ILCC cameras from the likes of Olympus, Panasonic, Sony and Samsung have taken an increasing share of the market in Asia and Europe. Only recently, Pentax entered the ILCC market with its diminutive Q series. D-SLR leaders like Nikon were, therefore, left with no choice but to respond.
The end result is the Nikon 1 system which has been launched in the market with two bodies, the V1 and the J1. According to Nikon, its engineers have been working on the 1 system for nearly four years and they have developed not only a completely new lens mount but also used a completely new CX format sensor. For Nikon, this is certainly pathbreaking since it is the first new mount adopted by Nikon since 1959. Whilst the J1 is the entry level camera, the V1 has been aimed at enthusiasts and videographers. The V1 also features an electronic viewfinder which the J1 does not have. On our test bench this month is the V1. Immediate competitors that come to mind are the Olympus Pen E-P3, the new Panasonic Lumix GX1 and Sony’s forthcoming N-EX 7 which should hit the market by March next year.
Design and Build Quality
To be candid, we were a little disappointed by the rather boxy design of the V1. Nikon could have broken new ground in the design front. Havingsaid that, the V1, apart from the top and bottom plate, is made from magnesium alloy and feels solid and substantial. Since the V1 uses a CX sensor that is 13.2 x 8.8mm in size, we had expected the body to be a tad smaller than comparable micro four thirds bodies. However, this is not the case and the V1 is roughly the same size as Panasonic’s GF2 and GF3. Nikon’s 30-110mm lens is also fairly substantial and is comparable in size of Panasonic’s 28-84mm standard zoom. Nikon’s F mount users would be able to mount their F mount lenses on the V1 via the new FT 1 adapter. At 294gms for the body, the V1 compares unfavourably with Panasonic’s GF3 which weighs 225gms.
Has Nikon done the right thing by adopting a much smaller sensor?
To answer this question, one needs to look at the dynamics of the D-SLR market and the threats to it by the consumer electronic giants like Panasonic, Samsung and Sony. Having failed to dislodge Nikon and Canon in the D-SLR market, Panasonic followed by Olympus, Sony and Samsung followed an entirely new formula for producing interchangeable lens cameras latching on to the fact that D-SLRs were getting heavy and unwieldy. They exploited these factors to come out with a range that removed the mirror and the optical viewfinder and made the new camera smaller and much lighter. Sony and Samsung, however, chose to use the APS-C sensor on the ground that a bigger sensor would avoid problems of noise. The limiting factor, however was that, while the body size of Sony and Samsung cameras were smaller, there was no way that they could reduce the size of their lenses, thus resulting in disproportionate and bulbous looking lenses being mounted on sleek bodies.
Panasonic and Olympus followed the Micro Four Thirds route which allows smaller lenses than the APS-C variety used by Sony and Samsung. This gave them the advantage of both
smaller bodies and smaller lenses. Their R & D departments worked hard to reduce the impact of noise at higher ISOs. They also improved the quality of their processors and
their optics thus resulting in very good overall picture quality for most imaging situations.
For Nikon, the options were rather limited. It already had APSC D-SLRs; it therefore made little sense to produce an entirely new range using the same size sensors. Nikon, therefore, opted for a new CX format sensor which was roughly a 1” sensor (giving a 2.7x focal length conversion to 35mm) and combined the sensor with a new EXPEED 3 processor.
Has Nikon done the right thing by adopting the new smaller sensor? We, at SP, think that it has. Strategically and commercially, the options before Nikon were limited.
As mentioned earlier, the Nikon V1 comes with a brand new 13.2×8.8mm CMOS sensor and EXPEED 3 processor. The sensor is kept clean by Nikon’s dust reduction system and produces effective pixels of around 10.1 million. The new Nikon 1 mount gives an effective angle of view that needs to be multiplied by 2.7x to get to the 35mm format and has a diameter of 40 cms.
The autofocus system used in the camera is a hybrid one consisting of either face detection or contrast detection autofocus and the autofocus assist illuminator aids the autofocus
function. Single frame autofocus, continuous autofocus and full time autofocus are the options available apart from manual focus. The camera can focus on certain points in 135 focus
areas or can focus automatically at 41 focus areas. Face priority autofocus can be switched on or off. Auto exposure and auto focus lock can also be used.
