Nikon 1 S1 Review

A small camera for casual photographers with excellent image quality

Nikon 1 cameras combine interchangeable lenses with pocket-sized designs. The S1 is the cheapest model in the range, and thanks to a new bundled lens, it’s also the smallest. Available in black, white, red, pink or khaki, the camera’s minimalist appearance is smart, despite it being encased almost entirely in plastic.

Nikon 1 S1

The lens retracts when not in use, giving a total depth of 65mm from lens cap to screen. That’s still too chunky for your jeans pocket, but small enough to fit inside a coat pocket. The bundled lens has a relatively small 2.5x zoom and lacks optical stabilisation to counteract camera shake. Moreover, the range of compatible lenses compared to other CSCs is pitifully small. The controls are primarily designed for point-and-shoot operation. There’s quick access to burst shooting, flash settings and exposure compensation, but functions such as ISO speed and white balance are tucked away in the main menu. There’s no mode dial, but pressing the F (for Function) button reveals onscreen options. These functions are somewhat gimmicky. There’s a Motion Snapshot mode that captures a photo and short slow-motion video, plus a Best Moment Capture mode that takes five photos and lets you pick the best one. The modes you’re more likely to use, such as manual exposure, are also available, but you’ll have to dig into the menus to find them.
One key selling point of the Nikon 1 range is its fast performance. The S1 isn’t particularly fast in general use, taking well over a second between photos, but in burst shooting mode the S1 can rattle off 15 photos in as little as a quarter of a second. That’s almost too fast and slower speeds, such as the 5fps-shooting option, are a better bet for avoiding a series of virtually identical shots. Shooting at 5fps also lets you use updated autofocus between each shot. This fast performance is, however, undermined by the shortlived battery, which dies after about 220 shots. Image quality is excellent, with sublime colours and crisp, smooth details.
The 10-megapixel resolution may seem low compared to other CSCs but it’s plenty for A4-sized prints. The sensor is bigger than in conventional compacts, which helps to keep noise at bay in low light and goes some way to compensating for the lack of optical stabilisation. However, rival cameras with interchangeable lenses have even bigger sensors and better built-in stabilisation. The S1’s small design and excellent picture quality are great. However, its overly simplified controls will frustrate more experienced photographers and at its current price it’s merely average value. But if you don’t want to experiment with creative photography and just want a small point-and-shoot camera with superb image quality, then it’s worth keeping an eye on the S1’s price. If it falls then we’d have little hesitation in recommending it.

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