BUILD AND DESIGN
The J1’s metal body is rectangular, rounded at each end with small-radius curves on the rest of the body’s edges. The front and top of the camera body are quite simple and uncluttered, with body-colored panels for the pop-up flash and power on-off button along with silver shutter and dedicated movie capture buttons on the top. The front of the body has dual microphones, a focus assist lamp, infrared receiver and the lens release button as its primary structures.
The camera back could easily pass for a typical compact digital in design and layout, with the 3.0-inch monitor taking up most of the space. Arrayed vertically along the right rear of the camera body adjacent to the monitor are dedicated buttons for display, playback, menu and deleting images; there are also a rotary multi selector, mode dial, function and image zoom buttons. The flash deployment button is atop the left rear of the camera body above the monitor. The J1 body and accompanying lenses seem well-built and nicely finished.
The body itself measures approximately 4.2 x 2.4 x 1.2 inches and weighs approximately 8.3 ounces. With the 30-110mm lens attached and zoomed to full telephoto dimensions become 4.2 x 2.4 x 6 inches. In shooting configuration with this lens (battery and memory card onboard, camera strap attached) weight is approximately 17.5 ounces. Here’s a look at the J1 with the 30-110 lens retracted and zoomed to full telephoto.
Ergonomics and Controls
Our J1 review unit was the white variant and the first impression upon picking it up was the shiny looking white paint was nowhere near as slippery as it appeared to be. I happen to be currently reviewing the Olympus E-PM1 Pen Mini as well, and its lightly textured matte black finish offers less grip than the Nikon paint. When shooting, fingers on the front of the Olympus tend to want to slide around a bit; not so with the J1.
The tip of the index finger fell naturally onto the shutter button when the camera was picked up. The thumb of the shooting hand overlies the rotary controller and the four lower buttons on the camera back but inadvertent control activations were rare. When shooting the camera two-handed, make sure to keep the left index finger atop the camera body rather than allowing it to wrap around the front where it is a good candidate to obscure the focus assist lamp. Nikon makes a GR-N2000 camera grip for the J1 as an accessory.
The mode dial on the camera back strikes me as having just about the right degree of resistance to minimize inadvertently moving it out of the chosen shooting mode and the buttons surrounding the multi-controller (and the multi-controller itself) are sized and inset just enough to make them easily accessible while at the same time being fairly resistant to being activated by operator error. The shutter button has a clearly defined half push for autofocus purposes, followed by a short additional push to complete capture.
Menus and Modes
Nikon’s press release for the J1 speaks of targeting consumers that always carry a camera with them and indicates the design goals were to engineer a camera with maximum ease of use, featuring a clean button layout with a simple interface and easy-to-use camera controls intuitively placed for any user. To this end, menus in the J1 are relatively minimal and highly unlikely to surprise any user of a compact digital camera with respect to their layout or function. In addition, menu font size is relatively large, a big help in bright outdoor conditions. Here’s a quick look at some typical J1 menus. With the camera set in the still image shooting mode pushing the menu button produces this screen:
Pushing the menu button takes you back to last menu and menu topic before the camera began its present shooting mode. Scrolling up or down to the playback or setup menus produces these screens:
Returning to the shooting menu, if we scroll right to enter the menu then scroll down one spot to the “exposure mode” selection and hit the “OK” button in the center of the multi-controller we are presented with this screen:
The screen indicates we have selected aperture priority as our shooting mode for still image capture. If instead of scrolling to the exposure mode selection we had gone further and chosen “picture control” we would have then been presented with a two-page submenu of color palette options. In this submenu we chose to highlight “standard” and then scrolled to enter this option which produced the following screen:
We can then do additional scrolls within the screen to change image parameters for the standard color palette. Once we’ve made changes on the screen they must be locked in by pressing the OK button on the multi-controller.
Menu size will vary depending on the particular shooting mode chosen on the mode dial – the shooting menu for the still image manual shooting modes runs to three pages; the same menu for the smart image selector mode is barely over one-page. Within menus some individual items may or may not be available depending on the particular shooting mode or other settings in the camera.
If menu offerings on the J1 were to be described as “minimalist” then capture modes are beyond that, something on the order of “Spartan.” The J1 mode dial offers four icons and these comprise the four major shooting regimes for the J1: motion snapshot, smart photo selector, still image and movie. To be sure, the still image icon offers an automatic mode along with the four classic manual exposure methods, but compared to the non-Nikon cameras in this niche which typically offer a number of scene specific modes in addition to manual and automatic options the J1 is doing its part to not confuse new users with an overabundance of modes.
- Motion snapshot: An automatic mode that captures a still image and about a second of movie footage that plays back in slow motion over approximately 2 1/2 seconds. The user can then choose from onboard selection of music to add as background.
- Smart photo selector: An automatic mode designed to produce photos that capture fleeting expressions on the face of the subject or other hard-to-time shots such as group photos and party scenes. Each time the shutter is released the camera automatically selects the best shot and four additional best shot candidates based on composition and motion. In practice, the camera begins recording images to the buffer when the shutter button is pressed halfway to focus and then once the shutter is pushed completely to initiate capture the camera copies five images taken before and after the full push of the shutter button.
- Still image: Offers one automatic and four manual shooting options; the automatic mode is identified as “scene auto selector” and evaluates the subject then chooses a shooting mode from internal memory bank consisting of portrait, night portrait, landscape, close-up or automatic scenes. The four manual shooting modes are the traditional program auto, shutter priority, aperture priority, and manual exposure methods.
- Movie: Recorded in 16:9 aspect ratio, can capture 1080i HD video at 60 fps; 1080p HD video at 30 fps or 720p HD video at 60 fps. Audio recording format is AAC. Clip length is limited to 4GB or 20 minutes. At 8:3 aspect ratio, slow motion can capture at 400 or 1200 fps. Clip length is 5 seconds or 4GB, playback at 30 fps. The camera mode dial must be set for “movie” to initiate capture with the dedicated movie capture button – there is no “one touch” feature in this instance.
The 3.0-inch LCD monitor on the J1 has a 460,000 dot composition and is adjustable for seven levels of brightness. Area of coverage looks to be approximately 100%. Even with the brightness adjustment range the monitor can be difficult to use at times in bright outdoor conditions, and particularly if the camera has to be held at odd angles that don’t offer a direct view of the screen. The monitor generated a peak brightness of 447 nits with a contrast ratio of 843:1, values which fall just a bit under the 500 nit threshold deemed desirable for peak brightness but above the 500 to 800:1 range we like to see for contrast ratios.
My experience has been that camera monitors with peak brightness scores below the 500 threshold but with contrast ratios at or above the upper range tend to do a bit better overall outdoors, and the J1 would fall into this category. Not the best monitor performance I’ve seen outdoors, but not the worst – and the prime reason I’m a big fan of viewfinders whenever a manufacturer can manage to fit one on their product, or an articulating monitor in the alternative.