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Nikon 1 V1 review: Nikon 1 V1

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The Good Great level of detail; Compact interchangeable lens system; Good build quality.

The Bad Some evidence of colour fringing; Expensive.

The Bottom Line The Nikon 1 V1 is more capable than the J1, but the body lacks its sibling's finesse and we're not sure the extra features justify the higher price. Nonetheless, the V1 produces some of the sharpest, most detailed shots we have seen.

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7.5 Overall

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Launched in concert with the J1, the V1 is the second of Nikon's newly-announced interchangeable lens compact cameras. With a 10.1-megapixel sensor, it's aimed squarely at those who are wowed less by resolution than by what really matters: image quality. Like its sibling, the V1 puts out some of the sharpest, most detailed, most colourful pictures we have seen in some time.

Build and looks

The V1 is built like the proverbial tank. The camera's heavy, tipping the scales at 383g -- that's without any lens attached -- and made mostly from metal. It has a wonderful retro look to it, with a chunky viewfinder protruding from the back, just above the LCD. Beside that is a slide-off cover, which hides a hotshoe for mounting an optional flash or GPS unit.

Buttons and dials are kept to a minimum, with a four-way mode selector mounted on the back covering off still image, 'smart photo selector', movie and motion snapshot modes. Still image speaks for itself, but smart photo selector is worth exploring further.

Select it and half-press the shutter to fix the focus; the V1 immediately starts capturing data. When you fully depress the shutter release it stops, then it compares 20 stored images to pick the best shot in terms of composition and exposure. It saves this and four further options to a stack on your memory card, discarding everything else.

That's as smart as the function's name suggests. As a bonus the staked 'candidate' shots are hidden beneath what it considers to be the best one so you don't need to scroll through them all when you're reviewing your day's shooting.

Nikon 1 V1 lens unattached
The Nikon 1 V1 is a heavyweight at 383g -- that's without the lens attached.

Movie mode is self-explanatory, but motion snapshot is an interesting halfway house; it takes both a still and a very short snatch of video, then edits them together with a choice of four clips of music, variously denoted as beauty, waves, relaxation and tenderness. When you play it back, it runs through the video in slow motion, then cuts to your photo to finish on a still. We're having difficulty thinking of a scenario when you might want to use this feature, but nonetheless it's an interesting take on shooting stills.

The V1 we tested was shipped with a 10mm prime lens using Nikon's new 1 Nikkor mount. This is incredibly compact, protruding from the front of the body by just 22mm. It really looks the part, complementing its industrial lines.

Don't be fooled by the stated focal length. Although the 1 Nikkor lenses were developed in concert with the Nikon 1 cameras, you still need to multiply their focal length by 2.7 to work out the 35mm equivalent, giving this unit an effective focal length of 27mm. The 10mm lens is one of just four lenses currently on offer, but Nikon has also produced an adaptor for mounting its regular dSLR lenses.

At present, the Nikon 1 raw files aren't supported by either Photoshop or Apple Aperture, so unless you're happy to work with the JPEG equivalents -- which you can set it to write simultaneously alongside the NEF files or in their stead -- you'll need to use the bundled ViewNX 2 software to manage your downloaded shots.

Shooting stills

The rear LCD screen, as with the J1, is one of the best we have used. It's bright, responsive and supplemented by an electronic viewfinder. We would always prefer an optical equivalent here, but the V1's implementation, as with the Sony Alpha SLT-A35, is among the best we have used. It's sharp and has a quick refresh, so there's no skipping or smearing as the image sweeps past. A proximity sensor to the side of the eyepiece switches between this and the rear screen as you bring your eye towards it.

With just 10.1 megapixels across which to spread each frame, the Nikon V1 demonstrates good dynamic range, with bright, vibrant colours. There was only faint evidence of colour fringing where narrow, dark details such as fine branches passed over very bright backgrounds, even when shooting against a bright, overcast sky.

Nikon 1 V1 Detail test
Lesser cameras would have trouble here, but the V1 produced a clean shot with only minor fringing on these branches where they passed in front of an overcast sky (click image to enlarge).

However, the effects were more pronounced where the sharp edges of a building overlaid a bright background. This was evident in our shots of a railway viaduct, behind which the sky was slightly overcast. Here, a clear magenta glow was visible on the underside of the arches. This became more pronounced as we moved our attention towards the edge of the frame, where it also manifested on the side of a silver lamp post overlaying the darker brickwork.

Nikon 1 V1 Detail test
The above cropped portion of a larger image shows clear fringing, called chromatic aberration, on the underside of the bridge archway (click to view this section in context).

It is natural that such an effect would become exaggerated towards the edge and corner of the frame as the lens has to work harder to focus the light on the sensor from this angle, but we were disappointed to see it appear at all.

We suspect that this has less to do with the camera body than the 10mm lens we were using in our tests; shots of the same subject taken on the Nikon 1 J1, which we were testing at the same time using the 30-110mm lens, didn't exhibit the same fringing.

Beyond this instance of fringing, the V1 performed well, accurately focusing light across the frame. Natural colours -- particularly autumn leaves -- were vibrant and realistic, with well-differentiated tones helping to clearly pick out areas of complex detail.

Nikon 1 V1 Detail test
There's not a great variety of colour differentiation in this autumnal scene, yet the V1 still managed to clearly differentiate each part with an impressive level of detail (click image to enlarge).

However, it occasionally had difficulty in balancing highlights and shadows when using the scene auto selector. In the shot of this church, below, some detail was lost from the upper parts of the stonework as the V1 compensated for the darker areas of the scene, which filled around half of the frame.

Nikon 1 V1 Detail test
The composition of this portrait shot resulted in some bleached highlights on the flat stonework 45-degrees on to the camera (click image to enlarge).

Reshooting in landscape mode changed the overall lighting conditions, allowing the camera to rebalance the stonework for a better overall result. In switching to landscape orientation it changed the aperture from f/4 to f/4.5 and increased the shutter speed from 1/320 to 1/500-second for perfectly rendered stonework.

Nikon 1 V1 Detail test
Recomposing the shot allowed for more balanced exposures of the stonework resulting in greater detail (click image to enlarge).

Our highlights again lost some detail when we shot this mill pond with the sun to one side and slightly behind us. Closely examining the building at the centre of the frame, which was exposed for 1/250-second at ISO 100, shows that some detail has again been lost in the brickwork and window frame.

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