Steve's Conclusion

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Steve's SnapShot
nikon_J1_white_550.jpg

  • 10-Megapixel CX-format (13.2x8.8mm) CMOS image sensor 
  • Nikon-1 lens mount system
  • EXPEED 3 dual core processor
  • 3.0-inch, 460,000 pixel LCD screen
  • Scene Auto Selector
  • High-Speed 73-point Hybrid AF system
  • P/A/S/M exposure modes
  • Dedicated Video Recording Button
  • Full 1080p/i HD video capture
  • 5fps burst at full resolution
  • Rechargeable Li-Ion battery
  • SD/SDHC/SDXC card Compatible

Pros
  • Stylish exterior that's available in five colors combinations (lenses match the body)
  • Captures pleasing images both indoors and out
  • Records high-quality HD video
  • Extremely easy to use with Scene Auto selector and Smart Photo selector
  • Plenty of advanced exposure options
  • High-quality 3.0-inch LCD
  • Good shooting performance
  • Cool slow-motion video modes
  • High-quality 1 Nikkor lens options
  • Produces usable photos throughout the ISO range
  • Fast AF system that works well in various conditions
Cons
  • Mode dial is limited, forcing you to use the menu to change between the advanced exposure options
  • Weak built-in flash
  • No hot shoe
  • Visible noise even at lower ISO settings
  • Poor battery life compared to competition
  • We did not see 5fps in burst mode; only 3.6fps using Program mode
Timing Test Results
  • Power up to first image captured = 2.2  seconds whether using the power button or opening the lens
  • Shutter lag when prefocused  = less than 1/10 of a second
  • Shutter lag with autofocus = 1/10 to 2/10 of a second, depending on the amount of focus change
  • Shot to shot delay wo/flash = 1.5 seconds
  • Continuous mode = 3.6fps JPEG fine, 3.5fps NEF (RAW)
  • Electronic (Hi) mode = Set to 60fps, we achieved 40fps
  • GUI Navigation = responsive
  • All tests were taken using a SanDisk Extreme Pro (UHS-1) 8GB SDHC memory card, the kit 10-30mm lens, Program mode, Flash off and all other settings at the factory defaults unless noted otherwise.
Bottom Line
Nikon's J1 is a stylish and easy to use EVIL camera. It boasts a powerful 10-metapixel CX-format CMOS image sensor, good shooting performance, and a plethora of exposure options. Like all cameras the J1 has its downfalls (battery life for example), however it is a very competitive model in the EVIL or ILC category.
Pick This Up If...
...You are looking for the power and versatility of an interchangeable lens camera, with the ease of use of a point-n-shoot, all packed in a stylish shell.
After much anticipation by fans, Nikon finally entered the EVIL or ILC race with two models in 2011; the Nikon 1 J1 and V1. The J1 is a stylish, powerful, yet easy to use camera that boasts some appealing features and abilities. For starters, the J1 sports an all new CX-format CMOS image sensor, which offers approx. 10-megapixels of resolution in a sensor that's slightly smaller than the Olympus/Panasonic Micro Four Thirds; but still much larger than typical point-n-shoots at 13.2 x 8,8mm. Nikon also created an all new lens mount system, the Nikon 1 mount and as of 4/2012 they have four lens offerings to choose from. Other important features include a 3.0-inch TFT LCD screen with 460,000 dots, Hybrid AF system using Contrast Detect AF along with Phase-detection AF built into the image sensor, native 3:2 aspect ration (16:9 also available), JPEG and NEF (RAW) file types, Full 1080p and 1080i video options, High speed still and video options, a pop-up flash unit, Li-ion battery pack, and SD/SDHC/SDXC memory card slot. All of these features are packed into a stylish exterior that is available in five colors; Silver, Black, White, Pink, and Red. Overall, on paper, and in hand, the Nikon J1 is quite impressive for a camera of this size.

