Nikon Mirrorless J1 Digital Camera Review$649.99
Lens & Sensor
The J1 comes with a 10-30mm f/3.5-5.6 VR kit lens, that has an equivalent 35mm focal range of 27-81mm. This gives it around the same zoom as a typical entry-level 18-55mm on a standard entry-level DSLR. The kit lens has a close focus distance of 0.7 feet, and it's workable for macro and wide angle shots, though we found it best to zoom into 30mm to get the best up close shots. The 10-30mm kit lens is a mostly plastic body, with a nice soft rubber zoom ring and no focus ring. The 30-110mm f/3.8-5.6 kit lens option is also made up of a mostly plastic shell (though both have metal lens mounts), though the 10mm f/2.8 lens option has a metal body and seems to be built of an overall higher quality.
The Nikon J1 and V1 both house a 13.2mm x 8.8mm "CX" image sensor, which is just half the surface area of Micro Four Thirds sensors—not to mention less than 40% the surface area of APS-C sensors. All that traditionally adds up to more ISO noise, especially in low light shooting conditions. We were surprised to find that Nikon had opted for such a small sensor, given the larger sensors that have been packed into the competition.
Designing a new sensor and lens mount has apparently yielded some pretty tough challenges for Nikon in designing the J1. While the company can clearly leverage its history in optics in terms of lens design—the extra lens options we tested are quite sharp overall—it's perhaps unfair to expect miracles from a company that is launching what is practically a brand-new sensor type. Still, the CX sensor size does not seem to have yielded profoundly smaller lenses than those found on Micro Four Thirds cameras, and puts the 1-system cameras at a bit of a disadvantage from an image quality standpoint by decreasing the amount of area to gather light, resulting in mediocre noise and sharpness tests.
The J1 does not feature a viewfinder, forcing users to rely on just the rear display. As a camera designed with entry-level customers in mind, this isn't totally surprising, as the camera is designed to be as familiar to point-and-shoot users as possible. The rear 3-inch TFT-LCD has a display resolution of 460k dots, and it's a very attractive screen, right on par with the Sony NEX-5 and just behind the Olympus E-P3's OLED screen for quality. It's easily accurate enough to make fine focus judgements on, and it was quite visible in daylight on an overcast day. In direct sunlight it's plagued by the typical LCD issues, going nearly black.
The J1 features a built-in flash, which is a bit of a leg up over its more expensive brother, the V1. The flash is a bit of an odd duck, as it sits on a pretty lofty plastic perch when extended from the camera. It is almost entirely made from plastic, but it should be durable enough compared to flashes with more moving parts. It has a guide number of 16 feet at ISO 100, which isn't particularly powerful, but it's in line with similarly-sized cameras. The real downside is the camera has a flash sync speed of only 1/60 of a second, so it'll be nearly impossible to use the flash to capture much low light action without dealing with some motion blur.
The J1 utilizes standard USB with digital video output as well as mini-HDMI output. Both ports are located behind a small plastic insert that clips into the side of the body. The use of standard ports is always welcome here, and it scores the J1 a few extra points compared to some of the competition that still uses proprietary ports.
The Nikon J1 comes with an EN-EL20 removable, rechargeable lithium-ion battery pack. It has a capacity of 1020mAh, and is rated to approximately 230 shots by Nikon according to CIPA standards. In our use the battery actually lasted more than 300 shots in a single session, though that was generally using continuous shutter to take four or five snaps of each shot we wanted, which is more forgiving than the CIPA standard.
The Nikon J1 uses SD/SDHC/SDXC memory cards, and houses the cards in the same slot as the battery. This is very typical of cameras of this size, though it can be a slight issue when using the camera on a tripod, as there's no easy way to access the memory card.