More on the Nikon 1 V1

According to my receipt, I’m coming up on owning the Nikon 1 V1 for one month, and according to my Lightroom catalog, I’m approaching 2000 images shot with it. I thought that made now as good a time as any to expand on my first impressions. (By the way, I’ve added this and other posts to the bottom of that original post, so if you’re interested in reading more, check that out.)

Tree at Water Dog (LR 4 Beta Version)

What’s Good?

The Autofocus

The autofocus continues to amaze me, and even though I praised it early on, I have to reiterate it here. I typically use only the center focus point, but allow face detection to override it. This makes shooting the kid easy-peasy. If she’s running around, I turn on focus tracking, which works better on this camera than many others I’ve played with that are much more expensive. I’m not exaggerating when I say that this camera’s AF system performs almost as well as the D700s, and that camera’s AF is excellent. It is slower in low-light, but it’s still good.

I was particularly impressed when mounting F-mount lenses on the Nikon 1: It focuses very well with them, except that it can’t do AF-C. I also played quite a bit with manually focusing F-mount lenses on the 1, and I’m pleased with how easy it is to focus with the EVF. Manually focusing in dim light is one time when an EVF is actually superior to an OVF, since the EVF is brightened for you. The EVF is sharp enough that I was able to keep critical focus on subjects moving moderately (i.e., not running).

Metering and File Headroom

I’ll combine these together since I mentioned that I thought the metering was great last post. To elaborate further, I find that the V1 does a very nice job in high-contrast situations, keeping highlights under control and getting a good-looking histogram from the camera is easy (if only I could see it live!). Furthermore, I’m impressed with the RAW files the V1 turns out; they have plenty of headroom in the highlights to recover any that do go over the edge. Post-processing Nikon 1 files has been a joy in Lightroom 3.6, and I’m expecting even more from the newly released Lightroom 4 beta.

Fit, Finish, and Feel

Some out there don’t like the feel or the form factor. I personally find the V1 to be an attractive, understated design. The size and weight are spot-on, and it doesn’t feel at all toy-like to me. It feels like a quality tool. The EVF really comes in to play here, because keeping the camera up to my face really adds to the “real camera” feel for me. Moving from my eye and away to review images and back is natural, and while I’d like the eye sensor to switch a little more quickly, I can’t really complain.

Speaking of the menus, I want to double down on my first impressions that the camera is fast from an operational point-of-view. You know that LCD menu feel? Where you’re scrolling among items, and the menu shows you what’s selected by reversing the text and its background color, but it’s just a bit slow and you can kind of see it drawing the screen while scrolling? The Nikon doesn’t feel that way at all; it’s fast and fluid, and never feels like it’s lagging behind your choices. It’s very nice.

It’s Quiet

Even using the mechanical shutter, this is a quiet camera. AF is silent, and the shutter is a slight “snick”. If you switch to the electronic shutter and turn off the sounds, it’s absolutely silent. It’s the quietest camera I’ve ever used in this mode. On top of that, it can be blazing fast in this mode, and your subject won’t even know you just shot them at 10 FPS! Wonderful.

What’s Not So Good?

There are some frustrating things about this camera, and it seems like Nikon can fix them with firmware updates. I’d say Nikon hasn’t been good with that in the past, so we’ll see if they’re going to try and iterate on the Nikon 1 line differently than they do their SLR line. None have been deal-breakers for me, but here are the headliners:

Auto ISO

Auto ISO has a few problems. First, it tends to pick too slow a shutter speed in favor of keeping ISO low. Subject blur is way worse in my book than noise is, and I really want to be able to specify more about how I want the camera to behave with regard to minimum shutter speed. Of course, I can go into shutter-priority mode, but I want Auto ISO to handle that with a few parameters I set and allow me to remain in other shooting modes, as the situation warrants on a creative basis.

Auto ISO also needs to show me in real-time what it’s set to. Right now, it shows its maximum possible ISO. For instance, if I’m using Auto 3200, meaning the camera can go as high as ISO 3200 if it needs to, it shows “3200” to me while shooting, even if it’s selected ISO 100 because I’m shooting in daylight. I want to know where it is in the situation I’m in. Lastly, I can set Auto ISO to several maximum levels, but it skips 1600, which is one I want to use fairly often, as it tends to be about where my tolerance is for noise in most situations. Grrr.

Image Review

I mentioned this before, but it bears repeating: you can’t turn off image review. I don’t always want to see what I just shot, especially when I want to keep shooting immediately. Simply half-pressing the shutter doesn’t get rid of the review, either; you have to wait it out. This one is particularly aggravating, but I find I’m getting more used to it. If I could prioritize changes for a firmware update, this would probably be number one.

Physical Controls

As most reviews have pointed out, the camera could really do with some more essential physical controls. The mode dial it does have is useless to me, and it does get knocked into other modes when pocketing or bagging the camera, which causes a couple of seconds of confusion every once in a while. It’s easy to get to exposure compensation, AF mode and a couple of others. But ISO should be a single button away, as should shooting mode (PASM). There are a couple of items that have physical shortcuts that should be swapped out in my mind with more important functions such as these (shutter type and self-timer, for instance).

I’m Keeping It

I bought and returned a Fuji X100 late last year, and bought the V1 not half expecting it to be another disappointment. I’ve been interested in replacing the Panasonic GF1 I’ve been using for the past couple of years, and I’ve now firmly decided that I’m keeping the V1. Since the original purchase, I’ve purchased most of the available major accessories for the camera, and think the system so far is a blast. The camera is fun, encourages playful shooting and really allows you to get into the moment, which has been a real problem with the other small cameras I’ve used. I’m delighted to say that I’m really enjoying the V1 far more than I expected to.