Nikon J4 Review -- First Impressions
by Mike Tomkins
Preview posted 04/10/2014
Updated for the US market launch on 05/14/2014
Move over, Nikon J3: Your successor is here! Announced first in Europe and Asia, and subsequently in the US market as well, the Nikon J4 adopts a new body style, and swaps in a new image sensor and processor combination that promise the trifecta of greater resolution, performance, and low-light shooting.
There's also a more sophisticated hybrid autofocus system, a higher-resolution monitor with touch-screen capability, support for image sharing direct from the camera, and more. All that, and yet the Nikon J4 is just a little smaller and lighter than its predecessor.
In terms of its body design, the Nikon J4 is almost a hybrid between the previous J3 and the company's unusual, waterproof Nikon AW1. It has the less rounded, more rectangular shape of the latter, but with the cleaner, less industrial styling of the former. The result is a distinctly different look to earlier Nikon 1 J-series cameras.
The Nikon J4 is available in four colors -- silver, white, black or orange. It ships either with the new 10-30mm f/3.5-5.6 PD-ZOOM power zoom lens for US$650, or with the existing 10-100mm f/4.0-5.6 VR lens for US$1,050. A two-lens kit bundles both the 10-30mm f/3.5-5.6 PD-Zoom and 30-110mm f/3.8-5.6 VR lenses, and lists for US$850. The Nikon 1 J4 went on sale from April 24th in the Japanese market, and followed in the US market from May 2014.
Alongside the J4, Nikon USA has also revealed two new accessories that will be of interest to fans of scuba and snorkeling. The WP-N3 Underwater Case works for the Nikon J4 body with the 10-30mm f/4.5-5.6 PD-Zoom lens mounted, and allows the pairing to be used at depths of 147.6 feet (45 meters). The SB-N10 Waterproof Speedlight works alongside this underwater case, and is in fact safe to an even greater depth of 328.1 feet (100m). Pricing hasn't been disclosed for either accessory, but they'll ship alongside the camera in May 2014.
Order from one of Imaging Resource's trusted affiliates:
Let's take a closer look at the Nikon J4!
Nikon J4 Technical Info
by Mike Tomkins
Sensor and processor. Inside, there's a new 18.4-megapixel, CX-format CMOS image sensor that lacks an optical low-pass filter, and its output is handled by a likewise-new EXPEED 4A image processor. If the pairing sounds familiar, that's because we saw it featured previously in the Nikon V3.
Sensitivity. As in that camera, it allows a sensitivity range of ISO 100 to 12,800 equivalents, with everything up to ISO 6,400 equivalent available under automatic control. And Nikon tells us to expect improved noise reduction at higher sensitivities, thanks to the new processor. If that's not enough, you can also merge multiple shots in camera for reduced noise levels with static scenes.
Performance. The pairing also allows improved performance in a number of key areas. The Nikon J4 can now shoot at an impressive 20 frames per second with continuous autofocus, and at full resolution. That's a handy increase from the already-swift 15 fps of its predecessor. If autofocus isn't needed, you can still shoot at up to a whopping 60 fps, and reduced rates of 5, 10, and 30 fps are also available.
Autofocus. The Nikon J4 also sports more densely-packed autofocus points than its predecessor. There are now a total of 171 contrast-detection autofocus areas, up from 135 areas in the J3. On top of these, another 105 areas are phase-detection types, an increase of almost half over the 73 PDAF areas of the J3.
Display. On its rear panel, the Nikon 1 J4 has a new, higher-resolution 1,037k-dot, three-inch LCD panel. Translating that, there are around 720 x 480 pixels on a 3:2-aspect screen, with each pixel made up of separate red, green, and blue dots. And overlying the Nikon J4's screen is a new electrostatic, touch-sensitive panel that allows it to double as an input device. You can simply tap on the screen to select a focus point, change settings, and more.
Wireless connectivity. Another big change since the J3 is the addition of Wi-Fi. Specifically, the Nikon J4 now supports 802.11b/g wireless networks in infrastructure mode without any external accessories. Wi-Fi Protected Setup is supported, and so are WPA2-PSK / AES encryption.
Movie capture. The Nikon J4's movie capabilities have seen quite a boost, as well. Although it still tops out at Full HD (1,920 x 1080 pixel) resolution, the previous interlaced, 60 fields-per-second Full HD mode is replaced by a progressive-scan 60 frames-per-second mode with a 10-minute clip length. You can also opt for 1080p30 movie capture, should you prefer, and if you do so you'll gain access to an electronic vibration reduction function that isn't available for 60p capture. (It does apply a slight focal-length crop, however.)
There's also a new 120fps option at HD (720p; 1,280 x 720 pixel) resolution, which can play back as slowly as 1/4-speed while still retaining a 30fps rate. There are also still 400fps and 1,200fps modes, and while these still have very low resolution, it's not quite as low as in the past. (768 x 288 pixels for 400fps, and 416 x 144 pixels for 1,200 fps.) Nikon has also added an unusual jump cut function that alternates between recording for one second, and pausing capture for one second, repeating until you stop the capture. The idea is to obtain a series of short clips in a single video. There's also a preset four-second clip function intended to generate short clips that you can manually edit into a longer video.
Auto Image Capture. Perhaps even more unusually, there's an auto image capture function that can save still photos for you automatically at full resolution, without interrupting movie capture and without the need for you to even press the shutter button. (The idea is to allow you to hold the camera more steadily, as pressing any control is likely to cause the camera to shake, and cause untoward noise to be recorded on the audio track.)
The J4 buffers 20 images shortly after capture starts, choosing the best video frames to save at full resolution after taking into account the status of focus, whether a face was detected, and whether the composition was what the camera considers to be "good". It then continues to look at frames as the video continues, and rank them according to the same algorithm. If it sees a better frame, it discards and replaces the worst-ranked frame that was previously buffered. Once you finally stop video capture, the best twenty frames are written to the flash card, giving you the chance to sort through them for some keeper shots -- and the whole thing is completely automatic. It strikes us as a pretty clever use of the camera's processor power.
Audio. One last change related to movie capture: While the Nikon J3 recorded AAC audio, the J4 now uses PCM. There are also some other creative functionality changes worth noting for still images. The night landscape, night portrait and backlighting shooting modes of the J3 have been removed. In their place are new cross process and toy camera effects. There's also a new Active Selection function for Best Moment capture, allowing you to manually select which shot to keep after the camera shoots a burst of shots. (Ideal for making sure you get a photo where nobody's blinked, or the critical moment a touchdown was scored.) Nikon has also dropped the five-second self-timer option, leaving only the more traditional two- or ten-second options.
Power. The Nikon J4 draws power from a new EN-EL22 lithium-ion battery pack, but Nikon has yet to provide any indication as to its expected battery life. We do know, however, that you'll also need a new EP-5E power connector if you want to use mains power, although you can at least use this connector with the same EH-5b AC adapter as for the J3.
Connectivity and storage. Also changed is the J4's HDMI connector, now a type-D Micro version. And interestingly, the Secure Digital card slot is also gone, replaced with a new MicroSD card slot as more commonly seen in smartphones. (It's both MicroSDHC and MicroSDXC compatible.) It also seems that Nikon has dropped its Basic-mode JPEG compression option, leaving only the Fine and Normal options.