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Conclusion - Pros

  • Good image quality (comparable to 12MP Micro Four Thirds sensor output)
  • Very good, print-ready JPEGs - nice color reproduction, and a good balance of NR/detail
  • Fast and accurate phase-detection tracking AF as part of adaptive 'Hybrid' AF system
  • Exceptional continuous shooting rates - up to 60 fps
  • Effective (automatic) in-camera correction of fringing/CA and vignetting in JPEG files
  • Smart Photo Selector works very well in day-to-day shooting (and is great for group portraits)
  • High quality EVF with comfortable eye relief (V1 only)
  • Good visibility of LCD screen in bright daylight (but V1 offers better screen resolution than J1)
  • Very discreet - silent shutter in Electronic shutter mode

Conclusion - Cons

  • Conservative Auto ISO behavior can result in dangerously slow shutter speeds indoors (especially frustrating for social photography and continuous-advance shots of indoor sports)
  • No 'live' simulation of exposure compensation, nor on-screen histogram
  • Few direct access buttons and no 'quick menu' - some basic exposure parameters (such as ISO, white balance and exposure mode) can only be accessed via the main menu
  • Very little customization possible
  • No control over Hybrid AF (phase-detection AF only available in good light, and cannot be selected manually)
  • Shooting video in Still Image mode results in a movie in 3:2 aspect ratio
  • Accurate manual focus is all but impossible due to low-quality magnification view
  • No in-camera correction of distortion in JPEG files (and not an option for raw files converted in View NX2, either).
  • No 'filter effects' or equivalent.
  • No in-camera raw file conversion (and very limited JPEG retouch options).

Overall conclusion

Note: In August 2012, Nikon released firmware version 1.20 for the V1 and J1 which among other small changes, claims to improve the cameras' program lines in some exposure modes, to reduce the risk of blurred images due to slow shutter speeds. We have not been able to test the new firmware yet (as of November 2012) so readers should be aware that some of our comments in this review refer to issues that may be fixed - or at least reduced in severity - in the new firmware.

Many photographers within Nikon's sizeable user base had been eagerly anticipating the camera giant's move into mirrorless interchangeable lens cameras, and a lot of them reacted with disappointment when the curtain parted on the 1 System in late 2011. Despite containing some very interesting technology, the 1 J1/V1 are clearly intended to appeal to upgraders from lower-level compact cameras. Nikon firmly believes that there is a market here, largely untapped, and made up of people who don't like to be bothered by the intricacies of 'serious' photography but just want to be like Ashton Kutcher in the commercials and have fun, and take photographs, and have fun. And did we mention having fun?

The end result of this laudable design philosophy is a pair of rather curious cameras which have a lot to offer (we're hugely impressed by their phase-detection AF performance, and how many other cameras can you think of that allow 60 fps RAW+JPEG capture?) but which in our opinion, fail to wholly address the needs of any class of camera buyer. Obviously, enthusiasts will be disappointed by Nikon's focus on beginners, and that's fine - the 1 System really isn't designed for them. What worries us is that even genuine novices - those happy with point and shoot operation but who want a step up in terms of image quality and AF performance from their compact cameras - will find themselves poorly served by certain facets of the J1 and V1's design and performance.

If you shoot in the default Auto ISO mode for example (which we suspect most point-and-shoot photographers will) you'll be disappointed by how many of your pictures seem blurry, thanks to the long shutter speeds the J1 and V1 insist on using in marginal light when they could increase the ISO instead. This isn't an insurmountable problem of course; ISO can be set manually, but only via the main menu system. This is indicative of another problem: frustratingly, neither the J1 nor V1 offers a 'quick menu' for easy access to frequently-changed settings - a standard feature on virtually every other camera from mid-range compacts upwards.

