Nikon 1 V1, Part 3

Concept: 2 out of 5
Execution: 2 out of 5
Yeah, but: Adequate verging on sufficient.

The Long Version: Welcome to the third instalment of my overly-long-running review of the obsolete Nikon 1 V1. Part one was mostly getting the negatives out of the way, while part two took a sunnier view on things. Now it's finally time to look at the image quality of the camera that I've nicknamed "that stupid f'cking little piece of sh't". But don't read too much into that – I give affectionate nicknames to many of my cameras.

The first thing you need to know about image quality is that the V1 really wants to have a shutter speed of 1/30s, and won't increase its iso sensitivity to go faster than that. This is fine for the 10-30mm, and almost acceptable with good technique with the 30-110mm, as they both have in-lens image stabilization. The unstabilized 10mm f/2.8 should also be good with this – I don't own it to test – but the camera isn't clever enough to boost its minimun shutter speed with the 18.5mm, which is a 50mm-equivalent.

Let me tell you, 1/30 at 50mm isn't nearly fast enough to avoid camera shake with this lightweight little LCD-based camera. And this isn't just a 'low light' thing – I've run into its limitations on a cloudy day. This camera can't be trusted to do its own thing, and needs to be actively managed.

I'm generally happy with the V1 up to about iso800, which looks a little like iso6400 on my D800, but iso400 and under does create a significantly better file. I've printed the Rubbermaid photo above, taken at iso1000, as an 18x12, and it shows noise and artifacts under critical examination. Especially for higher iso settings, the modest per-pixel image quality makes low-DPI prints and uprezzing more difficult than usual. Yes, plenty of people make big prints from low-resolution cameras, but noise and noise removal – even with raw files – will make marginal prints from the V1 break up and look digital in a bad way.

On the other hand, the shipping container photo below, at a functionally identical iso900, passed scrutiny that's much more incisive than mine at the same size. Content matters tremendously, and it's overly simplistic to set an absolute limit on what will and won't be satisfactory ahead of time. My lesson from this is to use the shutter speed and aperture that the camera and photo requires, respectively, and let the iso sort itself out. Yes, this sometimes leads to disappointment, but I'd rather have a noisy photo than a blurry one, or worse, no photo at all.

But for web-sized images or snapshots none of this really matters. Properly managed, with the camera forced to use a sensible shutter speed and a reasonable iso setting, the V1's image quality is actually pretty decent. Coupled with its small lenses the V1 is a great camera for wandering around the city with, and I wouldn't feel foolish carrying it as my only camera for any multi-day trip that doesn't have photography as its primary goal.

The V1 lacks the modern nicety of having lens distortion correction built into the camera, and all of the lenses would benefit from it. Fortunately both Lightroom and DxO Optics, the two programs I use, support most of the 1's lenses. I'm just waiting for the 18.5mm lens to be supported, and when that finally catches up then I'll never hesitate to use it.

As a three-lens kit the V1 with the 10-30, 30-110, and fast normal 18.5mm prime makes for a flexible combination. Of the three the 30-110 is my favourite, and it seems to be a bit better than the 10-30, but really all of them are about as good as the camera. That's not a ringing endorsement, it's true, but this isn't an inherently exciting system.

Even at 'only' 10 megapickles, the V1's pixel density would make for a 74Mpx full-frame sensor, so designing appropriately small and inexpensive lenses is a major accomplishment. I've rounded out my lens options by adding the FT-1 adapter to my kit, and can't say that even the best F-mount lenses really blow me away on the V1, either. More on that in yet another review instalment, but for now the short version is that the 1-system lenses are fine.

When compared to recent cameras its image quality offers few surprises. It's generally better than smaller compact cameras that cost about the same amount of money as the 1V1's fire-sale prices, and not as good as larger-sensored cameras that cost more. And despite all of my griping, it actually compares quite favourably to older cameras that I've used extensively, such as the Olympus E-3 or Panasonic GH1, which remain some of the better 4/3 sensors out there.

The V1's image quality is good enough for pretty much everything that I usually do, so I know I'll have generally decent results from it, but it's tough being the little brother to a D800. The V1 is the camera that I carry when I'm carrying something else, whether it's a bigger camera that will benefit from the V1's small size and zoom lenses, or my audio kit that benefits from its silence.

So despite being deeply flawed as a photo-taking device, the reality is that the V1 makes an excellent sidekick, and there isn't a camera out there that would be a better match for my needs. Yes, that's a little sad in many ways, but that's just the way it is some times.

last updated 18 feb 2013


  1. It might just be "Adequate verging on sufficient" in your book, but in your hands it goes well beyond that when you use it as a tool to help create photographs. This is all excellent, and makes me truly want to purchase a copy for my own personal use before they're all gone.

    One of life's little unanswered mysteries will be how the Olympus E-3 might have been advanced if a 4:3rds version of this specific sensor were put into the E-3 body, still at 10MP, but with Zuiko HG or SHG lenses in front of it.

  2. Thanks for the kind words, but I don't want anyone to ever accuse me of over-selling this little camera. With the single exception of its complete silence, I can't see the V1 offering you anything useful that your m4/3 cameras can't do.

    The Nikon will just give you yet another battery format and charger to deal with, while buying the V1 actually improved the power management situation for me. If adding another system hadn't simplified my setup then I never would have bought the V1.

  3. I read your first 2 reviews. Took them for what they're worth. (Excellent! in my eyes!)
    I had taken to carrying my Oly OM-D to work every day. Risk? I might smash it, get it very wet, or ... perhaps someone might take it if I wasn't careful enough. Rationalized that the risk wasn't worth it.
    So I bought mine at yard-sale prices. (Where Nikon should have priced it originally.)
    Added a Richard Franiec grip (my! fine piece! It really helps me hold the camera) You have one as well...
    I really went in to the store to buy a G15. Came out with the N1V1, and I'm happy I did.
    Thanks for your posts.
    Well worth reading, and to me, very helpful.

  4. Mathew,

    Thanks for your reviews. I'm looking forward to hear of your experience with the FT-1.

    In particular, I'd like to know hoe well you may have managed birds-in-flight w/o AF-C. Since AF-S is nevertheless probably still fast, would one get some sharp shots by taking a series of brief bursts, each with AF set on the first shot?

  5. I read your review, and went and found a Nikon1V1 with two lenses--10/2.8 and kit zoom
    I added a grip by Richard Franiec. I am a huge fan of his equipment.

    Photo quality is pretty good. Provided the goldarnratzenfratzen dial hasn't spun, forcing the camera into some unwanted mode. I found a piece of duct tape, and it's on the camera back. I look at this ugly amomination and swear.

    Next step? Need the moderate telephoto zoom.

    AND, I need a way to carry it that doesn't have enough space for my d300s with grip attached...as all my bags do.

    I did add a strap--Peak Designs sling/wrist strap. It's incredible. Miserable days, I'll sling the camera under my weather proof coat and go for it.

    I bought Thom Hogan's book on the N1 series. Glad I did.

    Please note that I had written this camera off until they started blowing them out the door. Camera and 2 lenses were cheaper than the P7700 that I went in to purchase (reluctantly; I don't like Nikon P&S's and have had no luck with multiple S9100's. My only Nikon PS.)


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