Nikon 1 V2 Review
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The Nikon 1 V2 is a compact system camera featuring a new 14.2-megapixel "CX" format sensor and the Nikon 1 lens mount. Boasting continuous shooting speeds of 15fps with continuous autofocus and 60fps with fixed-point autofocus, Full 1080p HD video capture, an ultra-fast hybrid auto-focus system, Best Moment Capture and the unique Motion Snapshot Mode, the Nikon V2 also offers more conventional shooting modes like Programmed Auto, Aperture and Shutter Priority, as well as Metered Manual. Also on-board is an eye-level electronic viewfinder with a resolution of 1.44 million dots, a high resolution 3-inch LCD display with 921k dots, both an electronic and a mechanical shutter, a built-in pop-up flash, and an accessory port for attaching a flashgun, GPS unit or one of a number of accessories. Available in black or white, the Nikon 1 V2 is priced at £799 / $899 / €999.00 with a 10-30mm lens or £969 / €1,199 in a double-lens kit.
Ease of Use
The Nikon 1 V2 has undergone a rather radical redesign since the original V1 model was launched last year. The Nikon V2 now has a prominent handgrip, a prism-like hump that houses the new built-in flash unit and the EVF, and a completely revised control layout. It's subsequently an altogether more angular proposition than its much sleeker and more stylish predecessor. Still made of aluminium with magnesium alloy reinforced parts, the Nikon 1 V2 is heavier than you would think based on its size alone, weighing in at 278g body-only, but is actually slightly lighter and smaller than the V1. Thanks to the deep handgrip, which is very much like the Sony NEX series of cameras, it's now possible to shoot one-handed if you wish. Along with the prism-like hump, it does make the V2 less pocketable than the V1 though.
The V2 continues to use the relatively new Nikon 1 lens mount. Instead of being a scaled-down version of the good old F mount, it's a new design that provides 100% electronic communication between the attached lens and the camera body, courtesy of a dozen contacts. Just like on the manufacturer's F-mount SLR cameras, there is a white dot for easy lens alignment, although it has moved from the 2 o'clock position (when viewed front on) to the top of the mount. The lenses themselves feature a short silver ridge on the lens barrel, which needs to be in alignment with said dot in order for you to be able to attach the lens to the camera. While this may require a bit of getting used to, it actually makes changing lenses quicker and easier.
With no lens attached, you can see the image sensor sitting right behind the plane of the bayonet mount. Measuring 13.2x8.8mm this "CX" format imaging chip has double the surface area of the biggest sensors used in compact and bridge cameras, but only about half the area of a standard Four Thirds sensor. In linear terms, a Four Thirds chip has a 1.36x longer diagonal than the Nikon CX imager. Given that Four Thirds has a 2x focal length multiplier, the CX "crop factor" works out to about 2.72, meaning that a 10mm lens has approximately the same angle of view as a 27.2mm lens on an FX or 35mm film camera. The Nikon 1 Nikkor 10-30mm standard zoom is thus equivalent to a 27.2-81.6mm (or, practically speaking, 28-80mm) FX lens in terms of its angle-of-view range.
The rest of the Nikon V2's faceplate is almost empty, featuring only the lens release button, a receiver for the optional ML-L3 infrared remote control, an AF assist/self-timer lamp and the afore-mentioned handgrip.
There are two ways of powering on the Nikon 1 V2. You can either use the relocated on/off switch that now surrounds the shutter release button or, if you have a collapsible-barrel zoom lens attached, you can simply press the unlocking button on the lens barrel and turn the zoom ring to unlock the lens, an act that causes the camera to switch on automatically. This is an ingenious solution as you need to unlock the lens for shooting anyway. Start-up takes just over a second - nothing to write home about but still decent and entirely adequate.
