The V1 is very different and it is a very quirky camera with few real strengths. These quirks are what make the camera a unique experience for me, some are very frustrating and some are a bit of a brain teaser but this is what makes the camera fun to use.
Fun in the way photography on a smartphone is fun, it's a tool that makes the ultimate goal harder to achieve. Why oh why is that fun? My iPhone is a great tool but a very limited one, I find joy out of knowing what it's shortcomings are and how to tweak it to work the way I want. These tweaks are usually in the form of apps and boy do I have a lot of those. Now to the Nikon V1, it is in fact a camera first where an iPhone is... Well a phone first. The Nikon has lovely interchangeable lenses and lets me shoot in my preferred mode of aperture priority. So what's not to love? What are these so called quirks and what makes this camera "fun" to shoot with?
Back again to the iPhone, it allows me to comfortably flex my creative side and it does it in a very automatic way. I frame and I shoot, this is then followed by about five or so minutes in post (apps followed by apps). The V1 gives me that sense of easy image acquisition but allows me to change settings and do more thinking than just what would fit best within a square frame. In aperture priority one can change the aperture by pressing up or down on the lever on the back, when in manual the lever and circular dial on the back work together to change exposure. This is definitely not the traditional way of changing aperture and I find myself knocking the lever too far up or down so when I am ready to take a photo the settings are drastically different. Another oddity that is very similar to that is how the mode dial is quite easy to bump and change. Quite a few times I will raise the V1 for an image and I find out that I am in video mode.
So manual settings are there and so are all of the rest that usually come with professional cameras (well most consumer cameras too nowadays) but like smaller compact cameras these settings can only be changed while in the menus. The first time you enter the menus especially if you are a veteran Nikon user you will find that the menus are far far leaner and quite a bit simpler than your typical camera. The menu system also seems faster than its counterparts due to the screen has what seems an incredibly fast refresh rate (60fps) so settings can be changed as fast as you can access them without lag or loading. The camera seems to do a lot of waiting for the user and you can see this with the camera quite a bit from its tamagotchi like sleep light to its buffer that it fills before you take a shot in certain modes. ISO can be found in the menus and this is the only way that it can be changed, I actually leave mine on the auto ISO 100-3200 feature which is actually the default unless I am shooting long exposure on a tripod. An oddity with the auto ISO feature is that it never displays the current ISO rating for the metered scene, it will only show you after you take the picture which is quite frustrating. That along with the fact that the camera will always choose a slower shutter speed instead of raising the ISO by an additional stop. Even though high ISO shooting is better than most point and shoot cameras the V1 would rather you have a blurry image than one with more noise. I for one and I am sure everyone would agree a noisy image is a much easier fix than an unusable blurry image.
Probably the most frustrating and oddly slow part about this camera is the time it takes to change from extreme exposure changes. For example when changing from a bright sky panning down to the darker street level below will take one to two seconds for it to catch up with the rest of the camera. Usually when I am taking images and I have the time I will let the camera rest on the scene for an extra second to make sure the camera has it metered properly.
I should take a brief pause on pointing out its flaws and I am going to go over a few advantages of this camera. The screen and viewfinder are actually quite excellent. The display is covered in a nice hard glass that looks great, it's a screen that exceeds the quality of what the camera is capable of. The viewfinder isn't quite the big screen experience that other cameras with EVFs have but it is amazing and sharp for its size. In low light it doesn't get very noisy and the refresh rate is equal to that of the speedy display which seems like 60fps as mentioned previously. Build of the camera is fantastic, it's a metal body that has a surprising about of heft to it, everyone that has held my V1 has mentioned how well it appears to be made.
The camera is fast, very fast and in a way where it's a bit of a mind reader in the way to can determine what the main focus of the image is. I am going to be bold and say that it is the fastest AF camera I have ever used, Nikon says the same but realistically when the difference comes down to milliseconds it really doesn't matter that much. What is more important to me is that the camera rarely ever hunts for focus, this is something that I found Sony NEX cameras do much more of.
The lack of flash you would probably assume would be a negative but in my opinion it was a huge draw for me to buy the camera. I love the fact that there will never be a single flash accidentally popping up from this little guy, I could buy an external one but I would rather save the money. I am a huge fan of natural light and this camera forces me to work with what I have available.
I am going to go ahead and pronounce a love for the 10mp sensor. It all comes down to how I use this camera and how I feel most people will, this is not a landscape camera nor a professional portrait camera, it is simply for memories. Our smartphones fill this purpose quite well but for a lot of situations it just can't do those moments justice. It is a creative exercise camera where I can take this out and flex my mind and just have fun. I love the motion snapshot mode and I am always looking for scenes where this feature would shine. Our smartphones take images just adequate for memory and web but when we want a bit more and the ability to capture a difficult scene nothing will do it better than the V1 at its current price.
When it comes down to it this camera is currently selling for $300 or so over at B&H and just a bit more over at Amazon. At this price it is as cheap as the Canon S110 series and in my opinion it is a better option for those who don't mind its larger stature. It is also the cheapest camera with EVF and removable lenses by FAR on the market.
So in conclusion this peculiar camera can take beautiful images of fleeting scenes and does with with a few shortcomings. From its insane burst rate of 60fps full still raw mode to the super slow 400fps movie mode the camera just sparks something in me. To me the camera is inspiring and I find a lot of joy out of challenging cheap gear and reminding people that something great can come of not so great equipment. There's a special feeling that you get out of pushing this camera to it's technical and unintended limits.