Steve's Conclusion

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Steve's SnapShot
Thumbnail image for J3_10_30_BE_frt34l.high.jpg
  • 14.2-Megapixel Imaging Sensor
  • 3.0-Inch, 920,000 dot LCD Screen
  • Built-in flash
  • Custom Shooting modes that slow down the action
  • Dedicated Video Record Button
  • Auto shooting modes
  • Full 1080p HD video recording
  • Very compact body
  • 3 kits available
  • 9 lenses available for Nikon 1 mount
  • Rechargeable Li-Ion battery
  • SD/SDHC/SDXC memory card compatible
Pros
  • Auto shooting mode is accurate and easy, providing excellent quality and color
  • Dedicated Video Capture Button is always ready to record - in most shooting modes
  • Full-size stills can be captured while recording full 1080p video with no interruption
  • Excellent video quality
  • Extremely fast Hybrid AF system
  • Locking lenses stay ready secure during travel
  • Nice, Bright 3.0-inch LCD makes shooting and viewing images a pleasure
  • Awesome shooting performance
  • Good Battery Life
  • Competitively priced
  • HDMI output
Cons
  • Some noticeable noise in all images
  • Program mode images did not compare to Auto mode
  • Very weak pop-up flash
  • No hotshoe for external flash
  • No input for external audio
Timing Test Results
  • Power up to first image captured = 1.5 seconds
  • Shutter lag when prefocused  = less than 1/10 of a second
  • Shutter lag with autofocus = approx. 1/10 to 2/10 of a second
  • Shot to shot delay wo/flash = 1.04 seconds
  • Shot to shot delay w/flash = 1.26 seconds
  • High speed burst shooting = Ranges from 5fps to 60fps. Our results listed in the conclusion show the camera performs very well, but comes up just a little short at the fastest shooting rates
  • All tests were taken using a SanDisk Extreme UHS-1, 16GB SDHC memory card, Program Mode, ISO auto, Flash off and all other settings at the factory defaults unless noted otherwise.
Bottom Line
The Nikon 1 J3 is a very fast and compact ILC, making it easy to carry and always ready to capture an image. While its performance outshines its image quality, it is definitely worth a look for $600.
Pick This Up If...
You are looking for an affordable and compact ILC as either an upgrade from a compact, or a smaller camera to travel with than your standard dSLR, that remains as easy to use as any compact on the market.
The Nikon 1 J3 is the new mid-range ILC available from Nikon, and the third generation of the "J" series. As one of the most compact ILC bodies on the market, the Nikon 1 mount supplies you with a great collection of very compact lenses to keep it as portable as possible. Sporting a 14.2-Megapixel, CX Format CMOS image sensor and powerful processor, the J3 does not lack in quality or performance. The camera features several shooting modes that make your shooting easier and more fun. Fully automatic and various creative scene modes allow for easy shooting in ordinary situations, while Nikon has also make action shooting easier with Slow View and Best Shot modes. It also features full manual control for anyone looking for total control. On top of still images, the camera can capture full 1080p HD videos at 30fps and has several HD modes over 30fps. Still images can also be captured while the videos are recording without interrupting the video capture. 

The incredibly compact body of the J3 does not allow for the use of many accessories. There is no hot shoe to attach a portable flash unit or external microphone. What is available for the J3 is the Nikon's WU-1b Wireless Mobile Adapter, giving the camera the ability to communicate and share images with smartphones and tablets. A waterproof housing is also available so you can take your J3 up to 130ft. below the surface of the water. This case only works with the 10-30mm lens but it does allow you to use the full optical zoom. The camera's built-in flash unit is not useable while in this case.

Handling the J3 can be a little tricky if you have larger hands or are used to larger cameras. With no built-in grips, just holding on to it can get tricky. The lightweight plastic construction of the J3 makes it easy to carry all the time and still gives it a solid feel in your hands.  The 10-30mm kit lens is lightweight but has a sturdy feel. A large rubber grip on the lens is comfortable and gives you total control over the smooth turning lens. The Nikon 1 zoom lenses also feature a lock mechanism that keeps them in place during travel. They also give the camera a quick on off switch that leaves the camera ready to go as soon as you turn the lens.

Framing and viewing your images with the 3.0-inch, 921,000 dot LCD screen is easy. Bright and sharp, the screen allows you to see a great deal of detail in just about any lighting condition. The lack of a viewfinder, either electronic or optical, takes away the feeling of shooting with a dSLR, but the compact size is worth it. 

Since Nikon decided to keep the body of the camera as simple as possible, they crammed as much control as possible into the menu system. This is great for people who are looking to use the automatic shooting modes and to let the camera do most of the work. While testing the camera we found this to be a little annoying as we had to go into the menu system to find everything from camera settings the majority of the camera's shooting modes, which are all hidden under the 5 shooting modes shown on the mode dial. This is more time consuming, especially while in the field, and could limit people from exploring and trying new settings. 

