- Small size, attractive appearance
- Reliably quick performer
- Very good image and movie quality
- Many interesting features as well as manual controls
- Requires frequent access to the menu
- Fair battery life
- Fragile pop-up flash
The Nikon 1 J3 is a slick little camera with plenty of features and a couple of upgrades. It has a 14.1 MP CMOS sensor and hybrid AF.
Nikon first introduced its small, mirrorless, interchangeable lens cameras, the 1 J1 and the 1 V1 (similar to the J1 but with the addition of a viewfinder) in 2011. Nikon was a little late in the game, as Olympus and Panasonic had already released more than one generation of 4/3 sensor cameras starting in 2009, and Samsung and Sony introduced cameras containing the larger APS-C sensor in 2010. The Nikon 1 cameras appear to have been designed to appeal to the point and shoot user who wanted a camera with better image quality, as the cameras were small and quick, with simplified controls. They received largely positive reviews, including one from this website. The J2 was released in 2012 and the J3 in January of 2013. When I opened the box I was surprised how small, sleek and lightweight the J3 was. But will the camera’s performance and image quality live up to its attractive appearance?
The J3 improves on its predecessors with greater resolution, 14.2 megapixels vs. 10.1. As with the previous versions, the J3 can shoot in uncompressed (RAW) format as well as JPEGs. The camera has a 13.2mm x 8.8mm CMOS sensor (a 2.7 crop factor), a 921,000 dot, three-inch diagonal LCD monitor and 1080 HD video capability, along with the ability to record slow motion video. The camera uses Nikon’s “hybrid” autofocus system, which uses a combination of phase detection and contrast detection to achieve quick and accurate focus under varied conditions. The J3 has several continuous shooting options. It can record up to five frames per second with the flash enabled and either 15, 30 or 60 frames per second for recording without the flash. The camera can be used in manual, shutter priority and aperture priority modes, though functions such as shutter speed and aperture can be set only by delving deep into the camera’s menu. In addition to its manual modes the camera has some interesting creative shooting modes. It uses standard SD, SDHC and SDXC memory cards.
The camera I reviewed was accompanied by three of Nikon’s lenses, the VR 10-30mm f/3.5-5.6 (27-81mm, 35mm camera equivalent), 10mm f/2.8 (27mm equivalent) and 18.5mm f/1.8 (50mm equivalent).
At this time there are eight Nikon lenses made for the Nikon 1, plus an adapter can be purchased to permit the use of Nikon’s F mount lenses. The camera comes with an abbreviated user manual, a body cap (for protecting the sensor when a lens is not attached), a rechargeable lithium-ion battery, a battery charger, a USB cable, a shoulder/neck strap and two CDs containing Nikon’s ViewNX2 photo organizing software, a movie creator and a full user reference manual. The J3 is offered in five colors: white (the color I reviewed) plus black, silver, red and beige. The manufacturer’s suggested retail price is $599.95 for the body plus the 10-30mm lens. The camera is also sold with two other lens combinations at different prices, with limited color availability. A wireless remote adapter and an underwater housing can be purchased from Nikon.
Build and Design
If not for its relatively large lens, you’d mistake the J3 for a point and shoot camera. The body is in the shape of a bar of soap, but with rounded edges. It fits nicely into a pocket or purse even with the 10mm pancake lens attached. When using the larger 10-30mm zoom lens I was able to carry the camera comfortably in the pocket of my jacket. The camera is constructed mostly of metal, with plastic latches. The camera feels solid in the hand, though the top control dial is thin. The pop-up flash closes into the camera’s body but it is very fragile when opened so care must be taken with it. The large LCD screen is flush with the camera’s body, which should protect it from damage most of the time, though it would be wise to use a screen protector or a camera case to make sure. The camera surprisingly small and lightweight. Its dimensions are 4.0 inches (101mm) wide, 2.4 inches (60.5mm) high and 1.1 inches (28.8mm) in depth and it weighs 201 grams (7.1 oz.) excluding the battery and memory card.
