Nikon V1 – 6 months real-life use

As the new year comes in I have had my little, secondhand Nikon V1 for 6 months. As you may have read in my initial blog post on it I was very happy with the little camera when I first got it and used it for my first few personal shoots.

Am I still happy or has the honeymoon worn off?

The answer is a resounding yes, I am very happy.

This little camera was only ever meant to replace a Canon compact for me (which incidentally I was also happy with) and cost less than my previous compact purchase , but I’ve found my self shooting with the camera more and more, and getting more pleasure out of shooting with it than I’ve ever had from a camera before. Since the last post on the V1 I have succumbed to Gear Acquisition Syndrome (G.A.S) and invested in several lenses and accessories for the little camera.

Crumpler Jackpack 4000
Nikon V1 lens and kit in a Crumpler Jackpack 4000

In particular I now have the 10mm F2.8 Pancake lens and the 18.5mm F1.8 “normal” prime lens. I love the fact that I can carry my entire lens collection, plus the V1 and the FT1 Mount adaptor and a normal Nikon lens in a small bag like my Crumpler jackpack 4000, and go anywhere without breaking my back carrying a pretty complete kit.

The small system gives so much more freedom and is much more discreet than lugging around a full DSLR kit. My entire V1 lens collection (10mm, 10-30mm VR, 18.5mm and 30-110mm VR) plus the camera combined weigh  only 825g which is less than just  my 24-70 zoom lens which weighs in at 900g on it’s own a combination which is well over 2kg when you add a camera like the D800 ! I love shooting with the D800, don’t get me wrong but for travel, or a long day out in the field the V1 kit has a substantial advantage in weight savings.

The 1 system prime lenses

Both prime lenses are great on the V1, they are sharp, fast and weigh absolutely nothing, the 10mm is 77g and the 18.5 is only 70g but both have decent build quality, the 10mm having perhaps a slight edge with what I think is a metal build (it feels cold to the touch), but neither are flimsy plastic lenses. The 18.5 is a particular favourite of mine and can render nice soft bokeh in certain shots. Shallow depth of field and out of focus bokeh is harder to achieve with the  V1 due to it’s smallish sensor compared to DSLR’s and m4/3 cameras but it is still achievable with a fast lens like the 18.5. It is also capable of some lovely sharp and detailed shots and has become a firm favourite of mine spending more time on my camera than any other lens.

10mm F2.8 Pancake lens
10mm F2.8 Pancake lens taken with the 18.5mm F1.8 lens

 

Unexpected use of V1

I’ve found myself taking along the V1 and 18.5 lens on portrait shoots as a second camera to my D800 instead of taking the D700. While I don’t really use the V1 very often in these circumstances as I usually do all shooting on the same camera, I do sneak in one or two from the session on the V1 and usually when I see the results I wish I’d snuck in a few more!

Portrait with V1 and 18.5 lens
Portrait with V1 and 18.5 lens

 

Drawbacks of the V1?

The V1 does have some drawbacks compared to other compact system cameras, such as the lack of “on body” control, and weird mix of hiding features for advanced users in menus (like aperture priority mode or Manual mode), but not providing many obvious scene modes and art filters etc for less advanced users. There are some scene modes available but they’re hidden under the “scene auto selector” exposure setting and the camera determines itself what scene mode to use – no way for anyone just to select “party” or “sports” mode.

The mode dial is one area that I do get annoyed with on the V1 – I keep knocking it to movie mode or something else by accident. It’s not a big deal but has caught me out on occasion and I’ve ended up taking  16:9 aspect jpegs rather than normal RAW shots by accident when I’m in movie mode but at least they’re high resolution.

I generally find the automatic viewfinder absolutely fine for my uses, while it’s true it takes a second or so to activate after you put your eye to it I find it perfectly usable in all but the most time-critical moments, the image isn’t  the sharpest ever, but it’s fine for most uses. I did have a problem on a day with very contrasty light however, the V1 thought my eye was to the finder even after it had been removed and wouldn’t switch back to rear LCD for ages. I cleaned the sensor which improved matters but according to Nikon this is to be expected in harsh light conditions.  I do use the rear LCD as well which is actually fine and gives a clear, detailed view for composition and is actually fairly easy to see even in bright light.

What’s it really like at High ISO?

High ISO noise is a reported problem that people considering the 1-system are put off by due to it’s smaller sensor size compared to the competition. I’m not sure problem is the right word here really as in comparison to similar size sensors the V1 does well in reviews keeping up just about with larger m4/3 sensors of a similar generation.

As I said in my previous review I’m actually impressed with the images at high ISO for a relatively small sensor. YES there is noise of course you cannot expect a 1″ sensor to offer full frame quality. Go over ISO 800 and things start to go downhill, but I have been able to get usable shots with good detail from images taken at ISO 3200 for my own personal use, for web use and in the real world for anything that’s not critical they are fine. I stand by my previous comment about the noise being far less pronounced than from an older generation Nikon crop DSLR.

