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Box Photo
  • Nikon 1 J1 digital camera
  • BF-N1000 body cap
  • NIKKOR VR 10–30 mm f/3.5–5.6 lens (w/ kit only)
  • EN-EL20 rechargeable lithium ion battery
  • battery charger
  • USB cable
  • neck strap
  • Quick Start Guide
  • User's Manual
  • View NX 2/Short Movie Creator CD
  • reference manual CD

The J1 comes with a 10-30mm f/3.5-5.6 VR kit lens, that has an equivalent 35mm focal range of 27-81mm. This gives it around the same zoom as a typical entry-level 18-55mm on a standard entry-level DSLR. The kit lens has a close focus distance of 0.7 feet, and it's workable for macro and wide angle shots, though we found it best to zoom into 30mm to get the best up close shots. The 10-30mm kit lens is a mostly plastic body, with a nice soft rubber zoom ring and no focus ring. The 30-110mm f/3.8-5.6 kit lens option is also made up of a mostly plastic shell (though both have metal lens mounts), though the 10mm f/2.8 lens option has a metal body and seems to be built of an overall higher quality.

The Nikon J1 and V1 both house a 13.2mm x 8.8mm "CX" image sensor, which is just half the surface area of Micro Four Thirds sensors—not to mention less than 40% the surface area of APS-C sensors. All that traditionally adds up to more ISO noise, especially in low light shooting conditions. We were surprised to find that Nikon had opted for such a small sensor, given the larger sensors that have been packed into the competition.

Designing a new sensor and lens mount has apparently yielded some pretty tough challenges for Nikon in designing the J1. While the company can clearly leverage its history in optics in terms of lens design—the extra lens options we tested are quite sharp overall—it's perhaps unfair to expect miracles from a company that is launching what is practically a brand-new sensor type. Still, the CX sensor size does not seem to have yielded profoundly smaller lenses than those found on Micro Four Thirds cameras, and puts the 1-system cameras at a bit of a disadvantage from an image quality standpoint by decreasing the amount of area to gather light, resulting in mediocre noise and sharpness tests.

The J1 does not feature a viewfinder, forcing users to rely on just the rear display. As a camera designed with entry-level customers in mind, this isn't totally surprising, as the camera is designed to be as familiar to point-and-shoot users as possible. The rear 3-inch TFT-LCD has a display resolution of 460k dots, and it's a very attractive screen, right on par with the Sony NEX-5 and just behind the Olympus E-P3's OLED screen for quality. It's easily accurate enough to make fine focus judgements on, and it was quite visible in daylight on an overcast day. In direct sunlight it's plagued by the typical LCD issues, going nearly black.

The J1 features a built-in flash, which is a bit of a leg up over its more expensive brother, the V1. The flash is a bit of an odd duck, as it sits on a pretty lofty plastic perch when extended from the camera. It is almost entirely made from plastic, but it should be durable enough compared to flashes with more moving parts. It has a guide number of 16 feet at ISO 100, which isn't particularly powerful, but it's in line with similarly-sized cameras. The real downside is the camera has a flash sync speed of only 1/60 of a second, so it'll be nearly impossible to use the flash to capture much low light action without dealing with some motion blur.

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The J1 utilizes standard USB with digital video output as well as mini-HDMI output. Both ports are located behind a small plastic insert that clips into the side of the body. The use of standard ports is always welcome here, and it scores the J1 a few extra points compared to some of the competition that still uses proprietary ports.

The Nikon J1 comes with an EN-EL20 removable, rechargeable lithium-ion battery pack. It has a capacity of 1020mAh, and is rated to approximately 230 shots by Nikon according to CIPA standards. In our use the battery actually lasted more than 300 shots in a single session, though that was generally using continuous shutter to take four or five snaps of each shot we wanted, which is more forgiving than the CIPA standard.

Battery Photo

The Nikon J1 uses SD/SDHC/SDXC memory cards, and houses the cards in the same slot as the battery. This is very typical of cameras of this size, though it can be a slight issue when using the camera on a tripod, as there's no easy way to access the memory card.

