Nikon 1 J1: Performance

by Jim Keenan Reads (3,119)
Editor's Rating
7.40

TG Ratings Breakdown

    • Image/Video Quality
    • 8
    • Features
    • 8
    • Design / Ease of Use
    • 6
    • Performance
    • 7
    • Expandability
    • 8
    • Total Score:
    • 7.40
    • Rating 1 to 10, top score 10

PERFORMANCE
Nikon provided us with the 10mm, 10-30mm and 30-100mm lenses for the J1 review, and that 10-30 lens is part of the equation giving rise to Nikon’s claim of the “world’s fastest autofocus.” I mentioned earlier that there were conditions upon which the claim is based, and here they are: using the 10-30 lens at maximum wide-angle with the AF area mode set to single-point.

We’ve got a quiver of lenses and the battery is charged so let’s get the J1 into the field and give that autofocus a try.

Shooting Performance
When site editor Allison Johnson got a preview of the new cameras in New York, she noted that a Nikon senior product manager remarked that the Nikon 1 system was not being promoted as an equal to the DSLR but rather as a means for users to take a lot of pictures spontaneously without having to resort to a large DSLR and set of lenses.

Any thoughts that the J1 is trying to play in the DSLR league begin to dissipate upon startup. The J1 powers up and presents a focus icon in about 1.5 seconds – I was able to get off a first shot in about 2 to 2.25 seconds. This is about average for cameras in this class, but lags well behind even entry-level DSLRs. Single shot-to-shot times (using a Delkin SDHC UHS-1 95MB/sec card) were basically as quick as you could reestablish focus and make a full push following previous capture. The J1 fired off 28 full resolution JPEG/fine quality captures at the nominal 5 fps continuous rate before the buffer took a break. Write times for these 28 captures ran about 20 seconds.

There are also electronic high-speed settings that allow captures at 10, 30, and 60 fps. The catch here is that these elevated shooting speeds load the buffer after 12 frames. Write times for these bursts ran about 7.5 seconds at 10 fps, with the 30 and 60 fps bursts taking about 9 seconds each. When shooting at the electronic high speed frame rates the J1 focuses on the center of the frame at 10 fps while focus is fixed for the first capture of the burst at the 30 and 60 fps rates. Flash is not available when shooting at the electronic high-speed rates.

Switching to a 45MB/sec card had no effect on the single shot to shot times, but write time for the 10 fps burst slowed to 9 seconds; write times for the 30 and 60 fps bursts were 9.5 seconds. Finally, a 30MB/sec class 10 SDHC card produced approximately 1 second write times on single shots; almost a 1 minute write time for the 28 image burst, and 22 to 23 second write times for the 10, 30, and 60 fps shooting rates. Clearly the J1 benefits from memory media with at least a 45MB/sec speed, although additional small gains can be realized in continuous shooting modes if users are willing to spend the extra money to equip the camera with 95MB/sec memory media.

Shutter lag time on the J1 was 0.01 seconds, as good as the best cameras in the class. AF acquisition time came in at 0.21 seconds, which trails the recently tested Olympus E-PL 3 by 0.08 seconds but is still fairly quick overall. I can say that when I shot the J1 with the set up Nikon claims produces the world’s fastest autofocus the camera proved very quick.

Shutter Lag (press-to-capture, pre-focused)

Camera Time (seconds)
Olympus E-PL3 0.01
Nikon 1 J1 0.01
Panasonic Lumix DMC-GF3 0.01
Sony alpha NEX-5 0.05

AF Acquisition (press-to-capture, no pre-focus)

Camera Time (seconds)
Olympus E-PL3 0.13
Nikon 1 J1 0.21
Panasonic Lumix DMC-GF3 0.22
Sony alpha NEX-5 0.39

Continuous Shooting

Camera Frames Framerate*
Nikon 1 J1 28 5.1 fps
Olympus E-PL3 11 4.7 fps
Panasonic Lumix DMC-GF3 20 4.2 fps
Sony alpha NEX-5 2.6 fps

*Note: Continuous shooting framerates are based on the camera’s fastest full-resolution JPEG continuous shooting mode, using the fastest media type available (300x CF, SDHC, etc.). “Frames” notes the number of captures recorded per burst before the camera stops/slows to clear the buffer.

