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.