Nikon J1 Review

 
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Nikon J1 Flash


The Nikon J1's built-in flash has a Guide Number (GN) rating of 5 meters (16 feet) at ISO 100. That's quite weak, but not unusual for a compact system camera. (The Panasonic GF3's flash guide number also works out to about five meters at ISO 100.) Compared to most digital SLRs, which are typically rated at 12 or 13 meters, it's a lot weaker--but still better than no flash when your subject is close or you need some fill-flash.

The Nikon J1's flash is released manually by sliding the flash pop-up switch on the camera's rear panel, and when raised, it is enabled. It never pops up automatically, like those found on some competing cameras, which can be good or bad, depending on your point of view. A novice would probably appreciate an auto-pop-up flash, but someone with experience would likely think it a nuisance.

The J1's flash is disabled by pressing down until it clicks shut. When open, the flash does extend fairly high for the size of camera which should help avoid red-eye and shadows from the lens at close distances, though we suspect longer lenses could still cast a shadow especially when a lens hood is attached.

The Nikon J1's flash has six modes: Fill flash, Red-eye Reduction, Red-eye Reduction + Slow Sync, Fill Flash + Slow Sync, Rear Curtain + Slow Sync, and Rear-curtain Sync. Flash modes are changed via a menu that appears when the Flash button (Down arrow on the Multi Selector) is pressed, and available settings vary depending on exposure mode. X-Sync (the maximum shutter speed with the flash enabled) is a rather slow 1/60 second, an unfortunate limitation imposed by the electronic shutter used by the J1. (The Nikon V1 offers up to 1/250s flash sync with its mechanical shutter, and a lot of point & shoots that employ electronic shutters offer flash sync across their entire shutter speed range.)

Flash exposure compensation can be set over a range of -3 to +1 EV, and is independent of background exposure. (Rather confusingly, the option in the Shooting menu that controls this is hidden completely unless the flash is raised.) Flash exposure bracketing is not supported, and nor is there any manual flash mode, where output level could be set as a percentage of full power. There's also no wireless flash support in the Nikon J1.

Unlike all SLRs and most CSCs, the J1 does not have a hot shoe or accessory port for mounting an external flash unit, which is unfortunate as the internal flash is quite small and therefore rather weak.

 

Flash Test Results

Coverage and Range
Weak flash with limited range and uneven coverage at wide-angle. The camera won't use the flash if it detects the subject is out of flash range.

Flash coverage, at 10mm Flash coverage, at 30mm
Normal Flash
0 EV
Slow-Sync Flash
-0.3 EV

Coverage. Flash coverage was rather uneven at wide-angle (10mm) as you can see from the dark corners in the top-left image above. At the telephoto end (30mm), the flash would not fire as the camera determined the target was out of range when framed such that the entire target is captured, but you can see from the telephoto range shot below that coverage at telephoto is fairly even when in range.

Exposure. For our Indoor Portrait scene test, the Nikon J1's flash produced a dim image and default exposure. Increasing flash exposure compensation didn't help, as the J1 refused to use the flash if it determined the range was too far, resulting in images taken without flash. The J1 selected a shutter speed of 1/60s in normal flash mode, which is good. (Slower shutter speeds can result in subject and/or camera motion blur in typical indoor portrait shots.) The camera's Slow-Sync flash mode produced very bright results without any flash compensation, so the above shot used -0.3 EV. It resulted in a strong pinkish-orange cast from the ambient room lighting due to the slow 0.5s shutter speed.

ISO 100 Range. We didn't shoot our usual 6 to 16 feet flash range series at ISO 100 with the Nikon J1, as the J1's flash range is less than 6 feet with the 10-30mm kit lens at both wide angle and telephoto, and the camera refused to fire the flash when it determined the subject was out of flash range. You may be able to get around this "feature" by increasing ISO, but we always shoot this range at base ISO for comparison purposes.


Manufacturer-Specified Flash Range
Wide Angle Telephoto
Click to see J1FL_MFR047WM0100.JPG
4.7 feet
ISO 100
Click to see J1FL_MFR029TM0100.JPG
2.9 feet
ISO 100

Manufacturer Specified Flash Test. The Nikon J1's flash Guide Number (GN) is 5 meters or 16 feet in auto flash mode at ISO 100, which translates to a range of only about 4.7 feet at f/3.5 and 2.9 feet at f/5.6, the maximum apertures of the 10-30mm kit lens at full wide-angle and telephoto respectively. The flash shots above were both well exposed, indicating the J1's flash output performs to Nikon's specification in our tests. Our standard test method for flash range uses a fixed setting of ISO 100, to provide a fair basis of comparison between cameras. We've now also begun shooting two shots using the manufacturer-specified camera settings, at the range the company claims for the camera, to assess the validity of the specific claims.

 

Nikon J1

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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.

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