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The Good Compact body and lens system; Image quality; Colour reproduction; Video performance; High frame rate shooting; More accessible controls.

The Bad Some fall off in focus towards corners; Some bleached highlights; Expensive.

The Bottom Line A beautifully designed and constructed compact camera with a lens system that brings out the strengths of the compact interchangeable lens form factor. Image quality is good and it's genuinely fun to use. Travellers who want the flexibility of a dSLR without the bulk or weight should look this way.

CNET Editors' Rating

8.3 Overall

When I reviewed the Nikon 1 J2 back at the end of summer, I was disappointed that the difference between that and its predecessor, the J1, was so slight. Nikon has followed up with the V2, an upgrade to the V1, which this time around boasts far more obvious improvements. You can snap it now for around £760.

New specs

For starters, the resolution has increased from 10.1 to 14.2 megapixels, so at full size, images are 4,608x3,072 pixels -- up from 3,872x2,592. Naturally, 10.1 megapixels is still plenty for printing pictures at A2 size and above, but with more pixels at your disposal, the V2 lets you crop more tightly in post-production and still have a sufficiently large photo left for printing.

The sensor itself hasn't physically changed size, so those extra pixels are being squeezed in on a 13.2x8.8mm CMOS chip, giving them less room to breathe than their predecessors. As my tests reveal below however, it's not a problem, as noise -- even at high sensitivities -- is very well controlled.

Nikon 1 V2
The Nikon 1 V2 has the line's highest resolution to date at 14.2 megapixels.

It uses the Nikon 1 lens system, so if you're upgrading from a previous model you can take your lenses with you. These are among the smallest mainstream lenses you can buy, and they help maintain the range's pixie proportions, striking the perfect balance between manageability and portability. Although larger than the Pentax Q the lens and body combo of the 1 system feels far more practical in general use.

There's a neat push and twist mechanism on the 10-30mm kit lens that takes the camera out of sleep mode. On the J2 this is supplemented by a button on the top of the body, used to switch it on when you're using a prime lens, such as the 18.5mm f/1.8. This button has been replaced on the V2 by a cuff surrounding the shutter release, which is identical to the zoom rocker used by many compacts. Although zooming is handled manually by twisting the lens ring, it's tempting to pull on the power switch instead and end up turning the camera off at an inopportune moment.

Around the back, there's a super-smooth 3-inch display -- one of the best on any camera -- and an electronic viewfinder, which is more obvious from the front in the V2 than it was on the V1, as it shares a housing with the repositioned flash. There's a proximity sensor here, too, which switches to the eyepiece when it detects that you've moved the camera close to your face.


It's not only the higher resolution that points to the V2 as being a superior camera than the J2; the increased range of controls also reinforces that feeling. With the V2 you have direct access to the regular PASM modes using a wheel on the top of the body, which also switches you into auto and movie modes. On the J2, aperture and shutter priority are instead found alongside the creative scene modes, so switching between them isn't such a swift operation.

Nikon 1 V2
The top plate of the Nikon 1 V2 clearly sets it apart from the J2, with immediate access to manual controls.

The controls are extremely well thought out, with a dedicated wheel on the top of the body changing settings for the current mode, and the F button stepping you through various shooting options, adjusting the function of the wheel so that a single dial can set anything from sensitivity to white balance and focus mode.

Shutter speed ranges from 1/4,000 to 30 seconds when using the mechanical shutter, but can be increased to 1/16,000 second when using the electronic shutter. The bulb mode, which is used to hold the shutter open, automatically shuts it again after 2 minutes.

Such high shutter speeds allow it to reach a maximum burst shooting speed of 60fps, and not just when saving cut down images, either -- it maintains that rate at full size.

Aperture range naturally depends on your choice of lens, but I tested the V2 with the 10-30mm kit lens, which is equivalent to 27-81mm on a 35mm camera, with maximum apertures of f/3.5 and f/5.6 at either end of the zoom.

Nikon 1 V2 test photo
The 10-30mm kit lens offers a 3x zoom in a very compact barrel.

I kept it set to aperture priority so that I could control the depth of field while it handled all of the other shooting options. The only time I interfered was when I forced the sensitivity for the specific low-light tests, and switched to auto mode for the still-life test.

Low light performance

Sensitivity kicks off at ISO 160 and runs through to 6,400, with compensation in 1/3EV increments stretching for three stops in either direction.

Low light performance is good, right the way up the scale. I forced the V2 to shoot at increasingly high settings until it reached ISO 6,400. At this level there was some noise and dappling in the darker background of the scene, as can be seen in the shot below, where the noise is clearest on the wall at the back of the shot. The main focus of the image, though, remained pleasingly clean, with plenty of detail on the moulding of the candle holder and the cloth to the left.

Nikon 1 V2 test photo
This image was shot at ISO 6400 While there's some noise in the darker parts of the frame, the result is impressively clean (click image to enlarge).

In more general use, dropping the sensitivity to ISO 1,250 demonstrated how much detail it retained in general at a level where in many other small-sensor cameras I would expect to see significant degradation in the result. The icons at the back of this Orthodox chapel are not as detailed here as they are in real life, but zooming to 100 per cent reveals that little is lost from their overall appearance.

Nikon 1 V2 test photo
The detail retained in this poorly lit chapel is impressive, with the icons at the rear of the scene accurately reproduced (click image to enlarge).

Shooting contrasts

Contrasts are well handled, but when tasked with shooting a frame split 50:50 between shadow and highlight and using in-camera JPEG conversion, it had a tendency to compensate for the shadows and bleach out the highlights.

The first of the shots below shows the level of detail achieved by framing just the part of the building that is in full sunlight. There is plenty of detail, even in areas where there's little tonal variation, with the V2 making best use of the limited palette.

Nikon 1 V2 test photo
Despite the limited palette, the Nikon 1 V2 has produced a clean and punchy reproduction of this well-lit scene (click image to enlarge).

However, pulling back to frame the rest of the building revealed those parts that were in shadow. The V2 gave these prominence, capturing an admirable level of texture in the shadows but, in the process, losing detail in the highlight areas.

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