Nikon J1 Review

 
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Nikon J1 Video Recording

High-definition video capture has become a must-have feature in this year's interchangeable-lens cameras, and essentially all the major manufacturers now provide some form of video capture in their compact system cameras. Although positioned as an entry-level camera, the Nikon J1 offers some more advanced features such as Full HD recording, manual exposure control, manual audio levels control, and full-time autofocus. It also offers some more unusual features, such as the ability to shoot high-res stills during movie capture without interrupting the video feed, or to adjust aperture, shutter speed, and exposure compensation during movie capture, and there are even two high frame-rate, slow-motion modes (albeit at greatly reduced resolution and with a bizarre 8:3 aspect ratio), plus an unusual option to bookend captured videos with fade effects. With one of Nikon's optional 1-mount lenses, there's even a power zoom function, ideal for movie capture.

There are a few omissions, such as any provision for an external microphone, standard-definition capture, or the wide selection of frame-rates that a professional videographer would expect. For most consumers and even enthusiasts, though, the Nikon J1's video capture capabilities will make it a very attractive alternative to a dedicated camcorder. The lack of a microphone isn't as much of an issue as it would be with a DSLR, since 1-mount lenses are designed from scratch for quiet autofocus drive. J1 owners are also less likely to need to match frame rates for specific output types, as they're likely either to be reviewing movies on their computer, or burning a DVD through consumer software that will handle frame rate conversion with quality that's acceptable to consumers.

For an entry-level system camera, the bottom line is that Nikon's J1 offers a very well-considered video capture feature set.

Nikon J1 Basic Video Specs

  • Full HD 1,920 x 1,080 at 60 fields per second (1080i) or 30 frames per second (1080p); HD 1,280 x 720 at 60 frames per second (720p), in H.264 MPEG-4 AVC format
  • Autofocus functions during movie recording, manual focus also available but fly-by-wire control causes clearly audible clicks from Multi Selector dial
  • Essentially silent autofocus and aperture operation on 1-series lenses
  • Power zoom possible with optional 1 NIKKOR 10-100mm f/4.5-5.6 PD-ZOOM lens
  • Scene Auto Selector, Program, Aperture-priority, Shutter-priority, and Manual exposure (set before recording starts)
  • Auto or manual ISO sensitivity control
  • Aperture and shutter speed adjustable during movie recording (but with clearly visible steps in brightness)
  • EV adjustment is available in all except Manual and Scene Auto Selector modes (but with clearly audible clicks from Multi Selector dial)
  • Stereo audio recording via built-in microphones
  • Automatic or three-step manual audio levels control, or disable audio altogether
  • Optional wind noise reduction filter
  • Compatible a wide range of Nikon F-mount lenses, via an accessory adapter (includes autofocus for AF-S and AF-I lenses in still imaging, we don't currently know if this also applies to still imaging.)
  • 8.3 megapixel, 16:9 aspect still photo capture during movie recording, without any interruption to the movie feed
  • Optional fade-in / fade-out bookends videos with fades to/from black or white
  • Two high-frame rate modes capture five seconds of low-res video with strange 8:3 aspect ratio and no audio, at either 400 fps (640 x 240) or 1,200 fps (320 x 120), then play back in slow-motion at 30fps
  • Motion Snapshot mode captures still image and one sec., 1,920 x 1,080 pixel, 60 fps clip without audio, saves still and 24 fps slo-mo video separately, then plays both in sequence in-camera with musical accompaniment

Nikon J1 Video: Image Size, Frame Rate, and Encoding

The Nikon J1 records at five different video resolutions, although three of these are special slow-motion modes with limited clip length and in two cases, extremely low resolution. For the high-definition modes, there are a choice of two frame rates at the higher resolution, and one at the lower resolution. The J1 records movies in H.264 MPEG-4 AVC format with stereo AAC audio, except for its slow-motion movies which don't include an audio track. No spec is provided for the sampling rate, though video players report 16-bit, 48 kHz stereo audio, regardless of resolution and frame rate.

The table below shows the specs for various video recording options.