Sharpness with the kit lens was distinctly low, especially next to other cameras in our comparison group. However, with several of the J1's competitors, we noticed a small amount of in-camera sharpening that, while effective, might produce slightly less natural photos. Nikon, on the other hand, has kept sharpening largely out of the equation.

The good news for Nikon is that the telephoto lens appears to be sharper across the zoom range and a better lens overall. Unfortunately, you'll have to shell out for the larger kit or buy the lens separately. More on how we test sharpness.

Other Tests Images_8

In both high and low shake testing, we found the J1's vibration reduction image stabilization technology worked quite well, able to produce approximately a 13% improvement in the number of sharp images across a range of shutter speeds. The improvement was most dramatic at slower shutter speeds (under 1/250 of a second), which is typical for successful stabilization systems. We recommend turning stabilization off at higher shutter speeds, as it tends to overcorrect for shake when shooting continuous shots, resulting in fewer sharp images.

The Nikon J1 didn't do particularly well in our color accuracy test, rendering dull yellows and inaccurate blues even in the most accurate color mode. Some of the blame might lie with the troublesome custom white balance, but even when we managed to achieve pure whites, the rest of the colors were still skewed. Unsurprisingly, the most accurate color mode was Neutral, which registered a color error of 3.21 and a saturation of 100.6%. More on how we test color.

NOTE: Because of the way computer monitors reproduce colors, the images above do not exactly match the originals found on the chart or in the captured images. The chart should be used to judge the relative color shift, not the absolute captured colors.

While the J1's color accuracy isn't as bad as you might find on a Nikon point-and-shoot, we were disappointed that the camera couldn't achieve results on par with Nikon's DSLR line. That's the same mixture of disappointment and relief that we felt when comparing the J1 to other mirrorless cameras. Nikon's offering didn't fare as poorly as the competition from Sony or Samsung, but it also didn't impress us the way Olympus and Panasonic did. It was just... average.

The J1 is equipped with six different color modes, called "Picture Control," as well as the ability to set a custom picture control. These options have been ported from the Nikon DSLR lineup, so they'll be no surprise to long-time Nikon users. The options are standard, neutral, vivid, monochrome, portrait, and landscape.

With custom picture controls, you can start with one of the preset modes and tweak it according to sharpness, contrast, brightness, saturation, and hue. Each adjustment is made on a simple three to seven-increment scale (depending on the setting you're adjusting). There are several custom slots if you want to save your modifications for future use.

Unfortunately, white balance performance on the J1 was incredibly disappointing, with the camera struggling in both auto and custom white balance. Daylight conditions were the least offensive, but indoor lighting wreaked havoc with the J1's ability to achieve an accurate white balance.

Automatic White Balance ()

In auto mode, the J1 struggled with indoor lighting—both incandescent and fluorescent. This is the case for the automatic white balance modes of many cameras, though Nikon's DSLR line usually fares much better. Shots taken under regular indoor lighting confirmed what we saw in our testing labs: the usual "warm glow" of incandescent lights is exaggerated by the J1's poor white balance system.

Custom White Balance ()

The most disappointing numbers we saw came from the J1's custom white balance results. We expect to be able to get good clean whites from any interchangeable lens camera—no matter what the perceived demographic is. Given the mediocre effectiveness of the auto white balance system, the custom white balance needs to work well. Unfortunately, that's not the case with the J1; the custom white balance overcompensated for indoor lighting, causing whites and colors alike to appear too cool.

Of the cameras we selected for comparison, the only one that really blew us away what the Panasonic GF3, which rendered incredibly good whites under many lighting conditions using both auto white balance and custom white balance. The other cameras in the group displayed average performance—mostly as a result of somewhat disappointing custom white balance performance. Nothing, however, performed as poorly in this department as the J1.

Like other Nikon interchangeable lens cameras, taking a custom white balance measurement requires going into the menu to the white balance setting, and taking a photo of a white or gray object that should "fill the viewfinder." Unfortunately, this cumbersome process doesn't tend to yield superb results and only one custom measurement can be saved at a time.

