* In August 2012, Nikon released firmware version 1.20 for the V1 and J1 which among other small changes, claims to improve the cameras' program lines in some exposure modes, to reduce the risk of blurred images due to slow shutter speeds. We have not been able to test the new firmware yet (as of November 2012) so readers should be aware that some of our comments in this review refer to issues that may be fixed - or at least reduced in severity - in the new firmware.

Nikon's entry into the mirrorless interchangeable lens market late last year was widely anticipated, but the products that were finally announced took a lot of people by surprise. Nikon has created an entirely new system based around a relatively small sensor, that's about 30% of the size of those used in the company's DX-format SLRs. The system is spearheaded by two cameras - the Nikon 1 J1 and 1 V1. The J1 is the entry-level model, and the V1 is aimed at a slightly more advanced user, but both cameras are intended essentially for beginners upgrading from compact cameras or cameraphones, and who find the size and complexity of a DSLR intimidating.

The V1 and J1's standout features are their autofocus and continuous shooting abilities. Both cameras feature a 'hybrid' AF system that combines both Phase and Contrast Detection methods, which in principle allows them to keep track of fast-moving subjects in much the same way as SLRs can (and compacts and other mirrorless cameras conspicuously can't). Both also feature a remarkable maximum shooting speed of 60 frames per second at full resolution, and to support this they use dual image processors that offer Nikon's latest 'EXPEED 3' processing.

In addition to the J1 and its slightly higher specified big brother the V1, the Nikon 1 system debuts with four '1 Nikkor' interchangeable lenses (including a 'pancake' prime and a video-optimized power superzoom), and a range of accessory port add-ons for the V1. Perhaps nothing signals Nikon's long-term commitment to the 1 System, however, more than its decision to build both cameras around a completely new lens mount and a unique 10MP CMOS sensor.

As you can see from this diagram, the Nikon 1 System's 1" (13.2 x 8.8mm) sensor is considerably smaller than the Four Thirds and APS-C format sensors used in competitive mirrorless interchangeable lens cameras. In terms of its overall dimensions in fact, it occupies almost exactly a mid-point between these sensors and the 1/2.3" sensors in low/mid-range compact cameras (and the Pentax Q).

Unlike the rest of the market, which is populated by cameras baked to the same basic 'small body, large sensor' recipe, the 1 System's 1-inch sensor that is small in two ways - both physically and in terms of its resolution. At 13.2 x 8.8mm, the 10MP sensor at the heart of these new cameras is considerably smaller in comparison with every other mirrorless competitor except the Pentax Q, and results in a 2.7x effective focal length multiplier. The cameras, on the other hand, aren't that small at all. The dimensions of the V1 place it alongside the Panasonic DMC-G3 and Sony NEX-7 - two of the larger-bodied mirrorless cameras.

As you can see, the V1 (right) is taller than the J1 even without the added protrusion of its built-in electronic viewfinder. Both cameras include an AF illuminator lamp and stereo microphones that sit above the lens mount. An infrared receiver is visible on the lower right of the J1 and just below the 'V1' inscription on the larger camera.
The cameras share a virtually identical layout of control points - the exception being the flash pop-up switch on the J1. The J1 also has a flash mode position on the control dial where the V1 - which lacks a built-in flash - places its AF mode. The V1 has an eye sensor located to the left of the eye piece that automatically switches between the EVF and LCD.
From the top, you can see that the J1 is slimmer than the V1, which is actually one of the chunkiest compact form-factor cameras of its type. The V1 does accommodate a DSLR-sized battery. From this perspective you can also see how much the V1's EVF housing protrudes behind the camera.

The differences between the J1 and V1 are important - the V1 has a built-in 1.4M-dot LCD viewfinder, while the J1 does not. However, despite being the cheaper, simpler model, the J1 has a built-in flash which the V1 lacks. The V1 makes up for this omission with a multi-accessory port that can be used to mount a dedicated external Speedlight SB-N5 flashgun or GPS unit.

The V1 has a higher resolution rear LCD screen and a mechanical shutter (in addition to the electronic shutter found in the J1), which makes it a better choice for high framerate captures of moving subjects. The mechanical shutter also allows it to use flash at shutter speeds of 1/250th of a second, rather than the 1/60th that the electronic shutter limits the cameras to. Ergonomically though, with the exception of the V1's built-in EVF, both cameras handle in much the same way. Both lack a traditional exposure mode dial, and neither camera offers much in the way of customization. Both are - in essence - designed for multi-purpose point and shoot operation.

Nikon 1 J1 and V1 specification highlights

  • 10MP 1" CMOS sensor with 2.7x effective focal length multiplier
  • Hybrid AF system with both phase and contrast detection
  • 60fps at full resolution (with electronic shutter only)
  • 1080/60i video
  • ISO 100-3200 ('Hi 1' option at approx. ISO 6400)

Nikon 1 J1 and V1 key differences

  • V1 has built-in 1.4M dot LCD electronic viewfinder
  • V1 has VGA (920k dot) rear LCD, J1 has 460k dot panel
  • V1 has mechanical and electronic shutter option, J1 has electronic only
  • J1 has built-in flash, V1 requires optional accessory flash
  • V1's accessory port allows attachment of external Speedlight or GPS unit (J1 has no port)
  • V1 has a larger, higher capacity battery (the same as found on the D7000)

Hands-on Preview Video*

*Note that this video was prepared as part of our original preview content on the Nikon 1 System.