Nikon 1 V2 Hands-On First Impressions

Nikon 1 V2 (left) compared to the Nikon 1 V1. Other than the larger viewfinder, the V2 is actually smaller and lighter than the V1.

For the last year, I’ve used the Nikon 1 V1 as my primary travel/family camera. In general, I found it to be a good camera with some ergonomic quirks. In late October, Nikon announced the V1′s successor, the Nikon 1 V2. I took delivery of my V2 a few days ago and while I haven’t done complete testing, I thought I’d offer up some of my first impressions, especially with respect to what I thought the shortcomings of the V1 were back in February.

Main New Features

  • The Nikon 1 V2 offers a 14 megapixel CX-format sensor. The camera’s base ISO is 160, and is expandable to ISO 6400.
  • The body design and control layout is totally new and more in line with Nikon’s DSLRs.
  • The Nikon 1 V2 can shoot at 15 fps without any metering or focus limitations (as far as I can tell).
  • The V2 sports a small built-in flash unit.
  • The Nikon 1 V2 uses a different battery than the V1, the EN-EL21. This battery is smaller and lighter than the EN-EL15, and uses a dedicated charger. The battery life is good for around 300 shots, according to Nikon. 
When getting a new camera, the first shot should always be of your family pet. Nikon 1 V2 with 18.5mm f1/.8 lens, 1/100s @f/2.0, ISO 200.

Ergonomics and Handling

The first thing I noticed about the V2 when I pulled it out of the box is how small and light it seemed. Sure enough, the V2 is slightly smaller than the V1 if you discount the large viewfinder/flash shoe module. The camera body was completely redesigned to have a built-in grip. It’s comfortable to hold. The biggest ergonomic switch, however, was a complete redesign of the external controls.

  • The on/off switch is now a toggle around the shutter button, similar to Nikon’s DSLRs.
  • The mode dial is now on the top of the camera and includes the traditional PASM settings. This is a huge improvement, because it solves two issues I had with the V1: digging into the software menus to change exposure modes and accidentally bumping the mode dial with my thumb. A big thanks to Nikon for addressing this issue.
  • The toggle switch on the V1 has been replaced with a more traditional command-dial on top of the camera. It is used to adjust shooting parameters (aperture/shutter speed) depending on your shooting mode. It also serves to toggle the zoom function during image playback and review. It’s solid and not easily bumped while shooting.
  • The rear dial lets you select AE/AF-L, Exposure Compensation, Flash mode, self-timer, and continuous or single image shooting mode.
  • The menu buttons on the left of the camera are rectangular and quite small. I haven’t had any issues with them so far, but I could see some people thinking that they might be too small.
  • The Feature Button (F) gets a major upgrade. When you press the F button, you can toggle through major shooting parameters and change them on the fly, including: Picture Control, White Balance, Metering Mode, ISO, Focus servo mode, and focus point mode. That’s a huge step forward in usability for anyone who wants to shoot with the V2 like they’d use a DSLR.
The Feature button lets you use the command dial to quickly change most of the major shooting parameters without diving into the camera menu system.

Using the Camera

The Nikon 1 V2 is very similar to the V1 in terms of how it performs while shooting. The AF system is pretty much the same, and it’s fast. Metering is very good. If you have shot the V1, then the V2 isn’t really going to behave much differently. However, there are a few new things to point out.

  • Image Review can now be disabled (YES!) in the Playback Menu
  • Continuous Shooting at 5, 15, 30 and 60 frames per second. The Nikon 1 V2 can capture RAW images really, really quickly. The frame buffer is capable of storing 50 RAW images at 5fps, 45 RAW files at 15 fps, and 40 RAW images at 30 and 60 fps. At the two highest settings, the minimum shutter speed is 1/60s.
  • The choice of electronic/mechanical shutter is no longer a source of confusion. There are two ways to select the electronic shutter, and both of these are done automatically. The silent shooting option uses the electronic shutter. When continuous shooting higher than 5fps is selected, the electronic shutter is used. I like this change because the V1 presented the electronic/mechanical choice to the user in such a way so that it was confusing. Now, it’s just a by-product of other camera settings.
  • Auto ISO is displayed in the LCD. When using any of the Auto-ISO settings, the V2 shows the selected ISO in the LCD. That helps you make a determination if you want to try settings that might lower your ISO. With the V1, you never knew what ISO would be used until after you took the shot.
  • There is a new HDR mode that takes two photos in rapid succession and merges them. This only works with JPEGs while using Auto Scene Selector mode.
  • (Some) Improvements with the FT-1 F-mount adapter. Bulb mode is now enabled with the FT-1, and you can capture an exposure up to the camera’s maximum of 120s. The other limitations of the FT-1 have not been addressed; it will not permit continuous AF, and uses only the center point when focusing.
The Nikon 1 V2 delivers crisp images with good color and contrast.

