camcorders

Nikon J1 Digital Camera Review

The J1 is Nikon's first foray into the world of mirrorless interchangeable lens cameras.

October 04, 2011
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Introduction

The J1 is Nikon's first foray into the world of mirrorless interchangeable lens cameras. This means its Nikon's first compact camera that can record video and use a variety of different lenses—something that is sure to excite budding videographers. The camera did a decent job in our video tests, but what we liked most were its excellent set of manual controls in video mode.

Color & Noise

In our video testing, the Nikon J1 captured brilliant colors with excellent accuracy. The camcorder earned a color error of 3.02, and we consider anything around 3.0 to be very good (even for DSLRs). The saturation level was 105.9% in our test, which is also a very good score—and quite a bit higher than the competition from Panasonic and Samsung. This color accuracy score from Nikon is the best we’ve seen in a while from an interchangeable lens camera, be it a mirrorless model or true DSLR. See our full color performance review, including color swatches and crops.

DSLR and mirrorless system cameras that record video generally do better than traditional camcorders in our noise tests. The Nikon J1 was no exception, but its noise score wasn’t quite in the same upper echelon as the competition. The J1 averaged 0.55% noise in our test, and we prefer to see this number below 0.5% to consider it a great performance. It just so happens that the three models we compared the J1 to, all had noise levels under 0.5%. See our full noise performance review, including crops and comparative analysis.

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Motion & Sharpness

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. See our full motion performance review, including video clips.

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 × 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. Read our full sharpness performance review.

Low Light

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. Read our full low light sensitivity performance review.

The J1 continued its strong color accuracy performance from our bright light test into our low light test as well. The camera managed a color error of 3.57 and a saturation level of 114%. This saturation level is a bit high for our taste, but it’s still great to see a camera capable of producing deep, vivid colors in any kind of light. Some of the other cameras in this testing set, particularly the Samsung NX100, also did very well in low light color accuracy. Others, like the Sony NEX-5, had some dramatic problems. See our full low light color performance review, including comparative images and analysis.

Noise levels in low light for the J1 were good, but definitely not great. The camera averaged 1.1% noise in our low light tests, which is much higher than the noise levels we saw on the Panasonic GF3 and Sony NEX-5. The Samsung NX100 struggled mightily in this test, however, putting up even more noise than the Nikon J1. You can see the NX100’s abysmal low light performance by cycling through the comparison crops below. See our full low light noise performance review, including crops and comparative images.

Conclusion

Nikon_J1_vanity.jpg

Other than its bad showing in our low light sensitivity test, the Nikon J1 showed us an impressive video performance for a compact interchangeable lens camera. Best of all, the J1 is loaded with manual controls in video mode, and those controls can even be adjusted during video recording—something that is often not possible on other cameras. The compact design of the J1 won't put a strain on your wrist like a true DSLR, but we were bothered by the lack of much grip or ergonomic shape to the camera. This made it feel somewhat uncomfortable in our hands during long periods of recording video.

The lack of a manual focus ring on the J1 is also something that irked us, and we're sure it won't sit well with old school videographers. In fact, a manual lens ring is often one of the strongest benefits of using an interchangeable lens camera to record video instead of a mid-range camcorder. Despite this weakness, the J1 had some of the best aperture, shutter speed, and gain controls in video mode that we've seen from a camera of its class, and we found those controls were easy and comfortable to adjust as well.

To read our full conclusions for the Nikon J1 including analysis of the camera's video handling and audio options, plus see sample videos and photos, visit the full review at DigitalCameraInfo.com.

Our editors review and recommend products to help you buy the stuff you need. If you make a purchase by clicking one of our links, we may earn a small share of the revenue. Our picks and opinions are independent from any business incentives.
Our editors review and recommend products to help you buy the stuff you need. If you make a purchase by clicking one of our links, we may earn a small share of the revenue. Our picks and opinions are independent from any business incentives.
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Our editors review and recommend products to help you buy the stuff you need. If you make a purchase by clicking one of our links, we may earn a small share of the revenue. Our picks and opinions are independent from any business incentives.

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