Nikon J1 Video Options
High Definition, Standard Rate H.264 MPEG-4 AVC Format (.MOV files)
Resolution
Frame Rate
Average Bit Rate

1,920 x 1,080
(16:9 aspect ratio)

60 fps (interlaced)
(59.94 fps actual)

24 Mbps

1,920 x 1,080
(16:9 aspect ratio)

30 fps (progressive)
(29.97 fps actual)

24 Mbps

1,280 x 720
(16:9 aspect ratio)

60 fps (progressive)
(59.94 fps actual)

16 Mbps
High Definition, Motion Snapshot H.264 MPEG-4 AVC Format (.MOV files)
Clip length limited to one second, no audio, followed by still image capture

1,920 x 1,080
(16:9 aspect ratio)

60 fps (progressive)
(plays at 23.976 fps)

24 Mbps
Standard Definition , Slow Motion H.264 MPEG-4 AVC Format (.MOV files)
Clip length limited to five seconds, no audio

640 x 240
(8:3 aspect ratio)

400 fps
(plays at 29.97 fps)

1.8 Mbps

320 x 120
(8:3 aspect ratio)

1,200 fps
(plays at 29.97 fps)

0.6 Mbps

As noted above, the Nikon J1 offers only one video recording format: H.264 MPEG-4 AVC. Compared to the older MPEG-4 and Motion JPEG formats used in some cameras, the J1's MPEG-4 file format is rather more efficient in its use of memory card space for a given image quality level, but seems to be a bit harder for older computers to read. With the exception of the slow-motion modes, continuous movie recording is limited to approximately 20 minutes at Full HD resolution, or 29 minutes at 720p, and maximum movie file size is 4GB. For the slow-motion modes, clip length is limited to five seconds, and for Motion Snapshot mode to just one second. Nikon recommends use of at least a Class 6 Secure Digital card to avoid issues with write speeds during video capture.

Here are some examples of video shot with our sample of the Nikon J1:

Nikon J1: Video Samples
1,920 x 1,080
Interlaced, 60 fields per second
View on Vimeo | Download Original
1,920 x 1,080
Progressive, 30 frames per second
View on Vimeo | Download Original
1,280 x 720
Progressive, 60 frames per second
View on Vimeo | Download Original
1,920 x 1,080
Interlaced, 60 fields per second
View on Vimeo | Download Original
1,920 x 1,080
Progressive, 30 frames per second
View on Vimeo | Download Original
1,280 x 720
Progressive, 60 frames per second
View on Vimeo | Download Original

Nikon J1 Video-Mode Focusing

Consumer videographers will find the Nikon J1's ability to provide live autofocus during recording very useful indeed, but pros will . Although pros and many advanced amateurs can "pull focus" (adjust the focus manually) while filming video, and indeed may well prefer to do so, considering focus to be another means of expressing their artistic vision, it's very much a learned skill, and something few people ever manage to do really well. Without live AF, consumers for the most part are reduced to only shooting subjects at a constant distance from the camera, or to having to settle for a lot of poorly-focused video. A lot of video-capable interchangeable-lens cameras are sold to consumers these days, and while having some video capability is certainly better than none, for most consumers to make full use of a video-capable camera it really needs to be able to focus on the fly.

With the 1 series, Nikon's engineers had video recording in mind from the earliest stages of development. All three 1-mount kit lenses offer essentially silent focus and aperture adjustment, and mechanical zoom rings that allow for silent zoom adjustment if care is taken. (We've not yet tested Nikon's power zoom lens, but given that it was made with video in mind, we'd expect it to offer similarly quiet actuations.) The 1-series is also unique among compact system cameras in offering a hybrid autofocus system that couples contrast detection with in-body phase detection using the main image sensor. The Continuous AF mode available for still imaging is replaced by a Full-time AF mode for videos, and of course there's no AF-A mode for video capture, but otherwise the selection of focus-mode options is the same as that for still imaging, and includes both face detection and tracking AF capability. The overall result is an unusually competent autofocus system that should meet the demands of most consumers, especially considering the J1's affordable pricing.

Nikon J1: Autofocus Tracking
1,280 x 720
Progressive, 60 frames per second
View on Vimeo | Download Original

Professional videographers, though, will mourn the absence of manual focus rings on 1-mount lenses announced to date. In their absence, the only way to adjust focus during video is using the Multi-Selector pad on the camera's rear panel. This, unfortunately, involves clearly audible handling noise when the dial is turned or the pad clicked, and given that the J1 lacks any external microphone connectivity, that leaves an external audio recorder device as the only option to get clean audio while adjusting focus manually.

