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Brian Tobey
Nikon 1 J1

NIKON J1

NIKON 1 MIRRORLESS CAMERA | PRICE: $309.99

# PIXELS:
 
8.6
TRUE ISO:
 
8.2
BUILD:
 
8.0
VALUE:
 
7.4
OVERALL:
 
8.6

PROSCONS
Compact PackageBase ISO 100
Large SensorExpensive
Excellent Image Quality

Last Updated: January 6, 2012 | By Brian Tobey Email Google+

SUMMARY


Nikon 1 J1

CURRENT PRICE: $309.99



QUICK VIDEO PREVIEW


INTRODUCTION

The Nikon J1 and V1 are the first mirrorless camera systems released by Nikon. This review focuses on the J1 model, which is the not the same as the V1. The V1 features some improved capability, including an electronic viewfinder. Although a viewfinder can be helpful in bright lighting conditions, the J1 remains the smallest out of any current mirrorless system available.

The Nikon J1 is packed with useful features with much of the same functionality of a DSLR. Its 3" LCD is great for photo review. Its pop up flash is bright (guide # 5) and positioned well to minimize red eye. Its expeed 3 processing engine is powerful for fast interaction of controls, autofocus, and image processing. It is capable of shooting video at 1080p / 30fps, 720p / 60fps, and even has a slow motion mode at a reduced resolution of 400fps.

ABOUT THIS REVIEW / GUIDE

This review provides my analysis and opinion on the Nikon J1 camera. I have suggestions along the way about how I prefer to use the camera to maximize its capabilities. Further, I provide my two cents where I feel Nikon should have had better design. The review is based entirely on my experience using the camera and its features. This is my first mirrorless camera. Although I have read many other reviews on other mirrorless cameras, none have interested me enough to purchase any of them until Nikon had release the Nikon 1 system. This is not just because I use and trust Nikon with my DSLRs, but also because in the other reviews I found enough concerns not to purchase them. Overall I am pleased with the Nikon J1.

WHAT IS A MIRRORLESS CAMERA

Simply put, a mirrorless camera is similar to a digital SLR but without the mirror and prism, yet similar to a point and shoot in size and weight but with improved imaging (larger sensor). This means excellent image quality in a compact package. Although there are some drawbacks to this, a mirrorless camera can be advantageous for ultimate portability. Further, most mirroless cameras, including the Nikon 1 system here, provides the ability to interchange the lenses. This is similar to a DSLR and improves flexibility, scalability and portability depending on which lens is used.

Mirrorless cameras are alternatively referred to as electronic view finder interchangeable lens (EVIL) and small interchangeable lens cameras (SILC).


THE CX IMAGE SENSOR

The image sensor is much larger than a point and shoot, yet smaller than Nikon's DSLRs. Nikon calls the sensor size CX format. Nikon already produces DX and FX size sensors. Read more on image sensor sizes.

This sensor is unique because it is not as large as other mirrorless sensors, like m4/3s. Yet the image performance of this sensor is quite excellent. I think Nikonís intent with its Nikon 1 system is to distinguish it from other manufacturers by its size and portability, separating it farther from the DSLR lineup.


SIZE COMPARISON

The biggest feature the Nikon J1 offers is its size. The Nikon J1 is extremely portable for the size of the sensor inside. Below I compared it to the size of my iPhone and found it to be smaller in length and similar in height. Clearly the Nikon J1 is thicker, probably 2.5 times the thickness of an iPhone.

Nikon 1 J1 Size Comparison Iphone



BATTERY LIFE

The Nikon J1 has a descent battery life for the average user. Although, it is not up to par of a DSLR, it can shoot about 250 shots before the battery needs a charge. The good news is the MH-27 charger, packaged with it, can charge the battery in about an hours time.


FIRMWARE UPDATE: 1.10

The new firmware provides support for the FT-1 adapter. Further it provides the ability to perform pixel mapping. Pixel mapping helps with hot pixels. Nikon suggests using it when bright spots are observed in resulting images.

To download the firmware update see Nikon's website.


