- Page 1Nikon 1 J4
- Page 2 Image Quality, Performance and Verdict
Nikon 1 J4 – Performance
You do need to embrace the Nikon 1 J4’s essentially Auto-mode nature in order to get on with it. It’s not a camera to buy if you want to get involved with the more in-depth minutiae of photography – to set things like aperture, shutter speed and ISO manually.
Without any mode dial controls to take you to the PASM priority modes that manage this kind of semi-auto photography, you need to delve into the menus to get access to these settings. And doing so with a touchscreen and a tiny D-pad is not a great deal of fun. It’s fiddly. It’s frustrating.
Nikon seems to want to dissuade you from getting too deep with your photography, too. Most actual photographic terms have been renamed in the Nikon 1 J4’s menu systems, making it confusing for those who do have a bit of experience behind a camera. Exposure compensation becomes “brightness”, shutter speed turns into “motion control”.
The Nikon 1 J4 actively dumbs-down photography, and that seems a shame in something that could prove a bridge to more serious cameras for some. Then again, with camera phones seemingly taking over, perhaps we should all just embrace the apocalypse.
We also found it annoying that unless you use the nasty-sounding shutter noise, there’s no indication as to whether you’ve taken a photo or not. We’ve learnt not to expect a nice shutter clunk, but even a quick flash of the screen would help give you a bit more confidence in your shooting.
While the Nikon 1 J4’s presentation of photography may be contentious, its actual performance is not. It’s excellent.
This is among the fastest compact system cameras you can get, capable of shooting at up to 20fps at full 18.4-megapixel resolution. It’s extremely fast, making the Nikon 1 J4 an obvious choice for those looking to capture dogs, kids or other critters that just won’t keep still.
If 20fps isn’t fast enough for you, the J4 will go up to 60fps if you fix the autofocus. That’s up from 15fps in the Nikon 1 J3. It’s down to the camera’s new EXPEED 4A processor.
Naturally, you’ll need a fast memory card to keep up, and the Nikon 1 J4 uses microSD cards rather than the larger SD cards seen in most cameras. Once again, it’s a bit of mobile phone flavour for the Nikon.
To go with fast shooting the camera also has fast focusing. There are 171 focusing point, 105 of which can use phase detection as well as well as contrast detection. The hybrid autofocus system offers very fast focusing, and with tracking focus on-board, the Nikon 1 J4 is simply much better at shooting fast moving objects on-the-fly than most other compact system cameras.
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And as the battery has been improved this year, rated for 300 shots off a charge, it’s a pretty practical camera if you accept its limitations.
Nikon 1 J4 – Image Quality
Look closer at image quality and the Nikon 1 J4 quickly loses its advantage. From a glance at the specs its not hard to see why – like previous Nikon system cameras, this one has a 1-inch sensor that’s a good deal smaller than the Micro Four Thirds and APS-C sensors used by the alternatives from Sony, Panasonic, Samsung and Olympus.
The only interchangeable lens series with a smaller sensor is Pentax’s, with cameras like the Pentax Q7 using 1/2.3-inch sensors, the kind seen in compact cameras (and even a few phones).
There may be smaller sensors out there, but you can easily see the results of such a small 18.4-inch sensor in the Nikon 1 J4’s photos.
While metering is fairly good (with just occasional underexposing of shots), dynamic range is not so hot. We found that the Nikon 1 J4 tends to lose a good deal of detail in the highlights and shadows in shots featuring high light contrast.
Detail is fine for its class, but only in good lighting. As is generally the curse of the small-sensor camera, performance really takes a dive as soon as you head further up the ISO range.
Nikon significantly upgraded the ISO range of the J4. It offers range of 100-12800 where the J3 brings 100-6400, doubling the upper limit.
However, we found that sensitivities 3200 and up are more-or-less unusable if you want relatively clean images. Image quality is solid up to ISO 400, but after that the noise reduction algorithm starts to eat into the detail rendered quite significantly.
With a larger sensor system camera you have a much greater degree of flexibility over your ISO setting, and can therefore the sorts of lighting conditions you can shoot in. The Fuji X-M1 in particular has an APS-C sensor and is renowned for its high ISO performance, although other APS-C cameras like the Sony Alpha a5000 and Samsung NX300 will bring similar improvements.
Here are a few more samples:
Image quality is not helped by the standard 10-30mm f3.5-5.6 kit lens either. It’s quite soft, especially at the further reaches of the zoom.
Here we find ourselves at the feet of a era camera buyer’s conundrum. The Nikon 1 J4 may help you capture photos that you might miss with a slightly slower CSC alternative, but others can get you better image quality.
This is not simply an unavoidable consequence of sensor size, either, as the Sony RX100 III and its earlier siblings get you much better low-light performance than what is on offer here.
Should I buy the Nikon 1 J4?
The Nikon 1 J4 is a little camera that’ll easily slip into some people’s lives. It’s very small and very fast, making it perfect for those moments that you might miss with a DSLR or a slightly slower interchangeable lens camera.
However, in other ways it’s a good deal less capable. Image quality at mid-level ISO settings is not great, dynamic range is disappointing and if you want to get a more more involved, a bit more manual with your photos, you’ll find the Nikon 1 J4 straining against you.
As a second casual camera to partner with a more serious one, the Nikon 1 J4 could be a great choice. But we’re reticent to recommend it as your number one photo buddy unless you’re a novice who wants convenience above anything else.
Small, fast and well-made, the Nikon 1 J4 as a lot going for it. However, it’s not great at dealing with more challenging lighting and general image quality can’t touch the best at the price.
Next, read our best cameras round-up
Score in detail
Image Quality 6