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Nikon 1 S1 Review
by Andy Stanton -  5/8/2013

[click to view image]Overview
The 1 S1 looks much like the 1 J3 and has many similar features. Among the features in common are CMOS CX sensors measuring 13.2 x 8.8mm (with a 2.7 crop factor), the ability to shoot in RAW format as well as JPEG, use of a sophisticated hybrid autofocus system which employs a combination of phase detection and contrast detection with up to 135 autofocus points, manual exposure modes including aperture and shutter priority, and movie modes up to 1080i and 1080p as well as the ability to shoot in slow motion. However, there are some significant differences as well. The 1 S1 is shipped with a different kit lens, an 11-27.5mm zoom lens. The 1 S1 has a lower resolution sensor then the 1 J3, 10.1 megapixels compared to 14.2 megapixels.  Unlike the 1 J3, the 1 S1 cannot shoot in RAW and JPG simultaneously. The 1 S1 has a lower resolution LCD monitor, 460,000 dots compared to 921,000 dots in the 1 J3, and lacks the more expensive camera's mode dial mounted at the top of the camera. While the 1 J3 has an easy panorama mode, which enables the user to take panorama pictures by sweeping the camera horizontally or vertically, the 1 S1 does not have any panorama mode, auto or manual. The 1 S1 also lacks the 1 J3's filters (such as sepia), which can impart an overall hue to the image.

The 1 S1 comes with an 11 x 27.5mm kit lens, though it can use any of the lenses currently available for Nikon 1 cameras (there are currently eight). The kit lens does not support optical image stabilization (which Nikon calls vibration reduction). Nikon provides an abbreviated user manual, a body cap, a rechargeable lithium-ion battery, a battery charger, a USB cable, a shoulder/neck strap and two CD's containing Nikon's ViewNX2 photo organizing software, a movie creator and a full user reference manual. The camera can use SD, SDHC or SDXC memory cards. The camera I received for review was in an attractive dark red and there are four other colors available, white, black, pink and khaki. The manufacturer's suggested retail price is $499.95 for the body and kit lens, although it can be found for less.

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Build and Design
The 1 S1 is certainly an attractive camera, especially the red version sent to me for review.  I received admiring comments from several of my picture-taking acquaintances. The body is made from a combination of metal and plastic and has a sturdy feel. It is one of the smallest mirrorless, interchangeable lens cameras on the market, with dimensions of 4 inches (102mm) in width, 2.4 inches (60.5mm) in height and 1.2 inches (29.7mm) in depth, and a weight of 6.9 ounces (197 grams) excluding the battery and memory card. Even with the kit lens attached, it can easily fit in a coat pocket or a purse.  The surface of the camera is sleek, with the top portion containing a pop-up flash that closes into the camera's body and on/off, shutter and movie buttons that are flush with the camera's surface. The camera has a large three inch diagonal LCD but no viewfinder. 

[click to view image]Ergonomics and Controls
The 1 S1's controls are even more limited than those of the 1 J3, as it lacks the latter's control dial.  The camera's front section contains the lens opening, a button for releasing the lens and a combination autofocus assist/self-timer lamp. The camera's top contains a pop-up flash, an on/off button, a metal shutter button and a dedicated video button. The flash, which pops up automatically in auto and a few other modes, must be raised manually (with a small button on the camera's side) when the camera is set to program, manual, shutter priority or aperture priority mode.  The flash is well protected when down but is fragile when raised, so care must be taken not to damage it. The on/off button does not need to be used when the kit lens is attached, as turning the lens towards the telephoto position will automatically turn the camera on, while turning it in the other direction will turn the camera off. Two holes for the camera's stereo microphones are located at the top. The left side of the camera (looking back to front) has a button for opening the flash, a covered HDMI port and a covered USB port. At the right of the LCD screen are, from top to bottom, a thumb-rest, the playback button, a menu button, a circular menu controller and a delete button. The circular menu controller has shortcuts for exposure compensation, flash, continuous shooting/timer, and F (feature). The F selection brings up various menu items depending on the camera's shooting mode.  On the camera's bottom plate there's a metal tripod mount and a memory card/battery compartment with a solid plastic cover.

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I found the camera to be easy to hold thanks to its light weight, somewhat chunky body and thumb-rest, though two handed shooting is probably a good idea, especially since the kit lens lacks optical image stabilization. While the camera's menu is laid out in a mostly logical fashion, I did not like the necessity of constantly having to access it every time I wanted to change modes. A touch screen would be a significant improvement. 

Menus and Modes
Pressing the camera's menu button brings up six possibilities, shooting mode, playback, shooting, movies, image processing and setup. The shooting mode selected will affect the selections available for the other five menus. Here are the camera's shooting modes: 

  1. Programmed auto: The camera sets the shutter speed and aperture but the user has access to other settings, including ISO and white balance.
  2. Shutter priority auto: The user is able to set the shutter speed, while the camera sets the aperture.
  3. Aperture priority auto: The user is able to set the aperture, while the camera sets the shutter speed
  4. Manual: The user can control both the shutter speed and aperture as well as activating the bulb setting, for long exposures.
  5. Night Landscape: When shooting at night the camera will combine several shots to improve the overall picture.  This will not work if the subject or camera moves.
  6. Night Portrait: When shooting at night the camera will combine several shots, some with flash and some without.  This also will not work if there is movement.
  7. Backlighting: The camera will take two shots and combine them, to improve dynamic range.
  8. Soft:  Photos will appear to have been shot through a soft filter.
  9. Miniature Effect: The top and bottom of the photo are blurred to create a miniature effect.
  10. Selective Color: Only the selected hue will appear in color, with the rest of the image appearing in shades of gray. Samples below in Yellow, blue and green, respectively.