NIKON FT-1 LENS ADAPTER

The Nikon FT1 lens adapter allows the Nikon J1 to be used with existing Nikon F mount lenses. This means you can use DSLR FX and DX lenses on the J1. In order to use the FT-1, 1.10 version firmware is required. This firmware adds a focus indicator.

Note: The autofocus functions only with AF-S lenses. These lenses have the AF Silent Wave motor built into the lens. The focus mode on the J1 must be set to AF-S (single) and the AF-area mode must be set to single-point with the center point selected. Vibration reduction is fully supported with the FT-1!

The main advantage of the FT1 adapter is longer focal lengths. Because the J1 has a crop factor of 2.7x, using a 200mm is equivalent to using a 540mm focal length on FX or a 360mm focal length on DX. Further with the option to shoot at high speed continuous shooting, this makes for an impressive capability. It could work great for shooting nature, birds, etc.


CANON ADPATER FOR V1 AND J1

Canon Adapter V1 and J1

There are some aftermarket adapters to use canon lenses with the J1 or V1. Obviously it is not a common item, but for cannon users out there that are interested in a mirroless system, the cannon adpater can provide the extra reach you are looking for with the J1 or V1 cameras. See here for purchasing options.


NIKON J1 VS V1: CHOOSING THE RIGHT MODEL

I prefer the J1 over the V1 mostly because of its size and intended use. The V1 becomes too much like a DSLR and if I were to have the need for a viewfinder I would just bring my DSLR. The J1 is unique because it is the smallest camera of any mirrorless design. It packs incredible image quality into such a portable package. Bottom line, the V1 does not provide any additional features that will help me to take better photos.

REASONS TO CONSIDER THE V1 MODEL

  • The V1 has an electronic view finder
  • The V1 has a higher res rear LCD (921k vs 460k dots)
  • The V1 offers a mechanical shutter
  • The V1 has higher capacity shooting buffer
  • The V1 provides external microphone capability
  • The V1 has built in dust cleaning
  • The V1 has slightly better battery life
  • The V1 provides HDMI port

REASONS TO CONSIDER THE J1 MODEL

  • The J1 is more portable
  • The J1 provides built-in pop up flash
  • The J1 is more affordable
  • The J1 comes in a variety of colors



USABILITY


Nikon 1 J1 Back


LAYOUT OF CONTROLS

The overall layout of controls looks much like a Nikon Coolpix point and shoot and not like a digital SLR. However, after some familiarization and practice, it becomes easy to control this camera. The keyword here is practice. Unfortunately the controls are not as simple as they could be and rely on some level of menu interaction.

Although I most commonly use DSLRs, after a weekend of shooting with the J1, I was quickly able to adjust the ISO, white balance, shutter and aperture quickly. The key to this level of control is to familiarize yourself with the menu and jog wheel. I was very pleased with the Nikon 1ís quick response time of both the menu system and the buttons. The LCD also functions quickly between the menu, playback mode, and shooting mode. This is not like most point and shoot I have used. The improved response is attributed to the new Expeed 3 processing engine.


THE TOP


The top of the camera features the on/off button, the shutter button, and the movie record button. At first I was confused why there is a separate movie record button when it is only functional while in movie mode. It turns out Nikon provided a separate movie record button to allow shooting still images while in movie mode.

The On/Off button is probably a bit too easy to press. The shutter button is large enough to distinguish it from the movie record button. However, sometimes I found myself pressing the wrong buttons. Overall the top layout of the buttons is not the nicest design, and you'd think Nikon would have it together here after all the cameras they have manufactured.

Nikon 1 J1 Top




THE MODE CONTROL WHEEL


The mode wheel is located on the upper right of the rear of the camera. Use this to switch between camera modes such as video and still imaging. Unfortunately this mode wheel isnít as effective as it could be. It lacks some key modes like P, S, A, M, along with optional user presets. Instead, these options are selected through the menu. These exist on some of Nikonís DSLRs and should have been implemented here for both consistency sake and more control.

