Nikon 1 J1 review at a glance:

  • 10.1-million-pixel CMOS sensor
  • ISO 100-6400
  • 3in, 460,000-dot LCD
  • Phase and contrast-detection AF
  • Electronic shutter
  • Max frame rate 60fps at full resolution
  • Full HD movie
  • Street price £450 with 10-30mm lens

Nikon 1 J1 review – Introduction

The new Nikon 1 system comprises two models in the form of the V1, which we reviewed in AP 12 November 2011, and the entry-level J1. While the Nikon 1 J1 has many of the same features as the V1, it has been slimmed down slightly by removing the accessory port and the electronic viewfinder.

Subsequently, it demands a lesser price – currently by around £270. This brings the J1 into competition with the likes of the Sony NEX-C3, Panasonic Lumix DMC-GF3 and Olympus E-PL3.

However, with a smaller 1inch sensor that has less resolving power, the J1 and V1 have to rely on additional features and the benefits of smaller lenses to compete with these models.

While the V1 doesn’t seem to have fully satisfied the demands of many advanced Nikon users – because what they really wanted was something closer to Sony’s new NEX-7 – as a budget model, the J1 can be expected to cater for simpler control and may be more appealing.


Like the V1, the J1 uses a 10.1-million-pixel CMOS sensor, which is 13.2×8.8mm in size or 116mm2 in area, making it roughly half the size of a four thirds sensor and around one-third the size of an APS-C unit. A 3872×2592-pixel file produces a 12.9×6.4in print at 300ppi or an A3 print at a more than acceptable 220ppi.

The J1 may struggle with anything above this resolution, but those demanding regular A2+ prints are not this camera’s target audience. Images can be saved in Nikon’s NEF 12-bit compressed raw format in addition to, and instead of, JPEG files. The processor is the new Expeed 3 model, which Nikon claims currently outperforms even professional DSLR processors by being able to process 600 million pixels a second or 60 10-million-pixel images a second (60fps).

The processor also allows an ISO range of 100-3200, with an expanded Hi setting equivalent to ISO 6400. Video capture is available in full 1080p HD at 30fps or 60fps interlaced using MPEG-4 format and stereo sound from the dual microphones built into the body.

The J1 features a built-in flash unit with a low guide number of 5m @ 1SO 100. This is one advantage the J1 has over the V1, as the V1 doesn’t come with a flashgun. However, the V1 does feature an accessory port, allowing the SB-N5 Speedlight flashgun (GN 8.5m @ ISO 100) to be attached, plus other accessories, such as a GPS unit, microphone and hotshoe adapter for a wider range of options.

As the J1 lacks the V1’s electronic viewfinder, the rear screen has to be used for composition, although this isn’t a huge problem for such a small camera. The shutter of the J1 is purely electronic, as opposed to the electronic and mechanical offerings of the V1. The lack of mechanical shutter reduces the maximum flash sync to 1/60sec, but it is difficult to determine any other real difference.

The J1 features a smaller battery than the V1, which is rated as 1,200mAh as opposed to the V1’s 1,900mAh. This reduces the shot life of the camera from a potential 400 on the V1 to a rather limited 230 on the J1. With heavy use of the multi-shot functions, the J1’s shot life can be reduced even further, so a spare battery is recommended for a day’s shooting.

The new Nikon 1 lens mount has a much smaller diameter than the F mount, and with a focal magnification of 2.7x much shorter focal lengths have to be used to achieve a standard 35mm equivalent field of view. The diagonal of the new sensor is a mere 15.86mm compared to the 42-43mm of a full-frame sensor. This results in some very compact lenses, including a 10mm f/2.8 pancake (27mm equivalent), 10-30mm f/3.5-5.6 (27-81mm equivalent) and 30-110mm f/3.8-5.6 (81-297mm equivalent.

Nikon’s vibration reduction remains in the lens for optical stabilisation on all but the 10mm pancake, although it is controlled from the camera’s menu with a choice of normal, active or off. A glass dust shield prevents particles settling on the sensor.

As the J1 is a mirrorless design, both the metering and focusing are obtained from the image sensor. The TTL metering system features matrix, centreweighted and spot options with ±3EV exposure compensation in 1⁄3EV steps. The focusing system is unique in that it employs both contrast-detection and phase-detection systems from the sensor.

Having the phase-detection array built into the image sensor avoids the need for a secondary sensor, as used in DSLRs and non-TTL versions on some compact cameras. The J1’s system should allow a faster operation than those that are purely contrast-based. There isn’t the option to swap between phase-detection and contrast systems, as the camera bases the decision on the scene and lighting conditions.

However, the full area of the screen can be selected for single focus (a total of 135 points). Auto area selection, with 41-points, and subject-tracking modes are also available.

Although the J1 features manual, aperture and shutter-priority settings, its mode dial has just three image settings, comprising a standard still image, smart photo selector and motion snapshot, plus a video mode. Still image allows selection of program, shutter, aperture and manual modes from the menu, along with most additional shooting controls.

The smart photo selector works in auto exposure, although it still allows a choice of raw and JPEG formats. With a single shutter press the camera takes 20 images at full resolution and then saves the five that it considers to be the best, based on exposure, sharpness and face detection.

This works well, although it soon fills a memory card. Motion snapshot shoots in 16:9 format (3840×2160) and is JPEG only, offering a full choice of ISO, white balance, metering and exposure mode, including an advanced auto mode called scene auto selector.

However, instead of simply taking a still image, the camera also records a short slow-motion video clip that is combined with the image and precedes it on playback with the addition of a choice of a soothing sound clip. This is a novel feature on the rear of the camera, but as we stated in the V1 review, it has little practical application once downloaded.