Of less immediate importance, but curious nonetheless, is the absence of any sort of filter effects modes, and little in the way of in-camera editing of captured images. In-camera raw conversion, similarly, would have been very nice to see - and its omission seems like a missed opportunity to introduce 1 System adopters to shooting in raw mode without pushing them away from the cameras and onto a computer.

If you're absolutely set on buying one of the two cameras in the 1 System, we think that the V1 is worth the price premium thanks to its built-in EVF and higher-resolution LCD screen alone. Its superior buffer compared to the J1 might be a clincher, too, depending on your priorities. But quite honestly, after waiting so long for a mirrorless camera from Nikon, we expected something more polished than the 1 System in its current form.

Image quality

The 1 J1 and V1's 10MP sensor might not offer the most impressive resolution in the world, but image quality is still very good. While they don't match up to the best of the APS-C format mirrorless interchangeable lens cameras, at medium to low ISO settings the J1 and V1 produce images that at worst are hard to tell apart at a pixel level from those created by the considerably larger 12MP Micro Four Thirds sensor, and at high ISO settings actually slightly better. This being said, they do not match the capabilities of the 'next-generation' 16MP sensor found in the Panasonic Lumix DMC-G3 and GX1.

More relevantly perhaps, JPEGs from the J1 and V1 show a pleasing balance between noise suppression and fine detail which results in images that look significantly better upon close examination than we'd expect from high-end compact cameras. The only concern that we have, which has emerged during the course of our studio testing, is a tendency for extremely high-frequency linear detail to generate moiré patterning in low ISO images. In hundreds of 'real world' shots though, the effect is noticeable only very occasionally, and objectionable rarely.

The J1 and V1's metering systems perform well in a variety of settings, striking a good balance between protecting highlights and providing a pleasing overall exposure. As we'd expect from Nikon's DSLR and Coolpix ranges the cameras' auto WB behavior consistently produces generally accurate colors and natural, attractive skin tones, too.

Handling

We're equivocal about Nikon's latest interchangeable lens cameras when it comes to handling. One of the first things that becomes apparent when you pick either the 1 J1 or V1 up is their bulk, relative to most other mirrorless cameras. Bigger cameras are sometimes a little more pleasant to hold and use, but neither the J1 nor the even larger V1 really stand out in terms of their handling. Neither has much in the way of a handgrip (the J1 has virtually nothing) but ultimately, given the lack of direct physical access to shooting settings, it doesn't really matter how you hold the cameras, as long as you can reach the shutter button.

Of the two cameras, we prefer the handling of the chunkier V1 because of its excellent built-in EVF, matte finish and hand grip (which although vanishingly minimal, does make a difference). The gloss metal of the J1 can be a little slippery after extended use, and lacking an EVF, you become reliant on the camera's rear LCD screen for image composition and review. This isn't a bad thing per se, but compared to using an electronic viewfinder it's definitely an inferior experience. If you're a keen social photographer though, typically taking pictures in low interior lighting, the J1 offers by far the better handling experience of the two 1 System cameras thanks to its built-in flash. The optional SB-N5 Speedlight for the V1 is more versatile but of course less convenient than a built-in unit (not to mention the fact that you must purchase it separately).

Something that is easy to overlook, but which might be important to you depending on what kind of photography you do, is how discreet the J1 and V1 are. With their shutters set to electronic mode (the only mode possible in the case of the J1) both are completely silent in operation, which is potentially very useful for social and street photography.

The Final Word

Ultimately, the 1 J1 and V1 have split personalities, and which one you end up confronting depends on what sort of photographer you are. If you're a member of the cameras' target audience and you want a point and shoot camera in its purest sense, you'll encounter the warm, welcoming and considerate faces of the J1 and V1 that quietly usher you away from the noisy, confusing and intricate world of exposure control and towards a clean, bright future where you only have one button to worry about - the shutter release.

If, however, you like being in charge of exposure settings and you enjoy exploring the breadth of a camera's feature set in day-to-day shooting, you'll probably dislike the J1 and V1's caginess when it comes to providing you with access to their key settings. You'll resent how protectively they squirrel away key settings like ISO and white balance inside their menu systems, and you'll balk at their insistence that the 'F' button cannot be customized.

