Nikon J1 Review
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Nikon J1 Exposure Options
The Nikon J1 offers much the same exposure options you'd find in a traditional SLR camera, plus a few Nikon-specific options. Available exposure modes include Program AE, Manual, Aperture Priority, and Shutter Priority modes, and the J1's electronic shutter allows an unusually wide range of shutter speeds from 1/16,000 to 30 seconds, plus a Bulb setting for longer exposures. Unfortunately, that electronic shutter also means that the x-sync speed for flash photography is just 1/60 second. A fully automatic mode called Smart Photo Selector enables scene recognition, and places the camera in control of almost all functions, to try to deliver optimum results under a wide range of conditions. It then buffers up to 20 frames while the shutter button is half-pressed, then judges the results in terms of blur, composition, and subjects blinking, and saves what it judges to be the best five frames. Even basic options such as exposure compensation aren't available to the photographer in this mode. Unusually for a camera aimed at consumers, the Nikon J1 doesn't offer any directly-selected Scene modes, although it does provide a Scene Auto Selector function that can automatically choose one of five scene types. There's also an unusual Motion Snapshot mode which captures both a slow-motion silent movie and still image, then plays them sequentially with musical accompaniment in-camera. See the Operation page for more details.
Although it doesn't provide any histogram function in Record mode to help you judge exposures, the Nikon J1 does offer an exposure indicator along the right-hand side of the LCD when the camera is in Manual exposure mode. This shows the amount the camera thinks an image will be over- or underexposed within a range of +/-2.0EV, based on the settings you have selected, to help you find the best exposure for the subject. (Beyond the 2.0EV range, an arrow appears to emphasise that the metering system's limit has been reached.) The exposure indicator makes it reasonably easy to get suitable exposures, even though the camera doesn't attempt to simulate the exposure level on the LCD panel when in Manual mode.
Nikon J1 Face Detection
The Nikon J1 includes Face Detection capability, capable of locating the positions of your subjects within the image frame. This information is taken into account when determining several exposure variables -- focus, exposure, and white balance. Up to five faces can be located simultaneously and their locations accounted for, but the J1 doesn't go as far as some cameras that try to differentiate between adults and children, recognize specific individuals, nor can it trigger the shutter when your subject is smiling or identify if anybody blinked at the moment of exposure.
What it can do--and this is arguably a more useful time-saver--is to help you more quickly locate your subjects in playback mode, when reviewing zoomed images. If you set the playback zoom as desired first, simply turning the Multi-Selector dial will instantly jump between the locations of up to five detected faces within the image frame, while retaining the current zoom level. We found this a great way to quickly review photos to ensure that everybody was focused and exposed correctly, and that facial expressions were OK, although for larger group portraits it'd have been nice if the function could recognize more than five faces in each image.
Nikon J1 ISO Range
ISO sensitivity ranges from 100 to 3,200 equivalents plus a Hi-1 (ISO 6,400) position, and is adjusted through the Shooting menu in one-stop increments, in all except Smart Photo Selector and Scene Auto Selector modes, or when the drive mode is set to Electronic (Hi).
Three Auto ISO modes are also available, even when shooting with fully manual exposure. The three modes differ only in their maximum sensitivity limit, which can be capped at ISO 400, 800, or 3,200 equivalents. (In all cases, Auto ISO sensitivity will also range as low as the J1's base ISO 100 sensitivity limit.)
Nikon J1 Noise Reduction
The Nikon J1 gives you only two choices for High ISO noise reduction, neither of which allows the function to be completely disabled. The default is to leave High ISO NR entirely in the camera's control, but if the maximum image detail is desired (or you prefer to do your noise filtering in post processing), an "Off" option is also available. Despite the name, however, it doesn't switch the function off altogether, but merely disables it at lower sensitivities. At higher sensitivities--Nikon doesn't specify the cutoff point--the J1 will perform High ISO NR even when this option is set to "Off".
A separate Long Exposure noise reduction On/Off setting is available for dark frame subtraction when shooting exposures of one second or longer. If enabled, this increases the exposure time for each shot by 1.5-2x, allowing the second dark frame exposure to be captured with the shutter closed. Unlike the High ISO NR function, when Long Exposure NR is set to Off, it's completely disabled.
