Hands-on with Nikon V2
Nikon announced two major products at this year's Photo Plus Expo tradeshow in New York - a new constant-aperture F4 70-200mm zoom for its range of DX and FX-format DSLRs, and the V2, which replaces the V1 as the flagship in Nikon's 1 System. The CX-format V2 features an all-new 14MP CMOS sensor and a built-in flash, a proper exposure mode dial (oh, happy day...) but retains the same innovative Hybrid AF system and 1.4 million-dot EVF as its predecessor.
We caught up with Nikon on the first morning of the show, and managed to get some time alone with its new high-end 1 series camera and 18.5mm F1.8 prime - the fastest lens in the system (making it equivalent to a 50mm lens in terms of field-of-view and F4.9 in terms of depth-of-field).
Our first impressions, seeing the camera 'in the flesh' for the first time, are that it isn't as ugly as it looks in photographs. Yes, it looks like a Sony NEX with mumps. But the lumps and bumps that characterize its external design are much less objectionable when you actually pick the camera up and start using it. We know this might be controversial, but we might actually prefer how the V2 looks compared to the V1...
Another thing that isn't all that apparent from press photographs is how small the V2 is. We didn't have competitive mirrorless cameras nearby to compare it to directly, but it's about the same size as the Olympus PEN Mini, if you ignore the viewfinder hump. The view of the exposed 1-inch CX sensor, above, should give you some idea. In terms of how it feels in the hand, the V2 reminded us of a slightly miniaturized Sony NEX-7, more than anything else. The same super-thin body, similarly nice metal construction, and a deep, rubberized handgrip.
The rear of the V2 is quite different from the V1, and actually, rather NEX-like as well. It's dominated by a large LCD screen and integrated control dial/four-way controller, but unlike many of its competitors, the V2's rear LCD screen is fixed rather than articulated. New to the V2 is the vertical strip of buttons on the left of the screen, replacing the dense cluster of control points which surround the 4-way controller on the V1.
The V1's rear-plate mode dial has been deleted completely, to be replaced by a 'proper' exposure mode dial, complete with PASM positions, which can be found on the top of the camera - exactly where an enthusiast would expect to find it. Even better than this, the V1's sharp little control toggle has also been removed, and replaced by a more traditional control dial.
With the camera held to the eye, there's no novelty. The view is the same as you'll get through the EVF on the older V1, because it's the same viewfinder. That's no bad thing though. Although not class-leading, the 1.4 million dot display (800 x 600 RGB pixels) built into the V2 is bright, contrasty and detailed. There's a diopter wheel on the left, for those of us with less than perfect eyesight.
The model that we handled is unfinished - Nikon reps were keen to stress that it might not perform quite as well as the final shipping cameras, but we're happy to report that with the fast 18.5mm prime attached, autofocus seems extremely fast and positive, even in the poor light of a tradeshow meeting room. The bigger the aperture, the more effective the V2's Hybrid AF system (which uses fast on-sensor phase-detection in good light, falling back on contrast-detection when illumination gets low) should be, and that certainly seems to hold true for this new prime. We should have a production sample of both camera and lens soon, and look forward to doing some real-world shooting.