Nikon 1 S1 review: pocket-sized interchangeable lens camera
At a Glance
The entry-level Nikon 1 S1 interchangeable lens camera deploys a one-inch CMOS sensor, slightly smaller than a APS-C sensor at heart of many DSLR cameras. Nikon chose not to overburden this particular chip with pixels either—a sensible choice, as a smaller sensor and high pixel count can result in visible image noise. But relative to other cameras in general, the Nikon 1 S1’s10.1 megapixel top resolution feels somewhat modest. The Nikon 1 S1 is the starter model in Nikon’s 1 series—let’s not forget—and a one-inch sensor is still bigger than the 1/2.3-inch chip featured in the majority of fixed-lens compacts. Anyone making the step up to an interchangeable lens camera should see an improvement.
Compared to most interchangeable lens cameras, however, the Nikon 1 S1 is very small and portable; it’s not too dissimilar from the size of your average fixed-lens pocket compact. Without the compact 11 to 27.5mm lens or the longer 30 to 110mm zoom attached—both lens need to be extended manually and are ‘locked’ when retracted via a raised button—you can carry this camera around in our jeans pocket.
Compared to the likes of the fellow entry-level interchangeable lens cameras, the Nikon 1 S1 feels like a bit of a toy. It’s very cute, but it doesn’t quite have the gravitas of its rivals. This is partly down to its minimalist appearance and handling via a control set that, for ease of use, mimics a point-and-shoot rather than a DSLR.
The backplate is almost wholly taken up by a 3-inch, 460k dot LCD screen, to the right of which are a couple of buttons and a control pad with surrounding scroll wheel that will be familiar to any Nikon Coolpix compact user. And perhaps that is partly the point—there is nothing frightening or daunting about the Nikon 1 S1.
As expected on a camera of this diminutive size, there is no eye-level viewfinder of either electronic or optical variety. The pop-up flash neatly sunk into the top plate, so that it sits flush and unnoticed when not in use.
Perhaps it won’t be so disappointing to discover that in terms of sharpness the Nikon 1 S1 cannot match cameras with larger sensor and lenses. The image quality results were a step-up from what you see from an average fixed-lens pocket snapshot, but they aren’t like those from a DSLR, except in the ability to take attractive shallow depth-of-field effects. With the small sensor and relatively lower resolution, the sensor isn’t overcrowded with pixels, so image noise is commendably kept at bay until you use an ISO above 1600. Colors were naturalistic, verging on muted.
Two kits are available for the Nikon 1 S1. The $350 kit includes one 11 to 27.5mm lens. The $500 kit comes with the 11 to 27.5mm lens and a 30 to 110mm zoom lens. If you’re interested in the single-lens kit, there is something to be said for the value for money offered; it’s of a similar price or cheaper than some premium fixed lens cameras.
If you’re not allied to the Nikon brand, there are better options to be had in terms of the image quality. You can find an older Canon EOS M that’s a little more expensive, but it includes a larger APS-C sensor, and Pentax has its Q System cameras. If you’re after the smallest possible form factor for an interchangeable lens camera, consider broadening the search.