In any event, the J1 autofocus acquisition times are fairly speedy overall, and don’t appear to suffer a significant drop-off as the camera is zoomed to long telephoto lengths in good light. AF times lengthened a bit in dimmer lighting conditions with the effect being more pronounced at telephoto versus wide-angle. The camera is equipped with a focus assist lamp.

When the J1 has a VR (stabilized) lens onboard both normal and active stabilization options are available. Normal applies to situations where the shooter is positioned on a nonmoving surface, while active is used when shooting from a moving vehicle or platform. Of the four lenses currently available for the J1 only the 10mm pancake lens is not stabilized.

The J1 built-in flash must be deployed manually and has a guide number of 16 feet at ISO 100, which equates to a maximum flash distance of about 5.7 feet using the 10mm pancake lens at maximum aperture, f/2.8. Slower lenses will offer even shorter range, but as we’ll see later, ramping up ISO as a means to increase flash distance is a viable option with the J1. While the J1’s electronic shutter can produce shutter speeds as quick as 1/16000 of a second, its flash sync speed is a relatively pedestrian 1/60 of a second or slower. Flash recycle times were quick – the J1 was basically able to fire the flash again as soon as writing was complete and focus was reacquired. The J1 will deactivate the flash and shutter should a series of rapid flash firings raise the flash temperature to the point where it might cause flash damage.

Nikon J1 Sample Image Nikon J1 Sample Image

Nikon lists 230 shots as battery life using a CIPA standard. I tested the J1 battery to exhaustion at Disneyland and got the following results: 213 still shots and 20 video clips averaging about 20 seconds each. About 80 of the still shots were time exposures averaging anywhere from 2 to 8 seconds each; 78 stills were taken at the 10 FPS electronic high-speed shooting mode. No flash usage, but there was a lot of review (chimping) of images and videos during the course of the day. And night… here are daytime and nighttime stills of the Sleeping Beauty Castle.

Nikon J1 Sample Image Nikon J1 Sample Image

Suffice it to say J1 users would be well advised to take at least one spare battery for all day shooting sessions. When the J1 battery indicator displays only a single segment remaining, it’s time to start thinking about going to a fresh battery. The camera will shoot with the battery in that state for some time, but it won’t be long before the next display you see is a gray screen with words essentially saying there’s not enough battery power to continue taking pictures.

Nikon 1 J1

Lens Performance
The 10mm pancake lens showed a tiny bit of barrel distortion (or perhaps just the slightest mustache distortion). The frame was fairly consistently sharp with just the slightest hint of softness in the corners. There was a bit of chromic aberration (purple fringing) in some high contrast boundary areas, but these areas generally required enlargement to the 300 to 400% range for the defect to become readily visible.

Nikon 1 J1

The 10-30mm zoom demonstrated a more pronounced, yet still small amount of barrel distortion at wide-angle. The telephoto end of the zoom appeared to be fairly distortion free. At the wide-angle end of the zoom there is some slight softness in the corners, but the frame looks fairly consistently sharp otherwise. At the telephoto end the lens seems uniformly sharp across the frame. There is a bit of chromic aberration at both ends of the zoom, but this defect is slight and only readily visible at enlargements of 400% or more.

The 30-110mm zoom produced barrel distortion to about the same degree as the 10-30 at wide-angle; there was just the slightest hint of pincushion distortion at telephoto, but I doubt that this defect would be apparent to any but the most hypercritical pixel peepers on rare occasions. Chromic aberration, while present at both ends of the zoom in this lens, was even better controlled than in the other lenses. Instances were rare and again required 300 to 400% enlargements to become visible, let alone objectionable.


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