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HD movies are recorded in a 16 x 9 aspect ratio, including 1080i at 60 frames per second, 1080p at 30 frames per second and 720p at 60 frames per second or 30 frames per second. Maximum recording time is 20 minutes for 1080i and 1080p movies and 29 minutes for 720p movies. Slow motion movies are recorded in an 8 x 3 aspect ratio, including 640 x 240 at 400 frames per second and 320 x 120 at 1200 frames per second. Maximum recording time is 33 seconds for 640 x 240 movies and 100 seconds for 320 x 120 movies. 

When using modes that permit access to the selections in the image processing section of the menu, functions that can be adjusted by the user are white balance (seven selections plus manual), ISO (160-6400), picture control (standard, neutral, vivid, monochrome, portrait, landscape), custom picture control (sharpness, contrast, brightness, saturation, hue) and high ISO noise reduction. The 1 S1 does not have the toning or filter effects options of the 1 J3, which enable the user to impart a particular hue to the image (such as sepia). 

[click to view image]Display/Viewfinder
The 1 S1 has a three-inch diagonal LCD monitor with 460,000 dots of resolution in a 3 x 2 aspect ratio. The LCD monitor is fluid and easy to read with 100% coverage. It can be adjusted to seven levels of brightness. I found the LCD monitor to be difficult to see in the bright sunshine, though the same could be said for the monitors of most cameras. The camera lacks a viewfinder.

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[click to view image]Performance
I found the 1 S1's overall performance to be quick and reliable.  Its startup time is approximately one second and it shuts off instantly. I noticed little or no delay in accessing any of the menu selections. 

The 1 S1 uses the same rechargeable lithium-ion battery as the 1 J3, which has a CIPA rating of 220 shots. I found that number to be reasonably accurate. Battery life may be less depending on how often you consult the menu or shoot movies. 

Shooting Performance
The 1 S1 is a fairly quick performer when it comes to shooting.  In both JPEG and RAW mode it required about 2-3 seconds between shots, without the flash, and another second when the flash was used -- a good but not great showing. I found the camera's hybrid autofocus to be quick and reliable. The camera automatically selects between two types of autofocus to capture sharp images. For sports and other fast action scenes, phase-detection autofocus is used with 73 points. When shooting in low light the camera uses contrast-detection autofocus, with 135 points of coverage. Very few cameras have as many points of coverage and, as expected, this leads to very reliable auto focusing. The camera occasionally failed to lock focus in low light. 

The 1 S1 has the same impressive continuous shooting ability as the 1 J3. It can shoot at full resolution at 5 frames per second with the flash enabled and at 15 frames per second with continuous autofocus and up to 60 frames per second with fixed-point autofocus with the flash disabled. 

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Lens Performance
The 1 S1's kit lens produced sharp, largely distortion-free images. Chromatic aberration was present in some high contrast shots, such as tree branches against a blue sky, but was not noticeable in normal use.  Images were sharp throughout the frame, even in the corners. Barrel distortion and pincushion distortion were not a problem, thanks in part to the camera's use of auto distortion control which, when enabled, corrects for barrel and pincushion distortion, although it might add a little time to image processing. 

Video Quality
I was very pleased with the video ability of the 1 J3 and it appears that the 1 S1 system has the same specifications. However, I did not achieve the same consistently good results. Most of the videos I took were jittery, as if my hands were making slight vertical movements. I'm not sure how much I might have contributed to this problem, though I've never noticed this in any videos I've taken with other cameras, including the 1 J3. Perhaps optical image stabilization (vibration reduction), which is not present with the kit lens, would resolve this issue. 

Image Quality
Image quality is excellent, with sharp definition, good dynamic range and strong colors. Results are consistently good in both RAW and JPEG modes. The camera nicely showed off the beautiful spring flowers.

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The camera's auto white balance setting, which I used, worked very well, both indoors and out. Other white balance settings are incandescent, fluorescent, direct sunlight, flash, cloudy, shade, underwater and manual. 

[click to view image]The 1 S1, like the 1 J3, produces good results even at high ISOs, even though its sensor is smaller than the APS-C and 4/3 sensors used in most small mirrorless, interchangeable lens cameras. As shown below, images from 100 ISO through 800 ISO look almost identical, with little graininess and strong colors. From 1600 ISO through 6400 ISO the images get more grainy and lose definition, although even at 6400 ISO quality is sufficient for very small photos, such as the type used on social network sites.

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ISO 100                                                                                     ISO 200

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ISO 400                                                                                     ISO 800

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ISO 1600                                                                                    ISO 3200

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ISO 6400

The 1 S1's flash can be set to several modes:  Auto, auto with red-eye reduction, fill-flash, fill-flash with slow sync (which uses a slow shutter speed), red-eye reduction, red-eye reduction with slow sync, rear curtain sync (flash fires before the shutter closes), rear curtain with slow sync, slow sync with red-eye reduction and off. Flash range is approximately 16 feet (5 m) at 100 ISO.

Additional Sample Images 

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