Nikon 1 series hands on

Can Nikon’s Micro Four Thirds rivals rule the compact-DSLR middle ground?

With Micro Four Thirds cameras already into their second or third generations, Nikon is so late to the ‘mirrorless’ party its rivals are already tucking into their ‘morning after’ fry-up.

But after much deliberating the ‘Big N’ has finally entered the fray with its Nikon 1 series. Led by captain V1 (left, £830 with 10-30mm lens) and lieutenant J (right, £550 with 10-30mm lens), the series debuts a new lens mount and claims to be the ‘world’s fastest and most intelligent camera system’.

Our brief hands-on confirms that both the Nikon 1 V1 and J are, indeed, extremely quick in the autofocus department. But faster than the lightning Olympus E-P3? It didn’t appear so, but we will reserve final judgement until our full review.

What’s more immediately noticeable about both cameras is their reassuringly premium magnesium alloy build. Their minimalist approach also stretches to the external controls which, as you can see above, are fairly sparse.

This means the Nikon 1 will, like the Sony NEX series, appeal more to those stepping up from a compact, rather than pros stepping down from a DSLR. Manual exposure control is possible with some digging around in the well-designed menus, but those who like to fiddle with their apertures (so to speak) will prefer the more accessible buttons of the Panasonic GF1 or Nikon’s own P7000.

Nippy autofocus

Of course, neither the GF1 or P7000 come in a rainbow of colours (see above), or have some of the Nikon 1 series’ interesting shooting modes. Rather than offer shortcuts to well-trodden effects like ‘background defocus’ or ‘tilt shift’, Nikon has created a new one called ‘motion snapshot’.

Seemingly a way to show off the series’ new Exspeed 3 sensor, this simultaneously records a short, slo-mo .MOV movie file and takes a still JPEG to create a ‘living picture’. No, we’re still not entirely sure what that means either, but Nikon is apparently working on easy ways of exporting these to social networks.

We’re fond of the Nikon 1 series’ build and style, but fear it could struggle to carve an identity between the firmly established Olympus Pens, Sony NEX-5 and Panasonic GF range. The V1 does have an built-in electronic viewfinder – a big plus when shooting in bright sunlight – but the CX-format CMOS sensor is smaller than the Four Thirds and APS-C seen in its rivals.

Nikon did rightly ask us to refrain from pre-judging photo quality based on specs, though, so we’ll bring you our final verdict once organised a shoot-off with the Olympus Pen E-P3 et al very soon.


Special effects

Playing catch-up