Nikon J1 Video Exposure Control

Nikon J1: Aperture Control / Depth-of-Field
Aperture-priority, f/5.6
1,920 x 1,080
Progressive, 30 frames per second
View on Vimeo | Download Original
Aperture-priority, f/16
1,920 x 1,080
Progressive, 30 frames per second
View on Vimeo | Download Original

While the Nikon J1 has a dedicated Movie position on its Mode dial, it allows selection of any exposure mode that's available for still images when recording movies, configured through the shooting menu before recording starts. This includes Scene Auto Selector, Program, Aperture-priority, Shutter-priority, and Manual exposure. In addition to the selection of shutter and aperture controls you'd expect in priority and manual modes, ISO sensitivity can be controlled automatically or manually in all but the Scene Auto Selector mode. The Program mode doesn't offer a Program Shift function for movie capture, though, unlike its still image counterpart. Additionally, exposure compensation is available in all modes except Scene Auto Selector and Manual.

The really interesting thing, though, is that the Nikon J1 not only allows all these controls, but that most can also be adjusted during video capture. Shutter speed, aperture, and exposure compensation can all be changed while a movie is being recorded, although the controls used for exposure compensation do mean that there will be clearly-audible clicking in the captured video as adjustments are made, and in all cases, there are very obvious changes in brightness as soon as the effect is applied, rather than the camera smoothly applying the change across a short period of time.

Of course, you can also set the shutter speed, aperture, ISO sensitivity and/or exposure compensation levels before recording starts, and then leave them at the fixed levels throughout the recording. All of the J1's metering modes also carry over to video capture, as do white balance, picture controls, and high ISO noise reduction.


Nikon J1 Movie-Mode Image Stabilization

The Nikon J1 relies upon lens-based image stabilization, so its availability will be a function of the particular lens used. Among the company's 1-mount lens lineup, all of the zoom lenses offer essentially silent lens-based IS. The only non-stabilized lens announced for the 1-mount so far is the 10mm prime. Nikon states that its stabilization system offers up to 3 stops of correction, and for both of the available kit zooms, it offers two operating modes: Normal, which is suitable for levels of shake you'd expect when standing still, and Active, which provides a greater range of correction suited to shooting from a moving vehicle or while walking. (We don't currently know if the 10-100mm power zoom lens also includes both Normal and Active modes.)

The really great thing is that--using either of the kit zooms--we were unable to hear any trace of the IS system in the J1's captured sound track, even in extremely quiet scenes.

Nikon J1 Video: Audio recording

The Nikon J1 can record audio via an internal, stereo microphone, comprised of two separate microphones located on the top of the front panel, on either side of the lens mount. (Although we don't have an objective way to test this, the greater separation compared to that of the stereo mic designs in some competing models seems like it may provide better stereo effect.)

Nikon's only published spec for the J1's audio recording capability simply says "MPEG-4 AAC", so we don't officially know the specification employed, although third-party players report 16-bit, 48 kHz stereo audio. Audio recorded with the camera's internal mic sounded very clear, but we do no tests to measure frequency response or sensitivity, so can't comment quantitatively. We did notice that there was audible hiss in audio tracks recorded with the in-camera mic in very quiet environments, although no worse than we've heard on competing models.

The camera's auto-gain system appears to do a good job of adjusting sensitivity as sound levels got louder or softer, with no evident "breathing" in transitions from high to low sound levels. If it's not up to a particular environment, however, the J1 also offers three-step manual audio levels control, providing at least a modicum of user input into the desired audio levels, although there's no audio levels display to let you know whether your chosen level is resulting in clipping. Of course, it's also possible to disable audio capture altogether.

The one fly in the ointment is that the J1 doesn't provide for recording via an external stereo microphone, unlike its higher-spec sibling, the V1. In most situations, that's actually not as much of a problem as it might seem, since Nikon's 1-mount lenses focus and change aperture extremely quietly. There are a couple of circumstances, as mentioned previously, where adjustments made during video capture rely on the Multi Selector Dial, which has a very firm detent when turned, and an equally positive click when pressed. In our experience, it was basically impossible to use these controls without objectionable noise on the audio track, and with no provision for an external microphone, this means that exposure compensation and manual focus adjustments are off-limits during video capture, unless you are either willing to put up with the noise, or can supply a separate audio recording device and sync the sound in post-processing.

