly happy with the IQ of their pocket cameras. In fact, it appears that the most-used camera by those who upload photos to Flickr is the iPhone. If this doesn't prove that most people can't tell the difference between good and bad image quality, I don't know what does.

The real market for cameras like the V1 are rank amateurs, but enthusiasts who are perfectly at home wielding a DSLR but want something small enough and light enough to take everywhere without sacrificing too much image quality. This market has been very well served (as far as it goes) by high-end compacts like the Lumix LX5 and Canon S95, and by the m43 cameras as well. The problem with the m43 cameras is that Panasonic and Olympus, like Nikon, have mistakenly shifted their intention to enticing the point-and-shoot crowd, which will never buy into these fundamentally more sophisticated systems in any great numbers. Meanwhile, enthisiasts in search of high IQ in a compact package are left with their tongues hanging out, dreaming about what might have been.

8:45 pm - Friday, September 23, 2011

#6 Daniel

alansky, you forgot about the NEX, with the new 5N and NEX 7 being state of the art imaging devices, with great ergonomics and splendid IQ...

10:10 pm - Friday, September 23, 2011

#7 alansky

Daniel, I didn't forget the Sony NEX. Although it performs splendidly, it is far from compact. The problem with small-bodied APS-C sensor cameras is that the lenses are no smaller than the ones we already use on our DSLR's. The minute you attach a zoom lens to these tiny bodies, you lose most of the benefit of the small form factor. Afterall, it's not the size of the body that counts, it's the size of the package. M43 lenses are significantly smaller than their APS-C counterparts, thus offering the photographer a total package that is much smaller and lighter than any DSLR + zoom lens combo. But Panasonic and Olympus are lagging behind the curve with their aging 12MP sensors. The Lumix G3, however, is equipped with a modern 16MP sensor that will hopefully make its way into the whole Lumix line, making m43 cameras an even more compelling option. If Sony can figure out how to make smaller, high-performance, collapsible zooms for their NEX cameras, they will also be major a contender in this segment of the market. One thing is clear: Many serious photographers want cameras that are small enough to take everywhere while delivering IQ that is at least almost as good as an entry-level DSLR.

10:45 pm - Friday, September 23, 2011

#8 danaceb

Thats actually a misconception; first off the Nex does not have a mirror box and secondly the size of NEX lenses are more of a reflection of poor, cost effective design rather than limitation imposed by the sensor size. Kinda like the rather bulky older M43 lenses.

Sony could release more compact lenses for the APS-C NEX system along the same size as their pancake at various focal lengths or something very similar to the pancake tele for m43. However, just like this Nikon and the massive tele lenses.. Sony is inexplicably missing the point in places.

Also another thing; no one nomatter how amateur is going to buy this thing because they are 'intimidated' by DSLRs, they are buying it because DSLRs are too damn big and not because they are terrified of dials, or complexity. Anyone that camera illiterate wouldn't know that their $150 point and shoot took cruddy photos.

But either way many will be roped in by this massive marketing campaign and thats the aim. Nikon only made the sensor small to increase profit, just as M43 did before, only problem is they priced themselves out of the market to anyone with an actual brain.

1:47 am - Saturday, September 24, 2011

#9 DonParrot


The FT/µFT format wasn't conceived to oncrease profits but as Olympus and Kodak came to the conclusion that it was the perfect format for the digital future of photography.
Which was fiercely denied by the competition but slowly but surely turns out to have been an extremely educated guess.

and, @admin: By the way, I think these shots of the running dogs are extremely encouraging. I would have liked to see a series or some pics on eye level to find out how good the C-AF keeps up with the dogs and where the DOF area ends but be that as it may: These pics are far more than what I could have done with the C-AF of one of my µFT cameras. I always have to schlepp around my E-5 with its FT zuikos if I want to shoot any kind of sports or action.

So, the V1 seems to be a more and more tempting offer, for me.

4:15 am - Saturday, September 24, 2011

#10 alansky

Daniel, I didn't say Sony couldn't make smaller lenses, but they're obviously NOT doing it. If "poor, cost effective design" is the reason, it only proves that Sony lacks the necessary vision to actualize the NEX system's full potential. So many high-tech developers suffer from the same lack of vision. All they can see are dollar signs. It's pitiful. We need more people like Steve Jobs in this world, people who understand that if you devote yourself to making the best possible products, the money will come without fail.