Flash

Tucked under the viewfinder box is a little pop-up flash. The V1 was criticized for not having an on-board flash. However, most of the time I don’t use pop-up flashes because of the harsh results they deliver. The pop-up flash on the V2 is no different, but when used to add fill light, it is a handy feature and one that I don’t mind having. It works well indoors when combined with slow sync and higher ISO settings. There is also a multi-accessory shoe port on top of the viewfinder. This accepts the same accessories as the V1, including the SB-N5 speedlight and GP-N100 GPS unit. There’s also a new speedlight on the way, the SB-N7. It is more powerful than the SB-N5; its guide number is 57′ at ISO 100. It tilts, but does not swivel.

The Nikon 1 V2 sports a small pop-up flash. It’s good for adding a little fill light, but don’t expect it to deliver studio results.

A minor but important thing I noticed is that the cover for the accessory port is very hard to dislodge. It’s very easy to lose this on the V1, so that’s another point for Nikon listening to their customers.

At ISO 4500, the Nikon 1 V2 produces a good image as long as you apply Noise Reduction appropriately. I used Nik Software Dfine on this image to remove noise.

Areas for Improvement

I think that overall Nikon did a very good job addressing many of the complaints advanced users had with the V1. However, there are still a few features missing from the V2 that I’d like to see Nikon implement, especially if they want to portray this camera as a good option for serious users and enthusiasts.

  • Auto bracketing. Please, Nikon, add this feature so the HDR junkies can have fun with the 1-series cameras.
  • Improve the Auto ISO control. Two things here. First, give us a 160-1600 ISO option. We have 160-800, 160-3200, and 160-6400. Why not 1600? Second, allow auto ISO to be configured with a minimum shutter speed option. It looks like the exposure program is somewhat better than what I saw in the V1, but 1/15″ is still too slow in most cases for sharp shots, even with a VR lens.
  • iTTL support. I’d love to control an SB-910 or other iTTL speedlight in a studio setting with the V1, especially in light of some of the new lenses under development.
  • Flash compensation controls. Flash exposure compensation still requires a trip through the menus. I’d like to see it added to the Feature Menu if possible.
  • Add continuous-servo focus to the FT-1 adapter. Please.
  • Increase the maximum exposure times when using bulb mode. Right now, it’s still capped at 2 minutes (120s). At least this time the manual does not suggest star-trails as a viable subject…
  • Why did you change the battery? Sure, the new EN-EL21 battery is small and light, but now packing my V2 requires a separate charger, and the new battery is rated for nearly 100 fewer shots. Moreover, the new charger does not have a cable adapter; you have to plug it directly into a wall socket.

Conclusions (so far)

The Nikon 1 V2 is a major improvement ergonomically over the Nikon 1 V1. It delivers fast performance, super-high frame rates, and a significantly improved control layout. This camera comes very close to feeling like an enthusiast’s camera, whereas the V1 felt more like a point and shoot camera. The V2 is well built and feels solid, even though it’s lighter than the V1. The LCD and viewfinder are bright and easy to use. I’m really enjoying the V2 with the new 18.5mm f/1.8 1-Nikkor lens (roughly a 50mm equivalent). It makes for a really light combo that’s good in low-light situations.

Note that right now, if you shoot RAW with the Nikon 1 V2, you’ll need to use Nikon Capture NX2 2.3.5 or Nikon View NX2 2.6 to edit your NEFs. Adobe Photoshop Lightroom and Apple Aperture currently don’t support NEF files from the V2 (although I imagine these products will be updated soon).

Frankly, I’m surprised that Nikon is pricing the V2 at nearly $800 USD. I mean, the 24 megapixel Nikon D3200 is under $600 with a lens. While the Nikon 1 V2 is an excellent camera, and one that I’ll no doubt use often, it still doesn’t offer as many of the controls and features of some of the other high-end mirrorless cameras. While Nikon has done an excellent job controlling noise in their CX sensor, its small size still means you’re not going to have the kind of shallow depth of field and super-clean high ISO images as you’d get with a larger sensor camera.

That all being said, I’m looking forward to using my Nikon 1 V2 on vacations and family trips; I think it’s absolutely perfect for that kind of use. The images look good, even at higher ISO settings, and the kit is so small and light that it’s super-easy to carry around all day.

The Nikon 1 V1 was recently discounted, and at that price I recommend it for anyone looking for a top-end point and shoot camera. Despite the higher price tag, the Nikon 1 V2 definitely has the kind of handling that I want in a small camera. I can overlook most of the negatives I’ve listed, because they are relatively easy to work around once you know how the camera is going to behave. If you liked the V1′s image quality and performance, but didn’t like the ergonomics, the V2 is a huge leap forward.

