Performance

Overall the Nikon 1 V3 is a very responsive camera. With hybrid AF, twin control dials and two custom function buttons, the V3 can be quick to use. However for all the claims of speed, it takes about 2.1 seconds to power the camera on when using the kit power zoom, which is on the slow side.

But once the camera is on, AF acquisition to shutter release is blazingly fast. In single shot mode, you can fire away multiple frames (even in Raw+JPEG fine) with no discernible shutter lag and very little AF hunting - just see it, shoot it like a DSLR. And with the electronic shutter, you can shoot up to 1/16000. This enables you to shoot with very shallow depth of field even on sunny days and have shutter speeds that will stop nearly action.

The only real noticeable time the V3 becomes unresponsive is when shooting Raw+JPEG mode in continuous mode. At 20 fps, it takes 2 seconds to fill the camera's 40 frame buffer. Once the buffer limit is hit, you'll be waiting about 48 seconds for the entire buffer to clear. The good thing though is that you can start shooting again once a few frames have been transfered to the memory card. But the long write times when capturing Raw files mean shooting back-to-back bursts can feel sluggish because you're waiting for buffer space.

ISO 800 F8, 1/800, 1 Nikkor VR 30-110mm F3.8-5.6 lens. Here the V3's 20 fps made it easy to capture the runner in midstride.

You can access menu options and use PASM shooting modes while the camera's buffer is writing to the memory card, but you're locked out of video and the various creative modes such as Motion Snapshot and Best Moment Capture so don't expect to shoot a multi-frame sequence then capture video a few seconds later. And, if the camera is turned off while still writing to the memory card, it doesn't turn back on until the buffer is fully cleared.

Continuous Shooting and Buffering

One of the V3's selling points is its continuous shooting performance. The V3 has four high-speed continuous shooting options: 10, 20, 30 or 60 fps along with a 40 frame Raw buffer. Continuous AF is supported up to 20 fps. At 30 and 60 fps, focus is locked on the first frame. The V3 also has a more pedestrian 6 fps continuous shooting option as well. For comparison, Nikon's full-frame D4s shoots 11 fps.

As mentioned above, since it only takes a few seconds to fill the 40 frame buffer when shooting in one of the burst modes it's not an unreasonable to find yourself waiting on the camera. One way to mitigate this issue is to shoot multiple continuous bursts in JPEG mode only instead of capturing Raw files since it only takes about 12 seconds to clear the entire buffer instead of up 48 seconds. We found dropping the camera down to 10 fps to be a good balance. It still gives you speed and about 4 seconds of action versus 2 seconds at 20 fps. But at 10 fps in JPEG only, a usable amount of buffer space space clears only after a few seconds to make back-to-back bursts responsive.

For the timing tests below we used a SanDisk Extreme Pro 16GB microSDHC UHS-1 memory card that has write speeds of up to 95MB/sec. Active D-Lighting and lens distortion correction were disabled.

Continuous: 10 fps

Timing
JPEG Large/Fine
RAW
RAW+JPEG Fine
Frame rate 10 fps 10 fps 10 fps
Burst capacity 40 40 40
Buffer full rate - - -
Write complete 12 sec 22 sec 50 sec

Continuous: 20 fps

Timing
JPEG Large/Fine
RAW
RAW+JPEG Fine
Frame rate 20 fps 20 fps 20 fps
Burst capacity 40 40 40
Buffer full rate - - -
Write complete 12 sec 25 sec 48 sec

Continuous: 30 fps

Timing
JPEG Large/Fine
RAW
RAW+JPEG Fine
Frame rate 30 fps 30 fps 30 fps
Burst capacity 40 40 40
Buffer full rate - - -
Write complete 11 sec 21 sec 47 sec

Continuous: 60 fps

Timing
JPEG Large/Fine
RAW
RAW+JPEG Fine
Frame rate 60 fps 60 fps 60 fps
Burst capacity 40 40 40
Buffer full rate - - -
Write complete 12 sec 25 sec 48 sec

Autofocus

The touted feature on the V3 is the AF speed and continuous focusing abilities. It has a hybrid AF system with 171 contrast-detect and 105 phase-detect points. The Sony a6000 with with 25 contrast-detect and 179 phase-detect points is the V3's nearest competitor in this respect. This means, in good light the V3 will use the phase detection to deliver responsive single shot AF and continuous AF performance up to 20 fps. When light levels drop the V3 switches to using contract detection. AF acquisition is still quite fast when the V3 is using contrast detection, but you'll find it hunting on occasion (this is not unusual across various cameras).

The following sequence shows 10 frames from the middle of a 33 burst taken at 20 fps. All were shot at 1/16000 at F1.2 using the 1 Nikkor 32mm F1.2 lens on AF-C mode.

Frame 1
Frame 2
Frame 3
Frame 4
Frame 5
Frame 6
Frame 7
Frame 8
Frame 9
Frame 10

As you can see, not every frame is in perfect focus (three are visibly out of focus at 100%). In total more than 85% of the 33 image sequence are sharp enough to be useful. The V3's electronic shutter that goes to 1/16000 also allowed us to use the 32mm F1.2 at maximum aperture to show how much background separation can be had in bright light.

As always, a number of factors influence AF accuracy, including the lens used. We got similar results with 10-30mm F3.5-5.6, but with much greater depth of field and less overall image quality. The depth of field that naturally comes from a 1" sensor (and the lenses it consequently uses) helps, but the all around continuous AF ability of the V3 is impressive. It's one of the few mirrorless cameras we feel confident using to shoot moving objects.

Aside from capturing fast moving children, weekend sporting events, the V3 could also be useful for wildlife-type photographers who need high fps and continuous AF. With the V3's 2.7 crop factor, and FT-1 F-mount adapter ring, the V3 is an easy way to get more 'reach' without much more bulk.

The V3 also has AF-area subject tracking ability. This works in much the same way as the Face Detection feature where the AF point will automatically lock onto and follow subjects. However the implementation is quite awkward.

You first have to set AF-area to subject tracking via the 'F' quick menu. Then press 'OK' to turn it on, then move the focus point to the subject you want the camera to follow before finally firing the shutter. For fast action, it's nearly impossible to do all these steps before the moment passes by. If you're quick enough to it get going, it does a reasonable job of tracking subjects as long as the AF point is on faces or higher contrast areas. In the end, we found the AF point jumping around scenes enough times to switch to manual AF point selection to feel more confident about the accuracy.

Battery Life

Nikon uses the EN-EL20a lithium-ion battery for the V3. CIPA gives it a rating of 310 shots per charge. In real-world use, we found the battery can last much longer, especially with automatic image preview off. Over the course of three days we shot more than 1,330 images, along with a handful of videos and motion snapshots, used the camera to directly transfer images to our computer, and found the V3 still had one bar left on the battery indicator.