4:40 am - Saturday, September 24, 2011

#11 danaceb


Those years ago when it was being conceived, yes. However not anymore. First off its 4:3, a universally reviled format for photography, secondly its performance suffers compared to APS-C offerings at the exact same price point. M43 is just another example of the best intentions just evolving into a profit edge and its success is only a reflection of being backed by a bloc of fan rich brands.

Nikon is also a fan rich brands. Granted they expect this camera to stay niche, knowing their SLR line they want it too; it will be successful regardless of any shortcomings.

However if they really really want to take on the E-PL, GF and NEX, they are in for a world of hurt with this tiny format if the dSLR era dies off.

6:51 am - Saturday, September 24, 2011

#12 Eduardnic

The reason behind big lenses on small-bodied APS-C sensor cameras is that the image get disturbed if small lenses were used. That is the reason also for the Nikon's new system, while sensor is intermediate as size, so does is the lens.

7:48 am - Saturday, September 24, 2011

#13 alansky


The m43 format is most definitely not "universally reviled". That's a ridiculous statement. The fact that DX-format DSLR's offer superior IQ at the same price point as m43 cameras doesn't change the fact that m43 cameras offer a fundamentally smaller package. Serious photographers looking for reasonably good IQ in a package small enough to carry all the time have embraced the m43 format quite enthusiastically. If you don't believe it, check out the Fred Miranda forums or some of the reports posted on Luminous Landscape.

I agree with you that the good intentions behind the m43 format have devolved into a misguided attempt to appeal to the point-and-shoot crowd, but the m43 format itself is still alive and well. The next generation of m43 sensors will be deliver high-iso performance up to the level of today's entry-level DSLR's, which is good enough for enthusiasts looking for smaller cameras to augment their big honking DSLR's, not replace them. The DSLR is is no danger of dying off anytime soon.

9:03 am - Saturday, September 24, 2011

#14 alansky

@Eduardnic: Can you explain what you mean by "the image gets disturbed" if small lenses are used?

9:10 am - Saturday, September 24, 2011

#15 DonParrot


You wrote: First off its 4:3, a universally reviled format for photography, secondly its performance suffers compared to APS-C offerings at the exact same price point. M43 is just another example of the best intentions just evolving into a profit edge and its success is only a reflection of being backed by a bloc of fan rich brands.
First of all I agree with alansky - the 4:3 Format isn't universally reviled. Indeed, it was one of the reasons - in addition to the fantastic FT Zuikos and the outstanding JPEG engine saving me a lot of PP time - and why I entered FT with the E-30 and upgraded last year to the E-5.

Apart from that, you have to watch the system, not the camera alone. My E-5 with my Zuikos delivers - apart from the high ISO area - on a par with nearly every APS-C camera/lens combination that was available atz similar prices when the E-5 was launched, last year. Although the body admittedly is somewhat pricey.

And with a new FT sensor on the level of the latest Sony technolgy, the disadvantages in the high-ISO area also soon will be neglectable. In two sensor generations, we argiably will have reached useable ISO 204.800 with APS-C and I would be more than happy with an FT sensor that delivers until 102.400. Indeed, even 12.800 seems to be a kind of overkill, for me.

So, the adavatages of APS-C will disappear in the near future but the advantages of µFT - clearly more compact lenses - will remain. Indeed, i think that APS-C - that was conceived at the beginning of the digital era solely for cost reasons - is about to become obsolete.
Those who weant it big will opt for FF and for all the others, µFT will represent the perfect compromiose - if they solve the C-AF problem.

And I don't think that Panny or Oly are fan-rich brands. Oly has got a camp of enthusiastic fans like me - but I wouldn't call it big. And Panny? A manufacturer of entertainment electronics? No way!

10:31 am - Saturday, September 24, 2011

#16 morgan

A camera for soccer moms and dads at US$ 900? I don't think so!

9:01 pm - Saturday, September 24, 2011

#17 alansky


Exactly right! This is the essence of Nikon's problem. These cameras are aimed at point-and-shooters who want to move up to something better, but the Nikon 1 system is too expensive for this segment of the market. If these cameras need to be this expensive (which may very well be the case; there's some very sophisticated technology under the hood, according to Masahiro Suzuki, Nikon's General Manager of R&D), then Nikon should have had the good sense to tailor the Nikon 1 system for the enthusiast market, which is clearly hungry for smaller cameras that can deliver DSLR image quality (or close to it). But all is not lost if the V1 is as good as Nikon says it is. The physical design of the camera is quite nice. The mount is also compatible with Nikon's AF-S lenses, which could be a bonus for Nikon shooters. At first glance, I was quite disappointed in the small sensor and high price; but now I'm very interested in seeing what this baby can do.