The body is simple with a blocky look and feel. The fact that Nikon offers lenses that match the body color configurations means that the Nikon J1 is sure to be popular among the style savvy. Its smooth surface doesn't offer much for grip, however the thickness of the camera at approx. 1.2-inches gives you plenty to hold onto. With the 1 Nikkor 10mm f/2.8 lens attached to the J1, I was able to drop the camera into the side pockets of my cargo pants without much issue. This camera is not pocket sized, however it's very petite and would easily fit into a small purse, fanny pack, handbag, or small camera pack. The controls are minimal for an EVIL type camera, with a closer resemblance to a consumer point-n-shoot. On the top you have simply the power button and two shutter releases; one for still images and one for video. On the back you have typical controls, like a mode dial and a 4-way controller. Overall, I found all of the controls were placed in comfortable and typical locations, each being well labeled and easy to use. The control wheel mounted around the 4-way is useful for quickly making changes to exposure settings or navigating the menus. The "zoom" lever was a bit confusing at first, since this is an interchangeable lens camera. It controls the aperture and shutter speed in A/S modes, and works in conjunction with the control wheel in Manual mode. In playback it activates the Index and Magnify options.  The pop-up flash is a bit odd looking to us. It erects about an inch above the body when you press the flash release, which is located at the upper left on the back.

The 3.0-inch LCD screen is the only viewfinder on the camera. It boasts a resolution of 460k pixels, which we found produces a clear, sharp image with plenty of detail. Colors are well represented, and the brightness is good in most any lighting. Outdoors the display was easy to see, and we never found ourselves cupping the LCD with one hand so we could see display. While the default setting worked fine for us both indoors and out, you do have several brightness adjustments available in the setup menu.

When it comes to exposure options, the J1 gives you plenty to work with. Beginners will be glad to know that their new camera can be super simple to use with options like Scene Auto selector and Smart Photo selector. Scene Auto selector mode is Nikon's version of intelligent Auto, where the camera selects what it feels are the most appropriate exposure settings (aperture, shutter speed, ISO, etc.) for the shot being framed, along with applying one of four scene mode settings (Portrait, Landscape, Night portrait, Close-up) if they apply. This helps you get optimum results in a variety of situations, with added pop in your photos thanks so the addition of the scene mode settings.

Smart Photo selector incorporates the ease of use of Scene Auto, however it adds multi-frame technology to help give you an ever better chance at capturing great photos. By capturing images once the shutter is half-pressed until just after you press the shutter release completely, the camera is able to capture up to 5 images and save them to the memory card. The camera will display what it feels is the best shot, while saving 4 best shot candidates to the memory card as well; giving you 5 shots total in the same time frame that you normally capture one. This gives you an extra advantage to catching those hard to get shots, or a spontaneous moment. The only draw back to Smart Photo selector is that there is increased lag due to the camera processing 5 shots instead of one, and it uses up much more memory card space. However, if waiting a bit longer after the shot means you might have actually captured what you were hoping for, it might be worth it.

For more experienced users, the J1 incorporates several exposure modes that give you as much control as you can handle. Program mode still utilizes the AE (Auto Exposure) system to determine the aperture and shutter speed settings, however it gives you access to ever other exposure option available; such as ISO, White balance, Metering, focus mode, Picture Control, etc. For those looking to capture more creative photos, the Picture control option allows you to choose from six predefined presets (Standard, Neutral, Vivid, Monochrome, Portrait, and Landscape) that alter adjustments to saturation, contrast, and sharpness depending on the mode chosen. You can also create a custom Picture Control, allowing you to dial in that specific look. If you still want more, you can take on even more of the exposure process with Aperture priority, Shutter speed priority, and full Manual. These options no only give experienced photogs the control they demand, but allow novice users to take on more as they develop their skills.

