The second generation of the Nikon 1 brings a higher-resolution screen and a new creative mode. Mat Gallagher finds out what the changes mean for the J2. Read the Nikon 1 J2 review...
Nikon 1 J2 at a glance:
- 10.1-million-pixel CMOS sensor
- Expeed 3 processor
- ISO 100-3200 (6400 Hi-1)
- 3in, 921,000-dot LCD monitor
- Hybrid AF system
- 10fps continuous shooting
- Street price £499 with 10-30mm lens
Nikon 1 J2 reivew – Introduction:
It has been a year since Nikon made the leap into the compact system camera market with the Nikon 1-series J1 and V1 cameras, each with an extremely powerful new Expeed 3 processor but a surprisingly small 10.1-million-pixel sensor. The 1in (13.2×8.8mm) sensor, being roughly halfway between a micro four thirds and 1/1.7in compact sensor, allowed the cameras to be much smaller than most other CSC models, while the modest pixel count meant data could be processed at speed and therefore offered some impressive specs.
The Nikon 1 cameras were aimed at the casual snapper rather than the experienced creative shooter, and the new J2 is an upgrade of the J1. Like its predecessor, the Nikon 1 J2 has a built-in flash but lacks an electronic viewfinder, and apart from a choice of a few new colours it appears that little has changed. However, closer inspection reveals a new Creative mode, an improved screen and extended ISO. These additions should appease the more creative user, but with such a wide range of models now on the market it has some stiff competition.
The Nikon 1 J2 uses the same sensor and processor as the previous models. The sensor is the same physical size as that used in the new Sony Cyber-shot DSC-RX100, yet rather than a 20.2-million-pixel resolution the J2 has just 10.1 million pixels. This produces a 32.78×21.95cm image at 300ppi, or an A3 print at 220dpi. Focal magnification is 2.7x on a standard 35mm sensor, which means some fairly small focal lengths are needed to provide standard fields of view.
The Expeed 3 processor is also used in the D4 professional DSLR and the new D800, and claims to be able to process up to 600 million pixels per second. This allows the 10.1-million-pixel J2 to shoot at 60 frames per second. The sensor also contains a number of pixels that are used for phase-detection autofocus. This works in collaboration with the contrast-detection system to help speed up the focusing time.
Metering is also taken from the imaging sensor and offers a choice of matrix, centreweighted and spot options. Exposure compensation is offered with a conservative ±3EV range, and while there are no bracketing options for either exposure or white balance, there is D-Lighting control and Smart Photo Selector mode.
The shooting-mode dial now contains five options, which in addition to an auto and movie mode include Motion Snapshot, Smart Photo Selector and Creative mode. When taking a shot in Motion Snapshot, the camera also takes a preceding 2sec video clip saved in slow motion as an MOV and accompanied by a choice of music. The movie file is in 1080p HD, while the still image is a 16:9, 3840×2160-pixel JPEG (roughly 8 million pixels). This mode still allows you to still control metering and ISO, and choose an exposure mode from auto, manual, program, shutter or aperture priority. The Smart Photo Selector uses the camera’s high-speed shooting abilities to take 20 shots in a fraction of a second. From these, the camera analyses and picks the best five for you to choose from.
While the Creative mode is the new addition, all the functions were present on the J1 but hidden in other menu options. This mode provides standard shooting with PASM exposure options, along with a choice of seven scene modes. Images can be saved as JPEGs and/or in 12-bit NEF raw format in all but the Motion Snapshot mode. The addition of the Creative mode is a step forward for creative users, and once set to the preferred exposure mode it will use this the next time Creative mode is chosen – even if the battery is removed from the camera.
The J2, like the J1, features only an electronic shutter, so very fast shutter speeds of up to 1/16,000sec are possible. This also enables the camera to shoot at up to 60fps. When in its fastest burst mode, the camera will take a maximum of 12 images in either JPEG, raw or raw+JPEG. When the burst rate is reduced to the standard continuous setting (5fps), the camera will shoot up to 19 JPEG or 28 raw+JPEG images.
One advantage the J2 has over the V1 is the inclusion of a built-in flash. This pop-up unit extends, periscope-like, high above the camera and has a guide number of 5m @ ISO 100. However, the flash only syncs at speeds below 1/60sec so it isn’t suited for fill-in use in bright conditions.
The J2 is available as a single-lens kit with the 10-30mm (27-81mm equivalent), or a twin-lens kit that also includes the 30-110mm (81mm-297mm equivalent).
Build and handling
Apart from the new creative setting on the dial, the Nikon 1 J2 looks and feels identical to the J1, with only the name badge and a slight redesign of the multifunction dial to distinguish it. However, it comes in a number of new bright colours, including a bright orange, a more vibrant pink and a darker red.
While most users are likely to choose the more traditional colours, I did find the orange appealing and it certainly got the camera noticed when I was out testing it. What is nice with these coloured finishes is that they extend to the lens, with both 10-30mm and 30-110mm lenses and lens caps colour-matched to the body.
Compared to other compact system cameras, the J2 is noticeably smaller, especially when it comes to the lenses. The build feels weighty thanks to its aluminium construction and it sits nicely in the hand, despite offering little in the way of grip.
