Nikon Mirrorless J1 Digital Camera Review$649.99
The J1 offers one level of optional noise reduction, which had a marked effect on shots taken at ISO 400 and above. The average improvement across all ISO levels was about 32%. That's great news if you don't mind a little noise reduction, but if you prefer to shoot without it, you'll be disappointed in the J1's average noise percentage of 1.75%.
We did find that the J1, with NR off, preserved fine detail through ISO 3200 without images being too overpowered by noise, as you can see in the 100% crops below. Some of the comparison models here merely offer an "auto" or "weak" noise reduction setting, with no off option, that results in detail being smudged away with noise. More on how we test noise.
The J1 has a standard set of ISO options available, ranging from ISO 100 to ISO 3200, plus a Hi ISO option that is roughly the equivalent of ISO 6400. (All of these options are available at full resolution.) If you prefer to leave ISO selection automated, an auto ISO sensitivity control lets you limit the auto range to max out at 400, 800, or 3200.
The hybrid phase/contrast autofocus on the J1 and V1 is one of the hallmark features called out by Nikon when the camera was announced. The focus is very fast, able to lock onto a desired subject right away. We didn't notice much of a difference using the J1 compared to even the Olympus E-P3, though the J1 did perhaps hunt a little more in average lighting conditions. One area the J1 trounced the E-P3 was in low light, however, as the AF illuminator on the J1, while green and a bit distracting, was very effective in producing an accurately focused picture in low light.
The J1's long exposure performance was underwhelming at best. The camera really struggled with color accuracy and noise—regardless of whether we activated the long exposure noise reduction system. More on how we test long exposure.
Color accuracy was the real disappointment here, with incredibly high color error despite setting a custom white balance. Color error was over 4.5 at just one-second exposures and increased to as high as 5.67 once we switched to long exposure noise reduction. The noise reduction did help mitigate noise—especially during our 15-second exposure testing. Unfortunately, even the improvements did not extend to exposures of thirty seconds and longer.
Most interchangeable lens cameras we've tested fared much better in this test than the Nikon J1. We attribute this to the camera's comparatively small sensor, which evidently can't keep up with the competition from Samsung and Panasonic.
Video: Low Light Sensitivity
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. We also did this test with the ISO set to auto (with a a max of 3200) and the exposure set to program (the shutter speed minimum was 1/60 of a second).