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Nikon J1 review

Audley Jarvis

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Nikon J1
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Summary

Our Score:

7

User Score:

Pros

  • Good image quality
  • Solid build quality
  • Fast AF performance

Cons

  • PASM not on shooting mode dial
  • Depth of field is limited by sensor size
  • Uncompetitively priced

Key Features

  • 10.1-megapixels
  • EXPEED 3 image processor
  • ISO 100 - 3200 (extendable to 6400)
  • 60fps burst speed at full resolution (max 12 images)
  • 1080/60i/30p Full HD movie recording
  • Manufacturer: Nikon
  • Review Price: £549.99

It’s taken a while but Nikon has, at long last, joined the compact system camera (CSC) market with the launch of the Nikon 1 system. There are two models in the Nikon 1 range at present; the consumer-targeted J1 that we have here, and the more enthusiast-orientated V1.

Given the £250-odd price gap between the two models, the differences between them are actually rather less pronounced than you might expect. The Nikon J1 doesn’t get the 1.4million-dot EVF of the V1, but does sport its own built-in flash (the V1 requires the optional Nikon SB-N5 flash unit to be attached to its proprietary hotshoe). The 3inch LCD monitor on the back of the J1 displays at 460k-dots too, whereas the £850 V1 gets a 921k-dot monitor. Lastly, the Nikon J1’s 1020mAh Li-ion battery is smaller than the cell inside the V1 and consequently offers fewer shots on a single charge.

Inside, however, both Nikon cameras are both very similar, although the J1's sibling does distinguish itself on account of offering a mechanical shutter that provides a bit more flexibility than the J1’s electronic-only shutter, along with a faster maximum flash synch speed of 1/250sec as opposed to the J1’s maximum 1/60sec.

Both models are built around a 10.1-megapixel CMOS sensor measuring 13.2 x 8.8mm, a size Nikon is calling CX. While this is approximately four times the size of a regular 1/2.3in chip as used in the vast majority of compact cameras, it’s only around a third of the size of a regular APS-C sensor (as used in most DSLRs), with Micro Four Thirds sensors sitting neatly in the middle between CX and APS-C. Of all the CSC models currently on the market only the Pentax Q, with its 1/2.3in chip, uses a smaller sensor than the Nikon 1 system.

In theory the smaller CX sensor puts the Nikon 1 at a disadvantage when it comes to low-light performance and also limits how shallow depth-of-field can be. And while limiting the J1's resolution to 10.1MP should have a positive impact on image quality by ensuring the sensor isn’t overpopulated, it’s still going to be a hard sell for Nikon – even in these supposedly post megapixel-arms-race days – when the J1 is compared against it’s nearest competitors, all of which offer higher overall resolutions to go with their larger sensors. Most of the Micro Four Thirds models, for instance, offer around 14megapixels.

The decision to go with CX rather than going with something closer to APS-C has been the source of much debate in photography circles, with some critics even going as far as to suggest that it’s a cynical move aimed more at protecting the Nikon’s vested DSLR interests than in launching a groundbreaking new CSC standard.

Nikon refute all this, of course, insisting instead that the Nikon 1 range has been painstakingly designed from the ground up as a complete system, in which all of the constituent parts work together to produce the best possible image quality in the smallest possible package.

While the choice of sensor size has certainly raised some eyebrows, there are no such misgivings about Nikon’s latest generation of EXPEED 3 image processor. Utilising dual processors it’s a super speedy chip that enables the J1 (and V1) to reach some impressive shooting speeds, including a class-leading 60fps at full-resolution.

Irrespective of sensor size and processor abilities, what might well prove far more crucial to the success or failure of the J1 is the launch price. In this respect the decision to launch the J1 with a £550 price tag could be a problem for Nikon as it makes the camera look pretty expensive against some of its main competitors.

Given that the J1 and 10-30mm f/3.5-5.6 kit zoom package can now be bought for around £500 if you shop around online, it’s nearest rivals in terms of price and design would have be the Panasonic Lumix GF3 (£300 with 14-42mm), Olympus E-PL3 (£490 with 14-42mm), Sony NEX-C3 (£400 with 18-55mm). The newer Sony NEX-5N is slightly more expensive at £590 with 18-55mm, while the Samsung NX200 will cost you around £200 extra.

That’s some pretty tough competition. Does the J1 measure up? Without further ado, let’s take a closer look and find out…

Carnex

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.

Ed

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.

Carnex

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.

Carnex

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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