Although the Creative mode on the dial is an improvement, it seems a shame the manual modes weren’t included directly. When shooting in the priority modes, the top zoom rocker takes control of the adjustment rather than the rear wheel, which would be the more obvious choice. Having options to customise the buttons in the menu would solve this.
The F button works as a form of quick menu, allowing access to the theme for the music in Motion Snapshot and the scene mode in Creative mode, and the choice between regular and slow motion in movie mode. Everything else requires the main menu, which forms long scrolling lists rather than a colourful icon-based menu.
Noise, resolution and sensitivity
The relatively small size and low resolution of the Nikon 1 sensor has been a fly in the ointment for many more discerning users.
For fine detail, the sensor has been unable to match the results of the micro four thirds sensors used by Panasonic and Olympus, let alone those APS-C units used in Sony and Samsung CSCs. As there appears to be no change in the sensor and processor unit from the J1, it is unsurprising that the results of the J2 are similar.
At its base ISO 100, the J2 delivers a score of 20 on our resolution chart in its JPEG and raw formats. This falls to just 18 by ISO 400 and 16 in its extended Hi-1 setting, equivalent to ISO 6400.
Viewed at 200% or larger, individual pixels can be seen rather than a more typical blurring effect that occurs on many compact cameras.
At smaller sizes or on screen, however, the resolution is more than sufficient and noise is well controlled with small amounts of luminance noise at ISO 800, and remaining relatively clean even at ISO 6400.
These images show 72ppi (100% on a computer screen) sections of images of a resolution chart, captured using the Nikkor 10-30mm f/3.5-5.6 lens. 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.
Despite the Nikon 1 J2’s modest pixel count, the pixel pitch still remains relatively low due to the sensor size when compared to a more resolute micro four thirds or APS-C model. This puts it at a disadvantage when it comes to dynamic range, but although its score of 11EV doesn’t match the results from Nikon’s DSLR models, it is greater than many other CSCs with larger sensors, including the latest micro four thirds models. Combined with the active D-Lighting controls the J2 has on board, this means that it is possible to maintain a great range of tones in more contrasty images.
Image: The D-Lighting system appears to show a greater dynamic range by darkening the exposure slightly and lightening the shadow areas of the image
White balance and colour
The Nikon 1 J2 follows its predecessors by offering very natural colours in a bright and punchy image that is ready for print. The included colour modes in the custom picture control menu also provide settings for neutral, vivid, monochrome, portrait and landscape shooting, and each can be fine-tuned with either a quick-adjust slider, or individual sharpening, contrast, brightness, saturation and hue sliders. The custom colour set-up can even be saved to an SD card for use on other Nikon 1 cameras or loaded back onto the camera.
White balance control is available in the Creative and Motion Snapshot modes, but not auto or Smart Photo Selector, although it is still possible to shoot raw in these settings so control is essentially available afterwards. The auto setting is effective in most environments and retains neutral results. An additional six presets have fine adjustment, while a manual setting allows a reading to be taken for complete control.
Image: The outdoor portrait shows very natural skin tones and a good level of sharpness in the detail view
The matrix metering system of the Nikon 1 J2 performs well in most scenes, needing little exposure compensation. While I automatically applied a negative compensation of -0.3EV or -0.6EV in contrasty scenes, this was rarely necessary, especially with D-Lighting in use. The centreweighted and spot options are handy to have, though, and come in useful for particularly backlit scenes.
Using a combination of phase-detection pixels and contrast detection means the Nikon 1 J2 should benefit from both speed and accuracy. In terms of speed, it compares well with other CSCs. However, the benefit of the phase detection seems to be small. The system still appears to employ the same forward and back process that is typical of contrast systems, which can take a couple of seconds to lock on, and in low light the AF can struggle to find focus. Once locked on, though, results are very accurate. The control of the AF point in manual point selection is easy using the multi-controller, while the face detection and tracking options work well.
LCD, viewfinder and video
The rear LCD monitor is one of the few major upgrades in the Nikon 1 J2. The 921,000-dot screen appears sharper than the J1’s 460,000-dot version. In bright sunlight, the screen is still usable for composition and review. The only omission appears to be the ability to show the histogram prior to shooting for exposure adjustment, but this can be viewed in playback.
The lack of a viewfinder isn’t a problem, as the camera is small enough to hold away from your body for more interesting angles. A flip/angle mounting for waist or low-level shooting would be handy, however.
The J2 features 1080p full HD video capture with a choice of auto and manual-exposure modes, ISO control and stereo audio from the built-in microphones. In addition to HD, it can shoot in slow motion at 400fps (640x240p) or 1,200fps (320x120p). It is a shame there isn’t a slow-motion HD option, even for short clips, as an extension of the Motion Snapshot mode.
The first generation of cameras will always need some degree of tweaking before they really deliver what the user wants. While the J2 is a nice camera and offers some improvements over the J1, it doesn’t feel like it has gone far enough to progress the Nikon 1 series. The J1 is, of course, the entry-level model and aimed more at the general consumer than the creative amateur. Hopefully, when the V1 is replaced, it will offer more. However, the J2’s introduction means that the price of the J1 has dropped to under £300, making it an appealing option for those happy to settle for the lower-resolution screen.