Nikon’s debut compact system camera boasts a long list of world
firsts, fastests and bests. But it isn’t without controversy

Product Overview

Overall rating:


Nikon J1

Overall score:87%
Image Quality:95%


  • Small size, Build quality, Impressive image quality at most settings


  • Poor battery life, Manual controls buried, Some missing features


Nikon J1 Review


Price as reviewed:


Nikon J1 Review – Design and Performance

Nikon J1 Review – Design

As you’d expect from Nikon the J1’s build quality is excellent. From the front and top, it’s a minimalist masterpiece, with a flat front and flat top panel in which all the controls sit flush, except for the shutter button, and even that is raised by less than a millimetre. There is no hand grip or groove on the front for the fingers which means that, despite the rubbery thumb rest on the back, it doesn’t feel as secure in the hand as it should, which could be a problem with the bigger lenses such as the 10-100mm power zoom.

The built-in flash pops out of the top on a stalk that’s high enough to avoid redeye and shadows cast by the lens. The back of the camera is more conventional, with a mode dial, four-way d-pad and the usual smattering of buttons to the right of the 3in, 460k-dot LCD.
The J1 is available in black, white, red, pink or silver, with even three of the four lenses coloured to match the bodies.

Two of the initial four lenses feature a retractable design, which make them even more compact when not in use. To unlock the lens simply push the button and twist, and this also switches the camera on, which is a nice touch. Alternatively there’s a power button on the camera.

Nikon J1 Review -Performance

For a camera that prides itself on its speed it does take a couple of seconds to start up, but once up and running it’s a fairly brisk operator. Focusing is very fast and the J1 seems to have little trouble identifying and locking onto even fast-moving subjects.

More advanced photographers will be disappointed that Nikon has chosen to bury the manual exposure modes and controls in the menu. There is, after all, plenty of room on the mode dial and it would not have been difficult to offer quick access to the ISO and Auto White Balance, perhaps via the F button. But the J1 is not an enthusiast-targeted camera, and these options are buried, we suspect, to avoid any risk of them frightening off the target user.

The menu itself is divided into three sections for simplicity: shooting, playback and set-up, with everything within presented as a list. This means that each list is pretty long, and to change some- thing like the focus mode or flash exposure compensation you need to scroll right down to the bottom of the list, three pages away.

The J1 is designed to work best when left in its auto modes, and to be fair it generally does a great job. Which is just as well, because among the J1’s omissions is the absence of any kind of exposure compensation in either the Smart Photo Selector mode or Scene Auto Selector modes, so if the camera does get it wrong there’s nothing you can do to correct it.

The combination of fast focusing and high burst speed makes the J1 more suitable than most CSCs for action, leaving aside the inherent difficulty in following fast-moving subjects using an LCD screen rather than a viewfinder, especially in bright sun. The high-speed burst shooting mode is impressive, and although the buffer fills up quickly most of the kind of action moments that you’d use such speeds for are over in the blink of an eye. It’s confusing though that to switch from 10fps to 60fps you need to go into the main menu rather than stay within the Function menu.

Even more frustrating is that, despite there being a separate video record button, you can only shoot video when the mode dial is set to movie mode, which caused several missed opportunities. Surely the video mode position is superfluous?

These operational quirks (and a few others) are things users will get used to, but significantly more irksome is the J1’s battery performance. The quoted figure from the EN-EL20 Li-ion cell of 230 shots is right at the bottom of the league table, and if you’re using processor intensive features such as HD video or Smart Shot Selector a lot you may struggle to get that. Prolific shooters taking the J1 out on a day trip should plan on carrying a spare battery.

  1. 1. Nikon J1 Review - Features
  2. 2. Nikon J1 Review - Design and Performance
  3. 3. Nikon J1 Review - Image Quality
  4. 4. Nikon J1 Review - Value and Verdict
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