The cameras comes with an electronically controlled vertical travel, focal plane mechanical shutter as well as an electronic shutter. Using the F button, either the mechanical or electronic option can be selected. The electronic shutter presents a silent solution when shooting in quiet surroundings. The electronic shutter also has an electronic ‘hi’ mode in which shutter speeds can be hiked upto 1/16000 sec and a frame advance rate upto 60 frames per second can be achieved. Using the mechanical shutter, speeds range from 30 sec to 1/4000 sec. The flash sync speed also varies according to the type of shutter used and is 1/250 sec or less with a mechanical shutter and 1/160 sec or less with an electronic shutter.
Thanks to the electronic shutter, the V1 can shoot at 10,30 and 60 frames per second in drive mode and that too at full resolution.
Using TTL metering, the V1 offers a choice of matrix , centre weighted or spot metering. Exposure modes include programmed auto, shutter priority auto, aperture priority auto, scene
auto selector and manual. Exposure compensation of -3 to +3 EV is also available. ISO sensitivity ranges from 100 to 3200 in steps of 1 EV. This can be boosted to ISO 6400. A wide range of white balance settings are available apart from the auto settings. White balance can also be fine tuned.
The mode dial of the camera allows a choice of 4 shooting modes. (1) The motion snapshot mode which allows the camera to record both a still image and around 1 sec of moving images. (2) Smart photo selector mode – here the camera automatically selects the best shot along with four best shot candidates. (3) Still image mode and (4)Movie mode which
enables recording in high definition or recording slow motion movies.
The V1 comes with a 1440K color TFT LCD viewfinder which has an adjustment for both brightness and dioptre control. The electronic viewfinder provides 100% horizontal and vertical coverage. The camera automatically switches to the electronic viewfinder when it detects through an eye sensor that a viewfinder is in use. The LCD monitor features 921K dots, is 3” in size and can be adjusted for brightness.
Unlike its sister model, the J1, the V1 does not feature an integral flash unit. However, an optional SB-M5 flash unit is available for the viewer and this unit comes with all the regular features like fill-in flash, red eye reduction, slow sync and rear curtain sync.
Images can be recorded either on JPEG or on RAW or a combination of both. SD, SDHC and SDXC memory cards can be used.
Other features available include interval timer shooting, grid display, histogram, a self timer and display of the number of exposures remaining on a memory card. A remote control
The GP-N 100 GPS unit can be attached to the camera’s multi accessory port to record information on the location where the pictures are taken.
The camera came with a selection of 3 lenses – the 10mm f2.8 (27mm f2.8), the 30 to 110mm f3.8-5.6 VR (81mm to 297mm) and the 10 to 30mm (27mm to 81mm) f3.5-5.6 VR.
The two zoom lenses came with a switch to help arrest lens creep.
Although the V1 is diminutive, it is not so small that it is difficult to hold. The design of the camera does not include a hand grip, which is a slight disadvantage. Also a number of settings like metering etc have to be accessed only through the menu which can be a little slow. Nikon has chosen to supply the instruction manual on CD and not in print, which will not find approval from many users.
Uniquely, the V1 offers both phase and contrast detection AF in the V1. A phase detection system has been cleverly incorporated into the sensor of the V1. The autofocus system worked beautifully in well lit situations and was average to good in low lit situations. In continuous mode, the system was at its best with crisp and quick focussing. As far as metering was concerned, the V1 maintains Nikon’s high standard in the area. Results were both consistent and reliable. Nikon’s record for noise control in its D-SLRs has been exemplary and this shows even in the V1. Having said that, best results are available between ISO 100 and 800 after which the effects of noise reduction become visible. Auto white balance also put in a generally acceptable performance. The LCD and viewfinder of the V1 produced bright images and high refresh rates. The LCD also worked quite well in bright light.
Overall, the V1 produced pictures of good quality with accurate color tones. Details in shadows or highlights were retained rather nicely. Depth of field with the small sensor is however an issue that needs to be addressed. Perhaps, high aperture lenses from Nikon are in the pipeline.
Value For Money
Initial pricing in the UK for the V1 along with the 10-30mm lens is at around Stg. Pds 700 (without VAT) or Rs 56,000. At this price, the V1 is a tad expensive. An Indian price is still to be announced.
+ High speed operation, Fast focussing, Can shoot HD video and high
resolution stills simultaneously
– Shallow depth of field, No built in flash
Design and Build Quality :15.5/20
Key Features 17/20
Noise Control 4/5
Value for Money 7/10
Grand Total 79/100
Nikon SLR users may be disappointed with the V1. However, it is quite clear that the V1 is not aimed at them. The V1 is aimed at the enthusiast compact user and lets him venture into interchangeable lens territory. The benefits of a small and light system can be considerable and as long as you print below 12 x 8-inches, quality will not be an issue. The high speed features are an added bonus.
H. S. Billimoria