Here’s an example shot taken at ISO 3200 using the 10mm F2.8, 1/8 second, F2.8 at the Warner Bros Studio tour (Harry Potter Studios) – no flash of course.  As you can tell by the settings it was extremely dark in there. The RAW was completely zeroed in Lightroom for this picture- no noise reduction at all and no other processing (blue lighting shining on it).

ISO 3200 no Noise reduction
V1 ISO 3200 no Noise reduction full shot 10mm F2.8 1/8 second.

 

100% crop ISO 3200 from RAW, no noise reduction
100% crop ISO 3200 from RAW, no noise reduction

 

There is some colour noise and luminance noise visible, but in my opinion it’s not that bad considering the conditions it is shot under, the small writing is still visible and a good amount of pattern detail. Even with the standard noise reduction in Lightroom this one cleans up reasonably well- certainly good enough for web-use and record shots.

I remember my D200 at ISO 3200 sometimes produced noise bands right across the image when used in conditions like this… not usable. To me the V1 at ISO 3200 looks like the D200 at between ISO 800 and ISO 1600.  If not even better than that so in real life use I’m pleased. I’m not going to use it commercially like this, and of course, lower noise high ISO is always welcome as it could enable me to shoot at higher shutter speeds than 1/8 in conditions like this in order to capture moving subjects in dark conditions… BUT for me this is fine for most normal uses. I do have a flashgun as well of course…

 

So what else do I love about the V1?

The metering system, I may have mentioned in the other review but it’s worth reiterating as it’s true the exposure metering system on the V1 is excellent and even charged with every difficult high-contrast situations, i.e. shooting directly into hard sun it does a good job- up to the limits of the sensor dynamic range of course. It’s just really reliable. I leave mine on matrix metering nearly all the time.

Lion cub with V1 and 30-110mm VR
Lion cub with V1 and 30-110mm VR. 1/320 sec, F6.3, ISO 800

The autofocus of course is one of the big features of the 1-system cameras, they have combined dual-AF systems that are fast and accurate to lock on in good light and reasonable as can be expected in poor light. It’s a very impressive system. I rarely have problems with missing focus except if I have face detection switched on and the V1 thinks it sees a face elsewhere in the shot that doesn’t actually exist it then may switch focus unexpectedly from your intended target… however that’s rarely an issue and in general the system works very well. Face AF can be turned off too.

The video mode, as I said in the previous review the video quality is good, and I’ve found that the feature of being able to take high resolution stills at the same time as video recording is a hugely useful feature. The camera can take up to 20 fine quality, high resolution (using the full 10 megapixels but cropped to 10:9 aspect ratio) jpegs while continuing to record 1080p video.  This is a rare feature that not many cameras can achieve, most will only take 1080p resolution stills (i.e. grabs from video) or will stop recording to take a high resolution photo. The Sony RX100 does also have this feature (along with a higher resolution sensor) but not many cameras do – and certainly none that I know of at a price point like the current price of the V1.

I’ve used this feature for videoing speeches at leaving do’s etc I can capture the entire speech and audience reactions on film without stopping and also capture candid stills at the same time. I have found this to be very useful. Although they are only Jpeg rather than RAW files, the stills have given good quality images and are perfectly usable. The sound of the shutter button being pressed for the stills doesn’t seem to register on the video – though you have to be careful not to wobble the camera too much

I have actually also used the smart photo selector mode on occasion too. This does limit you to jpeg only and automatic control but it’s a clever mode that may stop you missing that significant moment. Say you’re waiting for something to happen that may happen very quickly compose the picture, half press the shutter, wait for it to happen and react as soon as you can to take the pic.. you may already be too slow but the V1 will present you with five images (out of several hundred it probably actually captured – it determines the best five to show to you) a couple of which will be from before you actually fully pressed the button and a couple after so you shouldn’t miss anything. Brilliant, though rarely that much use to me.

I love the selectable shutter as well. Having the ability to chose whether to use the nice sounding mechanical shutter (which I do most of the time) or switch to electronic shutter is excellent. I only use the electronic shutter if I want to resort to a high speed burst mode (massive FPS) or if I’m shooting somewhere where I want to be as discreet as possible and opt for totally silent operation.

Ending remarks

Some of the handling drawbacks raised in other reviews (the mode dial etc) have been addressed on the V2 but the V1’s strength vs the V2 is really still it’s amazing price for a camera that can produce superb results – in my opinion much better than most high end compacts and only now rivaled by compact cameras with large 1″ sensors like the Sony RX100. Which still cost more money than the current price of a V1 and doesn’t allow the flexibility of an interchangeable lens system. I’m personally still debating whether to buy a second body in case this one dies on me!

My thought still is, if you are interested in a small advanced camera, especially as a replacement for a compact camera and were considering say a Canon G series or Nikon Coolpix top end series) and don’t want to spend too much money, don’t hesitate to snap a V1 up while you still can, whether secondhand or not they are still out there at a great price.

 

If you’re a V1 or other Nikon 1 system user take a look at the Facebook fan group for Nikon V1 and 1 system enthusiasts!