The Nikon 1 J1 is a good camera in a lot of ways. Great image and video quality and some solid optics make it easy to give it a favorable review, but it's not a must-have for enthusiasts and Nikon fans.
Here in the United States, the advent of the mirrorless interchangeable lens digital camera dates back to mid-June 2009 and the Olympus PEN E-P1. By September of that year, Panasonic had entered the fray with the Lumix GF1, and since then Samsung, Sony, and Pentax have introduced products in this market segment. But while rumors swirled around Canon and Nikon, both Olympus and Panasonic introduced third-generation mirrorless models before either of the Big Two officially acknowledged their intent to enter the race.
All of that changed on September 21, 2011 with the announcement of the Nikon 1 system comprising J1 and V1 mirrorless models that become available on October 20. The J1 is the entry-level camera while the V1 contains a few extra features such as electronic viewfinder (EVF), higher dot composition LCD monitor and an i-TTL sensor that can accommodate an optional external flash unit.
Outwardly, the cameras appear very similar with the V1 being differentiated by a hump on the top of the body housing the EVF and a small ridge on the right front to afford a better grip. Internally, the image capture hardware is identical: a 10.1 megapixel resolution CMOS sensor measuring 13.2 x 8.8mm, designated as "CX" in Nikon terminology and providing a 2.7x crop factor. Nikon's new EXPEED 3 image processing engine drives the system and reportedly provides rapid response, fast AF and high-speed performance. In addition, the new dual core EXPEED 3 processor works to maximize battery efficiency while providing high-speed processing and faster transfer rates.
Both cameras feature a new AF system that, according to Nikon, provides "...incredibly fast, split-second response." Nikon goes on to describe it as a "...newly developed hybrid system that continuously evaluates the scene at hand for optimal results, and can switch between phase detection and contrast detect AF to best suit the scene." Nikon claims this new system is the "world's fastest autofocus," albeit under a set of conditions that we will discuss later.
The nominal continuous high-speed shooting rate is 5 frames per second (fps) at full resolution, but the electronic shutter offers 10, 30, or 60 fps rates at full resolution as well. The camera can capture still images in JPEG, NEF (RAW) or NEF/JPEG combinations. Full HD video can be captured at 30 or 60 fps, and there are rates of 400 and 1200 fps for slow motion work. ISO ranges from 100 to 3200, with a 6400 setting available.
The J1 is available in red, white, black, silver and pink bodies and will be offered in kit form: a single lens kit with a 10mm f/2.8 pancake lens at an MSRP of $649.95; a two lens wide angle kit with the pancake and a 10-30mm f/3.5-5.6 zoom and a two lens zoom kit offering the 10-30 and a 30-110 mm f/3.8-5.6. Both two lens kits retail for $899.95. Finally, there is a dedicated pink two lens zoom kit that lists for $929.95, but includes a pink leather hand strap as well as a pink wrapping cloth not found in the other zoom kits. Here's a look at the wide and telephoto ends of the 10-30 and the telephoto end of the 30-110; that covers the focal range extremes offered by these three lenses.
The basic kit menu is the easy part - not all camera body colors are available in every kit. White, black, silver and red bodies are available in the one lens kit; white, silver and red in the two lens kits and pink is only available in that special two lens zoom kit.
A fourth lens is also available - a 10-100mm f/4.5-5.6 power zoom developed specifically for movie capture. And just like Henry Ford's Model T it can be had in any color so long as it's black. The three zoom lenses are VR (stabilized), but in a departure from past practice activation is accomplished via camera menu rather than a switch on the lens itself. An adapter is in the works that will allow Nikon F mount lenses to be used on Nikon 1 bodies. The camera utilizes SD/SDHC/SDXC memory media - there is no internal memory. Nikon includes a lithium-ion battery and charger, USB cable, camera strap, printed user's manual and CD-ROM software with each camera.
Just about everybody else with horses in this race are on their second or third generation offerings - let's see how Nikon's initial foray stands up to this competition.
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