The J1's long exposure performance was underwhelming at best. The camera really struggled with color accuracy and noise—regardless of whether we activated the long exposure noise reduction system. More on how we test long exposure.

Color accuracy was the real disappointment here, with incredibly high color error despite setting a custom white balance. Color error was over 4.5 at just one-second exposures and increased to as high as 5.67 once we switched to long exposure noise reduction. The noise reduction did help mitigate noise—especially during our 15-second exposure testing. Unfortunately, even the improvements did not extend to exposures of thirty seconds and longer.

Most interchangeable lens cameras we've tested fared much better in this test than the Nikon J1. We attribute this to the camera's comparatively small sensor, which evidently can't keep up with the competition from Samsung and Panasonic.

The J1 offers one level of optional noise reduction, which had a marked effect on shots taken at ISO 400 and above. The average improvement across all ISO levels was about 32%. That's great news if you don't mind a little noise reduction, but if you prefer to shoot without it, you'll be disappointed in the J1's average noise percentage of 1.75%.

We did find that the J1, with NR off, preserved fine detail through ISO 3200 without images being too overpowered by noise, as you can see in the 100% crops below. Some of the comparison models here merely offer an "auto" or "weak" noise reduction setting, with no off option, that results in detail being smudged away with noise. More on how we test noise.

Science Section 1 Images_2

The J1 has a standard set of ISO options available, ranging from ISO 100 to ISO 3200, plus a Hi ISO option that is roughly the equivalent of ISO 6400. (All of these options are available at full resolution.) If you prefer to leave ISO selection automated, an auto ISO sensitivity control lets you limit the auto range to max out at 400, 800, or 3200.

Science Section 1 Images

Given that Nikon is employing an entirely new sensor size that is smaller than most of its competitors in this market space, it's perhaps unfair to expect miracles out of the first batch of CX 1-system cameras. That being said, we were hardly blown away by the dynamic range performance of the J1. In our testing, which emphasizes the ability of the camera to preserve exposure value gradation through both its entire ISO range and the kit lens' full aperture range, the J1 did not do superbly well, able to preserve just 5.2 stops of clean dynamic range that didn't get clipped or poisoned by image noise. This fell off gradually though, only dropping below 3.4 stops at ISO 3200. In general, the J1's biggest issue was clipped highlights, as it produced a very weak shoulder through most of the ISO range. More on how we test dynamic range.

Given that all the other cameras in this comparison group offer a larger image sensor, this isn't exactly a fair fight, but the Nikon comes out ahead of only the Samsung NX100 in this group, and is beaten handily by the others. While the differences in scoring in our test are exacerbated by the likely presence of mandatory noise reduction imposed by the Panasonic GF3 and Sony NEX-5, the Nikon J1 still comes out lacking in terms of dynamic range free of noise through its ISO and f-stop range.

The J1 offers one level of optional noise reduction, which had a marked effect on shots taken at ISO 400 and above. The average improvement across all ISO levels was about 32%. That's great news if you don't mind a little noise reduction, but if you prefer to shoot without it, you'll be disappointed in the J1's average noise percentage of 1.75%.

We did find that the J1, with NR off, preserved fine detail through ISO 3200 without images being too overpowered by noise, as you can see in the 100% crops below. Some of the comparison models here merely offer an "auto" or "weak" noise reduction setting, with no off option, that results in detail being smudged away with noise. More on how we test noise.

The J1 has a standard set of ISO options available, ranging from ISO 100 to ISO 3200, plus a Hi ISO option that is roughly the equivalent of ISO 6400. (All of these options are available at full resolution.) If you prefer to leave ISO selection automated, an auto ISO sensitivity control lets you limit the auto range to max out at 400, 800, or 3200.

The hybrid phase/contrast autofocus on the J1 and V1 is one of the hallmark features called out by Nikon when the camera was announced. The focus is very fast, able to lock onto a desired subject right away. We didn't notice much of a difference using the J1 compared to even the Olympus E-P3, though the J1 did perhaps hunt a little more in average lighting conditions. One area the J1 trounced the E-P3 was in low light, however, as the AF illuminator on the J1, while green and a bit distracting, was very effective in producing an accurately focused picture in low light.