A comparison of the Nikon 1 J1 and V1 models


Build and Handling

The J1 is a very good-looking camera, perhaps even more so than the V1, and is noticeably smaller. Its minimalist design and rounded corners feel modern and very much of the Apple Mac generation.

The build is solid and weighty for its size, despite aluminium alloy being used rather than magnesium alloy as in the V1. Although the buttons are not huge, the rear controls are well spaced for easy operation and the almost flush mounting of the top controls are very responsive, including a clear two-stage press on the shutter button.

I felt the design of the controls meant that my fingers fell naturally towards shooting modes and auto operation, with manual controls very much tucked away in the background. An F button provides burst speed, musical theme and slow motion video selection, but unfortunately cannot be customised for something more useful such as ISO, metering or white balance.

As in the V1, the rotating dial feels as though it should be the main control for aperture or shutter, but this only operates the aperture in full manual shooting, with the smaller zoom rocker providing the primary control.

The camera feels very comfortable and in proportion to its lenses, and even with the 30-110mm zoom fitted it still feels compact. The 10-30mm, being a collapsible zoom, makes the camera very pocket friendly, while the 10mm pancake is just a fraction smaller and has the benefit of a larger f/2.8 aperture.


White Balance and Colour

Skin tones are natural while the AWB does a good job at providing neutral tones

Colour has been sensibly managed in the J1 to deliver bright, punchy results without veering towards an overly saturated image. The picture modes include a powerful vivid mode and a neutral mode for flattering tones, alongside monochrome, portrait and landscape options.

All these can be fine-tuned for sharpness, contrast, brightness, saturation and hue to meet specific colour needs, while the custom settings can be loaded or saved to a card for use on Nikon 1 cameras.

White balance is well catered for, with six presets that are all adjustable, and a custom reading option, although the auto white balance gives a neutral result in most scenes.



Metering performs well and only occasionally requires a negative compensation

Despite having both centreweighted and spot options, the J1’s matrix TTL metering system is more than capable of handling most situations. As the metering takes the focus point into account for its exposure, using the single-point AF option to select your point of focus can lead to a more suitable exposure.

When faced with a wider contrast range than the sensor is able to contain, the camera can lose highlights, although not to any extreme degree, and this can easily be rectified with a -0.3 or -0.7EV exposure compensation.



The inclusion of phase detection on the sensor is an exciting prospect for mirrorless cameras, as contrast-detection systems have been unable to match phase detection on DSLRs, especially in low light.

The camera makes the choice between phase and contrast systems, and under most lighting conditions it does a very good job, providing seemingly instant focusing.

In low contrast and low light, however, the AF seems to struggle, which questions just how much the phase detection is bringing to the system. The AF tracking option and continuous focusing perform well and proved handy for capturing moving subjects.


Noise, Resolution and Sensitivity

Even at high ISO, the J1 produces a relatively noise-free image

With the same internal construction as the V1, the J1 produces an identical noise and resolution performance. Although some people may be put off by the J1’s relatively low resolution, both detail and noise are well controlled.

It is only when images are examined at much larger sizes that individual pixels are noticeable, because, as with the V1, there is no blurring applied to disguise the pixelation.

Our resolution chart shows a score of 20 at ISO 100, with very little detail lost as the sensitivity increases, retaining a score of 16 at the ISO 6400 equivalent Hi setting. When you compare this to other compact system cameras, though, the resolved detail is very low.

The pixel density is around 2.1 million pixels per inch compared to nearly 6 million pixels per inch on the 10.1-million-pixel, 1/1.7in sensor of the Coolpix P7100. However, the J1’s sensor is still heavily populated even when compared to four thirds sensor models, which for a 16-million-pixel version equates to around 1.8 million pixels per inch.

Noise levels are well controlled with luminance noise only becoming visible above ISO 800 and colour noise at ISO 3200 and 6400. Using the in-camera High ISO noise reduction eradicates colour noise while keeping luminance noise to a manageable level, making all sensitivity settings very usable.

These images show 72ppi (100% on a computer screen) sections of images of a resolution chart, captured using a 30-110mm lens at an equivalent of 90mm. We show the section of the resolution chart where the camera starts to fail to reproduce the lines separately. The higher the number visible in these images, the better the camera’s detail resolution at the specified sensitivity setting.


Dynamic range

DxO Labs ( measured both the J1 and V1’s dynamic range as 11.1EV. Although this is not on a par with Nikon’s recent DSLRs, it is beyond that of most recent compact system cameras, including the Panasonic Lumix DMC-G3 and Olympus E-PL3.

From our images we were able to pull a decent amount of detail from both the shadows and the highlights, even from the JPEG files and by using the built-in highlights and shadows control that can be achieved in-camera, too.


Viewfinder, LCD, Live View and Video

With no viewfinder and no option to attach one, the rear LCD screen plays a pivotal role in composition, as well as in the menu and reviewing functions.

Despite this, the 3in screen is of a lower resolution than that fitted to the V1, offering just 460,000 dots, as opposed to the 921,000 dots of the V1.

When placed next to each other, the V1’s screen is noticeably sharper, but in isolation the J1’s screen still looks impressive, in quality, colour and viewing angle.


Our Verdict

The Nikon 1 system feels very different to the other compact system cameras, and although the J1 and V1 are undoubtedly sophisticated cameras that will have their place in the market, neither model really seems to meet the demands of the advanced photographer.

While the J1, as the entry-level version, can be forgiven for its lack of direct access to functions such as exposure modes, it could still be made more adaptable by including the regular PASM settings on the mode dial and providing a custom button for other functions.

While the differences in features between the J1 and V1 appear subtle, they do add up and the V1 is clearly the better camera. The battery life is perhaps the J1’s biggest disappointment, but, for the small body and the rather large price saving I would choose the J1 over the V1.