Nikon 1 J1 review

I just realized that I haven’t reviewed my brand new Nikon 1 even a year after I bought it. I will make that right today.

The Nikon 1 is an upgrade from my previous camera the Fujifilm FinePix S4600 bridge camera. As you can tell from the review, the S4600 has many limitations that has led to me selling it off online and getting the Nikon 1. The Nikon 1 J1 that I got is a mirrorless camera with interchangeable lens, something that I always wanted from the start but the high price had put me off for a while (at least until I can afford it). The Nikon 1 series has evolved into better and more powerful cameras now, the latest iteration is the J5 with built in Wi-Fi and NFC capabilities. So why did I chose the old J1 version and not the later and better version? You guessed it, the price. With limited budget comes limited choice of cameras.

My J1 was in fact a demo set unit. It was being constantly picked up and tested by all sort of people before I came to the rescue. For RM950 it’s the lowest I can get on the market. Any lower it will be a second hand unit. What’s more I opted for the excellent f/2.8 10mm prime lens instead of the standard 10–30mm lens kit. Other than that I got a standard li-on rechargeable battery and a flimsy 2GB SD card, that’s it. I had to buy a camera beg and a brand new lens filter myself. Speaking of which, a lens filter and a decent camera bag is a must if you value your camera. You simply don’t just chuck your camera into a back pack and without the lens filter there’s a good chance you’ll scratch your precious lens pretty soon.

So how does the J1 fare compared to my previous camera? It totally blew my mind away! From the first picture that I took (a selfie at the camera shop) I can see the huge difference in quality and amazing picture details. It’s a huge upgrade from all my other point and shoot or fixed lens cameras. And with the f2.8 lens I can take great photos with that awesome depth of field effect (where the subject is in focus while the background is blurred away). The J1 is also capable of recording high quality 1080p videos in 20 minutes clips provided you use a speedy class 10 memory card. Battery-wise, the J1 can last up to one day with a few hundred snaps and also multiple 20 minutes video recording. 2 to 3 days on a single charge if you only take still images.

I love the minimalist and practical design of the Nikon 1 series. Most of the dials and buttons are located at the back of the camera next to the 3” LCD viewfinder. On top of the camera you’ll find the shutter release button and the dedicated video recording button along with the hidden flash. The dials are pretty much self-explanatory. You have the video mode at the bottom followed by the still image mode. The final 2 modes are the ones that I used the least including the motion snapshot mode and smart photo selector mode.With motion snapshot, the camera takes a high-resolution still image plus one second movie-vignette. Upon playback, this creates a motion series in slow motion, accompanied by music. It’s kind of like a second vine video which as you can see is pretty useless. I’d rather stick with regular still images and video clips thank you.

The smart photo selector is slightly more useful though. Upon pressing the shutter, the camera takes 20 shots at 30fps and choose the best 5. We can then select one from the final 5 and this is useful when capturing fast moving images and quick moments.

The J1 has a 10 mega pixel Nikon CX format CMOS sensor which is almost as good as a standard DSLR sensor. For it’s compact size, the Nikon 1 uses a new type of mount called the Nikon 1 mount which is smaller than the standard F type mount. However you can still use regular F type mount once you fit the FT1 F-mount adapter to it. I’ve asked around for the price of the original FT1 adapter and they’re not exactly cheap, starting 600 ringgit onwards. And since the standard Nikon 1 (1 Nikkor) lenses cost around the same price as the F type lenses I might as well buy those 1 Nikkor lenses anyway.

The 10mm f/2.8 lens kit that I got is great but after a while, I got frustrated by it’s limitation, specifically the lack of zoom capabilities. Yes I know all prime lens doesn’t have zooming capabilities hence why I bought another secondhand 1 Nikkor VR 10–30mm f/3.5–5.6 lens for RM450. This one actually has zooming capabilities and auto or manual focus control. At last I can finally zoom in on a subject from far away but still get that depth of field effect effortlessly. What’s more, if I get all the variables right, I may even get some lovely bokeh effect in my picture — every photographer’s wet dream. That’s the best thing about camera with interchangeable lenses, you can always upgrade to a better one.

So how does the camera fare in real life conditions? Well I’m an outdoor type of person so I use the J1 outside along. I’ve brought it along on top of several mountains including the grueling 64 km hike up mount Tahan and it worked flawlessly. It took vivid bright pictures in broad daylight and it also fared pretty well in low light conditions. One thing I noticed is that I shouldn’t turn off the camera immediately after taking a picture because it might still be saving the picture to the memory card and could cause strange behaviors afterwards if you do. The only time the camera crack under pressure (not literally) though is when the weather is too hot. I brought the J1 to a peaceful street demonstration once and the camera overheated and refused to turn on because of high temperature. So the camera could withstand a little bit of rain, freezing cold mountain-top wind but not excessive heat.

Apart from that, the J1 still requires you to stand fairly still when taking pictures because the vibration reduction features has a lot of room for improvement. Yes you can probably take fast moving objects with the smart photo selector but even then the picture will be slightly grainy or noisy. The best pictures that I took with this camera are the ones that’s stationery or inanimate objects. Better still, fix the camera on a tripod if you can (although carrying a bulky tripod everywhere is quite a hassle). I presume this is the limitation of the pioneer version of the Nikon 1 series and I’m sure they have all improved with every new release.

Would I recommend the Nikon 1 mirrorless camera? Absolutely but try to get the newer version i.e J3 or later with better sensor and specifications. But if you’re really tight on budget, the J1 would be more than adequate if you’re serious about photography. Get a basic Nikon 1 with the standard lens kit first and after you master the basics, get a better lens. Whatever you do, don’t buy any of those premium point of shoot or bridge camera with fixed lens. Yes they’re great at taking good pictures in general but without the manual control and interchangeable lenses you’ll never move up to the next step in photography. It’s the difference between an amateur and a professional. A mirrorless camera is smaller, more compact and portable than a full-featured DSLR at the fraction of the price and weight so they’re perfect for outdoor photography or when you just don’t feel like lugging around those heavy DSLR. For more samples of pictures I've taken with my J1, feel free to visit my Instagram page.