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Nikon 1 S1 review

Ben Pitt
24 Oct 2013
Our Rating 
Price when reviewed 
359
inc VAT

Extremely competitive for photo and video quality, but fiddly controls and poor battery life lessen the appeal

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Specifications

13.2x8.8mm 10.0-megapixel sensor, 2.5x zoom (30-74mm equivalent), 328g

The compact system camera (CSC) market is getting increasingly crowded and homogenised, but there's no risk of the Nikon 1 system blending in. These cameras are smaller and lighter than rival CSC systems, but that's mostly because their 13.2x8.8mm sensors are quite a bit smaller than the 17.3x13mm and 23.5x15.6mm sensors used elsewhere. And whereas most CSCs offer SLR-like control, the more affordable models in the Nikon 1 range are unashamedly point-and-shoot devices.

Nikon 1 S1

This is all the more true of the S1, which establishes a new entry-level line below the J3 and V2 models. It swaps the J3's aluminium body for plastic, and omits a mode dial. Instead, its various modes are selected by pressing the F button and spinning the rear wheel. As with the J3 and its predecessors, the available options are quirky scene presets rather than conventional PASM shooting modes, which are hidden away as a subset of the Creative mode.

Nikon 1 S1

The S1 introduces a new 11-27.5mm kit lens, which gives a 35mm-equivalent focal length range of 30-74mm. It collapses down for transit, extending just 31mm from the camera – 10mm less than the kit lens bundled with other Nikon 1 cameras. The downside is a smaller 2.5x zoom range and a lack of optical stabilisation. This isn't an absolutely crucial feature, but omitting it means faster shutter speeds are necessary to avoid camera shake. This in turn pushes up the ISO speed and noise levels.

This isn't the only compatible lens, of course. The Nikon 1 system is growing fast, with nine lenses currently available. Still, that's a long way behind the Sony NEX system (15 lenses) and Panasonic and Olympus's Micro Four Thirds (38 lenses).

One compelling advantage of the S1 over its rivals is that fitting a telephoto lens doesn't add significantly to its bulk. A dual lens kit is available for around £520 including VAT, which includes the 11-27.5mm plus a 30-110mm lens (81-297mm in 35mm-equivalent values) – a strong candidate for wildlife and sports photography. This lens is also remarkably small and light, at 180g and 61mm long when retracted for transit.

PERFORMANCE AND BATTERY

As with the rest of the Nikon 1 range, the S1 is particularly well suited to sports and wildlife photography because of its fast continuous performance. It can capture 15 frames at 15, 30 or 60fps, and is ready to go again a couple of seconds later. Even more useful is the ability to shoot at 5fps with continuous autofocus. It kept this speed up for an impressive 33 frames before slowing to 2.7fps. This mode is ideal for tracking moving subjects, and this performance is significantly faster than any of its rivals.

Nikon 1 S1 sample shot

5fps shooting with continuous autofocus is ideal for wildlife photography. This shot was taken with the 30-110mm lens, but we had to dig in the menus for the shutter priority mode in order to freeze motion with a 1/1,000s shutter speed

Sadly, the S1 isn't so nippy in normal use. We measured 1.4 seconds between shots, which is almost three times slower than the Panasonic GF6 and Olympus E-PM2. Meanwhile, the controls seem to be designed to prevent casual users stumbling upon conventional manual controls such as ISO speed, autofocus mode and white balance. There's a bare minimum of buttons, no quick-access menu, and the most useful controls are inexplicably spread across different parts of the main menu.

CSC Shootout - SPEED TEST - Sony NEX-3N, Olympus Pen E-PM2, Nikon S1 and Panasonic GF6

Here we compare shooting speed, single drive and continuous (JPEG and RAW) between the four current budget CSCs

Another big disappointment is the battery life, which is quoted at 220 shots. Heavy use of the continuous shooting modes could mean it runs out in an hour or two. Spare batteries are reasonably priced at £36 but we'd say at least one is an essential purchase.