The entry-level J1 compact system camera has fewer features than its V1 sibling, but is around £270 cheaper. We find out whether the J1 is, pound for pound, the better camera
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