Nikon takes its flagship interchangeable-lens compact to new levels of speed and usability. Watch Doug Gordon's product overview, then read this in-depth review.
Nikon caused a mini revolution last year with the introduction of the Nikon 1, a new line of interchangeable-lens compact cameras built on a 1-inch (13.2x8.8mm) sensor of a proprietary Nikon size and design. The Nikon 1 V2 (available now at the Adorama price of $696.95, body only, and in a variety of kit configurations) is the second generation flagship model and with its 14MP sensor it has a more traditional design, builds on the super-responsive features of the original version, and with its growing line up of small lenses is designed to appeal to photo enthusiasts looking for a full-featured interchangeable-lens compact.
The Nikon 1 sensor is a bit larger than half the size of a Four Thirds sensor so one would expect image quality to be limited at higher ISO settings. If you work within those limits, the Nikon 1 V2 promises spectacular results. But this camera is not just about image quality. The previous models showed the fastest focus aquisition capabilities of any camera of any size, and its video skills are impressive as well.
To get an overall impression of the Nikon 1 V2, watch this exclusive AdoramaTV video, where Doug Gordon introduces you to the camera's basic features, and gives his first impressions, then read on for our full review.
Why is Doug, a seasoned professional wedding photographer, so stoked about the Nikon 1 V2? Let's take an in-depth look.
Nikon 1 V2 Key Features
- 14.2 megapixel 1-inch (12.3x8.8mm) CMOS sensor
- 73 focus points
- Accepts Nikon 1 mount lenses
- 35mm equivalent multiplier: 2.7x
- 3-inch, 921k dot LCD monitor
- 1.44 million dot EVF
- Pop-up flash
- 15fps burst rate
- MPEG-4, h.264 1080p Video capture with stereo sound
- RAW+JPEG image capture
- Optional GPS available
- Hot shoe; Compatible with Nikon Speedlight system
In The Hands
While the original Nikon 1 V1 was more high-tech feeling, the Nikon 1 V2, with its built-in eye-level EVF, has a more SLR-like form factor that should appeal to traditionalists.
I had a chance to spend a day with this camera and can report, first of all, that the camera is indeed very light and thanks to its generously proportioned rubberized grip, was comfortable to hold. The camera is solidly built, constructed of magnesium. Whether holding with both or one hand, I found it to be well-balanced.
One-handed operation is possible because Nikon placemed its most frequently-used controls within thumb reach: the exposure dial, which lets you switch among P, A, S, M, Motion Snapshot, and Best Moment Capture. These controls give options to a wide range of users, from snapshooters to knowledgeable enthusiasts who prefer to take manual control. A function button can be assigned from a menu of options so you can put your most frequently used menu item front and center. A thumbwheel lets you control shutter speed in manual mode or other parameters in other modes. Sitting right behind the on-off switch/shutter release is a button with a big dot. No matter what mode you're in, this lets you shoot video. Very convenient.
The right side of the camera back is simply laid out, with a rubberized thumb rest on the right, and a control wheel that accesses macro, AF and AE lock, flash, exposure compensation, and self timer.
But, Nikon has also placed four buttons to the left of the LCD monitor for preview, menu, display informaton, and trash. These less-frequently-used controls can be operated with your left hand.
But the big news here is the EVF viewfinder. This one has a big eyepiece and was easy for me to see the entire view while wearing eyeglasses. A diopter fine-tunes viewability. There's a small pop-up flash that will give you enough light for close (within 10 feet) portraits or a touch of fill light in brighter situations.
I used the Nikon 1 Nikkor 10-30mm (27-80mm 35mm equivalent) kit zoom lens, available on its own at Adorama for $186.95. While it has the same specs as a typical mid-range zoom, it is considerably smaller and lighter, taking advantage of the small sensor size.
Shot of New York's historic Fraunce's Tavern shows the Nikon 1 V2's high native dynamic range.
In The Field
As with its predecessors, the Nikon 1 V2's focus is FAST. Press the shutter release and the image instantly instantly jumps into focus. You can thank Nikon's 73-point focus plane, rear focusing mechanism on compatible lenses, and the the hybrid phase detection/contrast AF focus system for screamingly fast (and whisperingly quiet) AF. The result? Virtually no shutter lag time, even in autofocus.
One of this camera's pleasant surprises is its video capabilities. Standard video capture is excellent, as Doug Gordon notes above. (See a sample, below, that I shot on the streets Lower Manhattan, near the New York Stock Exchange). In addition to full HD video, the Nikon 1 V2 can capture slow-motion and super-slow motion up to 1200 frames per second at low resolution.
I really liked the Enhanced Motion Snapshot Mode, which captures approximately 1 second of footage in slow motion, creating a roughly 5-second snippet. along with one full-resolution image that the camera calculates as the decisive moment. This is a fun feature that led me to try a few street photography experiments (see a couple of them here). This feature begs for experimentation! Here are three examples I strung together on my personal YouTube account, using YouTube's slooooow video editor:
The burst mode, claimed at 15 fps, is fast, and the camera can shoot at a blazingly fast 60fps burst rate, the world's fastest, at reduced resolution. I found that the camera captured around 50 JPEGs before it paused to clear the buffer (it took about 2 seconds), then shot 10, then 5. So, it can continue shooting while the buffer is clearing, but not as many photos at one time. Still, that's exellent for a camera of its class, and will allow you to, for example, get catch the action at Junior's soccer match.
Best Moment Capture Mode is great if you're not comfortable with your timing. The camera captures 20 shots in rapid sequence, and then it selects the best one of the batch and discards the rest. I thought the camera's judgement was pretty good here.
Top: Shot with Nikon 1 V2 and 10-30mm lens at 10mm, at ISO 160 native resolution; above: 100 percent detail shows optimal image quality.
I was surprised by the image quality. Considering the sensor takes up half the real estate of a Four Thirds sensor, I expected moderate image quality. However, when shooting at optimal settings (like the native ISO 160) the camera delivered very enlargeable results. Noise becomes apparent by ISO 400 and images at ISO 1600 are usable in a pinch but I would recommend avoiding pumping up the ISO if you make a lot of big prints.
At ISO 400, noise is still well controlled. Above, a 100% detail of the full-frame image on top.
DxOMark Lab Test Results (used by permission)
The Nikon 1 V2 posted a modest overall score of 50, showing some improvement over the Nikon 1 V1 in the Low-Light ISO area. The Nikon 1 V2's native ISO is 160 (measured ISO was consistently around 1/3 stop lower than the indicated speed), and Signal to Noise Ratio is over 30, which is acceptable, through ISO 400. Dynamic range, which is just shy of 14 stop, stays consistent through ISO 400 and dips slightly at ISO 800.
Conclusion and Recommendation
With the Nikon 1 V2, Nikon has designed a camera that will fit the needs of many photo enthusiasts. A growing number of lenses is now available (currently there are 7, starting at 6.7mm and going up to 110mm) and adapters let you add even longer lenses, making this camera well suited for astrophotography.
The Nikon 1 V2 is aimed at the same photographers who might consider the Olympus OM-D and is smaller, lighter and around $100 less expensive. Both camera claim DSLR-speed fast autofocus but Nikon has a slight edge. While the Olympus edges the Nikon in image quality but surprisingly, not by much, and the difference is hard to see when looking at prints under normal viewing conditions when shooting up to ISO 400.
The Nikon 1 V2's video is excellent and flexible, and the camera offers multiple creative features, and the focus is reliable and really, really fast. If you are looking for a good overall camera for travel and sports photography that is lightweight and small and has good video capture capabilities, the Nikon 1 V2 is well worth your consideration.