First Impressions: Image Quality

We've only just started critical analysis of the V1's files, but my first impressions are generally quite positive. Considering the size of its sensor, the V1 gets pretty close to the pixel-level image quality of cameras like the Olympus E-PL3 and Panasonic GF2, although it is clearly no match for the 16MP sensor in the Sony NEX-C3 and NEX-5N, which offer both higher resolution and superior high ISO performance.

When I spoke to Nikon's engineers at the system's launch, I was told that the V1 and J1 do perform some in-camera optical corrections, but that the 1-system's optics perform so well that very little correction is required. Sure enough, comparing JPEGs to their accompanying Raw files, where any fringing is visible at all, it is more intense in the Raws than in the JPEGs. This is exactly what we'd expect given that Nikon's current DSLR and compact cameras all correct CA and fringing in-camera. However, while sharpness is high and my samples so far show little in the way of chromatic abberations, there is some distortion on show, especially from the video-optimized 10-100mm zoom.  

Taken at f/6.3 at an effective focal length of 108mm, this image is sharp almost from front to back, thanks to the generous depth of field afforded by the 1-system's small sensor (and correspondingly short focal length lenses). A tough test for any camera, but the V1's metering has done very well here, capturing the drama of the sunset without delivering a dramatically underexposed image. 
At ISO 400, there's a little bit of 'grit' sneaking into midtones but images are impressively noise free in most situations and detail capture is high. The V1's tiny sensor definitely isn't at its best at ISO 6400 ('Hi1') though, although image quality at this setting is perfectly acceptable if you don't need to make large prints. The V1's AWB system has done very well here. 

One thing that is very noticeable in images from the V1 is how much depth-of-field there is, even 'wide open' on the 10-30mm and 10-100mm zooms. This is no surprise at all, and a natural consequence of the 1 system being built around such a comparatively small sensor. It does mean, however, that in everyday shooting on all of the current 1-system lenses (none of which is faster than f/2.8) you will enjoy (or endure) greater depth of field than you might expect from a larger-sensor camera and equivalent optics. 

 JPEG ISO 100, f/4.8, 1/100sec  100% Crop
Raw processed 'to taste' 100% Crop 

As I'd expect, it is possible to get a lot more out of the V1's 10MP sensor if you're prepared to shoot Raw and commit to some post-capture adjustment. These images show the difference between default JPEG rendering and a Raw file processed quickly 'to taste' in Adobe Camera RAW (in this case a beta version of ACR 6.6). The V1's JPEGs are very good, but the difference in detail rendition when compared to the processed Raw file speaks for itself.    

Continuous Shooting and AF Tracking

Nikon makes great claims for the V1's AF and continuous capture modes. Both it and the J1 offer a maximum frame rate of 60fps in electronic shutter mode (the J1 only offers electronic shutter, since it lacks a mechanical one), and up to 10fps with focus tracking engaged. The V1 is a better tool for fast action photography though (especially panning shots) since its mechanical shutter avoids the characteristic ‘leaning tower’-type distortion caused by the well-known rolling shutter effect.

After using the V1's continuous AF tracking mode, I'm confident that Nikon's claims for the new system aren't hyperbole. In AF-S mode, the V1 uses a conventional contrast-detection AF system. Switch to continuous AF though, and the V1 moves up a gear. In this mode, assuming that the light level is high enough, the V1 switches to a 73-point focal-plane phase-detection AF system, which offers noticeably faster AF responsiveness and - from what I've seen so far - truly impressive continuous AF tracking performance. 

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The intended audience of the V1 is unlikely to take it to any major sporting events, but this doesn’t mean that its innovative hybrid AF system is pointless. The V1 is the first mirrorless camera that I'd be confident about using to capture moving subjects, and potentially this means anything from boisterous children and pets to school sports days and weekend soccer games. The naturally deeper depth of field provided by the V1’s 1-inch sensor format and correspondingly short focal length lenses helps, and obviously there's more testing to be done but having seen its continuous focus tracking in action I'm genuinely impressed with the technology.

Turn to page 3 for a hands-on look at the new Nikkor 1 10-100mm 4/4.5 - 5.6 video lens