Nikon 1 J1 Review

by Jeff Keller, DCRP Founder/Editor

Originally Posted: October 9, 2011

Last Updated: October 11, 2011

The Nikon 1 J1 (priced from $649) is the entry-level model in Nikon's brand new line of mirrorless interchangeable lens cameras. The 1-System cameras feature a new 10 Megapixel CX-format sensor, which is smaller than Micro Four Thirds and APS-C, but larger than what you'll find on compact cameras and the Pentax Q. It also uses new CX-mount lenses, which have a 2.7X crop factor. Image stabilization is built into select lenses, rather into the body itself.

The 1-series cameras are designed to be very easy-to-use, with a minimalist design, basic menu system, and a fairly basic set of manual controls. Other features include fast continuous shooting, a hybrid AF system, 3-inch LCD, interesting Smart Photo Selector feature, and (of course) Full HD movie recording.

Nikon 1 J1 and V1
The J1 and V1, side-by-side
Images courtesy of Nikon USA

The J1 has a big brother known as the V1, which includes an electronic viewfinder, along with a few other features. The chart below helps differentiate the two models:

Feature J1 V1
Price (with 10-30 lens) $649 $899
LCD resolution 460,000 px 921,000 px
Electronic viewfinder No Yes
EVF size / resolution N/A 0.47" / 1.44M dot
Built-in flash Yes No
Mechanical shutter No Yes
Accessory shoe * No Yes
Stereo mic input No Yes
Battery used EN-EL20 EN-EL15
Battery life (CIPA standard) 230 shots 350 shots **
Dimensions (W x H x D) 4.4 x 2.4 x 1.2 in. 4.4 x 3.0 x 1.7 in.
Weight 234 g 294 g
Available colors White, black, red, silver, pink Black

* Accessory port supports external flash and GPS
** With optional external flash

So there are Nikon's first two entries into the growing interchangeable lens camera market!

Is the entry-level J1 a worthy challenger to offerings from Sony, Olympus, and Panasonic? Find out now in our review!

What's in the Box?

The J1 will be available in four kits, with various color choices along the way. You can get it with an 10 - 30 mm lens ($649, all five colors), with a 10mm pancake and the 10 - 30 mm ($899, in white, red, silver only), or with the 10 - 30 and a 30 - 110 mm telephoto zoom (also $899 and white, red, silver only). Wait, that's only three -- the fourth one ($929) is the dual lens kit in pink, with a bunch of extras thrown in for good measure. Here's what you'll find in the box for each of those:

  • The 10.1 effective Megapixel Nikon 1 J1 camera body
  • F3.5-5.6, 10 - 30 mm Nikkor VR lens
  • F2.8, 10mm Nikkor pancake lens [two lens wide-angle kit only]
  • F3.8-5.6, 30 - 110 mm Nikkor VR lens [two lens zoom kit only]
  • EN-EL20 lithium-ion battery
  • Battery charger
  • Body cap
  • Shoulder strap
  • Lens hoods for 10-30 and 30-110 lenses [pink two lens zoom kit only]
  • Pink leather wrist strap [pink two lens zoom kit only]
  • Pink wrapping cloth [pink two lens zoom kit only]
  • USB cable
  • CD-ROMs featuring Nikon ViewNX 2, Short
  • Movie Creator, and Reference Manual
  • User's manual (printed) + full manual on CD-ROM

Nikon 1 J1 with lenses
The J1 with all three of its available kit lenses -- in white, no less

Three of the four Nikon 1 System lenses are available in the various kits. The one that's not available in a kit is the F4.5-5.6, 10 - 100 mm power zoom VR lens, which will set you back $749. Build quality-wise, all of the 1 system lenses I used felt quite solid, with metal mounts and very little plastic. Both of the zoom lenses I tried are collapsible so they take up less space in your bag, and when you set the lens to the shooting position, the camera turns on too. None of these lens have manual focus rings -- this action is performed using the scroll wheel on the back of the camera just like on a compact camera. Whichever lens you attach to the camera, there is a 2.7X crop factor, so that 10 - 30 mm kit lens has a field-of-view of 27 - 81 mm.

Some of you might be wondering if you can use your regular Nikkor F-mount lenses with the 1 System. The answer is yes, though you'll need to wait for an adapter that is not yet available. I do know that only AF-S and AF-I lenses will support autofocus when using the adapter, which is the same restriction that owners of entry-level Nikon D-SLRs have to deal with.