When switching between modes, some of the functionality and controls may change depending on the mode. This is true for buttons like the F button. It allows you to adjust various settings depending on the camera mode.

STILL IMAGE MODE
Still image mode is how you use the camera to take standard digital photographs. It is what this camera does best. By default, the camera is setup to Scene auto selector mode, which allows the camera to guess at the intended photo and use the best setting it see fit to take the photograph. This is great for people who are interested in just getting the job done. This camera has excellent auto abilities, and excels over most cameras in areas of auto white-balance, and exposure analysis. However, more serious photographers will enjoy the P, S, A, or M modes. To get to these, use the menu button and scroll to the shooting menu, then to exposure mode. PSAM modes allows more control over the camera and can allow you to ultimately take better photographs. If you are interested in photography, you should attempt to learn these modes. In this mode, the F button allows you to switch between single frame, continous, or electronic Hi shooting modes.

VIDEO MODE
Video mode allows you to shoot at 1080p 30fps or 24fps 16:9 video, along with 720p at up to 60fps. Taking videos is easy. Simply press the red record button next to the shutter to start and end a recording. The J1 has a built in microphone, but Nikon warns that the audio may pick up camera noises such as auto focus. Use the F button to choose from slow motion video recording mode or standard video modes. The nikon J1 allows the use of manual video controls for locked exposure and full control of shutter. This feature is not provided in some of Nikon's entry level DSLRs such as the D5100, but was enabled on the J1. I was pleased to find this feature. Although there is a lack of control on the Nikon D5100, I find the video detail and dynamic range to be better.

SMART PHOTO SELECTOR MODE
Smart Photo Selector Mode takes a series of images with one click of the shutter. It is used for those hard to time shots. It takes the best out of the series of photos. The camera automatically selects several photos from the series, and then presents a set of the best photos for you to choose from. This is useful when shooting people in groups. It allows you to verify that everyone is looking there best. To select the best shots, enter the play mode by pressing the play button, then press the OK button and chose the best photos by pressing the multi selector pad left or right.

MOTION SNAPSHOT MODE
The Motion Snapshot Mode takes a still image followed by a brief slow motion video. When the Motion Snapshot is previewed in play mode, the slow motion video will be displayed along with a theme for approximately 2.5 seconds followed by the still image. Although I find this mode to be unnecessary, others may enjoy putting together a collage of movies along with the still images. Use the F button to select a music theme.

FEATURE BUTTON
The feature button is located just above the mode dial, and provides various controls for each mode. Unfortunately it is almost useless because Nikon did not design it to be customizable, and the level of control it provides is limited. In this guide, the feature button will be designated as the F button.


MULTI MODE SELECTOR CONTROL


The multi mode selector is the most useful control of the entire camera. It provides various control functionality, including the ability to rotate the wheel, or press up, down, left, or right to select different options. When in shooting mode, it provides instant control over Timer capabilities, Exposure control, Exposure Lock or Focus Lock, and Flash control.

TIMER CONTROL
The timer control button allows you to set a delay before taking a photo. It provides the options of 10s, 5s, or 2s. It also provides the ability to setup up a remote control option using the Nikon ML-L3 remote control.

EXPOSURE COMPENSATION
The exposure compensation button adjusts the exposure or brightness of an image from cameraís metering system. You can alter it from -3 stops to + 3 stops. To make use of it, simply press the right part of the multi mode selector and rotate the jog wheel to the desired compensation. This feature is not available when using manual mode.

FLASH CONTROL
The flash button allows you to control the built in flash. In order to make use of this feature, you must have the flash up. The Nikon J1 provides several flash modes: Fill flash, Red-eye reduction, red-eye + slow sync, fill flash + slow sync, rear curtain + slow sync, and rear curtain sync. To understand more about these flash modes read more on Nikonís flash system.

EXPOSURE AND FOCUS LOCK
Auto exposure and focus lock prevents the meter and autofocus system from adjusting. Use this when you are sure youíve got the right exposure and focus, and you do not want the camera to readjust for a given composition. This feature is not available when using manual mode.