The J1's long exposure performance was underwhelming at best. The camera really struggled with color accuracy and noise—regardless of whether we activated the long exposure noise reduction system. More on how we test long exposure.

Color accuracy was the real disappointment here, with incredibly high color error despite setting a custom white balance. Color error was over 4.5 at just one-second exposures and increased to as high as 5.67 once we switched to long exposure noise reduction. The noise reduction did help mitigate noise—especially during our 15-second exposure testing. Unfortunately, even the improvements did not extend to exposures of thirty seconds and longer.

Most interchangeable lens cameras we've tested fared much better in this test than the Nikon J1. We attribute this to the camera's comparatively small sensor, which evidently can't keep up with the competition from Samsung and Panasonic.

We tested the Nikon J1's low light sensitivity using the camera's 10-30mm f/3.5 kit lens. The results of this test weren't pretty, as the J1 needed 25 lux of light to record an image that would pass broadcast standards. That's more than three times the amount of light the Panasonic GF3 needed, and twice the amount of light that the Sony NEX-5 needed in this same test. We tested the J1's sensitivity using both its 60i and 30p record mode, but found no significant differences with either mode. We also did this test with the ISO set to auto (with a a max of 3200) and the exposure set to program (the shutter speed minimum was 1/60 of a second).

As is often the cases with our mirrorless cameras, the J1 consistently exhibited chromatic aberration, particularly at the edges of the frame. You can see some of this discoloration in the crops below.

Distortion for the 30mm kit lens was relatively minor at all but the widest angles. At 10mm, you'll certainly see a distinctive barrel distortion, but throughout the rest of the lens's focal length, distortion was barely discernible.

The J1's motion performance had some very good highs with its excellent clarity and smooth footage, but it also had some significant lows. There was some prominent interference in our rotating pinwheels, particularly in the red portion of our colored wheel. Lines looked jagged and rough, instead of straight and smooth like they should. This interference was less of an issue in the J1's 30p record mode, but the 60i mode produced smoother, less blurry video. We like that Nikon offers both 60i and 30p recording on the J1, as it gives users two distinctly different options when recording video. Both modes capture motion well, but both have their strengths and weaknesses. So, you can pick the shooting mode based on what kind of scene you're planning to shoot. More on how CamcorderInfo tests motion.


The J1 did well in our sharpness test, but its results weren't at the same level as today's best HD camcorders. In our testing, the J1 managed a horizontal sharpness of 750 lw/ph and a vertical sharpness of 600 lw/ph. These numbers are better than most of the mirrorless camera competition, although the Sony NEX-5 was able to match the J1's sharpness results. Both the 60i and 30p record mode on the J1 record Full HD video at a 1920 x 1080 resolution, and we saw little difference in the sharpness results for each mode. The 30p mode wasn't quite as crisp as the 60i setting, but its video was smoother overall, which made the sharpness levels look nearly identical. More on how CamcorderInfo tests video sharpness.

We tested the Nikon J1's low light sensitivity using the camera's 10-30mm f/3.5 kit lens. The results of this test weren't pretty, as the J1 needed 25 lux of light to record an image that would pass broadcast standards. That's more than three times the amount of light the Panasonic GF3 needed, and twice the amount of light that the Sony NEX-5 needed in this same test. We tested the J1's sensitivity using both its 60i and 30p record mode, but found no significant differences with either mode. We also did this test with the ISO set to auto (with a a max of 3200) and the exposure set to program (the shutter speed minimum was 1/60 of a second).

Handling aside, the controls on the J1 are actually very responsive and offer a great amount of tactile feel. It certainly doesn't compare to an entry-level DSLR, but we can say the J1's buttons are as good as anything we've used on other mirrorless models. The only gripe we have is the use of a two-way level (doubling as the zoom in/out lever in playback) for controlling aperture and shutter speed in the respective priority modes. There is a rear control wheel, but it generally is restricted to navigation, making quick swings in either aperture or shutter speed a more difficult proposition.