Ergonomics and Controls
The controls of the J3 are very limited. The front plate has only the lens opening, a metal button for releasing the lens and a combination autofocus assist and self-timer lamp. The camera’s top contains the pop-up flash, a control dial with five settings (Motion Snapshot, Best Moment Capture, Auto, Creative and Advanced Movie), an on/off button, a metal shutter button and a dedicated video button, all of which are flush to the camera’s surface. The on/off button does not need to be used when the zoom lens is attached, as turning the lens towards the telephoto position will automatically turn the camera on, while turning it in the other direction will turn the camera off. Two holes for the camera’s stereo microphones are located at the top. The left side of the camera (looking back to front) has a manual switch for opening the flash, a covered HDMI port and a covered USB port. At the right of the LCD screen are, from top to bottom, a vertical thumb-rest, the playback button, a menu button, a circular menu controller and a delete button. The thumb-rest helps with gripping the camera, as it is smooth and slippery. Using a second hand to hold the camera is a good idea. The circular menu controller has shortcuts for exposure compensation, flash, continuous shooting/timer, and F (feature). The F selection brings up various menu items depending on the setting on the top control dial. When the control dial is set to Creative, pressing F will set out 11 possible shooting modes. On the camera’s bottom plate there’s a metal tripod mount and a memory card/battery compartment with a plastic cover.
The J3’s limited controls are a mixed blessing. They do make the camera appear less intimidating, which is probably important for the point and shoot market the camera is geared towards. On the other hand, this makes it necessary to constantly access the menu to make adjustments or change modes, which could prevent the user from getting an important shot. Also, frequent reference to the menu will shorten battery life.
Menus and Modes
Pressing the J3’s menu button brings up six possibilities, playback, shooting, movies, image processing, setup and history. The selections available for these functions depend on which of the five modes are selected on the top control dial. Here are the five modes:
- Motion Snapshot: Each time the shutter is pressed the camera will record a still image and about 1.6 seconds of movie footage. The camera will play back the movie, in slow motion, for about 4 seconds, followed by the still image.
- Best Moment Capture: There are two possible selections. In Slow View the user holds the shutter down halfway and the camera will start recording 20 successive frames over 1.3 seconds. The camera will play them back in slow motion, allowing the user to select one of the images by pressing the shutter all the way down. In Smart Photo the user also holds the shutter down halfway and the camera will start recording images. Once the shutter is pressed all the way, taking the shot, the camera will compare images from the buffer both before and after the shot was taken and pick the best one.
- Auto: The camera will select all the settings for photographs and movies, leaving very few options for the user.
- Creative: Allows the user to access 11 shooting modes by pressing F on the circular menu controller. The modes are as follows:
- Programmed auto: The camera sets the shutter speed and aperture but the user has access to other settings, including ISO and white balance.
- Shutter priority: The user is able to set the shutter speed, while the camera sets the aperture.
- Aperture priority: The user is able to set the aperture, while the camera sets the shutter speed.
- Manual: The user can control both the shutter speed and aperture as well as activating the bulb setting, for long exposures.
- Night Landscape: When shooting at night the camera will combine several shots to improve the overall picture. This will not work if the subject or camera moves.
- Night Portrait: When shooting at night the camera will combine several shots, some with flash and some without. This also will not work if there is movement.
- Backlighting: The camera will take two shots and combine them, to improve dynamic range.
- Easy Panorama: A panorama shot can be taken by slowly moving the camera in the horizontal or vertical plane.
- Soft: Photos will appear to have been shot through a soft filter.
- Miniature Effect: The top and bottom of the photo are blurred to create a miniature effect.
- Selective Color: Only the selected hue will appear in color, with the rest of the image appearing in shades of gray.
- Advanced Movie: Allows the user to control aperture and shutter speed.
Soft Miniature Effect
HD movies are recorded in a 16 x 9 aspect ratio, including 1080i at 60 frames per second, 1080p at 30 frames per second and 720p at 60 frames per second or 30 frames per second. Maximum recording time is 20 minutes for 1080i and 1080p movies and 29 minutes for 720p movies. Slow motion movies are recorded in an 8 x 3 aspect ratio, including 640 x 240 at 400 frames per second and 320 x 120 at 1200 frames per second. Maximum recording time is 40 seconds for 640 x 240 movies and two minutes for 320 x 120 movies.
When using modes that permit access to the selections in the image processing section of the menu, functions that can be adjusted by the user are white balance (seven selections plus manual), ISO (160-6400), picture control (standard, neutral, vivid, monochrome, portrait, landscape), custom picture control (sharpness, contrast, brightness, saturation, hue, filter effects, toning) and high ISO noise reduction.
The J3 has a sharp, three-inch diagonal LCD monitor with 921,000 dots of resolution in a 3 x 2 aspect ratio. The LCD monitor is fluid and easy to read with 100% coverage. It can be adjusted to seven levels of brightness. I found the LCD monitor to be difficult to see in the bright sunshine, though the same could be said for the monitors of most cameras. The camera lacks a viewfinder, which would help with visibility but would add bulk to the camera. If a viewfinder is required, the Nikon 1 V2 is still available, although it is considerably more expensive than the J3.