Nikon Mirrorless J1 Digital Camera Review$649.99
The Nikon J1 compresses video using the MPEG-4 AVC codec, but the camera's compression system is not AVCHD compliant like most consumer camcorders. This matters little, however, as the clips produced by the J1 can easily be opened on a computer or viewed on an HDTV via an HDMI cable connected to the camera. The main difference is the clips don't have to be imported using special software like AVCHD clips must be in order to play them on a computer (or bring them into an editing program).
The camera has three HD record modes: two are Full HD (1920 x 1080 resolution) and one is a 720p mode (1280 x 720 resolution). With the Full HD modes you have the choice of 60i or 30p frame rates, while the 720p mode shoots with a 60p frame rate. In addition to these HD modes, the camera also has two slow motion record modes that shoot at very high frame rates. The quality of these slow motion videos is not good, however, so they aren't something we'd recommend using if you care about recording high-quality videos. Find out how the performed in our video image quality test./r:link_to_content
For a compact camera, the Nikon J1 has a good set of manual controls in video mode. Making things even more impressive, the J1 also had a very good autofocus in video mode—something we've yet to see on a Nikon camera with video. Other controls, like auto and manual exposure, were less impressive.
In video mode, you can set the J1 to what is essentially a dedicated auto mode if you don't want to bother with any manual controls. This mode is called "scene auto selector" and it is found in the exposure mode menu in video mode. In this mode, most video controls are set to auto, but you can still change the recording resolution, sound options, vibration reduction, and a few other settings. Basically, you don't have to worry about exposure adjustment with aperture, shutter speed, or gain (or white balance). The mode is decent, but the camera is better suited if used with at least a few of its controls manually adjusted.
Autofocus works impeccably well in video mode, and the Nikon J1 is Nikon's first camera with a continual autofocus mode. The mode is silent and speedy, and it is nearly as good as the autofocus you'd see on a consumer camcorder. Auto exposure was not as great, and we saw some judder whenever we pointed the camera at different light levels.
As we said, the continual autofocus on the J1 is great, but if you don't like that style of focus, the camera gives you other options. You can use a single autofocus system that only focuses when you press down on the shutter button, or you can use manual focus. The single AF system works well and is silent just like the continual AF mode—it also works during recording (when you press the shutter button down halfway).
Strangely, the worst focus system on the J1 is the camera's manual focus. You'll notice the lens has no lens ring, which is rare for an interchangeable lens camera. This means all focusing is done using a set of buttons on the back of the camera. This system is terrible for video recording, as it is both noisy and difficult to perform a smooth focus transition (something that is very easy to do with a lens ring).
The J1 offers aperture, shutter speed, and gain (ISO) control in video mode. You can adjust aperture and shutter speed either in their individual priority modes, or in a full manual mode (where both can be adjusted independently). We're happy to see this kind of control offered on a compact camera, especially since many cameras like the J1 offer no manual aperture or shutter speed control in video mode. Our only gripe is that the camera offers no manual shutter speed options below 1/60 of a second in video mode. On the bright side, both aperture and shutter speed can be set during recording.
Basic exposure can also be set in video mode, just not when the camera is in full manual mode. The basic exposure is also strange in that you must adjust the setting and then press the "ok" button to see the exposure changes take effect. This means you can't slowly adjust the exposure during recording to create a dimming or brightening effect.
ISO can be set to one of three auto modes with ranges from ISO 100 to ISO 3200, ISO 100 to ISO 800, or ISO 100 to ISO 400. There are also individual ISO options from ISO 100 to ISO 3200, as well as a high ISO setting (Hi 1). Unlike the other exposure controls, ISO cannot be set during recording.
The J1 has access to white balance presets and an easy-to-use manual white balance option in video mode. It does lack a specific Kelvin selection option, however. The picture controls available in the J1's regular shooting mode are also found in video mode, as is a vibration reduction setting (normal and active). The J1 has a fader option in video mode as well (for adding fades to the beginning or end of your clips).
The most unique video controls on the J1 are the camera's two slow motion modes. Both record extremely low-quality video, but the slow motion effect created is impressive nonetheless. The first mode shoots at 400fps and stretches a roughly five-second clip into a slow motion clip of just over a minute. The second mode shoots at an even higher frame rate, 1200fps, and stretches a five-second clip into a slow-mo clip of three minutes, 20 seconds. Both modes are limited to the five-second recording length, and, remember, both capture very low-quality video.
The J1 has a built-in stereo mic, which you can see if you look closely near the top of the lens. The mic is made up of two small rectangles on either side of the lens (one rectangle for each recording channel). While the J1 does not have full-fledged audio level adjustment, it does have the ability to choose from one of three microphone sensitivities (or auto). You can also turn the mic off completely if you don't want to record audio. The camera has no external mic or headphone jack, but the built-in mic does have a wind noise reduction feature should you be inclined to use the J1 in a windy environment.