By CHONG JINN XIUNGbytz@thestar.com.my
The Nikon V1 has a lot of cool features for a small MILC.
IT used to be that you needed a DSLR camera to snap great quality photos. However that's not the case now as compact sized mirrorless interchangeable-lens cameras (MILCs) are changing the way people take pictures.
Nikon entered the MILC fray with the 1 series late last year with the V1 and J1. We will be looking at the higher end model, the V1, in this review.
The V1 is bigger and chunkier than the J1 and in terms of design, it has more in common with the likes of the Sony NEX-7.
It has a raised body thanks to a hump that houses the electronic viewfinder (EVF) and we like the no-nonsense look of the camera. It's a serious looking model that looks like it belongs alongside our Nikon D7000 DSLR.
The build quality is remarkably solid as both cameras have a magnesium alloy shell. The V1 feels good in the hand but it should have a hand grip to make it easier to handle.
Both the V1 and J1 use Nikon's new 10-megapixel CX sensor that is smaller then those used in Micro Four Third cameras by Panasonic and Olympus.
So, the CX sensor has a 2.7x crop factor which gives a 10mm lens a focal length of 27.2mm (35mm equivalent).
The 3in LCD on the back isn't touch-enabled which isn't a bad thing. We find most touchscreens on cameras a bit clunky to use. Call us old fashioned but we like physical buttons on our cameras and the V1's four-way scroll wheel worked well for navigating menus and changing settings.
We were, however, disappointed to find that there were no shortcut buttons for accessing ISO and white balance which forced us to dive into the menu system to change these common settings.
Unlike the J1, the V1 relies on an accessory port to use the Speedlight SB-N5 flashgun. It's a useful little accessory with a tilt and swivel head for bouncing the flash and also has a handy lamp for illuminating subjects during video recording.
However, it is disappointing that the flash has to be purchased separately when it should've been bundled together with the V1.
New camera, new lenses
Naturally, Nikon had to make a new range of lenses for the 1 system. The range is called 1 Nikkor (no surprise here) and there are currently four lenses in the stable.
The 10-30mm acts as the standard kit lens, and there is also the 30-110mm telezoom lens, the 10mm f/2.8 pancake lens and the enormous 10-100mm powerzoom lens.
Users with existing Nikon lenses will be happy to know that they can use their standard F-mount lenses (both DX and FX) on the 1 system thanks to the FT1 adaptor.
Though this greatly expands your lens options, there is a limitation when using your existing lenses. You will not be able to continuously focus with the lens which means they can't be used for tracking moving subjects.
Of course, you also can't use autofocus on certain lenses like the AF-D and the older F-mounThis can be a problem on the J1 which doesn't have an electronic viewfinder as it is difficult to judge image sharpness on a LCD screen.t.
We were quite impressed with the V1's performance. Speed is the keyword here and no, we are not talking about the drug.
The camera almost instantly locks onto subjects the moment the shutter button is half pressed and even manages to keep up with fast moving subjects when shooting and recording videos outdoors.
As expected the camera tends to hunt in low light conditions, often with the focus pulling backwards and forwards until it achieves a lock. Even then the V1's face detection system was able to recognise faces in a dimly lit room.
The V1 features an electronic shutter that allows you to shoot at blazingly fast continuous shooting speeds. The camera is so fast it even beats some entry-level DSLR cameras.
In terms of image quality, the camera managed to produce pleasing yet natural looking shots with spot on white balance. Even though it can't capture as much detail as a Micro Four Thirds camera, it still managed to preserve fine details while keeping things razor sharp.
Dynamic range was another area the V1 was good at. Scenes with highly contrasting bright and dark areas were evenly exposed without losing too much detail.
Noise performance isn't the V1's most stellar feature. Noise begins to rear its ugly dust speckled head at ISO 800 and above.
At ISO 1,600 images still looked acceptable as the camera manages to retain a high degree of detail but we woudn't be too sure about ISO 3,200.
The biggest letdown is the Auto ISO mode which seems faulty as it sets too slow a shutter speed for high ISO mode. This often resulted in blurry shots.
