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Nikon V1

The Nikon 1 series are classified as Compact System Cameras, sometimes known as a MILC (Mirrorless Interchangeable Lens Camera), or sometimes EVIL (Electronic Viewfinder Interchangeable Lens). Nikon calls the Nikon 1 an ACIL (Advanced Camera - Interchangeable Lens). As of this date, the series includes the entry-level versions; J1, J2, and J3, a low cost version; S1, and the advanced versions; V1 and V2.

Nikon V1 Overview

Nikon 1 V1

Exposure modes: PSAM and Auto.
Sensor: 10 MegaPixel CX (2.7 Crop)
Lens: Interchangeable CX mount.
Movie Mode: 30p, 60p, 1200 slow mo
ISO range: 100~6400
File Format: JPG, RAW, MOV
Viewfinder: Electronic
Manufactured: China
Street Price with lens: $300~900


Suitability for Travel: Compact system cameras are excellent for vacation and cruise travel as you can pack light. However, once you buy several lenses and accessories, you can spend "DSLR money" on a camera of this type. This is espceially true with the Nikon 1 cameras as they tend to be overpriced. You pay a premium price for the flexibility of a lightweight, compact system.

The Nikon 1 series cameras direct competitors include the Sony NEX series, as well as the M4/3 (micro four-thirds) cameras from Olympus and Panasonic. The Sony NEX series have DSLR size sensors and are undoubetedly the best in this market segment. The M4/3 sensors are next, and the Nikon 1 CX series are the smallest. However, the Nikon 1 has advanced technology, and while they are no match for Sony's NEX cameras, they hold their own against M4/3 sensor cameras, and are about in the middle of the pack when it comes to image quality.

Relative Sensor Sizes.

Lenses: Lenses are the limiting factor for these cameras. At last count, Sony has 15 lenses for the NEX, Nikon has 8 lenses for the Nikon 1, and Olympus/Panasonic have 20 lenses (any brand micro 4/3rds lens can be used for any brand micro f/3rds camera). However, Nikon is a late-comer to this format, so it is to be expected that their lens count will grow. <

Sony and Nikon both make adapters that will fit their full sized DSLR lenses, so you will gain access to many more lenses. However, there are some limitations, such as the inability to focus some lenses, or full functionality. Within these limitations, you can share lenses if you have a like-brand DSLR. Olympus and Pentax only have adapters for the now-defunct Four/Thirds lenses (sometimes called full four/thirds).

Due to the smaller sensor that is used with the Nikon 1 system, using a DSLR (f-mount) lens provides an effective focal length multiplier of 2.7x. So if you have a Nikon AF-S 70-300mm f/4.5~5.6 lens, using the Nikon FT-1 adapter will result in a lens appearing to have a 189~810mm lens. I suppose this could be considered a "poor man's" super-telephoto lens. And the aperture does not change, so it still retains the same f/4~5.6 aperture. Compare that with Nikon's $18,000 f/5.6 telephoto lens, and you will see this is a very inexpensive alternative.

Sony's adapter does have some advantage as well, but not nearly as much. Due to the larger sensor on the sony, a 70-300mm lens would appear to be a 105~450mm lens.

Sample Photos

Kermit Weeks Museum.

Vision of the Seas.

Departing St. Maarten.

Life boat drill.

Performance: One of the most exciting aspects of the Nikon 1 series is the lightning quick focusing and very low shutter lag. Shutter lag is defined as the time delay from the moment you depress the shutter until the photo is taken. There are two factors that contribute to this delay; focus time and shutter time. Unfortunately, camera manufacurers do not specify such data, and it is not widley reported during testing by 3rd party testing facilities. However, one test facility: Imaging-Resource.Com do test shutter lag as well as focus delay.

CameraSingle Area AF timeShutter timeFocus System
Nikon V10.097 sec0.075 secHybrid Phase and Contrast Detection
Sony NEX-5N0.235 sec0.067 secContrast Detection
Olympus PEN E-PM10.246 sec0.112 secContrast Detection
Panasonic DMC-G50.194 sec0.079 secContrast Detection
Nikon D40.208 sec0.043 secPhase Detection
Nikon D70000.238 sec0.054 secPhase Detection
Nikon D31000.279 sec0.200 secPhase Detection
Canon 7D0.131 sec0.083 secPhase Detection
Canon T2i0.252 sec0.162 secPhase Detection
Pentax K5-II0.225 sec0.204 secPhase Detection
Pentax K300.162 sec0.098 secPhase Detection

Notes: Data derived from Imaging-Resource.Com.
Single Area AF Time: Time it takes to focus the camera and take the photo.
Shutter Time: Time to open and close the shutter - derived from Manual Focus time.

