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Nikon J1 - Features

Audley Jarvis

By Audley Jarvis



Our Score:


The J1’s 10.1MP sensor delivers a maximum output of 3,872 x 2,592 pixels, with the choice to record still images as compressed JPEGs or lossless Raw files. While shooting JPEGs, resolution can be lowered to 8MP (medium) and 5MP (small), with three levels of quality to choose from: Fine, Normal and Basic. Disappointingly for a camera of this price and type, there are no alternative aspect ratios to choose from beyond the default 3:2. Sensitivity, meanwhile, ranges from ISO 100-3200, with an extended “Hi 1” setting of ISO 6400 available.

Although the J1 offers the creative quartet of Program, Aperture-priority, Shutter-priority and Manual shooting modes (PASM), it’s somewhat telling that they don’t get their own place on the shooting mode dial, even though there’s plenty enough space for them. Instead, they’re collectively represented by a single green camera icon. This means that should you wish to switch between Aperture-priority and Shutter-priority, or perhaps put the J1 into its fully automatic Scene selector mode then you’ll have to enter the in-camera menu and navigate your way to the Exposure mode sub-menu. It’s not at all the cleanest or most intuitive way of arranging things, and reinforces the idea that the J1 is targeted primarily at those upgrading from point-and-shoot compacts.

One further reason the individual PASM options don’t make in onto the physical mode dial is that Nikon has instead decided to use it to promote two all-new shooting modes – Motion Snapshot and Smart Photo Selector. In keeping with other aspects of the camera though, they are both very much designed for the point-and-shoot crowd.

Motion Snapshot is, on paper at least, an interesting proposition that automatically records a short video clip every time a still image is taken. These clips last for two seconds but are played back in slow-motion, meaning that the actual recording time is less than a second, which in turn means there isn’t any noticeable shutter lag when shooting.

Motion Snapshot movie clips are stored as .MOV files and can be viewed individually, although every 24 hours the camera will also combine everything that’s been recorded into a single presentation. Nikon also bundles software with the J1 that can be used to make motion snapshot files for sharing although it’s not particularly intuitive to use.

Ultimately, while the general idea behind Motion Snapshots is quite fun and quirky, we struggled to make any great use of the feature in regular day-to-day shooting. We can certainly see how the feature would prove useful in certain situations (such as a toddler blowing out birthday cake candles), but we just don’t envisage these kinds of situations cropping up all that often, meaning the overall usefulness of the feature is somewhat restricted.

Of course, Nikon would probably argue that the feature can be used to better capture an essence of something (or someone) or to help put an image in context. However we’d counter by arguing that a good still image does exactly the same thing, but in a less fussy way. Perhaps we’re just stuck in our ways, but overall it just doesn't seem like a must-have killer feature.

Smart Photo Selector, on the other hand, is a far more practical tool – especially when used for portrait photography. When selected, the J1 automatically takes 20 shots before discarding those that are less-than-perfect (for example, where a subject is blinking) to present you with what the camera thinks are the best five images. From these, you can pick a keeper and discard the rest.

During testing we found that it works really well for candid photography (where the subject isn’t aware you’re shooting them) as it gives you a much better chance of capturing those fleeting yet priceless expressions that can define a subject’s mood or character. Henri Cartier-Bresson almost certainly wouldn’t approve of watering-down his ‘decisive moment’ principle in such a way, but we think it’s a pretty useful tool.

Aside from these two new shooting modes, the J1 isn’t a particularly feature-rich camera. There are no fancy digital effects filters or clever post-processing tools. It does get six Picture Control options though – Standard, Neutral, Vivid, Monochrome, Portrait and Landscape – which at least allow you some control over the sharpness, contrast, brightness, saturation and hue levels of your images.

The J1 also offers Nikon’s Active D-Lighting for better shadow detail retention in high-contrast scenes, although it only comes as a straightforward on/off option, rather than the graduated low/standard/high strength levels seen in Nikon DSLRs and high-end compacts. Long Exposure Noise Reduction is a similarly on/off affair, as is High ISO Noise Reduction. There is an interval timer though, which might prove useful to some.