Performance from the Nikon 1 J3 was surprisingly good. When turning on the camera, it is able to capture its first image in just 1.5 seconds. With the camera pre-focused, the shutter lag was almost instantaneous, capturing its image in less than 1/10 of a second. When allowing the AF system to work, the lightning fast hybrid AF ranged between 1/10 and 2/10 of a second, depending on the zoom, light etc. In single shot mode, the shot-to-shot delay without the flash came in just over 1 second at 1.04, while shooting with the flash is just a bit slower at 1.26 seconds. The J3's burst shooting was just as extraordinary. Our tests clocked the 5fps mode at 6.25fps, 15.33fps or the 15fps mode, 28.57fps for the 30fps mode and an even 50fps for the 60fps mode. After the 5fps mode, the other modes filled the camera's buffer quickly, only allowing you to capture approx. 20 images in these faster modes. All of our tests were completed using a SanDisk Extreme UHS-1, 16GB SDHC memory card, Program mode, ISO Auto, flash off and all other settings at the factory defaults.

Looking at our outdoor image samples we can see the varying image quality that comes with the different shooting modes. Our samples were captured in both Automatic and Program shooting modes. The Automatic shots showed a better exposure as well as better color than Program mode. Auto mode also provided us with a much better dynamic range, creating a much more pleasing image. The Program mode images are very bright, and look slightly overexposed, with the brighter spots in the image looking like they are blown out. In both sets of images, we were able to see some noise in the dark areas and skies of many of our sample images, which is a little disappointing at the camera's lowest ISO settings.

Framing and composing your images is accomplished with the lens that you have attached to the camera. For our tests, we used the 10-30mm kit lens that gives you a 27-81mm equivalent to a full frame 35mm sensor. This lens works as an excellent everyday lens, great for landscape and portrait shots. There are 8 other lenses available for the Nikon 1 mount that will suit your needs for just about any situation, as well as a the FT1 adapter that allows you to use Nikon F mount lenses with the J3.

Looking at our indoor samples, the first thing that we notice is the very shallow depth of field at f/8.0. This softens the outsides of the images a bit and starts to blur the fine details in parts of the image. There is some slight noticeable noise in all of the images throughout the ISO range, but the lower ISO images remain sharp and full of detail. At ISO 800 is where the fine details start to become noticeably softer or start to disappear. The noise level within the images slowly increases as the ISO goes up, but even at the highest (ISO 6400), the noise stays acceptable for the setting.

Assisting with your indoor and low-light images is a compact popup flash unit. While Nikon makes it seem like it has a decent flash range, its limited power is noticeable in both of our ISO 160 and ISO 400 flash samples with the camera setup within 5ft. of our subject. This is where the lack of a hot shoe really hurts, as you cannot increase the power of this weak unit. It will still come in handy when needed; it just won't supply the quality that it should. 

Our portrait sample shows excellent exposure and colors for our subjects. The image is full of sharp details which really make it pop. Images like this are incredibly easy to capture with the J3 thanks to its face detection software. The camera will detect and follow any faces within the frame. It will then adjust the shooting settings to assure that the face is the priority in the image, for the best possible portrait every time. Even with our young subjects, the camera had no problem finding and following these faces. 

Making it easier to capture your actions shots, Nikon has included two shooting modes that make this difficult task much easier. Both Slow View and Best Shot modes enable you to capture action shots in different ways. Best Shot will capture a group of images when you press the shutter release, allowing you to look at all of them later and choose the image that you want to keep. Slow View works in a similar way, capturing the images when you half-press the shutter release so it can play them back to you slowly on the LCD screen. This allows you to see the action in slow motion and when you finish pressing the shutter release, it will capture the image that is shown on the LCD. Both of these modes are very easy to use and will greatly improve your chances of capturing that amazing action shot.

Recording movies with the J3 is just as easy as capturing stills. Thanks to the dedicated video recording button, the camera is always ready to capture video, at least in most of the normal shooting modes. The camera also features a dedicated video recording mode that offers a much greater set of video recording settings. This gives you greater control, including several options for high-speed capture. A unique feature, not found on many cameras, is its ability to capture full quality still images while the camera is recording, without interrupting the video capture. During our tests the J3 did very well, providing us with excellent video quality. These movies are easy to play back on most forms of media, including on any HDTV by just plugging in an optional HMDI cable. On every source we viewed, the movies played back very smooth, showing higher quality than you will find on most compact cameras. The camera's audio did come up a little short of the video quality as it only has a compact stereo microphone built into the body for recording audio. This mic picks up a lot of noise and background noise which is very noticeable when viewing you movies.

Powering the J3 is a 7.2v, 1020mAh rechargeable Li-Ion battery. During our testing, we were able to capture just shy of 200 images and several short movies while still having a little power to spare. This fits well with Nikons claims of 220 images on a single charge. The lack of a viewfinder, either optical or electronic, takes away the option to conserve power while shooting, forcing you to use the LCD all the time. 220 images is an Ok battery life, but with a camera trying to bridge the gap between compact and dSLR, this lacks in comparison to the dSLR side. Thanks to the included quick charger, it is easy to keep a spare battery or two charged and on hand all the time. 

Bottom Line - The Nikon 1 J3 is one of the smallest ILC's that we have seen. This is perfect for anyone looking to upgrade from a point-n-shoot model, but isn't sure about carrying a larger camera. Sporting a 14.2-Megapixel imaging sensor, powerful processor and a lightning fast Hybrid AF system; you will be very pleased with its performance. The only drawback is the image quality, which looks more like that of a compact when compared to other ILCs. With a MSRP ranging from US $599.95 (kit with 10-30mm lens) to US $1,049.95 with the all in one lens, there are several packages available depending on your budget and lenses that you are looking for.


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