Nikon’s first new camera system for over 50 years promises speed, precision and portability. Nikon 1 is certainly pleasing to the eye and the specs look impressive on paper, so let’s see if the system offers a genuine alternative.
With the race for megapixels effectively over, manufacturers are increasingly looking at ways of making cameras smaller and lighter but with all the features any discerning photographer expects. Nikon is the latest in a growing list of manufacturers who have taken the plunge into the CSC market with the launch of the Nikon 1 system. This is a brand new camera system, and Nikon's first new lens mount in over 50 years.
The two models currently making up the Nikon 1 system are the J1 and V1. These two cameras share much of the same technology and many features, but the higher spec V1 has a number of more advanced functions. The new CX format CMOS sensor found in both cameras measures just 13.2x8.8mm, which is 69% smaller than the Nikon DX format sensor – that’s even smaller than a micro SD card! This tiny sensor packs in a respectable 10.1MP and provides a crop factor of 2.7x, so a 30-110mm zoom boasts a full-frame equivalent focal length of 81-297mm.
The J1 is powered by the new EXPEED 3 image processor, and it’s this that makes the new ‘intelligent’ features of the system possible. These include:
Smart Photo Selector
Begins to record images when the shutter button is depressed halfway and continues after the button has been fully pressed down. The best shot of five, as chosen by the camera, will be displayed on-screen, with four more available for review. The idea here is that you’ll never miss that ‘perfect’ shot ever again.
Simultaneously records a 1-second slow motion movie and a still image. The function is a lot of fun but you have to experiment with it to get the timing of depressing the shutter button just right. There are four music options for playing over the short duration of the video. It’s not going to win music awards but it might raise a smile when it’s played alongside motion snapshots.
Full HD video recording is available, as you’d expect, but it’s also possible to shoot full-resolution photos without interrupting the footage. You can also shoot slow motion movies, with two options available each allowing you to record action for 5 seconds. At a frame rate of 400fps you get 1 min 6 secs of footage at 640x240px. At 1200fps you get 3 mins 20 secs of footage at 320x120px. Image quality is therefore low, very low compared to HD, but the effect is undoubtedly stunning.
With the Electronic (Hi) shutter selected it’s possible to shoot at 10, 30 or 60fps at full resolution. However, with the V1 the image buffer only allows bursts of 30 shots, while the J1 only allows 12. The fps rate is correct but is limited by the size of the buffer. In Electronic (Hi) shutter mode ISO is set automatically, so high ISO noise could be an issue in some situations. Other shooting modes such as shutter- and aperture-priority offer 5fps.
The Nikon J1 is small and lightweight, and at just less £549 with the 10-30mm lens it’s a highly attractive option. With a built-in pop-up flash you’ll never be without an additional light source that neatly slots into the top of the body.
The J1’s fast autofocus system is very impressive. With a staggering 135 points in single-point AF mode and 41 in Auto-area AF almost every part of the frame can be focused. With hybrid AF, the camera automatically switches between Phase-Detection and Contrast Detect AF depending on the type of subject being photographed to ensure the best type is in use to guarantee sharp shots. Subject tracking AF automatically tracks subjects as they move around the frame and is fairly accurate and makes shooting moving subjects a breeze. It takes a couple of presses of the OK button before it activates and tracks a subject.
The diminutive dimensions of the J1 means it fits snugly in the hand. A rubber thumbgrip on the back helps you to keep a firm grip on the camera, but some users might find the front of the J1 a little slippery. The J1 is available in several colours (black, white, grey, pink and red) depending on the kit you choose, with lenses to match. Sadly, the 10mm pancake lens isn't currently available in pink.
The lightweight J1 is small enough to slip in your pocket, making it comfortable to carry all day and almost unnoticeable worn around the neck, under a jacket. This combined with the screen for composing makes the J1 perfect for the discreet street photographer. Another attractive element of the 1 system is the 2.7x crop factor, which means lenses are very small, even long zooms with a full-frame equivalent of 27-297mm.
The Nikon 1 system provides a crop factor of 2.7x, which assists in the ability to keep lenses small but with an impressive reach. A 10mm lens has a full-frame equivalent of 27mm, while a 110mm lens provides a whopping 297mm. The initial lens line-up for the system consists of: the 1 Nikkor VR 10-30mm f/3.5-5.6, a 3x zoom that’s like a versatile kit lens; the 1 Nikkor VR 30-110mm f/3.8 -5.6, which is a small telephoto zoom lens with a respectable focal length; the 1 Nikkor 10mm f/2.8, which is a fast pancake lens that’s nothing short of tiny; and the 1 Nikkor VR 10-100mm f/4.5-5.6 PD-ZOOM, which is designed for shooting movies and boasts a power-drive zoom switch with adjustable speed.
The V1 and J1 are both impressive cameras in their own right, but I’d opt for the V1 every time. I love the Soviet-esque styling of the camera, and the extra features such as mechanical shutter provide additional functionality. The EVF is handy in bright conditions and provides a good quality image to compose with. However, using the J1 provides a very similar experience because at the core of both cameras lies the same technology and base features. The V1 feels better in the hand than the J1, but the J1 is much smaller and a little lighter. Menu-based controls take a little getting used to, but once you know where things are using the menu system is as easy as any other camera. Both cameras could be exactly what the inexperienced photographer has been waiting for, with a number of intelligent features designed to make getting a great shot easier than ever before. The Nikon 1 series won’t replace your DSLR in terms of image quality, but once the price comes down it’ll be attractive as a second more portable camera.
- Street price: £160 (Secondhand price as of July 2016)
- Electronic viewfinder: No
- Dust reduction: Dust shield glass
- Shutter: Electronic
- LCD: 3in 460k dot
- Built-in flash: Yes
- Flash sync: 1/60sec or slower
- Body weight/size (wxhxd): 227g/106x61x29.8mm
- Effective resolution: 10.1MP
- Sensor type: 13.2x8.8mm CMOS
- Crop factor: 2.7x
- Lens mount: Nikon 1
- Exposure modes: PASM, Smart Photo Selector
- Metering modes: Matrix, centre-weighted and spot
- Autofocus: 135 points in single-point AF mode, 41 in Auto-area AF
- ISO: 100-3200
- Shooting speed: 10-60fps
- Card type: SD, SDHC, SDXC
- Video: Full HD 16:9, slow motion 8:3, Motion Snapshot 16:9
- Built-in stabilisation: No
- Visit: www.nikon.co.uk
This review was first published in the January 2012 issue of Practical Photography - download back issues here.