Saturday, February 18, 2012

The V1 - Nikon's rather confused camera

I'm really not too sure what to think of the Nikon V1, other than I don't think it's the camera for me.  Thank goodness I decided to rent a kit this time instead of outright buying one.

I actually really, really wanted to like the V1.  A compact camera system with good autofocus, a couple of cool features like 400 frames-per-second shooting, and the ability to use F-mount Nikon lenses.  What's not to love?

Apparently, several things - at least for me.

Coming to Grips

The V1's grip - or lack thereof.
Let's compare a rather important portion of the camera.  Above is a closeup of the right-hand, front of the camera (when holding it to one's face).  See that little...nub just below the "1"?  That's what Nikon gives you for a hand grip in order to steady the camera, and I absolutely loathe it.

You see, the V1 is a solid piece of machinery - very much unlike the plastic, near-disposable build of most point-and-shoot (or even cheap DSLR) cameras of today.  It has a definite mass, and when swung swiftly from its neck strap it could properly serve as a lethal weapon of some sorts.  Holding the V1 is almost like holding a well-built iPhone after having just handled a flimsy disposable cell phone - worlds apart in build and heft.

This wouldn't be such a problem with the V1 except I'm absolutely terrified of dropping the damn thing.  At almost $1000, it's not exactly a cheap piece of kit.

Herein lies the first sticking point - It comes with a neck strap, which I can understand for larger DSLRs, but for this camera (and to be fair, the NEX-5N also), it seems totally out of place.  I would much rather have an included wrist strap - but that's me (and of course, one can always add a strap).

But back to the grip, or lack of - It essentially makes it impossible to just casually carry around in one hand - you either have to hold it by the base of the camera (perhaps wrapping one's hand around the lens a bit), or carry it by the straps.

Let's compare the V1 to the much-more-usable NEX-5N's grip:

The Sony NEX-5N grip - Not perfect but wow what an improvement.
Notice the grips are worlds apart.  The Sony is actually holdable - the Nikon is a joke in this department.

I have to still wonder just why Nikon decided to mold the V1's body in such a way.  It's not as though adding somewhat of a finger-hold would add substantial depth to the camera - the kit lens (and perhaps the pancake prime) already protrude well past where any grip would be.

V1 (left) in retracted mode.  NEX-5N with 18-55 lens and hood removed.

Looking at the above photo, you see the V1's body could more than accommodate a much better grip than what's given (which is almost an insult, to be honest).  And even with the smaller sensor of the V1, the body still manages to be thicker and taller than the NEX-5N, though the lenses are a completely different story.

V1 and NEX-5N showing lenses at full extension.
The Confusion Continues

A couple of other points that completely befuddle me -

1) No live histogram!  I can't believe Nikon didn't include this with the V1.  I've searched every menu option I could, thinking perhaps I was 'missing' something.  I've cycled through the display settings probably 10 times, but nope - a quite useful tool for the enthusiast photographer is completely absent on the V1.  You'll have to look at the photo after taking the shot to see how it came out (and oh, image review?  yeah, get used to it, because you can't disable it that I can find).

2) No wireless flash?  This one completely befuddles me.  Sure, I can understand the V1 leaving off an on-board flash, as one has the decently useful EVF to use and that takes up room.  But why, oh why, wouldn't Nikon, the Kings of Flash and Wireless Stuff, not enable their $150 attachment flash to use their excellent CLS (Creative Lighting System), especially when their much less expensive top end Point and Shoot can!?  Just another area where I felt Nikon seriously stumbled with the camera.

Glad I only rented it

Now don't get me wrong - there are some things the V1 really does right.  The autofocus performance is commendable, the image quality is pretty good and the ability to use F-mount lenses (even with lots of restrictions) is pretty cool (the 35mm f/1.8 DX adapted to the V1 makes a great little portrait prime).

But, I can't help but think Nikon really only put forth a half-effort with this design.  It seems completely confused as to what it wants to be.  The controls scream "point and shoot upgrader!" while the build, autofocus and price insinuate "enthusiast's travel / backup body".

Here we have a $1000 thick, heavy (for its size) camera with very good autofocus yet poorly thought out control schemes and ergonomics.  A camera that doesn't include an onboard flash - instead a decent $150 option - yet doesn't let the user tap into the excellent CLS system.  A camera who's otherwise wholly acceptable performance is completely bogged by its clumsy, newbie-centric menu system.

I can only hope later iterations of the camera (the V2?) are a bit more fleshed out that what we've been given by Nikon.

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