Taking its cues from the camera's overall physical design, the Nikon J1's menu is clean and functional. It's actually one of the more well-thought-out menus Nikon has produced lately. The menu is separated into three tabs: shooting options, system options, and playback options. The tabs are laid out in a vertical fashion along the left side of the screen, which allows for easy switching between tabs. We still prefer tabbed layouts that don't require scrolling to see all the options—some of the shooting and system options require a bit of digging to find at first—but the free-turning control wheel allows for swift navigation of the menu anyway.

It's pretty clear Nikon was going for a sleek, point-and-shoot feel with their J1 design. The camera has an attractive, minimalist look, and is free of anything that would interrupt its smooth, clean lines. Unfortunately, that also includes anything that might be remotely confused for a grip. The J1 has a smooth plastic front with nothing that offers any sort of handle for the user. The rear of the camera has a nice patch of textured rubber that is just the kind of material that would be perfectly at home on the front of the camera. Unfortunately, there is nothing of the sort to be found.

The handling is less of an issue with the small lenses such as the 10-30mm or 10mm kit lenses. However, when using the 30-110mm telephoto lens, the extra weight really makes one-handed shooting a bit of an unstable procedure. In general the J1 doesn't handle poorly, it's just that despite its design's clear point-and-shoot origins, a camera as good (and expensive) as this should offer secure handling commensurate with a higher end Nikon camera.

Handling aside, the controls on the J1 are actually very responsive and offer a great amount of tactile feel. It certainly doesn't compare to an entry-level DSLR, but we can say the J1's buttons are as good as anything we've used on other mirrorless models. The only gripe we have is the use of a two-way level (doubling as the zoom in/out lever in playback) for controlling aperture and shutter speed in the respective priority modes. There is a rear control wheel, but it generally is restricted to navigation, making quick swings in either aperture or shutter speed a more difficult proposition.

The one thing that is noticeably lacking from the J1's control scheme versus other compact mirrorless system cameras is customization. There is a context-sensitive "F" button that occasionally changes function, and the "OK" button on the rear control pad often accesses mode-specific functions such as manual focus, but there's nothing really programmable on the J1. This isn't a deal-breaker, but it's another sign that the J1 is aimed squarely at those stepping up from point-and-shoots, eschewing the trappings of enthusiast cameras that have so far defined the mirrorless system market.

The J1 does not feature a viewfinder, forcing users to rely on just the rear display. As a camera designed with entry-level customers in mind, this isn't totally surprising, as the camera is designed to be as familiar to point-and-shoot users as possible. The rear 3-inch TFT-LCD has a display resolution of 460k dots, and it's a very attractive screen, right on par with the Sony NEX-5 and just behind the Olympus E-P3's OLED screen for quality. It's easily accurate enough to make fine focus judgements on, and it was quite visible in daylight on an overcast day. In direct sunlight it's plagued by the typical LCD issues, going nearly black.

In both high and low shake testing, we found the J1's vibration reduction image stabilization technology worked quite well, able to produce approximately a 13% improvement in the number of sharp images across a range of shutter speeds. The improvement was most dramatic at slower shutter speeds (under 1/250 of a second), which is typical for successful stabilization systems. We recommend turning stabilization off at higher shutter speeds, as it tends to overcorrect for shake when shooting continuous shots, resulting in fewer sharp images.

The J1 offers only a few separate shooting modes, as the camera does not wow with a laundry list of special effects and modes. The mode dial on the J1 looks like it was a rushed exam during finals week, with only four modes present on a dial that could've fit twice that number. The four on the dial include still image, movie, "smart photo selector," and "motion snapshot."

The hybrid phase/contrast autofocus on the J1 and V1 is one of the hallmark features called out by Nikon when the camera was announced. The focus is very fast, able to lock onto a desired subject right away. We didn't notice much of a difference using the J1 compared to even the Olympus E-P3, though the J1 did perhaps hunt a little more in average lighting conditions. One area the J1 trounced the E-P3 was in low light, however, as the AF illuminator on the J1, while green and a bit distracting, was very effective in producing an accurately focused picture in low light.

