Nikon 1 S1 review: Nikon 1 S1

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CNET Editors' Rating

3.5 stars Very good
Review Date:
Updated on:

The Good Compact body; Decent image quality; Small lens system; Good price.

The Bad Wind noise on movies; Not as appealing as J- and V-series cameras.

The Bottom Line If you can't afford a J3, look this way. It may sport a lower-resolution sensor, coarser LCD and plastic body, but the S1 matches its more expensive siblings in many respects. Think with your head rather than your heart and you'll see it's a good deal with much to offer.

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Nikon's lineup of compacts with interchangeable lenses -- its 1 Series -- is rapidly growing.

Following a fair flurry of updates over the last couple of months, it now boasts four current models in three lines, the J, V and S families. The S1 is an entry-level model, and slips in at the bottom of the stack at around £440 online.

Features

Lenses aside, the S1 shares one key feature with the very first model in the range -- the J1 -- and that's they both have a 10.1-megapixel sensor producing 3,872x2,592 pixel images. That's fine for poster and canvas printing, but you won't want to be cropping too far if you intend to output your shots as large prints rather than posting them online.

Yet in other respects, it's much improved. It's shed around 15 per cent of its weight, and is very slightly smaller. It's cheaper, too, and so offers a more affordable route into Nikon's rapidly developing 1-mount lens system, which is one of the smallest and easiest to carry of any interchangeable lens set-up.

Nikon 1 S1 test photo
The S1 is smaller, lighter and cheaper than its predecessors, opening up the 1 system lens range to a wider audience.

While its styling is highly reminiscent of the J-series cameras however, the build quality reflects the lower price. The body is fashioned from glossy plastic, which doesn't feel either as sturdy or as classy. Meanwhile, the rear LCD -- a high point of both the J- and V-series cameras -- is still 3 inches from corner to corner, but is now populated with only half as many pixels. If you're coming from a rival compact you might not notice the difference, but it's very obvious when stepping down from a J or V camera, and doesn't make for nearly so luxurious a user experience.

Nikon has put together two bundles: the Slim Zoom Lens Kit, which I've reviewed here, pairs the S1 with 11-27.5mm glass, while the Double Zoom Kit, adds a second lens covering off 30-110mm. The sensor that sits behind them is considerably smaller than you'll find in most other compact interchangeable lens cameras, so when working out how these lenses would perform on a regular 35mm camera you need to multiply the focal lengths by 2.7. That gives you 29.7-74.25mm on the slim zoom and 81-297mm on the longer telephoto respectively.

Maximum wide-angle aperture on the 11-27mm lens stands at f/3.5, and at f/3.8 on the 30-110mm option. On either lens, it's f/5.6 at full telephoto, and can be tightened to a minimum f/16 to extend the depth of field.

Sensitivity runs from ISO 100 to ISO 6,400, with compensation of +/-3EV in increments of 1/3EV.

The 1 system has always excelled at speed, and that's also true of the S1, where the maximum shutter speed stands at 1/16,000 second, and burst shooting touches 60fps. When paired with an appropriate lens, this would be a great camera for freezing sports and wildlife in motion.

At the opposite end of the scale, you can hold the shutter open for up to 30 seconds -- a duration that's spot on for night-time city photography. Bulb mode has a two minute limit.

Stills performance

I performed my tests on an overcast day, with the S1 set to produce JPEGs in camera. There was no evidence of compression artefacts, with the S1 maintaining a very light touch throughout.

The overcast conditions were pretty demanding when it came to accurately balancing the light on exterior shots however, and in some pictures the grey sky was flat and lacked the texture that was evident in images taken at the same time on other cameras.

Nikon 1 S1 test photo
When shooting in overcast conditions the skies sometimes lacked texture and variation that was retained by other cameras (click image to enlarge).

The camera did a great job of resolving a high level of detail right across the frame, and comparing the extreme corners with the very centre revealed very little difference between the two. This is impressive, as it's often the case that you have to cut cameras a little slack in the corners, where they have to bend the incoming light to a more extreme degree.

Nikon 1 S1 test photo
The S1 and kit lens combo was able to capture a high level of detail right into the corners of the frame (click image to enlarge).

It was therefore no great surprise that there was no evidence of pink or green colour fringing in my test shots either, as the supplied kit lens managed to focus each wavelength of incoming light in sync.

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Nikon 1 S1 (with 11-27.5mm Lens, Red)

Part Number: 27629
Typical Price: £299.99 Low Price: £229.00 See all prices
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