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Nikon J1 - Kit Lens, Image Quality and Verdict

Audley Jarvis

By Audley Jarvis


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Review Price £549.99

The J1 uses the new CX mount, and at present there are four lenses in the system: the 10-30mm f/3.5-5.6 kit zoom, a 10mm f/2.8 ‘pancake’ prime, a 30-110mm VR f/3.8-5.6 telephoto zoom and a 10-100mm f/4.5-5.6 lens that’s optimised for video. During the course of our testing we found ourselves favouring the 10mm prime on account of it being faster and sharper than the kit zoom, although the kit zoom certainly has the advantage of being more flexible.

Owing to the size of the CX-format sensor, Nikon 1 cameras incur a 2.7x crop factor. In this respect the 10-30mm kit zoom equates to 27-81mm in 35mm terms. The CX lenses all feel well made and are nicely styled too, with the rubberised ring around the 10-30mm offering good grip – if only Nikon could have applied the same kind of practically-minded thinking to the J1’s gripless body!

In terms of sharpness, we were left suitably impressed by both the 10-30mm and, especially, the 10mm. As might be expected images are pin-sharp in the centre of the frame, but corner and edge sharpness is pretty impressive too – especially when the lenses are stopped down to their sweet spot of around f/8. There’s no dedicated Macro lens as yet, but close focusing on small objects can yield quite good results.

And so to general image quality. Overall, we have to say we were left quite impressed by the J1’s ability to produce richly toned and pleasingly vibrant images. Even on the ‘Standard’ Picture Control setting the J1 delivered images with plenty of pop, which is sure to chime well with its target audience. While we’re compelled to point out the J1’s shortcomings elsewhere, there’s no doubt that it produces an overall level of image quality that is leagues above what any regular compact camera is capable of.

While the J1 delivers images that are tonally rich with good levels of sharpness and detail, depth of field is something that’s undoubtedly compromised by the smaller CX sensor. Using the J1 next to an Olympus E-PL3, with both the kit zoom on each camera set to 28mm and focused on a static subject we found the area behind to be visibly more defocused and ‘blurry’ on the E-PL3 than the J1 at f/3.5. Against an APS-C equipped DSLR, the difference was even more pronounced.

It is still possible to 'throw' the background with the J1, just not to the same extent it is with larger sensors. This may not be such a problem for the J1’s intended audience of casual photographers, but for serious enthusiasts – especially those with an eye for portraiture – it does limit the J1 as a creative tool.

Metering is pretty spot on, with the J1 not showing any regular signs towards either over- or under-exposing. The J1’s dynamic range is noticeably wider than what we’ve seen on regular compacts too, which facilitates the production of better images in high-contrast situations. It’s not quite up there with what can be expected of a DSLR though, and when push comes to shove highlight detail tends to be sacrificed.

Noise is very well controlled from ISO 100 to ISO 400, with ISO 800 and ISO 1600 also producing largely noise-free results, even though there is some softening of detail. However at the highest ISO settings of 3200 and 6400 images show marked deterioration, often accompanied by a loss of colour and a shift in hue.

The J1’s Automatic white balance performs consistently well, with performance under mixed lighting sources also reliable. Should you wish to, there are six presets to choose from along with a manual setting.


The Nikon J1 is a stylish looking compact system camera that delivers class-leading shooting speeds, super-efficient AF performance and vibrant, punchy images. However, given the highly competitive nature of the CSC market this isn’t really enough to elevate it above its peers and many rival CSCs offer richer feature sets and better value for money. It’s good to finally see Nikon in the CSC market, and the J1 certainly shows some promise, but it’s not quite the all-conquering model we’d hoped for.

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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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