While there isn't much in the way of peaking that we were able to tell, the J1 does provide a digital zoom to assist in manual focusing. This is good, because if the current crop of lenses is any indication, there won't be many lenses with a manual focus option. Of the three lenses we were provided, none offered manual focus by hand, requiring you to use the camera's zoom in/out lever to adjust focus manually. It's a functional solution, but the tactile control of manually adjusting focus with the lens is missed.

The J1 is more limited in its picture quality and size options than Nikon's DSLR lineup. There are three quality options (fine, normal, and basic), but just three resolution options. The big surprise is the lack of alternatives for aspect ratio. All photos are taken with a 3:2 aspect ratio.

While Nikon hasn't traditionally been a speed-obsessed company when it came to their compact cameras, the J1 offers a serious dose for the velocity-starved. The J1 utilizes an electronic shutter that is capable of firing at a rate of 5, 10, 30, and even 60 frames per second, at full resolution. The only hitch is that the camera can not continuously autofocus faster than 5 frames per second. The J1 also includes an interval timer option in the menu, with options for taking up to 999 shots at an interval of up to 24 hours between shots.

The J1 offers single shot, continuous, and electronic hi-speed drive modes, all available through the menu. there's no dedicated drive/burst mode button, though the "F" button next to the zoom in/out control level often allows direct access to this when shooting stills. The continuous mode fires at the aforementioned 5.21fps. Shooting faster requires specifically switching to the electronic hi-speed burst, though this will eliminate many menu options such as focus modes and interval shooting.

We found that the J1 was of its word, though we had trouble getting it to fire at faster than 40 frames per second, even when it was set to fire at 60fps. When in continuous autofocus though, we found that Nikon actually underestimated their 5fps claim, as we were able to squeeze 5.21fps out of the J1 in successive attempts.

Setting the self-timer on the J1 is very easy, as it has a dedicated self-timer button on the four-way control pad, with options for 2, 5, and 10-second delays. There's also a quick-release remote and a remote control delay option. The interval shooting option can only be selected through the menu and isn't available via this button.

The hybrid phase/contrast autofocus on the J1 and V1 is one of the hallmark features called out by Nikon when the camera was announced. The focus is very fast, able to lock onto a desired subject right away. We didn't notice much of a difference using the J1 compared to even the Olympus E-P3, though the J1 did perhaps hunt a little more in average lighting conditions. One area the J1 trounced the E-P3 was in low light, however, as the AF illuminator on the J1, while green and a bit distracting, was very effective in producing an accurately focused picture in low light.

While there isn't much in the way of peaking that we were able to tell, the J1 does provide a digital zoom to assist in manual focusing. This is good, because if the current crop of lenses is any indication, there won't be many lenses with a manual focus option. Of the three lenses we were provided, none offered manual focus by hand, requiring you to use the camera's zoom in/out lever to adjust focus manually. It's a functional solution, but the tactile control of manually adjusting focus with the lens is missed.

The Nikon J1 compresses video using the MPEG-4 AVC codec, but the camera's compression system is not AVCHD compliant like most consumer camcorders. This matters little, however, as the clips produced by the J1 can easily be opened on a computer or viewed on an HDTV via an HDMI cable connected to the camera. The main difference is the clips don't have to be imported using special software like AVCHD clips must be in order to play them on a computer (or bring them into an editing program).

The camera has three HD record modes: two are Full HD (1920 x 1080 resolution) and one is a 720p mode (1280 x 720 resolution). With the Full HD modes you have the choice of 60i or 30p frame rates, while the 720p mode shoots with a 60p frame rate. In addition to these HD modes, the camera also has two slow motion record modes that shoot at very high frame rates. The quality of these slow motion videos is not good, however, so they aren't something we'd recommend using if you care about recording high-quality videos. Find out how the performed in our video image quality test./r:link_to_content

For a compact camera, the Nikon J1 has a good set of manual controls in video mode. Making things even more impressive, the J1 also had a very good autofocus in video mode—something we've yet to see on a Nikon camera with video. Other controls, like auto and manual exposure, were less impressive.

