When Nikon's new mirrorless interchangeable lens cameras finally saw the light of day there was some degree of angst generated over the sensor size - not resolution, but rather the physical dimensions of the sensor itself. With the rest of the non-Pentax cameras in the market segment carrying sensors of either APS-C or micro 4/3 dimensions, Nikon went in the other direction and produced a sensor falling into the gap between micro 4/3 and the 1/1.6 inch sensors of high-end compact digitals like the Canon G12.
The Nikon 1 series' 2.7x crop factor was a plus for telephoto shooters but did nothing to wow the folks who live for wide-angle. Back in Alaska in 2009, my 400 mm lens on a D300 was shooting at "only" six hundred millimeters, but with the J1 that would have been 1080mm. And with my new 600 mm lens, even those sheep 1000 yards away on the top of the mountain look fairly large at 1620mm.
Whether this camera gains traction against the competition remains to be seen, but the camera makes perfect sense when viewed as an addition to the Nikon line. The Nikon 1 system sensor is not so large as to pose a threat to Nikon's DSLR line, yet large enough that folks who want to go beyond Coolpix while stopping short of DSLR now have a Nikon to consider. The J1 is compact and light, with four available lenses spanning the 27 to 297mm focal range. The lenses themselves offer decent optical performance and three are stabilized. Shutter lag is minimal, autofocus acquisition times are good and continuous still image shooting rates can be as high as 60 fps (if only for a fraction of a second). High ISO noise performance was surprisingly good considering the diminutive physical size of the sensor.
The J1 is expensive, coming in at the price of an entry-level DSLR with kit lens, and at present, $150 above another competitor in the class offering more resolution on a larger sensor. The rated battery life of 230 shots is on the low end of that performance totem pole, and the absence of a viewfinder can make image composition and capture difficult on bright outdoor days. But, if you're in the market for a mirrorless interchangeable lens digital and would prefer the name on the front read "Nikon," then your ship has come in.
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