THE MENU SYSTEM


Most professionals hate menu systems, and for good reason. Buttons allow quicker access to key functions. The Nikon J1 has numerous buttons, but does not make full use of them, and instead relies on the menu system to make up for it. This is the biggest disappointment of both the J1 and V1.

It does, however, have a descent laid out menu system with near instantaneous response. The jog wheel allows quick navigation. After using it for an hour, I was able to get the hang of it and change important shooting settings (like ISO and WB) quickly. I've provided an in depth video, later listed below, which navigates through the entire menu layout.

SETUP MENU
The setup menu contains all the global settings for camera operation. This includes things like setting the time, formatting the memory card, adjusting monitor brightness, power settings, etc. It is generally a good idea to browse through this menu before first using your camera.

PLAY BACK MENU
The playback menu features all the functions related to reviewing images and movies. These settings apply when you press the play button on the back of the camera. Some key options available in this menu are rotate tall, crop, resize, protect. Most of these options I leave alone. I prefer to do all my processing on the computer. I find it difficult to adjust images right on the camera.

SHOOTING MENU
The shooting menu is the most important out of all these menus and is what is adjusted most frequently depending on the particular shooting scene. I have provided a table below of the settings and options available in this menu and my preference towards how I use my J1. I like to have maximum control and prefer modes P S A or M. Some of these options are not available when shooting in AUTO SCENE mode because the camera takes care of them automatically. However, this may not be the best depending on the scene. You want to learn how to control the camera via this menu so you can take the best possible photos.