Auto Controls

In video mode, you can set the J1 to what is essentially a dedicated auto mode if you don't want to bother with any manual controls. This mode is called "scene auto selector" and it is found in the exposure mode menu in video mode. In this mode, most video controls are set to auto, but you can still change the recording resolution, sound options, vibration reduction, and a few other settings. Basically, you don't have to worry about exposure adjustment with aperture, shutter speed, or gain (or white balance). The mode is decent, but the camera is better suited if used with at least a few of its controls manually adjusted.

Autofocus works impeccably well in video mode, and the Nikon J1 is Nikon's first camera with a continual autofocus mode. The mode is silent and speedy, and it is nearly as good as the autofocus you'd see on a consumer camcorder. Auto exposure was not as great, and we saw some judder whenever we pointed the camera at different light levels.

Focus

As we said, the continual autofocus on the J1 is great, but if you don't like that style of focus, the camera gives you other options. You can use a single autofocus system that only focuses when you press down on the shutter button, or you can use manual focus. The single AF system works well and is silent just like the continual AF mode—it also works during recording (when you press the shutter button down halfway).

Strangely, the worst focus system on the J1 is the camera's manual focus. You'll notice the lens has no lens ring, which is rare for an interchangeable lens camera. This means all focusing is done using a set of buttons on the back of the camera. This system is terrible for video recording, as it is both noisy and difficult to perform a smooth focus transition (something that is very easy to do with a lens ring).

Exposure Controls

The J1 offers aperture, shutter speed, and gain (ISO) control in video mode. You can adjust aperture and shutter speed either in their individual priority modes, or in a full manual mode (where both can be adjusted independently). We're happy to see this kind of control offered on a compact camera, especially since many cameras like the J1 offer no manual aperture or shutter speed control in video mode. Our only gripe is that the camera offers no manual shutter speed options below 1/60 of a second in video mode. On the bright side, both aperture and shutter speed can be set during recording.

Basic exposure can also be set in video mode, just not when the camera is in full manual mode. The basic exposure is also strange in that you must adjust the setting and then press the "ok" button to see the exposure changes take effect. This means you can't slowly adjust the exposure during recording to create a dimming or brightening effect.

ISO can be set to one of three auto modes with ranges from ISO 100 to ISO 3200, ISO 100 to ISO 800, or ISO 100 to ISO 400. There are also individual ISO options from ISO 100 to ISO 3200, as well as a high ISO setting (Hi 1). Unlike the other exposure controls, ISO cannot be set during recording.

Other Controls

The J1 has access to white balance presets and an easy-to-use manual white balance option in video mode. It does lack a specific Kelvin selection option, however. The picture controls available in the J1's regular shooting mode are also found in video mode, as is a vibration reduction setting (normal and active). The J1 has a fader option in video mode as well (for adding fades to the beginning or end of your clips).

The most unique video controls on the J1 are the camera's two slow motion modes. Both record extremely low-quality video, but the slow motion effect created is impressive nonetheless. The first mode shoots at 400fps and stretches a roughly five-second clip into a slow motion clip of just over a minute. The second mode shoots at an even higher frame rate, 1200fps, and stretches a five-second clip into a slow-mo clip of three minutes, 20 seconds. Both modes are limited to the five-second recording length, and, remember, both capture very low-quality video.

The J1 has a built-in stereo mic, which you can see if you look closely near the top of the lens. The mic is made up of two small rectangles on either side of the lens (one rectangle for each recording channel). While the J1 does not have full-fledged audio level adjustment, it does have the ability to choose from one of three microphone sensitivities (or auto). You can also turn the mic off completely if you don't want to record audio. The camera has no external mic or headphone jack, but the built-in mic does have a wind noise reduction feature should you be inclined to use the J1 in a windy environment.

The Nikon J1 represents the first step for the company into the rapidly growing compact interchangeable lens camera world. While most of these cameras are designed to fit DSLR quality into a compact size, Nikon seems to be aiming at that goal from the opposite direction.

Instead of taking a chisel to your typical entry-level DSLR, the J1 and V1 cameras from Nikon seem to be designed as point-and-shoot cameras with upgrades. Whatever the design approach, the J1 is stuck competing with models from Olympus, Sony, Panasonic, and Samsung—but at a significant disadvantage.

