Nikon 1 S1 review

Rather than a large APS-C sensor at its heart, as the name suggests this entry-level camera in Nikon’s ‘1’ system of CSC’s deploys a slightly smaller one-inch sensor. Nikon hasn’t chosen to overburden this particular chip with pixels either – sensible, as a smaller sensor and high pixel count can result in visible image noise/grain – although in present company a 10.1 megapixel top resolution feels somewhat modest.

But this is the ‘starter’ model in the range, 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. So anyone making the step up to an interchangeable lens camera should see an improvement; if only just.

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Compared to most compact system cameras however the S1 is however both very small and very portable. It’s not too dissimilar from the size of your average fixed-lens pocket compact in fact. Without the supplied compact 11–27.5 mm lens or longer 30–110 mm zoom attached – which both need to be extended manually and are ‘locked’ when retracted via a raised button on their exterior – we were able to carry this Nikon around in our jeans pocket.

The problem is that compared to the likes of the fellow entry-level compacts in the Fuji X-A1, Sony A5000 or Panasonic GM1 the 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.

Perhaps it won’t be so disappointing to discover that in terms of sharpness the S1 cannot match cameras with larger sensor and lenses. What we saw were results that were a step-up from what we’d see from an average fixed-lens pocket snapshot but couldn’t claim to be like those from a DSLR – except in the ability to take attractive shallow depth-of-field effects. The sensor is small, and the resolution is low, so by not overcrowding the chip with pixels, image noise or grain is commendably kept at bay, until we tried above ISO 1600. Like the Olympus, colours were naturalistic verging on muted rather than in your face.

The backplate is almost wholly taken up with a 3-inch, 460 k 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 S1.

As expected on a camera of this diminutive size, there is no eye-level viewfinder of either electronic or optical variety, as with Nikon’s V series models; nor is there any means of adding one. To be fair that’s not the S1’s market. For the consumer this camera is aimed at, the pop-up flash neatly sunk into the top plate, so that it sits flush and unnoticed when not in use, is far more useful.

We would recommend the S1 as a great starter option if we hadn’t seen what else is available. And indeed if you’re going for 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.

OUR VERDICT

But if you’re not allied to the Nikon brand there are better options to be had in terms of the end image quality from the rivals already mentioned. Canon’s year-old EOS M can also now be bought for around the £300 mark, and that includes a larger APS-C sensor. So unless you’re after the smallest possible form factor for an interchangeable lens camera, also offered by Pentax’s ‘Q’ range, you may want to consider broadening the search.

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