Your iPhone (or suitable substitute) is great. It does everything, you’re only paying for phone service, and it’s the best camera you’ve ever owned. It takes good shots, it’s always available, and it’s free. It’s almost ideal, really. Almost.
But sooner or later, everybody realizes that their iPhone isn’t really going to cover all the bases if one gets serious about capturing lasting memories. There are a few specific shortcomings:
- The need for better low-light performance. The iPhone camera produces terrible pictures inside or at night
- The need for to be able to capture lots of shots in a short time, rather than waiting for several seconds while the camera reloads
- The need for a physical zoom (the iPhone doesn’t have one), and for that matter
- The need for changeable lenses to cover every situation
In other words, those things which tend to mean missing the shot, or put a timeless way, losing a memory forever (outside our very ‘analog’ heads, that is).
However, most are like me: I never had been (and still am not) willing to make the compromises necessary to actually buy a big DSLR which would traditionally provide all those benefits, because:
- Big, conspicuous body and lens ruins every candid scene and is a hassle to have with you
- Long prep time between “That’s a cool shot” and “Ok got it” means usually you don’t
- Buttons, dials, levers, and other geek-fetishisms get old really fast
Up until a couple years ago you could add “absurd price premium” to that list, but today’s breed, such as the D3200, have more than addressed that.
So, what are we looking for? The sweet spot: A small, easy-to-use camera which produces superior images under harsher circumstances than an iPhone, without being so much of a burden like a professional camera. In short: not missing the memory.
When I started my search for a small, quality camera, I very quickly found discussions of “micro-4/3” cameras, which led me to the Nikon 1 Series, and the V1 in particular. I have to admit I was already “brand-prepped” on Nikon: here was one of the most revered groups making cameras, who had been around forever, with a lot of credibility and history, a perennial top seller, and was also my father’s preferred make.
It’s true, as a Nikon it got some bonus points, but the V1 caught my attention right from the start on its own merits. One of the first things I did was watch the product demo from B&H Photo, which drew my attention to the “Smart Photo Selector” feature, a concept which nearly sealed the deal for me single-handedly.
The Smart Photo Selector mode of the 1 Series instructs the camera to take something like 30 pictures rapidly when the shutter is pressed; the camera then scans the images automagically for things like blur, closed eyes, out of focus faces, and other anomalies and selects the top 5 images to keep and the best single image as their representative.
I can’t stress enough how brilliant this is: here is the consumer, looking for a camera which will allow them to take pictures in rapid fire, the purpose being to then go through and pick the best one, not having missed the scene. Meanwhile, the designers of the 1 Series had already skipped ahead through that, and decided they would simply make the camera perform all of those steps. The end result, the smart photo selector, is an incredible time and hassle -saver.
This ability to think ahead of the consumer is pervasive in the 1 Series’ design, and is what is starting to make Nikon look like the Apple of the camera world.
The V1’s dedication to the aforementioned sweet spot goes on:
- a silent shutter mode or a physical shutter, which is perfect for not waking sleeping babies or making people jittery in a candid scene
- viewfinder if you need it
- the viewfinder automatically comes on using the same light sensor the iPhone does: bring it up to your eye and it switches on
- fastest autofocus, period (as in, for any amount of money)
- amazing subject-tracking autofocus lets you select something – say, a face – and the camera will maintain focus on it as it moves
- HD video, and ability to continue taking pictures even while shooting video
Yet the V1 is still small and light, and not covered in buttons (though all the manual settings and modes are available if needed). Overall image quality is fantastic, and far beyond what you get from your cameraphone. Speaking of which, how does the 1 Series stack up against the “big 4” limitations of the most popular camera ever (the iPhone)? Great! It has:
- excellent low-light performance (comparatively speaking – there is never enough of this even with a $10k lens)
- incredible fast shooting – 60fps for a moment if need be, and in regular mode (5fps) it’s more than most of the big cameras costing 5x the price.
- great introductory lens selection – and incredible lens selection with FT-1 adapter which lets you use any of the 70 million Nikkor lenses out there, and the countless others which can be adapted to an F-mount, which Nikon has been using for over 50 years.
I won’t get into the “sensor wars” battle here, but suffice it to say that the resolution of this camera allows it to produce a crisp photo up to any standard print size (say, 11×20 and certainly 4×6).
Here are the best, most spot-on reviews of the V1:
The first three being more humanistic and the latter two highly technical and detailed. If you need to know about battery life, lcd screen brightness, or IQ showdowns vs that Sony/Leica/etc, I highly recommend any of them. If you’re shopping, best of luck to you.
Update: Rumor has it that there will be a V2 this month, so if you’re considering a V1, perhaps you should sit tight.