Nikon J1 Picture Control
Nikon has standardized its Picture Control system so that camera settings for sharpening, contrast, brightness, saturation, and hue can be finely adjusted and ported to other Nikon cameras that support the system. The D3 was the first camera compatible with the option, and all Nikon interchangeable-lens cameras since--including the J1--follow the standard. The Nikon J1 has six presets called Standard, Neutral, Vivid, Monochrome, Portrait, and Landscape, and up to nine custom presets can be made based on the existing presets. Sharpness can be adjusted in ten steps, along with an Auto setting; contrast and saturation can be adjusted in seven steps or determined automatically, while for hue there's a seven-step adjustment with no auto mode. Brightness is adjustable in three steps, and doesn't affect exposure. There is also a five-step "Quick Adjust" setting which exaggerates or mutes the combined effect without having to adjust each slider individually. When Monochrome Picture Control is selected, Hue and Saturation are replaced by Filter Effects and Toning respectively. Filter Effects offers Off, Yellow, Orange, Red, and Green settings, while Toning offers B&W, Sepia, Cyanotype, Red, Yellow, Green, Blue Green, Blue, Purple Blue and Red Purple settings, with each of the colored settings offering seven adjustment steps.
Of course, the Nikon J1 also offers sRGB and Adobe RGB settings, in a separate Color Space option located in the Shooting menu.
Nikon J1 White Balance Options
White balance modes on the Nikon J1 include Auto, Incandescent, Fluorescent, Direct Sunlight, Flash, Cloudy, and Shade. A Preset Manual white balance setting is also offered, for setting white balance from a white or grey card. The J1's proprietary external flash strobe can be used when determining a custom white balance, and the effect of changes in white balance settings are shown in real-time on the LCD monitor.
In all white balance modes except Preset Manual, you can fine-tune the color by pressing the right arrow key in the white balance menu. You're then presented with a menu that allows separate amber / blue and green / magenta adjustment within a range of -6 to +6 arbitrary units.
Preset Manual white balance is set by selecting Preset Manual from the white balance menu, then pointing the camera at a neutral white or grey card under the lighting you'll be shooting in, filling the frame with the reference target, then pressing the Shutter button.
Nikon J1 Metering Options
The Nikon J1 offers three metering modes, selected via the Metering option in the Shooting menu: Matrix, Center-Weighted, and Spot. All three modes operate on data from the camera's CMOS image sensor. The default Matrix metering mode divides the overall image into an unspecified number of segments, and compares these to determine exposure. Center-Weighted gives precedence to a 4.5mm circle at the center of the image while reading the whole frame. Spot metering is useful for high-contrast subjects, as it bases the exposure reading on a small 2mm circle at the very center of the image, letting you set the exposure based on a small portion of your subject.
By default, half-pressing the shutter button locks focus, but not exposure, while the AE-L/AF-L button (Up arrow on the Multi-selector) will lock both focus and exposure. Through an option in the Setup menu, you can customize this behavior so that the J1 will lock an exposure reading by half-pressing the Shutter button. You can also separately configure the AE-L / AF-L button to lock only exposure, or only focus.
Nikon J1 Exposure Compensation
The Nikon J1's Exposure Compensation adjustment is available only in Program and Priority shooting modes, and increases or reduces the overall exposure from -3 to +3 exposure values (EV) in one-third stop increments. Like White Balance, the effect of Exposure Compensation is simulated on the preview. In addition, the J1 offers -3 to +1 EV of flash exposure compensation, in 1/3 EV increments, through an option in the Shooting menu.
Nikon J1 Active D-Lighting
The J1 includes Nikon's Active D-Lighting function, which first appeared in the Nikon D3 and D300. When enabled, the camera exposes for the highlights, in an attempt to preserve more highlight detail, then adjusts the tone curve to bring the midtones and shadows back up to produce an image that doesn't look underexposed. Unlike recent Nikon SLRs, the J1 doesn't provide any control over the strength of the effect, however -- ADL can only be set On or Off, with the camera retaining full control over its results. When enabled, ADL prevents use of brightness and contrast adjustments under the Picture Control menu.