That disadvantage is the J1’s image sensor, which is smaller than the sensors used by Micro Four Thirds cameras and Sony and Samsung mirrorless cameras. As a result, the Nikon J1 falls short in most areas of image quality when compared to other compact system cameras—let alone DSLRs. Image quality is certainly better than what you'll find on a point-and-shoot camera, but with so much competition in system cameras, that just isn't good enough.

If you're stepping up from a point-and-shoot to take on your first camera with interchangeable lenses, the J1 has a lot to offer: plenty of manual controls, fast shot-to-shot time, no shutter lag, less image noise in low light, and good overall image quality. Nikon even throws in some minor improvements over the mirrorless competition: incredibly fast autofocus, a clean and clear menu system, and some interesting (if gimmicky) features like slow motion video.

If the camera were released three years ago, that might be enough to hail the J1 as the conquering hero Nikon fans have all been waiting for. Instead, it wades into an already crowded pool with a feature set and image performance that is bested in most areas by other cameras already on the market. The J1 isn't a bad choice if you're not troubled by price and you simply want a reasonably stylish and compact camera with good video and great shot-to-shot speed. For all-around value in this part of the market, however, Nikon’s first effort is a few years behind the times.
Nikon hasn't traditionally been known as a speed-crazy camera brand, but the J1 is one of the most responsive cameras we've tested recently. It autofocuses as fast (if not faster) than the Olympus E-P3, and offers still shooting up to 60fps, and 5.21fps with continuous autofocus. Further, the camera even has a functional 1200fps video mode. Unfortunately, the J1 only offers mediocre performance otherwise, with decent color accuracy and noise results, but underwhelming sharpness and dynamic range.
Other than some handling issues, and some problems with low light sensitivity, the Nikon J1 handled our battery of video tests with relative ease. What we liked most was the J1's excellent set of manual controls in video mode, as well as the camera's strong autofocus system. Unfortunately, Nikon dropped the ball with the J1's odd manual focus setting, and we weren't crazy about the camera's handling or design for shooting video, but we were impressed with this effort from Nikon overall. This is a great camera if you want to shoot some quick and easy HD video, or if you like playing around with manual controls in video mode as well.
You'll have to give Nikon time to develop this lens system, but the camera itself is well-designed. We found the plastic body of the J1 to be quite well-balanced, with decent heft for what it's made out of. The lens mount on the body is metal, as are the mounts on the lenses themselves (only the 10mm f/2.8 lens had a metal body otherwise), which should aid durability. The camera isn't designed with enthusiasts in mind, as there's no hot shoe option for external flashes or electronic viewfinders. The rear 3-inch LCD screen is quite clear, though, and is perfectly suitable for making fine focus adjustments, though it darkens in direct sunlight.
The main issue we have with the J1 is the lack of grip on the body of the camera itself. The plastic shell on the front of the camera offers nothing to hold onto, with just a small patch of rubber for the thumb on the back. The entire shooting experience then becomes relatively unstable, especially when changing lenses on the fly. All in all the camera is difficult to hold onto with even the relatively small telephoto lens attached, meaning hooking up anything larger will be a real chore if and when Nikon releases an adapter for their full-size DSLR lenses.
We do reserve some praise for Nikon's menu design on the J1, which is clean, functional, and very easy to learn. Navigation is quick and concise, with few wasted keystrokes or movements. We would've greatly preferred if the mode dial were fully fleshed out (aperture and shutter priority modes are missing), but overall it shouldn't overshadow what is really one of the better menus Nikon has designed in recent memory. That the menus on many other compact system cameras are often a jumbled, byzantine mess—we're looking at you, Olympus E-PL2—certainly helps the J1's cause here.

Meet the tester

TJ Donegan

TJ Donegan

Executive Editor

@TJDonegan

TJ is the Executive Editor of Reviewed.com. He is a Massachusetts native and has covered electronics, cameras, TVs, smartphones, parenting, and more for Reviewed. He is from the self-styled "Cranberry Capitol of the World," which is, in fact, a real thing.

See all of TJ Donegan's reviews

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