Nikon has announced two new compact system cameras: the Nikon 1 V1 and the Nikon 1 J1. We got our hands on both new cameras today, so until we can bring you our Nikon 1 V1 review, we’re happy to pass on our first impressions.

The Nikon 1 V1 is the more serious of Nikon’s two new cameras. It features a larger battery, built-in viewfinder, a mechanical shutter and a hotshoe for accessories in order to separate it from its sibling the J1.

It also only comes in black and white, whereas the J1 comes in a glorious range of colours, so you’re left with the sense that this is supposed to be photographer’s camera.

In the hand the Nikon 1 V1 is surprisingly weighty. It isn’t the smallest or lightest of the compact system cameras out there, but offering up a built-in viewfinder, it finds itself up against the likes of the Sony NEX-7.

It is well built, but has a sort of toy-like glory to the design, the curved ends and the rounded bump of the viewfinder giving it - especially in white - something of a plastic MacBook look and feel. It feels slightly removed from the raw metal or anodised finish of some Olympus or Panasonic Micro Four Thirds models.

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The Nikon 1 V1 offers a small hotshoe that will accept accessories - of which there are plenty - but without a built-in flash, you’ll find yourself reaching for the £129.99 bespoke Speedlight flash. With compact system cameras being hammered in the past for not including a flash, it’s a surprising move from Nikon.

The electronic viewfinder, however, is very impressive. With a resolution of 1440k-dots, it is bright, clear, sharp and thanks to the eye-sensor in the housing, will activate as you lift the camera to your eye. It will be a great asset for those shooting in bright conditions where the screen isn’t as visible, or just for those moving from a DSLR who prefer the stability of holding the camera up to your face.

Around the back the controls look rather conventional. Those who don’t get on with the stripped-down controls of Sony’s NEX range, might find themselves more at home with the Nikon 1, but that statement comes with a caveat.

Many of the settings are accessed through the menu, which is rather conventional, lacking the sort of graphical approach of the Samsung NX200. If you want to flip over to manual shooting (or aperture or shutter shooting modes) it isn’t as immediate as we’d like, because you have to dig it out. Immediate shooting options for the mode you are in are offered by the F (function) button, but those are limited.

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The mode dial on the back offers four positions - surprising considering the empty space on the dial. These cover video capture, Auto and two modes Nikon are calling Smart Photo Selector and Motion Snapshot. At this price, and given that Nikon are considered a “traditional” photography company, we suspect that many will wonder why something as conventional as aperture priority doesn’t make it onto the dial. 

From the demos we saw, the two new shooting modes are clever. Motion Snapshot combines a MOV video file with a JPEG, essentially giving you a moving picture. This can be viewed on the camera (and presumably played on a large screen using the HDMI), but it does seem like an odd thing to commit to the dial over some more conventional options.

The Smart Photo Selector is more common (best shot selector on some rival models) which takes a series of photos and then presents the best five to you. The prominence of these modes makes it appear as though the Nikon 1 V1 is pitched at those wanting good results easily, rather than the more creative photographer looking to experiment with traditional photography techniques.

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We also got to play with a couple of lenses. The pancake lens is 10mm (27mm in 35mm terms) and gives you a nice compact package. The kit zoom (10-30mm) locks down for compact storage rather like the Olympus Micro Four Thirds lenses, while the PD-Zoom (10-100mm) - along the same lines as Panasonic's Lumix G X lens - gives you a powered zoom control, ideal for shooting video, with a nice smooth, and silent action.

The results we viewed on the back of the camera were all very impressive, but as is normal with these sorts of hands-on opportunities, we weren’t allowed to take any of the test shots away with us.

Ultimately, that means that we have to leave any decisions on quality and whether the choice of a fairly small sensor is right for this new line of cameras until we get the camera in for a full review. 

What do you think? Has Nikon got its compact system camera right? Let us know in the comments below…

Take a look at how the Nikon 1 V1 compares to the Sony NEX-5N