12:07 am - Sunday, September 25, 2011

#18 Dj

The Micro 4/3 system is just that: a system. Loads of choices from serious cameras like the GH2 to the point and shoot style of the EPM1. I would never buy into the nikon "system" coz it will never be a serious system: Nikon wants you to buy into the DSLR system, so they'll hold back on their mirrorless system. -Also I find Sony and Samsung lenses a bit too big -Micro four thirds is the future for me.

6:25 am - Sunday, September 25, 2011

#19 alansky

Personally, I don't need the Nikon V1 to become a "system" camera. Like many serious photographers, I just want something much better than a point-and-shoot that is small enough to carry with me at all times. The m43 cameras have a great deal of potential, but I'm irked by the clip-on EVF's as well as their high price (especially the Olympus EVF!).

6:45 am - Sunday, September 25, 2011

#20 Hans Benndorf

I was very much looking forward to NIKON's mirror less 'offerings'. I find theV1& J1 are
rather unexciting . Just another point 'n' shoot upgrader cams with a large body and a small sensor and they are expensive with boring lenses. I shoot Nikon DSLR's but
I would not touch that 'stuff' with a barge pole. There are 2 'good things' though, they are fast and have only 10mp. SONY has far more exciting cameras in that class, but they also lacking lenses. Can the new NIKON's compete with all the other players
in the 'mirror less' environment? I doubt that.

12:50 pm - Sunday, September 25, 2011

#21 Jon404

Well, must tell you... I'm very happy with my Olympus XZ-1... good IQ, fits in my shirt pocket, always ready to shoot.
IMHO, the future will be ever smaller lenses, like a doubling of my XZ-1's 6mm-24mm to, perhaps, 3mm-24mm, with a MUCH smaller sensor, to yield 28mm to 300mm equiv... with the images automatically, heavily, software-enhanced with automatic pixel addition/interpolation and straightening.
Small and light sells! Just give me PASM so I have the illusion of control, like Boris Spassky playing IBM's Big Blue.

7:08 pm - Monday, September 26, 2011

#22 alansky


Sounds good, but image enhancement by way of interpolation is impossible without a softening of detail and loss of sharpness. There are many interesting technologies that may help small sensors achieve better IQ and lower noise, but interpolation won't be one of them.

Good to know that you're happy with your XZ-1 though.

7:39 pm - Monday, September 26, 2011

#23 ottoub

Hard to know why anyone should junk their existing compact and DSLR Nikon setup for this new system, which they would have to do to justify buying into this new realm. For the same reason, I have not gone for the micro3/4 system. It's still carying gear around(right?), if slightly lighter. The REAL advancements of interest is in "Bridge" cameras I think. One lens does ALL (within limits I know, but let's work on the physics)! Broadly speaking, DSLR's are for the publishing pros and wannabees, "Bridge" type for travellers and compacts for those who can't be bothered with either of those segments. "Enthusiasts and hobbyists tend to buy whatever they fancy anyhow, be it that 1.0 lens or macro to 0.5cm capability. Markets and trends and pundits can be misleading. After all, the P76 was voted best car of the year in several places and Rolls Royce used to enjoy second to none status (just ask Singapore Airlines). Also by the same token, DAT machines and Beta format would still be alive and well. Here, Nikon is playing the game "me too", with this fanciful V1 which sounds like a flying bomb designed to blow micro3/4 cities into smithereens. The truth is, there are already too many cities !!! For my money, they'd be better off improving the affordability of their lenses and sensors all round from compacts to DSLR's. If the NAME alone did it all, then there would be no other players with names like Sony, Samsung, Fuji, Ricoh, Kodak, Pentax, Olympus and so on and so on. Strategically I would say that this is a marketing exercise and about getting some market share against no market share, more than anything else. I for one, am not convinced, whether the system came with greyhounds or otherwise.

1:12 am - Tuesday, September 27, 2011

#24 Kasey

I just don't know if the J1 will take sharp photos in low light arenas. I take photos at hockey and lacrosse games and am looking for a small camera that is also fast. (I already bought it so at least I have 10 days to return it.)

2:12 am - Tuesday, May 22, 2012