Movie abilities are pretty solid, with the maximum recording setting being 1920 x 1080/60i, with 1080/30p and 720/60p options also available. You can also shoot still images while recording video. Sound is recorded in stereo, but there’s no external microphone input. Should you want to make slow-motion movies the J1 duly obliges with 1200fps (at 320 x 120 pixels) and 400fps (at 640 x 240 pixels). All movies are stored as .MOV files.


November 5, 2011, 3:48 am

While cameras do wonders with such small sensor i really don't understand Nikon. This new 1 range priced to go head to head with micro 4/3 and SONY NEX cameras but both (especially NEX) are far superior in image quality and it seems in usability too. Other than brand loyalty I don't really see any reason to buy this camera over competition.

SONY NEX 5N is still by far the best by in this category because both image quality and ability to use SONY alpha/Minolta lenses with adapter (what's the category called anyway? Exchangeable lens compact? I even heard Mirrorless DSLR which really makes no sense.)

Martin Daler

November 5, 2011, 6:54 pm

I don't see any 'far superior' IQ from micro 4/3 and Sony NEX. They may have the edge technically, but most people are not bothered about pixel-peeping. There has to be a point at which IQ is generally good enough for most people, and pushing relentlessly beyond that point brings no benefit for them.

Then comes usability - and speed of focus and general ease of use are paramount here, as is actually having the camera with you. Here the Nikon 1 scores heavily - it is lightening quick to focus and follow the focus, and being smaller it is more likely you don't leave it at home.

The great majority of shots that people regard as poor or spoilt, I'll bet focus is at issue, and not any of the IQ metrics beloved of the pixel-peepers. Or else they missed the shot completely, because the camera was not quick enough/simple enough to use, or was left at home. The Nikon 1 address those 'majority' issues square on, while delivering more than adequate IQ.


November 6, 2011, 6:03 pm

Few things make me laugh more than when people that know about cameras and photography are accused of being pixel-peeping know it alls with no grasp of real-life shooting when pointing out significant drawbacks of 'lesser' cameras.

Any mug can see the difference between an SLR and a compact when they're made aware of what to look for, and the deficiencies of the 1 range are also easily identified. I cite my sister (who of course isn't a mug :D) who tried several new compacts while looking to replace her aging 4 megapixel model but could find none that matched the image quality. Low and behold her old camera had a larger than average sensor and great quality, fast optics. I pointed her in the direction of the LX5 and she immediately noticed its quality.

Moreover, our complaints about this particular camera only come down in small part to its ultimate IQ. There are many other issues like usability and price.

Real pixel-peeping is picking between ni-on identical cameras or lenses to find that last little bit of IQ difference. This, I agree is where it all gets rather silly. Accusing someone of pixel-peeping when they're comparing two cameras with significantly different size sensors, though, is patently stupid (given today's technology at least).

Martin Daler

November 6, 2011, 6:38 pm

But Ed, at what point do you say, 'yes, the other camera has better IQ, but so what, this camera's IQ is already good, and besides which IQ is not the main issue keeping you from producing photos that you want to keep'?

I'm sorry if the term 'pixel-peeping' got your goat, that was not the intention. But look through sombody's photo album, see the shots that went into the 'bin', were also-rans for whatever reason, or were missed altogether, and identify what went wrong, what prevented it being a great shot. Ask yourself, how many would have been put right through better IQ, better DR, better SNR. And how many were just a victim of poor focus, poor composition, shutter delay, timing, etc. I suspect the majority fall into the latter category.

Cameras are not the sole preserve of "people who know about cameras and photography", they are for people who want to take pictures that they will enjoy, and that is a much wider group.


November 6, 2011, 7:27 pm

Well, i really needed that shoe in my mouth. Since I wrote these i saw some new user experiences. And one particular made me why it had its greatness.

He was shooting show in aqua park show with orcas and dolphins holding his 3 years old son in one had using best shot mode. Seeing those picture explained it all to me.


November 7, 2011, 1:07 am

I forgot to mention that it's still grossly overpriced. It does provide more then even pro compacts like g12 but for camera which is mostly meant for point and shoot 550 pounds is nothing less than luxury tax.

Mohammad Halim

December 21, 2012, 4:36 pm

Please do not buy this camera (Nikon 1 - J1) i have done biggest mistake of my life. Faulty within less than month. Repaired and sent back by Nikon but still having the same problem.
I find the customer service / support teams for Nikon are very rude and unhelpful.
Not recommended at all
Mohammad Halim

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