Grok Photography

Photos and words by Petter Senften

Short Review: Nikon 1 S1

About two days ago I bought a new camera. I’ve been thinking about getting a small mirrorless camera to use for walkabout-shooting and general tourist-use as well as for filming BTS-videos or stuff I want to put on Youtube. Originally I was thinking about getting a second-hand D3100 but the more I thought about, the more I started liking the idea of a small mirrorless.

A few weeks back my dad bought a Nikon 1 S1. Nikon 1 is Nikons mirrorless range of cameras based on the Nikon 1-mount. The mount is very similar to a scaled-down version of the classic F-mount but of course with differences to account for the mirrorless design. The S1 is Nikons absolute basic entry-level camera in the mirrorless range. I was a little sceptical but I got to play around a bit with my fathers and felt that maybe it wasn’t so bad. I bought mine on a whim and it was quite amusing since I roleplayed a person who doesn’t know jack about cameras. The salesguy was really nice, he didn’t try to pull fast ones just to make a sale and he included a decent memory-card in the price. All in all, the camera was a steal.

After having used it for a while now, here’s some thoughts on it.

It’s difficult to grab a hold of. Nikon has made the casing out of shiny plastic and since the camera is so small as well, it’s a bit difficult to one-hand it. I feel kinda stupid when I hold it properly with two hands as well since it’s so small. The shiny plastic is a bit slippery too which doesn’t help. I’m still trying to figure out the best way to hold it but it seems I’m gonna be holding it SLR-style as well.

Image quality is impressive! I was a little worried since the CX-format is even smaller than Micro 4/3 but the image quality is suprisingly good. Yes, when you bump up the ISO into the 3200 range it does get quite noisy but 3200 is actually quite useable.

Some reviews I read whined about most of the controls being hidden away in menus. Yes, there are a lot of menus and I was a bit worried I’d get annoyed at it but it’s not that bad. Switching shooting-modes is quicker than I expected and stuff like drive-mode and exposure comp are easily available from the main wheel. I also like the small touch that when you extend the lens, the camera starts up and shuts down when you retract it.

Button-placement is good considering that it’s a very small camera and there’s not a lot of space. The only button that I think is really stupidly placed is the flash-button. It’s on the left side of the camera and one of the strap-hinges is a bit in the way. No biggie and I don’t know what a better place would’ve been but it’s a slight annoyance.

The included 11-27.5mm (28-75mm approx equivalent) is more than okay for a tourist-camera. Neither the camera nor lens is of course weathersealed (duh) but the build-quality is above-average. I was pleasantly surprised that the lens has a metal-mount. There’s no manual focus which doesn’t bother me. The lens has a lot of distortion –barrel on the wide end and pincusion on the tele-end– but that’s easily fixed in Lightroom which has a ready-made profile for the lens. Zoom-ring has a smooth rubber-grip that I like and the zoom is fairly smooth as well.

Shooting is quick and fun! There’s no physical shutter on this thing so it plays a cheesy recording of a shutter per default. I turned it off since it was annoying more than helpful. Autofocus is fast and accurate, although if you leave it in full-auto mode it will prefer to focus on weird things. This is unfortunately normal, cameras are idiots and despite how much alleged “intelligence” we pour into them they still don’t know crap about composition. It does recognize faces though and that’s excellent for when shooting people. Alas, it’s fooled by people wearing sunglasses but hey, you can’t win all the time.

Since there is no mechanical shutter, the camera has absolutely no problem doing exposures up to 1/16000th of a second. In motordrive it also blasts away and 60fps, which is probably excellent for shooting racecars or rockets or kids hopped up on sugar, or something.

I haven’t shot a lot of video that what I have shot looks good. 1080p at 30fps looked quite good, and since the lens is equipped with a very silent focus-motor I couldn’t detect any noise coming from it. There are no inputs for external mics which kinda sucks but it’s to be expected in an entry-level camera like this. The built-in stereo microphones do a surprisingly good job anyways but if you’re picky then you won’t like it. Some external solution for recording voices is probably recommended. I also like how if you hit the record-button, it immediately starts shooting video. No need to change modes or anything, which is excellent for spontaneous moments you want to record.

A little odd thing though is that the refresh-rate of the LCD is much, much faster and smoother in video-mode than in photography-mode where it’s significantly jerkier.

All-in-all I think this is a plucky and fun little camera. It’s small enough to fit into a pant-pocket so it’s easy to bring along. It’s more than good enough for most peoples needs and I’m going to have fun with it. Specs aren’t impressive but there’s more to life than specs. This little camera is a lot better than it’s specs might lead you to believe and it likes to go places. It’s not wildly high resolution but 10mpix is more than enough for most people, it makes it much less of a burden to edit and the image quality and dynamic range is impressive. Another good thing is that it’s very, very cheap. I don’t think there’s a cheaper way to get a mirrorless camera with interchangeable lenses than this. The price of lenses is also very humane, and if you want to it’s a bargain to get adapters for all kinds of odd and wonderful lenses which then will mount on this body.


UPDATE: Just an FYI. The display is absolutely impossible to see in direct sunlight. It just doesn’t have the lighting power. Especially if it’s even a little smudged with finger/nose-grease.


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