Like I mentioned earlier, Nikon currently offers four 1 Nikkor lenses for the J1 and V1 cameras; the VR 10-30mm f/3.5-5.6, VR 30-110mm f/3.8-5.6, 10mm f/2.8 lenses, and the VR 10-100mm f/4.5-5.6 PD-ZOOM. We tested the camera with three of the four (all of the ones listed, minus the latter). My favorite setup was running the 10mm f/2.8, which is quite sharp and does very well in low-light thanks to it's fast aperture. Because of the CX-format image sensor, you have an angle of view magnifier of approx. 2.7x. Meaning, a 10mm lens on the J1 is equivalent to a 27mm lens on a 35mm film camera. This is the largest multiplier out of most of the true EVIL cameras, however Nikon has done well in offering several wide angle options, with three of the four lens offerings start at 10mm (27mm). While we found ourselves using the 10mm prime and 10-30mm zoom lenses the most, the extra reach of the 30-110mm is very nice for sporting events, wild life, and close up portraits. It offers an equivalent zoom range of 81-297mm, which gives you a nice tight framing ability for portraits at the 81mm extreme, and the ability to bring distant subjects much closer with 297mm of magnification. While we did not test the 10-100mm Power-Drive zoom lens, its 10-100mm focal range seems like it'd be the best candidate for an all-in-one lens solution for the J1 or V1. If you already have an investment in Nikkor F lenses made for D-series dSLRs, Nikon offers the FT1 mount adapter. This lets you use your F mount lenses, and opens the door to over 60 lens option that can be used with the J1 and V1. Overall, during our tests we found each lens performed well, with the 10mm prime coming out on top indoors thanks to its fast maximum aperture. We saw no real issues with distortion or aberrations, with typical amounts visible in our photos. This comes as no surprise though, as Nikon/Nikkor makes some fine glass.

Image quality from the Nikon J1 was pleasing in most situations. The camera produces nice still photos that show good exposure and dynamic range. Colors are a tad on the cooler side, but still quite pleasing. I did notice that when using the Smart Photo Selector mode, at times it would produce images that were much warmer. Dynamic range also seemed to be increased, as images look brighter with much more detail in the shadow areas; all the while without blowing our highlights too much. These images at times look much more appealing, with the added detail and brightness making them pop more than photos captured in Program mode or Scene Auto. Fine detail is abundant throughout our samples, no matter what lens we used. With the 10-30mm kits lens, we saw some barrel distortion at the wide end, along with some slight traces of other aberrations. All in all, the J1 and the 10-30mm VR lens produce some clear images with sharp detail, and only slight softness along the edges of the frame.

Indoors the camera performed well for us. The majority of our indoor photos were portraits (with the exception of our M&M man shots), and with all three lenses the camera did well. Obviously with the 10mm f/2.8, you have an advantage in lower lighting with its wider aperture, however both the 10-30mm VR and 30-110mm VR still offer a decent wide open aperture at f/3.5 and f/3.8; respectively. The inclusion of Nikon's VR system in these lenses also helps in marginal lighting. The built-in pop-up flash helps illuminate subjects, however it offers an output that's more comparable to a consumer point-n-shoot than an EVIL or dSLR camera. With a guide number of 5m at ISO 100, it offers half the power of the built in flash of the Olympus E-PL3; which is a direct competitor to the J1. When using Scene Auto, we saw pleasing flash exposure, thanks in part to the camera choosing a higher ISO speed; typically around ISO 800. While this helped the camera illuminate my subjects at about 5 or so feet away nicely, it brought in a lot of unwanted noise in the background. Looking over our M&M mans shots, you can see just how weak the flash is when shooting at ISO 100 with a narrow aperture. We had to boost the ISO to a minimum of ISO 400 to get a decent flash exposure, and our subject is no more than 4-5 feet away. While the camera an certainly capture some real nice portraits, the addition of a flash hot shoe would be a welcomed accessory on the J1, allowing you to really pump up its low-light capabilities with the addition of an optional Nikon speedlite.