You can frame your shots using either the rear screen or the electronic viewfinder (EVF). The former is a three-inch, 921,000-dot display that boasts wide viewing angles, great definition and accurate colours but only so-so visibility in strong daylight. That's where the EVF comes in. The Nikon V2 has a smooth, fluid and high-resolution electronic viewfinder with natural-looking colours, but a somewhat low magnification. Make no mistake, the finder isn't small - especially if you compare it to the OVF of a typical entry-level DSLR - but its apparent size is definitely smaller than that of the Panasonic G5, whose EVF boasts the same 1.44-million-dot resolution but a noticeably higher magnification.
The Nikon V2 also has an eye proximity sensor that allows the camera to automatically switch from the rear screen to the EVF when you raise it to your eye, but this doesn't happen instantly. There's a slight lag of about 0.5 second, which doesn't interfere that much with general shooting but can be frustrating when trying to grab a quick shot of something. The EVF has a dioptre adjustment knob on the left-hand side of the viewfinder housing, when viewed from behind.
The Nikon 1 V2 now has an entirely different control layout that's clearly been designed to appeal more to the serious enthusiast photographer. There's a new shooting mode dial on top of the camera that provides quick and easy access to the conventional P, A, S and M modes, something that the original V1 conspicuously lacked. The same dial also houses the Video, Motion Snapshot and Best Moment Capture modes, plus the green Auto mode for beginners. Also new is the tactile thumb-operated control dial which makes it much easier to set the shutter speed and aperture in the advanced shooting modes.
The F button on the rear of the camera now accesses the ISO options by default, again a big improvement on the V1 which suffered from having no direct access to this important function. Note that the operation of the F button is customisable so that you can configure it to your needs, and also that it changes operation depending upon which mode you're using - for example, in Video mode, it lets you toggle between regular and slow-motion recording.
The four-way controller on the rear has four functions mapped onto its Up, Right, Down and Left buttons, including AE/AF-Lock, exposure compensation, flash modes and self-timer, respectively. Also on the back of the camera is a thin circular scroll wheel around the four-way pad which is used to set the shutter speed in the Manual mode and select menu options. Last but not least, there are four self-explanatory buttons positioned to the left of the LCD screen, which include Playback, Menu, Display and Delete.
The Nikon V2's Scene Auto Selector is a smart auto mode in which the camera analyses the scene in front of its lens and picks what it thinks is the right mode for that particular scene. You can also choose one of the conventional PASM modes, which give you full menu access and the ability to manually set the aperture, shutter speed, or both (Program AE Shift is available in P mode).
Auto ISO comes in three flavours (Auto 160-800, 160-3200 or 160-6400), allowing you to specify how high you want the camera to go when the light gets low. You can also choose from three AF Area modes, including Auto Area, in which the camera takes control of what it focuses on (this isn't a great mode to have as your default as the camera obviously can't read your mind and may focus on something else than your actual subject); Single Point, in which you can pick one of 135 AF points by first hitting OK and then moving the active AF point around the frame using the four-way pad; and Subject Tracking, in which you pick your subject, press OK and allow the camera to track that subject as it moves around, as long as it doesn't leave the frame of course.
The Nikon 1 V2 has an intriguing hybrid auto-focus system that combines 135-point contrast- and 73-point phase-difference detection systems. This allows the Nikon 1 V2 to focus extremely quickly in good light, even on a moving subject. When light levels drop, the camera switches to contrast-detect AF which, though faster than on most cameras, isn't nearly as fast as the other method. It's always the camera that decides which AF method to use - the user has no influence on this.
Generally speaking, the V1 will usually only resort to contrast detection when light levels are low. Manual focusing is also possible, although the Nikon 1 lenses do not have focus rings. If you want to focus manually, you first have to go into the main menu, find the Focus Mode option, choose Manual Focus, press OK and then use the scroll wheel to adjust focus. To assist you with this, the Nikon V2 magnifies the central part of the image and displays a rudimentary focus scale along the right side of the frame - but those are the only focusing aids you get. There's still no peaking function available.