Nikon J1 Movie Recording/Playback User Interface

The Nikon J1 makes movie recording simple, once you set the Mode dial to the dedicated Movie position: Simply press the prominent Movie Record button with the red dot at its center on the J1's top panel, and the camera will start recording video.

Movie-mode options are contained in a variant of the J1's Shooting menu that's available only when in Movie mode, and contains only items that can be adjusted for movie capture. One minor source of possible confusion, though, is that either the Frame Rate option, or the Movie Settings and several other options, are always grayed out, with no immediately obvious way to access the disabled options, and no guidance from the error message that pops up when you try to select them. The answer is that the J1 has two movie capture modes -- HD Movie, or Slow Motion. These modes are selected with the Feature ('F') button on the top of the rear panel, and the grayed-out options in the Shooting menu all related to items used solely for the other movie type. It's not the most intuitive design, but could be improved relatively easily in firmware by simply describing how to switch modes in the error message that pops up if you attempt to select a grayed-out option.

In full, the list of Movie-mode settings available in the Nikon J1 is as follows:

Movie Shooting Menu 1:

Movie Shooting Menu 1 Options:
Top-Level
Selection
Second-Level
Third-Level
Notes
Reset Shooting Options
- Yes
- No
Exposure Mode
- Scene auto selector
- Programmed auto
- Shutter-priority auto
- Aperture-priority auto
- Manual
Frame Rate
- 400 fps
- 1,200 fps
Only available in Slow Motion movie mode, set with the Function button.
Movie Settings
- 1080i60 1,080 / 60i
- 1080p30 1,080 / 30p
- 720p60 720 / 60p
Only available in HD Movie mode, set with the Function button.
Metering
- Matrix
- Center-weighted
- Spot
White Balance
- Auto
- Incandescent
- Fluorescent
- Direct sunlight
- Flash
- Cloudy
- Shade
- Preset manual

White balance adjustment screen

- B6 to A6
- G6 to M6

 

Movie Shooting Menu 2:

Movie Shooting Menu 2 Options:
Top-Level
Selection
Second-Level
Third-Level
Notes
ISO Sensitivity
- A3200 Auto (100 - 3,200)
- A800 Auto (100 - 800)
- A400 Auto (100 - 400)
- 100
- 200
- 400
- 800
- 1,600
- 3,200
- Hi 1 (6,400)
Picture Control
- SD Standard
- NL Neutral
- VI Vivid
- MC Monochrome
- PT Portrait
- LS Landscape
- Quick adjust
- Sharpening
- Contrast
- Brightness
- Saturation
- Hue
- Filter effects
- Toning
Quick adjust, saturation, and hue apply only to color images. Filter effects and toning are applicable only for monochrome images.
Custom Picture Control
- Edit / save
- Delete
Picture control selection screen
- Load from / save to card
- Copy to camera
- Delete from card
- Copy to card
High ISO Noise Reduction
- On
- Off
Fade In / Fade Out
- W Fade (white)
- B Fade (black)
- Off (none)
Only available in HD Movie mode, set with the Function button.
Movie Sound Options
- Microphone
- Auto sensitivity (A)
- High sensitivity (3)
- Medium sensitivity (2)
- Low sensitivity (1)
- Microphone off
Only available in HD Movie mode, set with the Function button.
- Wind noise reduction
- On
- Off

 

Movie Shooting Menu 3:

Movie Shooting Menu 3 Options:
Top-Level
Selection
Second-Level
Notes
Vibration Reduction
- Normal
- Active
- Off
Only shown if a VR-capable lens is mounted.
Focus Mode
- AF-F Full-Time AF
- AF-S Single AF
- MF Manual Focus
AF-area Mode
- Auto-area
- Single-point
- Subject tracking
Face Priority AF
- On
- Off