Interchangeable lens cameras like the J1 never come with memory cards. So, unless have one already, you'll need to pick one up. The J1 supports SD, SDHC, and SDXC cards (including the new, super fast UHS-I cards). If you're mostly taking stills, then a 2GB or 4GB card is probably fine. If you plan on taking a lot of movies, then you'll want something like an 8GB or 16GB card, instead. Picking up a high speed card (Class 6 or higher) is highly recommended, especially if you'll be taking HD videos.

The J1 uses a brand new lithium-ion battery known as the EN-EL20. This compact battery contains 7.4 Wh of energy, which is quite a bit for a camera this small. Here's how that translates into battery life:

Camera Battery life w/live view
(CIPA standard)
Battery used
Nikon 1 J1 230 shots EN-EL20
Olympus E-PL3 300 shots BLS-1 / BLS-5
Panasonic Lumix DMC-GF3 320 shots * DMW-BLE9
Pentax Q 230 shots D-LI68
Samsung NX200 330 shots BP1310
Sony Alpha NEX-5N 430 shots NP-FW50

* With the 14 - 42 mm kit lens

Battery life numbers are provided by the manufacturer

Unfortunately for Nikon, the J1's battery life is tied for last, along with the Pentax Q (an even smaller interchangeable lens camera). I highly, highly recommend picking up a spare battery if you're buying the J1, though keep in mind it'll set you back over $60. It's worth pointing out that the more expensive Nikon 1 V1 has 50% better battery life than the J1, so that's another option.

When it's time to charge the battery, just pop it into the included charger, which plugs directly into the wall. It takes about two hours to fully charge the EL-EL20.

The FT1 mount adapter lets you use Nikon F-mount lenses

While there are quite a few accessories available for the Nikon 1 System, only a handful work with the J1, since it lacks the accessory port of the more expensive V1. Here's what you can buy for the J1:

Accessory Model # Price * Description
Lenses Varies Varies The J1 supports all four Nikon CX-mount lenses, with a 2.7X crop factor.
F-mount adapter FT1 ?? Lets you use classic Nikon F-mount lenses, with a 2.7X crop factor. Only AF-S and AF-I lenses will support autofocus.
Wireless remote ML-L3 From $14 Take photos without touching the camera
AC adapter EP-5C
From $48
From $118
You need both of these parts to power the J1 without draining your battery. Pricing is ridiculous, in my opinion.
Grip GR-N2000 From $81 Adds a black or white colored grip via the tripod mount
Tripod adapter TA-N100 $36 Prevents large lenses (like the 10 - 100 mm) from bumping into your tripod head.
Body case CB-N2000 From $45 A classic body case that attaches to the tripod mount and wraps around the bottom of the camera. For $15 more you get the top portion of the case, which fits over the camera with the 10 - 30 mm lens attached.
* Prices were accurate at time of publication

For those who are wondering what accessories you're missing out on by not buying the V1, they include an external flash as well as a GPS receiver (and probably more in the future).

Bundled software includes Nikon Transfer, VIewNX 2, and Short Movie Creator (all three are for both Mac and Windows). Nikon Transfer does just as it sounds -- it moves your photos and movies from the camera to your PC. ViewNX 2 is a pretty standard image organizer, with a good set of editing tools for both JPEG and RAW images. You can adjust things like sharpness/contrast/brightness/and color, brighten shadows, straighten a crooked photo, remove redeye, or reduce chromatic aberrations. If it's a RAW file you're working with, you can also adjust the exposure and white balance. ViewNX 2 can also be used to edit videos produced by the J1.

Also included is Short Movie Creator, and I think Nikon can explain what it does better than me, so here goes. "Short Movie Creator analyzes the registered source files and automatically edits the movie based on the settings that you apply." Needless to say, I didn't try it.

Currently, the RAW images produced by the J1 and V1 are not supported by Adobe for Photoshop or Lightroom.

As with most Nikon cameras of late, the J1's documentation is split into two parts. In the box you'll find an 88 page User's Manual, which is more than enough to get you up and running. For more details on camera features, there's a full Reference Manual on an included CD-ROM. Both of the manuals are a bit better than average in terms of user-friendliness. Instructions for the bundled software is installed onto your computer.