As noted earlier, you can choose from two different shutter types when shooting stills, mechanical or electronic. The mechanical shutter is the way to go if you shoot with flash as it can sync at shutter speeds as fast as 1/250th of a second. The Nikon 1 V2 does now has an on-board flash with a guide number of 6.3m, but it still cannot accommodate the regular Nikon Speedlights, although it is compatible with the new, tiny SB-N7 that slots into the top of the viewfinder hump. With the mechanical shutter selected, the Nikon V2 can shoot as fast as about 5 frames per second, with auto-focus. In continuous shooting mode, the EVF freezes for a split second after each shot, but with some practice, you will be able to track your subject unless it moves in a completely erratic fashion. The shutter is not very loud but you can hear the sound of the motor that's used to cock it.
In most shooting situations, you will probably want to use the electronic shutter as it's completely silent (the focus confirmation beep can be disabled from the menu), allows the use of shutter speeds as fast as 1/16,000th of a second and, with the Electronic Hi setting selected, lets you shoot full-resolution stills at 60 frames per second. Note however that while this is a major achievement, it's limited by a buffer that can only hold 40 raw files. Additionally, the use of this mode precludes AF tracking - you have to lower the frame rate to a still very fast 15fps if you want that - and the viewfinder goes blank while the pictures are being taken. About the only application we can think of where shooting full-resolution stills at 60fps could really come in handy is AE bracketing for HDR imaging. At this rate, a series of 5 bracketed shots could be taken in less than 0.1 second, rendering small movements that can otherwise pose alignment problems - like leaves being blown in the wind - a non-issue. Alas, the Nikon V2 does not offer such a feature - in fact it does not offer autoexposure bracketing at all.
The Nikon 1 V2 can be set to shoot Full HD video footage, and you even get to choose from 1080p at 30fps or 1080i at 60fps, depending on whether you prefer to work with progressive or interlaced video. If you don't need Full HD, there's also 720p at 60fps, which is really smooth and still counts as high definition. Secondly, you get full manual control over exposure in video mode. This is an option; you don't have to shoot in M mode but you can if that's what you need. Thirdly, you get fast, continuous AF in video mode, and it works well, especially in good light. Movies are compressed using the H.264 codec and stored as MOV files. There are separate shutter release buttons for stills and video, and thanks to this - as well as the massive processing power of the Nikon V2 - you can take multiple full-resolution stills even while recording HD video. This works in the other way round too - you can capture a movie clip even when the mode dial is in the Still Image position, simply by pressing the red movie shutter release. We found that in this case the camera will invariably record the video at 720p/60fps.
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In addition to being capable of shooting regular movies in HD quality, the Nikon 1 V2 can also shoot video at 400fps for slow-motion playback. The resolution is lower and the aspect ratio is an ultra-widescreen 2.67:1, but the quality is adequate for YouTube, Vimeo and the like. These videos are played back at 30fps, which is more than 13x slower than the capture speed of 400fps, allowing you to get creative and show the world an array of interesting phenomena that happen too quickly to observe in real time. The Nikon V2 goes even further by offering a 1200fps video mode, but the resolution and overall quality is too poor for that to be genuinely useful.
There are two Best Moment Capture modes, with the F button toggling between them. 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. This feature can be genuinely useful when photographing fast action and fleeting moments. The new Slow View mode captures up to 40 full-resolution continuous shots and displays them in slow motion on the LCD screen, making it easier for you to select the exact moment that you want to keep from the burst sequence.
In the innovative 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 now saved in a single MOV file, making them much easier to share than on the V1.
The Nikon V2 stores photos and videos on SD/SDHC/SDXC memory cards, and supports the fastest UHS-I speed class. The camera runs on the new EN-EL21 Lithium-ion battery which is capable of producing less shots on a single charge than its predecessor (310 versus the V1's 350 shots). The camera's tripod socket is made of metal and is positioned in line with the lens' optical axis. This also means that changing batteries or cards is now possible while the V2 is mounted on a tripod, as the hinges of the battery/card compartment door in the new handgrip are positioned far enough away from the tripod mount.