Hopefully there will be a firmware update soon to correct this annoying problem.
The V1's video recording mode is surprisingly full featured and captures 1080p (full HD) as well as 720p videos in MOV format.
The dedicated video record button is next to the shutter release - so you can start recording in a jiffy when you are in the middle of shooting still images.
You can also snap still images while recording HD videos without interrupting the process or making a sound thanks to the camera's electronic shutter. However, images will be cropped with a 16:9 ratio.
Video quality was consistently good with accurate exposure in variety of different settings be they indoors or outdoors. In well lit scenes, the camera managed to produce well saturated colours and detailed videos.
The camera's autofocus works exceptionally well during recording. It focuses fast and tracks moving subjects well. Lenses with Vibration Reduction (VR) greatly helped steady hand-held shots.
However, panning the camera with VR enabled resulted in abrupt jumps as the camera overcompensates for movements. We suggest turning VR off in these situations.
There's also an option to record in videos in slow-motion at 400fps (640 x 240-pixels) and 1,200fps (320 x 120-pixels).
The videos were nice but were hampered by the low resolution. You won't be able to splice them together with your HD footage but they are good enough for YouTube or Facebook.
The V1's massive battery (which happens to be the same as the D7000's) served us well. On a single charge it managed to last for at least 600 shots.
Nikon has included two special camera modes that are largely targeted at beginners.
Motion Snapshot takes a short 2.5-second slow-motion video and tags a photo that lingers at the end of the video. To add some mood each video can be accompanied by one of four music themes.
This feature is not really great because you'll end up with a whole bunch of similar sounding videos.
Smart Photo Selector, on the hand, is a more useful mode that is a great when you want to freeze a moment like a jumping shot of you and your pals over a famous monument.
It basically lets you pick the best image from a batch of 20 images snapped in rapid succession.
On the whole, the Nikon V1 is a nice MILC that has a good array of features that would attract enthusiasts.
It's definitely one of the fastest cameras - for autofocus, subject tracking and continuous shooting, the V1 is one of the best in this category. These are undeniably the most standout features that any photographer would want.
The built-in EVF makes the camera great for outdoor shooting and the accessory port makes it possible to add a GPS unit or external microphone.
Also, the build quality is solid and the buttons are well laid out.
However, the V1 isn't as customisable as we would have liked it to be and some common settings aren't easily accessible.
Also, the flash should been included with the camera as a standard accessory.
Despite the shortcomings, the Nikon V1 is certainly a good bridge camera for those looking to upgrade from their compacts and a nice secondary camera to be used alongside a DSLR.
Pros: Super fast autofocus speed; 60fps burst shooting in Electronic-Hi mode; good picture and video quality.
Cons: Average noise performance; Auto ISO mode doesn't work well; flash accessory not included.
Mirrorless interchangeable-lens camera
SENSOR: 10.1-megapixels CMOS
VIEWFINDER: 3in LCD (921,000-dots)
ELECTRONIC VIEWFINDER: 0.47in TFT LCD viewfinder (1,440k-dot colour)
SHUTTER SPEED: 1/4,000sec - 30sec (mechanical), 1/16,000sec -30sec (electronic)
ISO RANGE: 100 to 3,200
SHOOTING MODES: Still Image (PASM modes located within menu), Smart Photo selector, Movie, Motion Snapshot
VIDEO MODE: Full HD at 60i/30 fps (1,920 x 1,080-pixels) for MOV; 640 x 240-pixels at 400fps or 320 x 120-pixels at 1,200fps for slow motion videos
BATTERY: Lithium-ion EN-EL15
STORAGE: SD/SDHC/SDXC memory card
INTERFACE: USB 2.0, HDMI out, accessory port
DIMENSIONS (W x H x D): 113 x 76 x 43.5mm
PRICE: RM2,858 (with 10-30mm kit); RM3,058 (with 10mm kit); RM3,258 (with 10mm and 10-30mm kit); RM3,458 (with 10-30mm and 30-110mm kit)
RATING: 4 stars
Review unit courtesy of Nikon (Malaysia) Sdn Bhd, (03) 7809-3688
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