Nikon 1 V3 interchangeable lens camera
This mirrorless compact camera packs excellent image quality, but its user-friendliness isn't great
- Very good image quality
- Plenty of dials and buttons
- No built-in EVF
- No exposure preview
- Electronic zoom
- Awkward manual focusing
While the the Nikon 1 V3 with the 1 Nikkor VR 10-30mm PD-ZOOM lens gives you control dials for managing the aperture and shutter values, they aren’t enough to make us deviate from the perception that this camera is better suited to compact-style users rather than SLR-style users. In other words, it's great if you want to use it in auto mode, but a bit of a pain to use in manual mode.
Price$ 999.00 (AUD)
Mirrorless, interchangeable lens cameras from Nikon and Canon haven’t set the world on fire. Products from the likes of Olympus, Fujifilm, Sony, and Panasonic have all made the category a threat to traditional digital SLRs, the market in which Nikon and Canon are strongest, and now the two companies are playing catch-up.
Nikon’s 1 camera, which was late to the mirrorless market compared to other vendors, is now in its third iteration (V3), and aiming to give the vendor relevance in this category. But is it worth considering over one of the more established mirrorless cameras in the market?
Over three versions, the Nikon 1 has improved in the pixel density of its CX format sensor, going from 10 megapixels in the V1 up to 18.4 megapixels in the V3, but that’s not the only change. The body has been modified in each release, with the smooth lines of the Nikon 1 V1 giving way to a proper handgrip and a taller electronic viewfinder (EVF) in the Nikon 1 V2.
In the Nikon 1 V3, the handgrip has been redesigned again to be more streamlined, more buttons and an extra control dial have been added, and the EVF has been removed. On the rear, the 3in LCD screen now has a hinge, and it supports touch. The camera’s media format has shrunk, with the new camera accepting microSD rather than full-sized SD cards.
It’s a noticeable overhaul in the look and functionality of the camera, but it continues to use the Nikon 1 lens mount, which has quite a few lenses going for it, and it can even accept F-mount lenses as long as you use the FT1 Mount adapter. For all intents and purposes, there is already a great ecosystem of glass available for this camera, which includes up to eleven 1 Nikkor lenses specifically designed for the camera, and these range from a 10mm prime lens, to a 70-300mm zoom lens.
We used a 1 Nikkor VR 10-30mm PD-ZOOM (electronic power-drive zoom) lens for our tests, which has an aperture of f/3.5-5.6. This is an electronic lens that extends in a similar way to the lens on a compact camera when you switch it on — it even has its own lens cover, with Nikon boasting that you don’t have to manually remove the lens cover to use it.
However, it’s a lens that's too electronic for our liking, and here is where our issues with the camera's user friendliness begin.
More comparable to a compact than a DSLR
Zooming is undertaken via an electronic ring on the lens. We initially mistook it for a focus ring, but there is no focus ring. Zoom operations didn't feel good due to the never ending rotations of the ring — a zoom rocker around the shutter button would actually be an improvement when using this lens.
When we wanted to manually focus, we had to switch to manual focus mode, then tap on the focus button on the screen until it turned into a magnifying glass, then tap on the area on the screen we wanted to focus on, then use the rear thumb ring to bring our image into focus. That's a lot of 'thens'. Too many.
It was a tedious process that made us not want to manually focus at all. Furthermore, it wasn’t always clear if our subject was in focus when we did use manual focus, due to the lack of a focus peaking mode, which is present in the latest cameras from Olympus and Panasonic, for example.
And even though there is a macro-to-infinity indicator on the screen, it can’t be easily seen in bright light or from different angles. We really missed being able to bring the camera up to the eye, looking through the EVF and using the ring on the lens to manually focus on our subject. It’s a traditional camera action that’s missing from this model by default, and in a way it makes sense since this camera is far from traditional. Instead we preferred to use auto-focus for all of our shots.
Nikon actually touts the auto-focusing performance of the camera as one of its selling points, especially for action shots when used in conjunction with the 20-shot continuous mode and the tracking mode. It has a hybrid style focusing system that uses a combination of contrast differences and light phase detection to get the job done, and there are up to 171 focus areas on the screen when single-point auto-focus is used.
We found the auto-focusing performance to be accurate for the majority of our shots, although in some instances the camera struggled to latch onto the foreground image we intended to be in focus. Luckily, the touchscreen enables you to tap practically anywhere on the screen to put your desired image into focus.
No EVF, no exposure preview
Since it lacks a built-in electronic viewfinder (EVF), you have to frame your photos using the 3in LCD screen, and we found this to be a major chore when using the camera outdoors on a very bright day. Using the hinge to angle the screen and using your body to shade the camera will only produce somewhat useful results. Using manual settings is also difficult in such situations because you can’t clearly see the onscreen light meter and whether your exposure is over or under.
There is another problem when using manual exposure settings. On other mirrorless cameras, such as Olympus’ PEN and OM-D cameras, the live view on the screen shows you what your exposure looks like as you change the exposure settings in real-time. On the Nikon 1 V3, what you see on the screen in manual mode is often far too different from what you get. For this reason, you have to rely on the on-screen light meter, and, as we’ve already mentioned, it’s hard to see it in bright conditions.
The omission of a viewfinder and the lack of an exposure preview before you take a shot really inhibit the camera’s abilities in manual mode, which is a shame because of the presence of manual control dials, and also a more than decent on-screen menu system. Indeed, there is an ‘F’ button that can bring up the essential exposure controls, which can you can then tap and change with your fingers — so you can even get by without using the dials.
We rarely used the manual features, though, simply because they aren’t as fun to use on this camera as they are on other mirrorless cameras that sport interchangeable lenses. Instead, we made use of the auto mode, and only sometimes the semi-manual aperture priority mode. This made the camera more fun to use as a point-and-shoot, but we also had to make sure that we left the electronic shutter sound on, because otherwise the camera was deathly silent and we weren’t sure if we’d actually taken a picture.
Stellar image quality
The best part about this camera is its image quality. It produced crisp and well detailed shots that compare favourably against entry-level digital SLR cameras and other mirrorless models. We used the 10-30mm lens to good effect for close-ups, in particular, and love the blurring that it renders to out of focus elements in the background of an image.
What else do you need to know?
To get the photos off the camera and onto a laptop, you should carry around a full-sized SD adapter for the microSD card, or set up your smartphone with the Nikon ‘wmu’ app and then use the Wi-Fi feature to directly connect to the camera and transfer the photos.
Wi-Fi was the method we chose to use — finally, Wi-Fi was a necessary feature for transferring photos, rather than an extra we’re usually blasé about. The app, while useful, was a bit annoying. For one, its icon remained in our notification area after we had disconnected from the camera, and we had to force the app to stop to get rid of it. For another, the name of the app is ‘wmu’, so unless you remember that when you install it (or closely look at the icon, which says Nikon on it), it can be hard to find among a mess of other apps.
What else do you need to know about this camera? It does Full HD video, it comes with an on-screen electronic level, its low-light performance is quite good (even at high levels such as ISO 1600), and there are creative modes, including sweeping panorama mode.
We don’t think it’s as impressive as other mirrorless models on the market from Olympus, Panasonic, Fujifilm, and Sony, especially in terms of usability. We think the removal of the EVF is a step backwards, and we’re also not fans of the live view mode, which isn’t as good as the other cameras it competes against, and which makes manual mode a bit of a drag. That said, those of you who just want a point-and-shoot style camera with interchangeable lens capability can consider it.
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