Review: Nikon 1 J1

Our score: 3/5
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December 24, 2011 3:50 PM
 
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Published: September 21, 2011 11:00 PM
Updated: December 2, 2011 1:15 PM
By Renaud Labracherie / Morgane Alzieu
Translated by: Catherine Barraclough
UPDATE 02/12/2011: we've decided to move the Nikon 1 cameras into our SLR and interchangeable lens camera reviews, as while they have sensors worthy of compact cameras, their size, build and picture quality makes them closer to micro four-thirds cameras than high-end point-and-shoots. The product score has been updated as a result, and the J1 is now only a three-star camera.

The Nikon 1 J1 is a more basic version of the Nikon 1 V1. The J1 has the same basic specs as the V1, including a 1" sensor with integrated autofocus system, interchangeable lenses and a 1080 video mode. However, with no electronic viewfinder or accessories hot-shoe, this model is clearly designed for non-expert users.

Handling

With a bigger sensor than regular compact cameras (13.2 x 8.8 mm compared with the much-used 6.2 x 4.6 mm models), the Nikon J1 is obviously bulkier and heavier than a standard fixed-lens point-and-shoots. However, it's still relatively compact, and it's certainly smaller than the higher-end V1, mainly because there's no electronic viewfinder. The J1 is a well-made and well-finished camera that feels like it'll stand the test of time. The buttons and controls are effective and pleasant to use, and the body is made from good-quality materials, even if the plastic battery and memory card compartment door does feel a little fragile. Otherwise, Nikon has done a pretty good job of building this camera. The only drawbacks are the lack of grip handle and the smooth finish, which don't make the J1 the easiest camera to keep hold of—especially in one hand.

Since the J1 is aimed at the kind of users who aren't likely to go digging around in the menus very often, let alone change all kinds of settings each time they take a picture, there's no direct access to A,S or M modes. These are still available, but they've been relegated to the menus for occasional use. Other more consumer-oriented features have been moved into the limelight in this model, such as the Motion Snapshot mode, which simultaneously records a slow-motion movie and a still image, and the Smart Photo Selector, which takes a fast burst of images starting just before you press the shutter release and ending just afterwards, helping you capture the moment with the best possible picture. These are all nice ideas but, in practice, we often found them a bit laborious to use (timing Motion Snapshots right can be tricky) or just not very effective (the Smart Photo Selector mainly served to fill the memory card up with all kinds of useless shots).

Given that this camera is clearly aimed at general, novice users, we're surprised not to see any of the more popular functions frequently found in consumer cameras, such as a sweep panorama mode, HDR mode or creative filters (miniature, pinhole camera, poster etc.). We were also surprised to see how complex some of the options and terminology in the menus were (D-Lightning On, Picture Control, etc.). This could prove confusing for beginners, especially since there's no built-in help function or pop-up explanations.
 

Nikon J1 test review


Although you can take a full-resolution photo (8-Megapixels in 16:9 format) while recording a video, when the camera is set to photo mode you can't start shooting a film instantly—if you press the video-record button when in photo mode you get an error message. That's particularly disappointing, since even the most basic of compact cameras can handle that these days.

With its 460,000-dot definition, the J1 screen is very pleasant to use, with onscreen images that are smooth and fluid. Similarly, viewing angles are nice and wide and colours are reasonably accurate. We do, however, think that a touchscreen or a swivel screen could have made a nice addition. While the J1 doesn't have a hot-shoe for hooking up an external flash, but it's equipped with a built-in pop-up flash, which comes in handy in low-light conditions.

Responsiveness

On the whole, the J1 is nice to use. The start-up time is reasonable at under two seconds and the autofocus is fast enough to handle moving subjects, working in around half a second most of the time, but slowing down in low light. The J1 isn't the fastest interchangeable lens compact around, but Nikon has still done a decent job with its first hybrid camera.


Nikon J1 test review - speeds

In continuous shooting mode, the J1 is reasonably speedy, snapping up to 30 frames in half a second. That's not bad, but it's still al little tight for some situations.

Picture Quality

Nikon's new 10-Megapixel sensor handles electronic noise very well. Pictures are clean and crisp up to 800 ISO, and you can probably use the ISO Auto mode set to 100-3200 ISO without encountering too many problems.

Nikon J1 test review  - ISO test

The 10-30 mm kit lens is a decent piece of kit, giving reasonably sharp results throughout the focal range. As is often the way, the edges of the frame aren't quite as sharp as the middle, especially at wide-angle settings. At 10 mm, you'll also notice a touch of barrel distortion, as for some reason Nikon hasn't fully correct all the distortion in this lens. Otherwise, chromatic aberration (colour fringes) are kept in check well.

Video

In video mode, the J1 does a decent job, with a choice of different image formats and framerates. For 1080 HD you can, for example, choose an interlaced format at 60 fields per second or a Full HD 1080p format at 30 frames per second. There's also a 60 fps 720p mode. The stereo sound is good too, and there are several microphone sensitivity levels on offer, as well as a handy mode for reducing whooshing wind noises when filming outdoors. Otherwise, the continuous autofocus is smooth, fast and reliable.

The J1 has slow-motion video modes at 400 fps or 1200 fps, although they do make video resolution drop dramatically to 640 x 240 pixels and 320 x 120 pixels.

Nikon J1 test review  video frame

Compare the Nikon J1 to other cameras in the Face-Off
 

When played back on an HD TV (1080), picture quality is really quite good in videos shot with the J1, and there's not too much noise in dark parts of the picture.
3/5 Nikon 1 J1 DigitalVersus 2011-09-22 00:00:00

Pros

  • Picture quality up to 1600 ISO
  • Excellent video mode with slow-motion functions
  • Built-in flash (unlike the V1)
  • Good LCD
  • Generally responsive

Cons

  • No swivel screen or touchscreen
  • No sweep panorama
  • Video record button doesn't work in photo mode
  • Not many lenses to choose from yet
  • No built-in help function in the menus

Conclusion

The Nikon 1 J1 is built with sound technology that delivers good picture quality, responsiveness and great video. Although the new features Nikon seems intent on plugging in the J1 turned out to be a little disappointing, in its standard Auto mode, this camera still does a very good job.

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