Also See: Camera Test Nikon J1 ILC
When nikon staffers first showed us the new 1 series of interchangeable-lens compacts (ILCs), they explained that the company had thrown everything out the window to design these cameras from scratch. Now, after having tested both the V1 ($900, street, with 10–30mm f/3.5–5.6 VR lens) and the J1 ($650 with same lens), we wish Nikon would have kept that window closed, at least a little. While its built-in electronic viewfinder makes the V1 more pleasant to use than the J1, it shares many of its sibling’s shortcomings.
In the Test Lab
In our December 2011 test of the J1, we noted that the sensor’s size (a new format Nikon calls CX) limited that camera’s performance. The same can be said for the V1, as the two cameras yielded very similar image-quality results. Though our test of the V1 showed slightly lower noise scores at certain ISOs, the margin was so small that this could simply be a result of normal variances in manufacturing.
Like its sibling, the V1 earned a Very High rating in overall image quality at ISO 100 and 200, based on RAW files converted to TIFFs using the bundled ViewNX 2 software.
But like the J1, the limiting factor was resolving power. While the V1 reproduced enough detail to rate Very High in resolution at its bottom sensitivity setting of ISO 100, with 2010 lines per picture height, at ISO 200 it stayed just above the 2000-line cutoff, and at ISO 400 the resolution slipped to 1925 lines. At ISO 800 it showed a respectable 1900 lines, but after that point resolution began to drop off faster. At the camera’s top sensitivity of ISO 6400 (Nikon calls it Hi1), tested resolution was down to 1700 lines.
That is enough for small prints and sharing images online. But it seems lacking compared to Panasonic’s less-expensive Lumix DMC-G3, which resolved 2570 lines at its lowest sensitivity of ISO 160. And with noise reduction at its insufficient default setting, the G3 retained most of that resolution, with 2480 lines at ISO 6400. This means the G3 at its highest ISO can outresolve the V1 at the Nikon’s lowest. And while the G3’s images will be quite noisy when processed at the default settings, it has an extra 400 lines of resolution to spare for noise reduction.
Speaking of noise, Nikon does a good job of keeping it under control with the V1. The camera achieved Very Low or Extremely Low ratings from ISO 100 through 800. At ISO 1600 and 3200, noise remained in acceptable territory, with Moderate ratings. But at the highest sensitivity setting, noise was Unacceptable (3.7).
The Lumix G3, by comparison, fared worse in our noise test, reaching Unacceptable by ISO 800. But if you are willing to experiment with noise reduction, you can fare better than you are likely to with the V1. (To its credit, Nikon steps up its default noise reduction values as ISO increases, rather than setting the same low value throughout the range, the way Panasonic does.)
Nikon also got color accuracy right on the V1. The camera showed an average Delta E of 7.4, earning it an Excellent rating. When we ran that same test on a JPEG captured simultaneously with the RAW file, color accuracy fell to 9.2—yet another reason to shoot RAW instead of JPEG.
In the Field
The V1 and J1 have only a few key differences. Unlike the J1, the V1 has a mechanical shutter, though the option of using the “electronic” shutter (essentially sampling the sensor) remains an option. The V1 also lacks the J1’s built-in flash, instead offering a small, nonstandard accessory shoe to the left of the built-in EVF. (The J1 lacks a viewfinder.)
The V1’s matte-black finish feels nice in the hands. And, while we appreciate Nikon’s attempt to provide some sort of grip, the rudimentary ridge below the shiny 1 on the front of the camera didn’t really help.