The Nikon 1 V1 and Nikon 1 V2 are available at B&H Photo Video

The Photographer’s Guide to the Nikon 1 V1/J1 cameras

Master Nikon’s Capture NX2 with the comprehensive guide by Jason P. Odell 

15 thoughts on “Nikon 1 V2 Hands-On First Impressions”

  1. Thanks for the review Jason. I took delivery of a V1 last week from Nikon. I considered the V2 but the new battery was the thing that kept me from purchasing it. Its nice that my D800 uses the same battery as my V1. So far I love the camera. Very great image quality, easy to use. Yes it is a hassle always going to the menu system to change most parameters but I can live with that. The 1 series offers a great camera in a tiny form factor.

  2. Steve-
    You will definitely enjoy the V1. Good sensor, good lenses and good image quality. I, too, was a bit disappointed in the new battery. However I definitely prefer the control layout of the V2.

  3. Many thanks for this. I’ve been using a V1 for about a year and have a love/hate relationship with it. I love the small size, AF performance, and good stabilization with the zooms. Also, its “invisibility”, particularly with electronic shutter. But hate the controls. The V2 seems to fix most of what I don’t like about the V1. But, why still no exposure bracketing in the V2? And from what I can figure out from reading the manual, still no highlight clipping warning in image review. The histogram is too small to be useful for that. As for the price, I’m waiting for the discounts to appear. After Jan 1, perhaps?

  4. Phil-
    It’s unlikely that the V2 will be discounted that soon. The V1 has been out for over a year, and the V2 is offered at a slightly lower price than the V1 was introduced at, I think.

  5. More fuel added to the fire… And the D800 which uses the same battery as the V1 is also on sale at B&H… I really should stay off the computer this time of year :)

  6. Pingback: good review | Planet Mezz
  7. I have purchased your ebook on the Nikon 1. I would happy to pay for supplement to include the features of the N2 if you feel it would be worthwhile.

    Thanks,
    Jerry

  8. Jason,

    I’ve read quite a number of reviews on the Nikon 1 V2 but yours (which I got to only now) was the most helpful. Having used Nikon & Canon DSLRs in the past 8yrs (and an Olympus OM-10 before that!), my wife & I need a small yet capable camera that won’t demand lugging all that gear on trips. We are taking the plunge for the V2.

    Question: have you tried one of your Nikkor F-mount lenses with the adapter yet? I shoot birds and was hopeful I could also use a zoom xx-300mm with the V2 and not being able to AF-C or such is disappointing indeed. Does that still hold even if you keep the # of fps under 5, i.e., the mechanical shutter is used?

    Thanks again for the review!

    Antonio

  9. Thanks, Antonio.
    Yes, I’ve used the F-mount lenses (including my 600mm f/4 Nikkor) with the V1 and V2. The FT-1 adapter limits AF to the center point and AF-S (single-servo) only. Manual focus override is possible, but not exactly easy.

  10. Jason,

    I see. Hopefully Nikon might fix this in a future software upgrade. It’s a hard to understand cripple.

    On the other hand, I’ve just stumbled across several bird shots, believe it or not, with the V1 (!) on dpreview. It would be very nice to learn of your experience with any possible bird pics, eventually birds in flight, that you might be able to come up with with your V2 (perhaps with a lens around 200-300mm?).

    Thanks,

    Antonio

  11. Thanks for the great review. I agree that the new grip and controls are a definite improvement, although I love my little V1. With the grip from Rickard Franiec, the V1 handles like a dream for me. I am considering a V2 also.

  12. I forgot to mention that I see the V1 and V2 as quite different in use. I see the V1 and a mini Leica type camera, while the V2 to me is more of a mini DSLR. I am referring to design and feel here, just for what it is worth. With that in mind, I see the V1 as so great with small lenses, perhaps fast and sometimes wide. I see using the V2 with longer lenses and with the FT-1 adapter. Just generalizations but it seems the difference in design makes one better than the other at different things.

  13. I’d like to see a tiltable, articulating LCD. This is a big oversight; most cameras have them. Greater shooting angle flexibility.

  14. Tried the V1 for about a week a couple of months ago and returned it. Too big and heavy to put in a pocket and the performance was just ‘okay’. About a month later I picked up an Olympus E-PL5 (m4/3) and have been quite delighted. It has a larger sensor, the size/balance seem more comfortable, and the articulating screen let’s me use it like an old-time twin lens reflex at waist level. It also lets me work on my knees more easily to capture low to the ground shots. My collection of AI, AIS, D and G Nikkor lenses work quite nicely on the Olympus with the benefit of inexpensive adapters, and in theory at least provide VR for even the non-VR lenses. Perfect? Not really but much better in my opinion.

    I’m not sure Nikon has a winner here. In addition to the missing features you and others have noted I’d like to see Nikon make it easier and less expensive for their Nikon DSLR users to adapt their lenses and other accessories to the V-series, or else like me they may well find it the be cheaper and ‘better’ to just add on another system.

  15. Glad you found a camera that works for you. I love the V2 as it’s easier to use than the V1.

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