Every now and then a camera comes along that challenges our ability to accept a new concept. The Nikon 1-series V1 is just such a model, says Damien Demolder
Build and handling
Despite its ‘advanced’ nature, the V1 has few external button controls and dials. DSLR users might initially be a bit distressed and feel access to the principal features and functions is somewhat limited. Altering exposure modes, for example, requires a visit to the main menu screen to find the available options. In reality, though, I suspect that most photographers have a preferred exposure mode that they tend to set and stick to. I set aperture priority and, had I not been testing the camera rather than just using it, I would not have felt the need to seek out the exposure options more than once.
The menu has a memory, so on the pressing of the menu button it returns to the most-recently accessed option, which is quite likely to be close to that which is intended to be changed. I found the modes I most often went in search of were the ISO and white balance settings, which are next to each other and which both take just a few moments to alter. It’s true that a direct access button on the rear of the body would make this process a lot quicker, but I suppose this is part of the price we must pay for such a miniaturised body. There are compact cameras that do manage to offer body controls for these settings, but again we have to take account of the target market Nikon is aiming for – who tend to develop anxiety when shown too much that’s technical-looking.
There is a function button at the top of the camera’s rear, of the type that is so often customisable to a personal preference, but in this case it is fixed to what Nikon believes is best. In normal stills mode, the function button allows us to choose between mechanical and electronic shutters – an option I suspect few will actually find useful. To offer this as a direct access to ISO, for example, might have been my preference.
If you have ever used a Nikon menu before, that of the V1 will cause no distress, as it is clearly and, for the most part, logically laid out and ordered. There are three screens that deal with shooting, reviewing and camera set-up, and none is very long.
In use, with any of the three lenses currently available, the camera feels well balanced and is very comfortable to hold. While we can appreciate the benefits of its tiny dimensions, there is none of the inconvenience that so often comes with products that have been made smaller than usual. At no point in the test did I feel that Nikon’s designers had gone too far. There is a prominent ridge on the front of the body that acts as finger grip and a padded raised platform on the rear for the thumb. Unfortunately, the thumb pad is a little too close to the main mode dial, and I found that without special care when rotating the camera from landscape to portrait orientation, I also often switched it from stills to movie mode as my thumb joint caught hold of the edge of the dial.
It becomes frustrating when you go to shoot a still at the perfect moment only to find you are focusing the lens for a movie to be made. Perhaps a small dial lock would solve this.The rear rocker dial provides quick access to a neat exposure compensation scale, AF modes and the self-timer. The upper button can be programmed either to lock exposure or focus when pressed, and by default does both. You might expect the external ring of the dial to alter apertures or shutter speeds in priority mode, but in fact it does nothing, giving up this more natural function to an up/down lever marked as the magnifying zoom for playback. It is no inconvenience once you are used to it, but it remained surprising for the duration of the test.
I spent some time determining the best way to ensure the camera was ready to shoot at a moment’s notice after a period of inactivity, such as occurs when walking along the street looking for a subject to appear. The camera goes to sleep after a defined time that can be set in the menu, but switching that off so the camera remains active and ready the whole time causes the rear screen to play and the battery to heat as well as drain. The issue came about because, while the camera is quick to start from an off position, it takes a few seconds to come back to life from a deep sleep – something that cost me missed shots. In the end, I made the most of the lens button that extends the zoom and simultaneously activates the body. Switching the camera off completely and defibrillating it back into the world by turning the lens with the button depressed actually proved to be the quickest method – and one that is less complicated than it sounds. The camera appears to have two levels of sleep, the second much deeper than the initial.
My overall impression of the body is of one that is very well made and which is comfortable to hold as well as use. It seems to me that it has been made to be small rather than just being made small – a somewhat fine difference of design.