Nikon J1 Review
Review Date : Wed, 19 Oct 2011
Author : Nigel Atherton
Nikon’s debut compact system camera boasts a long list of world
firsts, fastests and bests. But it isn’t without controversy
|Pros:||Small size, Build quality, Impressive image quality at most settings|
|Cons:||Poor battery life, Manual controls buried, Some missing features|
In 2008 Panasonic introduced the first small, mirrorless interchangeable lens camera, or ‘Compact System Camera'. Since then CSC sales have grown dramatically and several other manufacturers have joined the fray. Now Nikon has announced the Nikon 1 system, and kicked it off with two models, the V1 and the J1. Both are brimming with world-leading innovations including the world's fastest continuous burst rate of 60fps and a claimed world's fastest AF.
The J1 is the cheaper of the two models. It is aimed squarely at the mass market consumer upgrading from a compact, and seeking something simple and quick to use but with interchangeable lenses. Although image quality is quite important to this user convenience is at least as highly valued.
Nikon J1 Review - Features
Rather than use an APS-C sized sensor like most DSLRs (and some CSCs) Nikon has gone for a chip that's only about one-third the size, and half the size of Micro Four-Thirds. This has drawn a lot of criticism from enthusiasts, but Nikon believes this size strikes the best balance between image quality and portability, and enables not just the cameras to be fairly compact but the lenses too.
At the heart of the J1 is a brand new CX-format 10.1MP CMOS sensor made especially for the Nikon 1 system. It measures 13.2 x 8.8mm and called the CX format and produces images up to 3872 x 2592 pixels in size with a magnification factor of 2.7x in relation to full frame (35mm).
The CX sensor is also the first to incorporate both phase detect and contrast detect AF on the sensor itself. Phase detection is used in DSLRs and is better for tracking moving subjects, while contrast detect AF - which can be more accurate - is used in compacts and other CSCs. The J1's sensor is able to switch seamlessly between the two types according to the subject, giving what Nikon claims is the fastest auto-focusing system in the world. Users can also select between single point, auto area or subject tracking AF modes, providing 135 focus points in single point mode and 41 in Auto area AF.
The CX sensor is complemented by the Nikon 1's secret weapon - the twin-engined Expeed 3 processor, which can process images at an unprecedented 600 megapixels per second. This along with the design and size of the sensor, gives the Nikon 1 J1 its list of ground-breaking features.
The first is a unique addition called Motion Snapshot, which wraps a one-second slow motion movie clip around a full-resolution still image. Think of those moving still photos that come to life on the pages of the Daily Prophet in the Harry Potter films. In this mode the camera records a few frames of video both before and after the moment of still capture. To view just click on the photo and the slo-mo clip starts to play, with a user-selectable musical background theme, before returning to the still shot. You can of course print the still image if you wish.
The next innovation is the Smart Photo Selector mode which, on depressing the shutter, takes a burst of 20 full-res still images almost instantaneously, captured both before and after the shutter is depressed. The processor then selects what it considers the best of the bunch and presents it, along with its pick of the next best four pictures. You can go with the camera's choice and delete the rest, swap it for one of the others or save all five. This mode increases the chances of catching the decisive moment, such as a perfect expression, or the second your child crosses the finish line at the school sports day.
Still not impressed? Try the continuous burst mode which can shoot at 10 frames per second with full subject tracking AF or, by switching to the Hi setting, at up to 60fps which is, by some margin, the fastest in the world on any camera, even including pro DSLRs. Although it can only sustain this for about 12 JPEG or Raw files at a time, and the focus is fixed from the first frame, this is still an impressive feat that's made possible by the J1's electronic shutter and maximum 1/16,000th of a second speed.
The J1 does also offer the more conventional shooting modes including Aperture and Shutter Priority, Program, Manual and Auto Scene modes. In these modes adjustments are made using an up/down oriented toggle switch, which could easily be mistaken for a zoom rocker until you remember that zooming on the J1 is achieved manually by twisting the lens barrel (except for the power zoom10-100mm which has a zoom switch on the lens). Next to this switch an ‘F' button offers a limited range of user selection depending on the shooting mode.
The J1's movie setting offers the usual 1080 and 720 HD resolutions, plus a slow motion option. But the best feature of the video mode, unique among CSCs, is the J1's ability to shoot full-resolution still pictures while simultaneously shooting movies, and it does so silently thanks to the electronic shutter. This is a useful feature for anyone who has ever struggled with the dilemma prior to an important life moment, such as your child's first Nativity play, as to whether to shoot video or stills.
As for the more conventional features, the ISO range from 100 to 3200 (extendable to 6400) is not the highest around but is a sensible cap for the smaller sensor size. Nikon's metering has always been strong and the J1 offers the usual choice of Matrix Multi-Segment AF, Centre-Weighted or Spot options, and for high-contrast scenes Active D-Lighting can be employed to boost shadow detail, though it can only be on or off, with no incremental adjustments.
There's a Picture Styles menu to fine-tune the colour saturation or remove it altogether for mono images, but there are none of the creative effects and filters that are widely available on many other cameras, including Nikon's, which is odd because the J1's target audience is the group that appreciates these the most. Also strangely missing is a panorama or HDR mode, two popular features which are common on other cameras, and there are no manually selectable scene modes.
Although there is no electronic dust reduction system to prevent dust from landing on the sensor when lenses are swapped, Nikon has placed the camera's infrared filter much further forward from the sensor so that any dust that does land on it should not be visible on the images.