Why am I such a fan of the Nikon V1?

Yes, I’m always “banging on” about how good my little Nikon V1 system camera is, probably ad-nauseum, but I make no apology as, since I bought the camera four months ago, I’m falling more and more in love with it every time I use it.  Despite perceived drawbacks, and on-paper, lower grade sensor specs compared to other compact system cameras (CSCs), this camera is a camera to use and love and it shines in situations where on paper it really shouldn’t. They can be had for excellent prices secondhand these days and they’re a bargain.

For me the decision to try a compact system camera was made because I now only have full frame DSLR’s and associated fast professional lenses. This equipment is great… but very heavy and bulky and not necessarily what you want to be carrying about on a day to day basis or taking on holiday, just my D800 and standard 24-70 lens weighs about 2kg!

Bristol cityscape
Bristol cityscape

Yes, compared to other CSCs the Nikon CX sensor is small – only approx half that of a micro 4/3 system. This on paper means it should give noisier images than those from the larger sensors due to the small pixels adorning the small space.  But this small sensor has the advantage of needing smaller, lighter lenses for lower weight and easier carrying – isn’t that what a compact system camera is about? Personally, yes the other systems have “better” sensors, but some now have DSLR size sensors to give the ultimate in image quality (hugely appealing of course) but need larger lenses to feed them.  Suddenly, you may end up carrying a bag nearly as big as the one you left behind when you decided to go for a CSC , not necessarily for the camera but for the lenses (assuming you’re using one as a second cam to a full DSLR system of course and not simply upgrading from a compact), the 1 system does include some very compact lenses, some of which are also collapsable to reduce their size even further.

Sunset with the V1
Sunset with the V1

I saw this camera on Wex Photographic website on the bargain basement as a used item in excellent condition for £179 which included the 10-30mm VR kit lens… well it had to be mine. £179 is less than I’ve paid for a compact camera in the past, at least the CX sensor is substantially bigger than that, also the lens alone costs £100+ new. Bargain of the century if you ask me.

Testing high speed modes
Testing high speed mode on the V1

When I got it I was hit by it’s build quality, it’s not heavy and chunky like my DSLR but there’s a good substance to it and it feels very well made and solid, it’s not some plastic fantastic for sure it’s really lovely. The newer model V2 has a grip and pop up flash which make it look more DSLR-like but personally I’ve never had a problem with the V1’s handling, the size is perfect for me and the tiny little ridge is enough grip in my hands, I don’t feel the need for a chunky handgrip – plus I have the lovely (but expensive) Nikon genuine leather half-case which feels nice in my hands and makes the camera look very classy.

It is slightly annoying that the Nikon V1 has the non-standard flash hotshoe, but I’m not so bothered, not for what I’m using it for. I carry the surprisingly effective but dinky SB-N5 flashgun with me everywhere – no extra batteries required. I probably could still trigger off camera slave flashes with the SB-N5 if I was that bothered, but pro-type work is NOT what I bought this camera for, though I am actually pretty sure it’d do a good job in the right circumstances. The only thing that is annoying about the V1 for me is that the mode dial is easy to knock and end up in movie mode or one of the gimmicky modes by accident.

Price is the killer here, for the new price of a new Nikon V2 I’d probably go for the Olympus OM-D instead, it’s just better for the similar price!! That said the advantages of smaller lighter lenses for the 1 system are still there I guess and It really depends what you want to do with the camera. A used V1 is a total bargain of a buy right now.

Fanhams Hall after a storm.
Fanhams Hall after a storm.

I am a big fan of the images I get from the V1, it produces images with a  different look to them that I don’t get with my DSLRs, almost film like, and yes at high ISO there is some noise but it’s not bad. I shoot at ISO 3200 when necessary and don’t worry about it. Most of my shooting so far has been done with the 10-30mm and 30-110mm VR lenses which are decent lenses, though with slow apertures. I have been impressed with the performance of the VR, even at 110mm I can shoot with slow shutter speeds like 1/15 sec and still get a sharp shot of a static subject.  With some decent fast prime lenses it would only get better. You’re not going to get shallow depth of field easily due to the sensor size, just like a compact  camera.

I have mounted my full frame 85mm F1.8 lens onto the Nikon V1 via the FT1 adaptor and that was great fun, still easy to carry about, focused fast (centre focus point only) and gave me the equivalent of a 230mm F1.8 lens!!  OOh I have to try it for wildlife sometime! I’ve also attached the V1 to my Kenko 1.4x teleconverter and old Nikon 80-200 F2.8 and shot the moon with the combo, that gives some serious reach though as the old 80-100 is not AF-S it was manual focus only.

