Holding it, the V1 feels solid, thanks to its magnesium alloy exterior. There's a retrospective touch in its form, and its design is pleasingly minimalistic with ample white space between controls. The V1's twin lenses come in matching colors, white lenses with white bodies, and black lenses with black bodies. While matching colors may sound like a gimmick, aesthetically it makes a big difference. With its good looks and solid body, the V1 comes off as a premium product. The camera is smaller than a DSLR camera, but not much smaller than the smallest of the current Micro Four Thirds range.
The kit lenses come with a textured matte ring, which enhances the grip, and instead of a sliding lock like those used on Olympus' MFT kit lenses, the lock on the Nikon lenses is a better looking and an easier to use button. Unlocking the lens also conveniently powers on the camera, and reduces the usual two-step 'power on, then unlock' sequence of getting your camera ready to shoot to just one step.
The two obvious differences between Nikon's 1 V1 and J1 cameras are that the V1 includes a built-in electronic viewfinder (EVF), but no built-in flash like the J1; instead it comes with a hot shoe port which fits the optional 1 mount flash unit. The EVF is responsive and clear, the benefits of having an electronic viewfinder instead of an optical one is that you can have shooting information overlaid on the EVF, as well as access the interface menu without taking your eyes off the window.
We did find the EVF a little small for comfort, and found ourselves using the 3-inch LCD screen more often. The LCD is easily one of the V1's best features; it's astonishingly clear and fast, almost like you're looking straight at the world itself instead of through an electronic sensor. If you want to switch back and forth between the LCD screen and the EVF, all you need to do is hold your eye up to the EVF and a proximity sensor will do the switching for you automatically.
If you find yourself dismissing the V1 just because of its small sensor, you need to give the camera a fair chance and try it for yourself. Thanks to the quick auto-focus and its burst speeds, the V1 is so responsive that sometimes the camera feels like it disappears. You can manually take over the focus point using the single-point AF-area mode and the d-pad, but the AF gets it right so much of the time that there's really no need to.
It's so easy to go overboard with the V1's shooting speeds; we shot over 600 images in one setting alone, shooting images in quick video-like succession simply by holding down the shutter release until the buffer overran (of course, the speed of your memory card will play a part in your experience, so we used a class 10 SDHC card to try going fast on the V1).
That's where the Smart Photo Selector mode comes in handy. We wish we could review this feature properly, but because the camera automatically deletes the fifteen out of the twenty shots that it thinks aren't as good, we don't have a way to compare the camera's final five selects against the fifteen rejects and benchmark its taste. Because of that, we stayed out of this mode and shot normally for the purpose of proper imaging evaluation for our article. So while we didn't want the camera to decide the 'keepers' for us, we can definitely see the benefits for casual shooters who don't want to review hundreds of photos after a shoot.
The Smart Photo Selector mode is one indicator that Nikon has geared the 1 cameras towards the casual, rather than the more serious photographer, who would balk at having a camera delete his shots (though of course the usage of this mode is up to user's discretion). The other indicator is how there aren't any PASM modes indicated on the mode dial. It's not that they're not there, but instead of including them on the mode dial for the advanced user's convenience, Nikon has buried PASM mode selection into the interface menu. The menu itself is very simple and easy to use, but to get to controls like PASM and ISO takes more steps than an advanced user will like.
The other decision an advanced user won't like is how the zoom toggle doubles as the aperture/shutter control. The tried-and-tested control dial has given way to a thin up-down toggle. It's usable, but slow, instead of moving a wheel to scroll through aperture or shutter settings, you tap up and down to move up or down a stop. If you're in fully manual mode, the toggle controls aperture, and the scroll wheel surrounding the d-pad controls shutter speed. As with any changes to conventional designs and controls, this is one of those things where buyers would probably get used to it after familiarization. Do give it a try when you're at a camera shop next.