SHOOTING MENU
SettingOptionsCOMMENTS
Exposure ModeScene Auto
P Programmed
S Shutter Priority
A Aperture Priority
M Manual
Default: Scene Auto
I prefer to shoot in P S A or M modes. This gives me the most control. In Scene auto mode, some of the settings in this menu will not be available and grayed out on the menu.
Image QualityNEF (RAW)
JPEG fine (4:1 compression)
JPEG normal (8:1 compression)
JPEG basic (16:1 compression)
NEF (RAW)+ JPEG fine
The JPEG files out of the camera are brilliant even when using JPEG normal. If you want to post process the images, RAW would be the better alternative. When shooting JPEG, make sure your white balance is accurate. Otherwise you may lose some image quality in post process adjustment.
Image SizeLarge 3872x2592
Medium 2896x1944
Small 1936x1296
Memory is not an issue these days, so Iíd leave the image size at Large.
Frame RateThis setting adjusts slow motion movie mode from 400fps (640 x 240px) or 1200 fps (320 x 120px)
Movie Settings1080/60i (3840 x 2160) (1 hour 27 min on 16GB)
1080/30p (1920 x 1080) (1 hour 27 min on 16GB)
720/60p (1280 x 720) (2 hour 10 min on 16GB)
Default: 1080/60i
I prefer nice fluid motion and use 720/60p. Choose the right setting for your intended audience.
MeteringMatrix: Full frame analysis
Center-Weighted: Emphasis on the center of the frame.
Spot: Light meters on focus point
Default: Matrix
I leave mine set to matrix metering and then adjust the exposure depending on the shot. For example, when taking photos in the snow, I usually crank my exposure +1EV (1 stop).
White BalanceAuto
Incandescent
Fluorescent
Direct Sunlight
Flash
Cloudy
Shade
PRE - Preset Manual
Default: Auto
For outdoor use, I leave WB set to auto. For indoor use I typically calibrate it for the lighting in the room using PRE. In PRE, simply point the camera at something white (white wall) and calibrate the white balance.
ISO SensitivityA3200 Auto
A800 Auto
A400 Auto
100, 200, 400, 800, 1600, 3200, Hi 1
Default: A3200
I prefer to manually set the ISO depending on the lighting conditions available. A400 is also a good option. This will automatically choose an ISO between 100-400 depending on the metering and available light. The J1 is quite usable up to 1600 ISO. 3200 is a bit too grainy for my taste.
Picture ControlSD Ė Standard
NL Ė Neutral
VI Ė Vivid
MC Ė Monochrome
PT Ė Portrait
LS Ė Landscape
Default: Standard
Note that when shooting in RAW, picture controls do not apply.
I prefer shooting in neutral when shooting JPEG because it has less contrast. I typically increase the saturation +2 to boost colors depending on the shot. You can easily adjust the picture controls by pushing the jog wheel to the right. This will expand the individual settings for the picture controls.
Color SpacesRGB
AdobeRGB
Default: sRGB
I leave mine at sRGB. Only because it is the more popular standard. AdobeRGB offers more color, but be careful, it may appear dull and neutral when viewed in sRGB. AdobeRGB is useful if you print your photos manually. Iíd just stick with sRGB.
Active D-LightingOff
On
Default: On
I would leave the D-lighting on. Nikon does a good job at bringing in the shadow detail with D-lighting and maximizing the Dynamic Range of the camera. Note this only applies to JPEGs.
Long Exposure NROn
Off
This setting performs noise reduction for images with shutter speeds slower than 1 second. I would leave this to the default.
High ISO NROn
Off
Note that the off setting still performs noise reduction. The on option only enhances the noise reduction performed at higher ISO settings. Processing will take longer with it on.
Movie Sound OptionsMicrophone On/Off
Wind Noise Reduction
Interval Timer ShootingThis is a great feature found mostly on the professional level DSLRs. It was nice to see the feature available. This allows you to shoot a series of timed shots. It is common for putting together a movie of a series of images.
Vibration ReductionActive
Normal
Off
Default: Active
I would leave it on Normal. I am not sure why the default is set to Active.
Focus ModeAF-A - Auto Select
AF-S - Single AF
AF-C - Continuous AF
AF-F - Full-Time AF
MF - Manual Focus
Default: AF-A
I prefer when shooting pictures to use AF-S single AF. This allows me to lock the focus on a particular subject. Sometimes I use AF-C. But I never use AF-A, which lets the camera auto decide which Focus Mode to use.
I turn autofocus off when shooting movies and manually focus myself.
Autofocus Area ModeAuto Area
Single Area
Subject Tracking
Default: Auto Area
I prefer to use single area as this allows me to lock focus on a particular subject. However, you may need to change this quickly if you were to ask someone to take a photo, youíd want to switch back to Auto Area mode.
Face-Priority AFOn
Off
Default: On
I find this to be gimmicky so I turn it off.
Built-in AF AssistOn
Off
Default: On
This is the green light that illuminates when focusing. I would leave it on as it helps the camera get focus in dim light.
Flash Compensation-3EV to +1EVThis allows you to control how bright the flash will expose. I usually leave this alone. The J1 is descent at getting the right exposure with flash.


LACK OF GRIP

Some people will find holding the Nikon J1 or V1 to be a bit uncomfortable. This is probably because of the lack of a camera grip. This is frustrating to some and may even turn them away from the Nikon J1. Especially since Nikon decided to sell it separately for an increased cost. This makes no sense to me and I do not like Nikon nickel and diming each accessory. Heck, a grip isn't even an accessory, it should just be included. Perhaps Nikon simply forgot, and it was an after thought (hard to believe, but possible).

Personally, I did not find the lack of a grip to be uncomfortable. Although I would prefer a grip, it isn't entirely necessary with such a small camera.


VIDEO (CONTROLS OVERVIEW)

The video below provides an in depth preview of the controls and menu system.





PERFORMANCE


OVERALL

Overall I found the image quality from the J1 to be outstanding for such a tiny camera. It matches up to the DSLR level and clearly separates itself from point and shoots. The camera handled well in a variety of situations, from indoors to out.


DYNAMIC RANGE

The dynamic range is perfectly adequate. Although it is not as good as some entry level digital SLRs, it is sufficient for most applications. The J1 only has about 2EV less dynamic range than the professional Nikon D3s.


ISO PERFORMANCE

ISO performance is the biggest test to the CX size J1 sensor. It is of no surprise that it does not achieve the same level of pixel integrity at higher ISO settings than Nikonís entry level DSLRs. However, it does dramatically perform over any point and shoot camera.