Taking the Nikon V1 to Hatfield house in Hertfordshire just with the kit 10-30mm lens, I took loads of shots around the grounds, of the old trees and other details. Once I got back to the computer I was really really impressed with the photos. They are full of vibrant colour, and just have a really nice quality to them. The V1’s look seems to suit the shooting of outdoor, historical places. I was very happy with the results.


Greyhound racing with V1
Just a bit too much for a slow kit lens!

I also took the V1 and 10-30mm greyhound racing… now that was a challenge, it was pretty dark and the dogs can run at speeds up to 40mph… a compact system camera with a slow kit lens is definitely going to struggle there. OK the pics weren’t the best, but I did get some in focus and not too blurry – a real test of the focus system in the poor light, I hit the limit of the ISO and the performance. A long fast lens would have improved the situation  but it was tricky situation for any camera let alone a compact system camera, it was my first time at the dogs and I didn’t even realise they could go so fast. Blink and they’re gone! I tested the ISO, the AF but also the burst and high speed modes, got plenty of shots of nothing after the dogs had gone! Remembering that it’s not often I’ll want to catch shots of dogs running at 40mph in poor light I think the V1 didn’t do badly at all – especially when you consider that the kit I used cost <£200! It’s high speed shutter modes and AF are very effective and in good light I think this would be a great camera for casual sports.

I would say that the V1 is at least as good, if not better at high ISO than my old D200 crop sensor DSLR, was a professional grade camera of it’s time, so that shows how much technology has moved on, yes I love low noise  and the freedom to use high ISO but how far is far enough for real life use and a CSC? I use the V1 for personal use, not professional. In places where I’d either use compact like my Canon S90 or my Canon SX240 (reviewed here). The V1 performs way better than either of these cameras

High contrast and low light situations are the places that most test the sensor of a camera – especially when it is used with slow lenses like the two kit lenses I own for the Nikon V1. I encountered both of these things in a visit to Old Wardour Castle in Wiltshire.

I was pleasantly surprised how well it handled the exposures on shots taken from the inside of the dark castle to the bright outdoors, the metering system on the 1 system is very good, yes there are some highlights close to being blown, but they are recoverable in Lightroom, and I think this is good work from a small sensor. The dynamic range cannot be as good as a larger sensor, but it seems to handle the tricky situations well enough for my purposes and certainly good enough after some processing in Lightroom.

I find the video mode to be pretty good quality and the sound quality from the built in microphone is surprisingly good. With care it could be used to produce some professional looking results at the high resolution setting and with an external microphone. While I don’t use the motion snapshot mode at all, the “best shot” mode where the camera starts buffering images before you fully press the button can be handy at times where you want to catch a bit of action that you may miss based on your reaction time alone.

All in all I find the V1 a pleasure to use, the basic kit 10-30mm lens is good in most situations and the 30-110mm is a good piece of glass producing sharp shots.  I can carry the V1 and kit lens everywhere with me in my handbag, the chunky ENEL-15 battery (handily the same size as my D800) is plenty of juice for many many shots and the flash which I also carry in my handbag gives it versatility should a situation suddenly arise that I’d like to capture at any time. It’s a fun and versatile camera that doesn’t weigh a ton or require a large bag to carry around, and good results can be had with just the standard kit zoom lenses especially with a bit of thought behind the composition and settings.

Next on my list is some nice fast glass, I would like a 10mm F2.8 and an 18.5mm F1.8. The new 32mm F1.2 is supposed be be a gorgeous lens but rather on the expensive side!! I’ve seen some excellent results taken with these prime lenses.

Hopefully this post will have explained something of why I love the little V1 so much. Why it’s character means I take it everywhere with me in my handbag and why, if it broke I’d be heartbroken and get another one straight away! I don’t think I’ve ever felt quite that way about a camera before (awwww!!) 😉

Check out my pictures in a couple of galleries on Flickr, to see more examples from this camera.

Roman Baths – mainly with 30-110mm lens

Sunsets – with kit 10-30mm lens

Hatfield House – with kit 10-30mm lens

If you own a Nikon 1 system, are a fan and want to join my facebook group which I set up recently hoping to attract some likeminded Nikon V1 (and other 1 system users) – I’d be grateful for some new members, it’s a little quiet in there as yet… http://www.facebook.com/groups/579199858784838/