DCRP

Nikon 1 J1 Review

Performance & Photo Quality

The Nikon 1 J1 is generally a very responsive performer. When the J1 is using its phase detection AF system, it is indeed extremely fast to lock focus. Speeds are less impressive when the camera switches to contrast detect AF, which is most likely to happen in low light situations. My Panasonic DMC-FZ150 review unit was able to lock focus quicker than the J1 when I was taking my night test scenes, which isn't a promising sign. The table below summarizes the J1's performance:

Timing Measured Performance How it Compares
Startup 1.1 secs Average
Autofocus
(Normal light)
0.1 - 0.3 secs Above average
Autofocus
(Low light)
~ 1 secs Average *
Shutter lag Not noticeable Above Average
Shot-to-shot
(No flash)
1.5 secs Average
Shot-to-shot
(With flash)
2.0 secs Above average
* Depends on focus system used

The low light numbers are really hard to evaluate, since it depends on what focus system the camera is using. If it chooses phase detection, then it'll be less than a second. For contrast detect, it'll take a second or slightly longer to focus.

One of the highlights on the two Nikon 1 cameras is their continuous shooting mode, which can fire away as fast as 60 frames/second (courtesy of its electronic shutter). Two other speeds are available in electronic mode (10 and 30 fps), and there's "regular" 5 fps mode, as well. At the 5 and 10 fps, the camera is capable of focusing while shooting, which is pretty neat. Here's how the J1 performed at its slowest and fastest speeds (relatively speaking):

Image quality Continuous Electronic *
RAW + Large/Fine JPEG 19 shots @ 4.4 fps 12 shots @ 60 fps
RAW
Large/Fine JPEG 28 shots @ 4.4 fps
* At 60 fps setting

There's no real way for me to prove that the camera is actually shooting at 60 fps, since all twelve shots are over and done with in 1/5th of a second. You pretty much just point the camera at your subject and hope you catch them in the frame at some point! The numbers for the regular continuous mode are accurate though, and you can see that I was unable to get the J1 to hit its advertised frame rate. After the camera reaches the limits shown in the table, it pauses briefly, and then continues shooting at a much lower frame rate. While it does take a while for the camera to clear its buffer memory (especially if RAW photos are involved), it doesn't impact camera performance a whole lot.

Alright, that's enough numbers for one review. Let's talk about photo quality now, shall we? With the exception of the night shots, all of the photos below were taken with the 10 - 30 mm kit lens.

Our standard macro test subject looks pretty good. Colors are accurate, though the white background seems a bit green to me. The subject is fairly sharp, with plenty of detail captured. There might be a little bit of noise around the ears, but you'll need a magnifying glass to see it.

The minimum distance to your subject depends on the lens you're using. For the 10 - 30 mm kit lens, it's 20 cm. Nikon only makes four CX-mount lenses, and none of them are designed for macro photography. I imagine that will change at some point in the future.

The night test photo was taken with the Nikon F3.8-5.6, 30 - 110 mm CX-mount lens. For those playing along at home, this lens is equivalent to 81 - 297 mm, and it features Nikon's VR II image stabilization system. The night photo turned out well, thanks to the camera's manual exposure controls (which are harder to access than they should be) and the nice reflections on SF Bay that night. The buildings are sharp across the frame, and highlight clipping is relatively minor. Noise levels are low here, and I don't see any purple fringing, either.

Now let's use this same night scene to see how the J1 performed at higher sensitivities:


ISO 100

ISO 200

ISO 400

ISO 800

ISO 1600

ISO 3200

ISO 6400 (H1)

There's not much of a difference between the first three crops (ISO 100 - 400). At ISO 800 we start to see some noise and detail loss, though it's not going to keep you from making a midsize or large print. Going up a stop to ISO 1600 we see more noticeable detail loss, so this is where I'd stop, and save this sensitivity for small prints only. The ISO 3200 and 6400 photos have too much noise and detail loss to be usable. Once I get a decent RAW converter I'll see if I can make those high ISO photos a bit nicer looking.

We'll see how the J1 fared in normal lighting in a moment.

Back in the tour section of the review, I wondered if the J1's crazy pop-up flash would prevent redeye. The flash, along with the camera's use of its bright green AF-assist lamp to shrink the pupils of your subject, did the job here -- there's no redeye to be found. Should you encounter any, there's a tool in playback mode to remove this annoyance.

There's moderate barrel distortion at the wide end of the 10 - 30 mm kit lens. You can see the effects of barrel distortion in the real world by noticing the "curve" of the building on the right side of this photo. I did not find corner blurring or vignetting to be an issue with this lens. The other two lenses I tested (10mm pancake and 30 - 110 mm) had very minor corner blurring.

Now it's time to see how the J1 performed in our studio ISO test. Since these photos are taken under consistent lighting, you can compare the results with those from other cameras I've reviewed over the years. Keep in mind that the crops only show a small portion of the test scene, so be sure to view the full size images too. And with that, let's begin:


ISO 100

ISO 200

ISO 400

ISO 800

ISO 1600

ISO 3200

ISO 6400 (H1)

Everything is nice and clean through ISO 400. There's a slight drop in color saturation at ISO 800, but noise levels remain low. Details start to deteriorate a bit at ISO 1600, but it's still quite usable. ISO 3200 is my stopping point in good light (and is best saved for small prints), though we might be able to clean these up by shooting RAW and post-processing (I'll have examples as soon as Adobe adds support for the J1 to Photoshop). The J1 holds up well against the Olympus E-PL3, though I think the Panasonic Lumix DMC-GF3 has a slight edge at higher ISOs.

Overall, the J1 produces very good photos, though they're not as sharp or as clean as what you'd see from a full-size Nikon D-SLR (the sensor size has a lot to do with that). Exposure was accurate most of the time, with a slight tendency to overexpose. As my Maui photo gallery illustrates, color is fantastic (though it's hard to take a bad picture there). Photos are slightly soft (especially with the pancake lens), and there is some mild detail smudging and noise visible at times. I think Active D-Lighting is the reason for a lot of the noise, as the camera is trying to brighten up the shadows (as in this photo), so you might want to turn that feature off if you find noise to be an issue. The J1's photos do get noisier faster than other interchangeable lens cameras, though for what most people will be doing with these photos, you probably won't notice much of a difference (if any). Purple fringing is a lens-related issue, and it did pop up on both the pancake and kit lenses.

Now, don't just take my word for all this. Have a look at our extensive standard and Maui photo galleries, and see if the J1's image quality meets your expectations!

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