In addition to the pre-capture variant, the J1 also includes Nikon's post-capture (ie., non-Active) D-Lighting function, which can be used to restore shadow detail in images that have already been captured.
Nikon J1 Drive Modes
The Nikon J1 offers three drive modes, selected via the Feature ('F') button on the beveled area at the very top of the rear panel. Drive options are Single Frame, Continuous, and Electronic (Hi). Single-shot, as you'd expect, captures a single image with each press of the shutter button. Continuous Advance captures images at 5 frames per second while the shutter button is held down, adjusting focus and exposure between shots as necessary. At ISO 100, burst depth in Continuous mode is 19 raw or raw+JPEG frames, or 28 JPEG Fine frames at the maximum resolution. The Electronic (Hi) mode boosts the frame rate vastly, with options of 10, 30, or 60 frames per second, set through the Shooting menu. At the higher 30 fps and 60 fps rates, the J1 fixes exposure and focus from the first frame in the burst.
Separately, the J1 offers Self-timer and Remote release functions, configured via the Self-timer button (Left-arrow on the Multi Controller). The Self-timer mode offers a choice of two, five, or ten second timers, as well as two remote control modes. Both require the optional ML-L3 infrared remote control; Quick-response Remote fires the shutter immediately that the remote release is pressed, while Delayed Remote fires with a two-second delay.
Nikon J1 Interval Timer Mode
Another useful feature on the Nikon J1 that first appeared on more expensive models is Interval Timer mode, which facilitates time-lapse photography by taking a series of images at preset intervals. Interval shooting is a good way to capture a timeline of slower events, such as clouds passing across the sky, tidal changes, a flower opening, etc. You can set the time interval in hours, minutes, and seconds (from one second to 24 hours) between each shot, and the total number of intervals after which capture should cease (from one to 999). Once set, you select a menu option to start interval shooting immediately; the J1 doesn't offer a way to preset a starting time for the interval, so you'll need to be present for the first shot. Interval capture can't be paused and resumed, but can be interrupted by pressing the Menu button or powering the camera off, if needed.
Nikon J1 Image Editing
Finally, the Nikon J1 lacks the extensive Retouch menu of the company's SLR cameras, but it does offer a few basic retouching functions. As mentioned previously, there's a D-Lighting tool that restores shadow detail in images. There's also a resize function that allows images to be reduced to 1.1, 0.6, or 0.3 megapixel resolution, suitable for emailing or web use, plus a crop function that provides 3:2, 16:9, 1:1, and 4:3 aspect ratio options.
The images above were taken from our standardized test shots. For a collection of more pictorial photos, see our Nikon J1 Photo Gallery.
Recommended Software: Rescue your Photos!
Just as important as an extra memory card is a tool to rescue your images when one of your cards fails at some point in the future. We get a lot of email from readers who've lost photos due to a corrupted memory card. Memory card corruption can happen with any card type and any camera manufacturer, nobody's immune. A lot of "lost" images can be recovered with an inexpensive, easy to use piece of software though. Given the amount of email I've gotten on the topic, I now include this paragraph in all my digital camera reviews. The program you need is called PhotoRescue, by DataRescue SA. Read our review of it if you'd like, but download the program now, so you'll have it. It doesn't cost a penny until you need it, and even then it's only $29, with a money back guarantee. So download PhotoRescue for Windows or PhotoRescue for Mac while you're thinking of it. (While you're at it, download the PDF manual and quickstart guide as well.) Stash the file in a safe place and it'll be there when you need it. Trust me, needing this is not a matter of if, but when... PhotoRescue is about the best and easiest tool for recovering digital photos I've seen. (Disclosure: IR gets a small commission from sales of the product, but I'd highly recommend the program even if we didn't.) OK, now back to our regularly scheduled review...
Not sure which camera to buy? Let your eyes be the ultimate judge! Visit our Comparometer(tm) to compare images from the Nikon J1 with those from other cameras you may be considering. The proof is in the pictures, so let your own eyes decide which you like best!
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Note: For details, test results, and analysis of the many tests done with this camera, please click on the tabs at the beginning of the review or below.