In addition to the standalone movie mode, the J1 also has another mode that's halfway between still image and movie capture, which again merits its own position on the Mode dial. The Motion Snapshot mode captures a short one-second video clip without sound at Full HD (1,920 x 1,080 pixel) resolution at a rate of 60 progressive-scan frames per second, then records a still image as soon as movie capture finishes. The result is saved as two separate files: the full-resolution still image, and a slow-motion video that plays at 24 frames per second (40% of the capture rate). Other than a naming schema that makes it clear the still and video are related, that's as far as the connection goes when you copy files over to your PC, but in-camera, the two files have a close connection. In playback mode, when you browse your images and videos, the Motion Snapshot files show up as a single item, and you can play them like any other movie. The video itself is shown first, at the slow-motion rate, followed by a display of the still image for several seconds. Throughout, one of four musical clips is played to accompany the video and image. It's a curious idea indeed, and doubly-so that Nikon feels it to merit its own position on a Mode dial that's otherwise sparsely populated, and shuns most of the modes found on typical interchangeable-lens cameras. We're sure some consumers will be thrilled by it, but were rather at a loss to find uses for it ourselves, especially given the disconnect between the files (and lack of audio accompaniment) once you get them back onto your computer.

Nikon J1: Slow-Motion Video
640 x 240
(400 fps actual, plays at 29.97 fps)
View on Vimeo | Download Original

One very unusual ability of the Nikon J1's movie mode is the fact that it lets you capture high-resolution still images by pressing the shutter button, while recording is under way, and without any interruption of the captured video. There's one proviso, which is that the still image must match the 16:9 aspect ratio of the movie itself, meaning that stills captured in this manner have a resolution of 3,840 x 2,160 pixels (8.3 megapixels), but where most cameras either don't allow stills at all during movie capture, limit them to the same resolution as the captured video, or require an interruption of one or more seconds in the video while the still is captured, Nikon's solution is clearly head-and-shoulders above the crowd in this area.

Another very unusual feature is the ability to have captured videos fade in and out. You have a choice of fading to/from either a black or white background, and if enabled, the fade is applied at both ends of the video.

Video playback in the Nikon J1 is pretty-much par for the course. You can play, pause, fast-forward and rewind, step through the video in either direction one frame at a time, and adjust the playback volume. Additionally, you can also edit videos in-camera, setting a start- or end-point, and then trimming everything beyond that point to retain only the portion of the video that you're interested in.

Rolling Shutter Artifacts ("Jello Effect")

Nikon J1: Rolling Shutter Artifacts
1,920 x 1,080
Interlaced, 60 fields per second
View on Vimeo | Download Original
1,920 x 1,080
Progressive, 30 frames per second
View on Vimeo | Download Original
1,280 x 720
Progressive, 60 frames per second
View on Vimeo | Download Original

Essentially every video capable digital SLR/CSC currently on the market exhibits some level of motion-related distortion called rolling shutter artifacts. These are caused because the image data is captured and then read off the chip sequentially by rows, rather than each frame's data being captured all at once. In the case of the Nikon J1, this means that image data for the last row of a given frame is captured and read out anywhere from 1/30th to 1/60th second after the data for the top row was captured. The effect on moving objects is like that of a focal plane shutter in an SLR, but more pronounced, because the video frame is read out much more slowly than the slit of a focal plane shutter moves across the sensor.

For a camera that scans video frames vertically (as all do that we're aware of), rolling shutter artifacts will be most noticeable for subjects that are moving rapidly side to side, or when the camera itself is being panned horizontally. Verticals in the scene will appear tilted to the right or left, depending on the direction of camera motion. As an example, consider the case of a camera being panned from left to right, with a flagpole or other vertical object in the middle of the scene when recording for a particular frame begins: If the top of the object was centered horizontally when the first line of the video frame is acquired, by the time the last line of the frame has been captured, the bottom of the object will have shifted to somewhere left of center: As a result, the vertical object would appear to be leaning to the right.

Computer Requirements for Viewing HD Video

A typical computer these days has little trouble dealing with still images, but high-definition video can be another matter. Depending on the file format involved, it can take a pretty beefy computer to handle HD-resolution video playback without stuttering or dropping frames. The H.264 MPEG-4 AVC image compression used by the Nikon J1 is one of the more compute-intensive formats, and its maximum resolution of 1,920 x 1,080 pixels means there's a LOT of data in each frame to deal with. The net result is that you'll want a fairly recent computer to play the J1's Full HD video files, and a pretty powerful machine for Full HD video editing.

You can of course view your movies on a high definition TV via the HDMI output. If you're still on a standard-def TV, though, you're out of luck, as the J1 doesn't offer any form of standard-def video output connectivity.

 

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