Below is what I found examining the level of noise present compared to some Nikon DSLRs and the P7000 point and shoot. I examined the noise levels at specific ISO points. These are just empirical results.

  • The D3100 achieves 1 EV (stop) better performance over the J1
  • The D5100 achieves 1.5 EV (stop) better performance over the J1
  • The J1 achieves 1 EV (stop) better performance over the Nikon P7000

[Read more about ISO]



COLOR ACCURACY

The color depth is not what you'd want to use in a studio. The J1's accuracy is so so. Luckily Nikon JPEG processing is excellent and the images out of the camera are lively and vibrant. Ultimately the sensor does not have the color depth of the DSLR class. This is not important for normal shooting. This is only a concern for serious studio work.



PICTURE CONTROLS

I found most of the picture control default resulted in too much contrast in the final image. I prefer to shoot in neutral and push up the saturation some.



AUTO WHITE BALANCE

Nikon's ability to get the white balance correct is much improved over past cameras. The J1 performs well here. I found it compensating well in indoor incandescent lighting and fluorescent lighting, and even in some mixed lighting conditions.



FOCUS

Wow. This is definitely a plus for this camera. The autofocus system is quick and accurate. I was surprised because usually DSLRs perform top in this category and compacts fall short. Other mirrorless cameras aren't as quick as the J1. The J1 even focuses in video mode better than any DSLR I've worked with. Overall, I was very pleased with its autofocus system.


EXPOSURE ACCURACY

The Nikon J1 exposes a little on the bright side. At first I thought it was my settings in the picture controls, but as I played more with it, I found the metering was slightly over exposed. This is not a huge concern for most. I preferred to set my exposure compensation down a 1/3 EV (stop). No big deal here.



LENS PERFORMANCE

The Nikon J1 kit I purchased came with the standard 10-30mm f/3.5-5.6 lens. I found the lens to perform better than I had expected for a kit lens. Below is a list of what I found.

  • Sharp throughout the frame even at lower f-stops.
  • Flare was well contained
  • Distortion was minimal. It was greatest at 10mm (+3 barrel)
  • The Bokeh was horrible. No big deal for a kit lens.
  • Comfortable Rubber Zoom Ring
  • Plastic type feel, Zoom motion was too easy



SAMPLES


I took the camera to Washington DC for the weekend to test it out. Below are some sample shots from museums and street photography. Click the photos below to enlarge them to their original size straight out of the camera.

Nikon J1 Sample ISO 400Nikon J1 Sample ISO 400
Nikon J1 Sample ISO 400Nikon J1 Sample ISO 400


CONCLUSION



RECOMMENDATIONS:

Nikon J1 Packaging

In order to recommend the Nikon J1 camera, I'd have to question the intended use. You have to ask yourself how important portability is to you. If you feel you are missing opportunities because your camera isn't by your side, well then portability should be a concern. The J1 is so easy to bring along and it's encouraging.

I would also recommend the J1 for places where larger cameras canít go. Take for example skateboarding or other extreme sports. The Nikon J1 has great video capabilities and could be mounted to a bike or skateboard for action shots that larger cameras wonít fit.

Unfortunately itís hard to recommend the camera with its high price tag. It cost nearly as much as an entry level DSLR. You need to evaluate your portability needs before making the purchase. Overall itís a great camera, with great optics, all in a nice compact package. I'd recommend purchasing it from sites like Amazon or Adorama. If there are going to be deals on this camera, they would be the first to have them.




UNDERWATER ACTION

If you are looking to use the J1 underwater, there is a decent case for it on eBay. This comes at a fairly inexpensive price compared to the DSLR counterparts. Most DSLR underwater cases are expensive. The Nikon D90, which is somewhat obsolete costs over a $1K for the underwater housing.


FURTHER READING:

Whether you are new to photography or looking to make full use of the Nikon J1 camera, Dave Buschís book provides all the details on how to take full advantage of the J1. He provides examples and unique suggestions for different types of photography. I recommend picking up a copy.


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