Looking at the Nikon J1's noise levels more closely, we see that the camera handles imager noise well as you increase the sensitivity. Compared to other EVIL cameras, the J1 seems to have slightly more luminous noise (even at the lowest of settings), however its images are usable all the way up to ISO 3200. At 1600 and 3200, you start to see much more luminous artifacts, as well as some chroma noise. This causes some of the fine details to be lost, however at full screen on my 24" Dell monitor, they still look quite good. Even the HI 1 (approx. ISO 6400) setting looks usable for small prints. While we were pleased with the results from our M&M series, especially when you consider the J1's sensor is quite a bit smaller than that used in Micro Four Thirds and APS-C EVIL cameras, when shooting in darker conditions you can see the negative affects of this imager noise much easier. Even in our indoor portraits using the flash at ISO 800, when viewing at 100% you can see a good amount of noise in the darker areas of the photograph. See images DSC-0052.JPG and DSC-0053.JPG on the samples page to see what I mean. While the faces in the frame are well illuminated and sharp, looking at the background you can see a great deal of both luminous and chroma artifacts. That said, I still feel the J1 handles noise quite well. Unlike most cameras in this class, as you increase the sensitivity with the J1 the noise level increases slowly. ISO 1600 and 3200 look very similar, where as with many cameras once you jump into the ISO 1600 and higher settings, you see a huge shift in image quality with lost details, color shifts, etc.

When it comes to video, the Nikon J1 has several options for you to choose from. You can record high definition video at full 1920x1080 resolution, in either 60i (60fps) or 30p (30fps) formats; as well as at 1280x720 (720p) at 60fps. The camera also offers two Slow-motion video options. You can shoot video at 400fps (640x240) or 1200fps (320x120), both of which play back at 30fps. These options are great for capturing action and playing it back in slow-motion; like a golf swing. Just remember that the field of view is very narrow with these options, especially the 1200fps mode. We chose to use the 1080/30p option for most of out video recording, and were pleased with the results. The camera captures sharp, clean looking video with decent exposure. Even with snow on the ground and bright sunlight, the J1 was able to capture a pleasing video of my daughter being silly out in the snow. Moving indoors, we still see a decent exposure and sharp details. When adjusting the focal length of the zoom lens, we found the AF did a great job at keeping everything in focus. Like most any digicam with built in microphones, the J1's Stereo mics capture decent quality audio. They are extremely sensitive, picking up all kinds of background or foreground noise. While the camera was able to capture the children's choir indoors, you could also hear conversations going on around you in the video; which we didn't notice ourselves while recording. This is another area where a hot shoe and a microphone port would come in handy, allowing you to use an optional microphone unit that is designed to record higher quality sound. Overall, the J1's video looks great, and will surely suffice for typical family gatherings, sporting events, etc.

The J1's battery life is more in line with a point-n-shoot than an EVIL or dSLR camera. Nikon claims you can capture approx. 230 still images on a single charge. We captured over 240 still images, and concluded all of our other tests with only having to recharge the battery once. This included extensive use of the menu and playback functions. I think the 230 frame claim is conservative, however even so, it's still short of the competition. The pack is charged out of camera in the included AC charger, which will allow you to easily charge a second pack while using another. For those looking at the Nikon J1, we highly recommend you snag a second EN-EL20 battery pack (about $40 USD), that way you can keep two batteries charged up and ready at all times. Nothing is more annoying than missing a spontaneous photo opt due to a dead battery.

Bottom line - The Nikon J1 is a stylish and easy to use EVIL camera that is loaded with some high quality features. With its 10-megapixel CX-format CMOS image sensor, Nikon 1 lens mount system, full HD video recording, and loads of both easy to use and advanced exposure options, the J1 is an appealing package. Aimed more at the novice user, the J1 is super simple to use with modes like Scene Auto and Smart Photo selector. I found the menu system was at times cumbersome, and using the advanced modes was difficult at times due to having to enter the menu to change modes or settings; instead of having shortcut buttons on the body. Shooting performance was great, and image quality was pleasing in most conditions. For the style conscious, the J1 is quite appealing thanks to its matching body and lens combinations, which come in five popular colors. With a suggested retail price of $650 USD for the J1 single lens kit (J1 + 1 NIKKOR VR 10-30mm f/3.5-5.6 VR lens), or $900 USD for the twin lens kit (J1 + 1 NIKKOR VR 10-30mm f/3.5-5.6 VR and 1 NIKKOR VR 30-110mm f/3.8-5.6 VR lenses), the Nikon J1 has a lot to offer for the price. This is a competitive model in the EVIL or ILC category, with most of its features and performance being right in line with the competition.


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