How to read the data: The first column, Single Area AF Time is the total time it takes to take a photo. This time can be important when taking action and sports photos. Consider that a 90 mph fastball travels 132ft per second, even the slightest delay will make it hard to photograph a batter hitting the ball. This list compares 4 different Compact System Cameras as well as popular DSLRs. It is interesting to note that even Nikon's $6,000 flagship professional DSLR, the D4, is slower than the Nikon 1.

The second column relates to manual focus shutter delay. Manual focus means no focusing at all, so the delays are strictly due to the mirror action (in the case of DSLRs) and the shutter's themselves. Also interesting that the Nikon D4, having both a mechanical shutter and mirror is the fastest camera.

The third column is the focus method used. Typically Compact System Cameras use the same slower Contrast Detection that Compact Cameras use. DSLRs on the other hand, use the faster and more reliable Phase Detection, while the Nikon 1 uses a Hybrid system of both types.

The Nikon 1 is the fastest camera when you consider lens focusing. This may be due to the hybrid Phase Detect/Contrast focusing method used on this camera. If fast focusing for sports and action is important to you, the Nikon 1 series are the best cameras having this feature.

The competition: How does the Nikon 1 stack up against the typical compact system camera with it's smaller sensor. Well, as you might expect, the Sony NEX series does have an advantage here, with it's entery-level DSLR sized sensor; however the Nikon 1 series holds it's own against the Micro f/3rds bunch - even though it has a slightly smaller sensor than those cameras as well.

The DxOMark Sensor Ratings show that the Nikon 1 cameras are above average when compared to the typical Mf/3 cameras. And the sensor ratings do not account for advanced technology the Nikon 1 series has, such as fast focusing, low shutter lag, and in the case of the Nikon J3 - image sharpness due to removal of the anti-aliasing filter.

Is a Nikon 1 for you? Depends. For a second camera, especially if you have any Nikon F-Mount lenses, this is an attracive solution. If you want a small package and lightning fast focusing, you should consider a Nikon 1. However, the MSRP is way too high for these cameras, almost in the "rip-off" range. However, if you keep abreast of pricing, you may find them on discount from time to time as Nikon sometimes offers instant rebates. I bought my Nikon V1 (MSRP $899) for $299 in Dec 2012. So my advice if you want one of these cameras is to keep an eye out for rebates.

Also, the best way to buy these cameras is in a 2-lens kit; which includes a 10-30mm and 30-110mm lens (the one lens kit includes a 10-30mm lens only). If you take advantage of the two lens kit, you can get the 30-110mm lens for $100 (which normally costs $250). As well, when buying the 30-110mm lens, you can only get it in either White or Black. If you want one of the other custom colors (silver, red, pink, or orange), you must buy the lenses as part of the two lens kit.

Lens Testing: Various lenses as well as the FT-1 adapter are tested here:

Having fun with the V1

Recently, I went to a minor leage baseball game. This was a night game, and although the lights were on, it still presented a challenge to photograph it. I used the FT-1 adapter and a Nikon AF-S 85mm f/1.8, which with the crop factor on the Nikon V1, it results in an effecive 230mm. Imagine a 230mm sports lens at f/1.8!

I created the sequence shown below by using the Nikon 1's high burst mode capability (10 frames per second for 3 seconds), which resulted in 30 photos. I then stitched them for a short time lapse movie so that I could show how rapid the continuous shutter can be. By the way, the Nikon 1 is capable of much higher burst speeds - up to 60 frames per second. Even high-end DSLRs cannot do that!

Again, this is not video. It is a sequence of 30 individual photos taken in a rapid sequence, then stitched together to create a time-lapse video.

But what about video?

Perhaps one of the undiscovered secrets about the Nikon 1 cameras is their video capability. It is simply outstanding, and I have switched to using my V1 for video use. I did purchase the rather expensive Nikon 10-100mm f/4.5~5.6 VR power zoom lens for video, and the results have been fantastic. I was zoomed in to the maximum with this lens (equivalent to 270mm in the 35mm format). I was able to find this lens refurbished for $380, so the price was not as bad as the original MSRP.

Video capability of the Nikon V1

Realize that depending on your network speed, this video may default to lower quality by YouTube so it may not look as good as the original (hint: set the YouTube Quality setting to 1080p HD video which is what the video was taken in). Even then, considering the video was taken at night, under the lights of a baseball field, the results are not too bad.

In a nutshell, the Nikon V1 is just Fun!