From the point-and-shoot photographer's point of view though the V1 and J1 do some things very well. Motion Snapshot is fun, Smart Photo Selector can be invaluable, 60fps capture at 10MP is very useful in some situations and Hybrid AF offers impressively fast single-shot AF and consistent AF tracking at 10fps (assuming good light) in a way no other consumer camera has done before. We'd like to see this feature developed further but it's a big step in the right direction, and goes some way to answering one of the major un-met needs of compact camera buyers.

However, we can't help feeling that with the J1 and V1 Nikon has missed an opportunity to offer a product that fulfills that other great un-met point-and-shoot need: a small automatic camera that works well in a wide range of lighting conditions, from bright exterior to dim interior. 1 System performance in bright lighting conditions is excellent, but in average indoor lighting conditions a combination of hesitant contrast-detection AF and a poorly-programmed Auto ISO system that threatens blurry photos is a huge shame.

Also, although we try not to be influenced by a retail price when writing our reviews, it's impossible to ignore the fact that at street prices of around $600 and $800, respectively (with 10-30mm lens kit), the J1 and V1 are entry-level mirrorless cameras that cost significantly more than several higher-end alternatives. In most respects (but not all), larger-sensor mirrorless cameras such as the Sony NEX-C3 and NEX-5N, Olympus PEN E-PM1 and E-PL3, Panasonic Lumix DMC-GF3 and G3, and Samsung NX200 offer novice photographers more - and all of these cameras allow more space for their owners' ambitions to develop.

Right now by far the biggest advantage that either 1 System camera has over the competition is their adaptive hybrid AF systems. If you want to shoot moving subjects in good light with a small (ish) camera then the J1 and V1 really are the only game in town, at least as far as mirrorless models are concerned. If this sort of photography is not a priority for you, then given the strength of the competition it is very hard to recommend that you go out and buy either of these cameras.

Scoring is relative only to the other cameras in the same category.
Click here to learn about the changes to our scoring system and what these numbers mean.

Nikon 1 V1
Category: Entry Level Interchangeable Lens Camera / DSLR
Build quality
Ergonomics & handling
Features
Metering & focus accuracy
Image quality (raw)
Image quality (jpeg)
Low light / high ISO performance
Viewfinder / screen rating
Performance
Movie / video mode
Value
PoorExcellent
Good for
'Soccer moms' who shoot fast action outdoors and those who prefer the ergonomic handling of a larger camera body.
Not so good for
Photographers working indoors in low-light and those who like to work creatively with shallow depth of field.
Overall score
69%
The Nikon V1 has appealing specifications for compact camera owners ready to get 'serious' about their photography. But it is expensive and users ready to take control over camera settings may be frustrated with a camera designed primarily to be operated in fully automated mode.
Nikon 1 J1
Category: Entry Level Interchangeable Lens Camera / DSLR
Build quality
Ergonomics & handling
Features
Metering & focus accuracy
Image quality (raw)
Image quality (jpeg)
Low light / high ISO performance
Viewfinder / screen rating
Performance
Movie / video mode
Value
PoorExcellent
Good for
Compact camera upgraders who prefer an uncomplicated control layout
Not so good for
Users who want a pocketable camera that will allow them to easily take control of camera settings as they gain experience
Overall score
67%
The J1 will reward point-and-shoot upgraders with a noticeable bump in image quality, but often fails to deliver acceptable results in lower-light settings when operated in its fully automated mode.

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Comments

Total comments: 2
Solar Ben
By Solar Ben (8 months ago)

I love the nose hair in the 50mm f1.8 sample pic.

2 upvotes
Duncan Dimanche
By Duncan Dimanche (9 months ago)

Correction : it does not allow full shutter control in video... it is stopped at 100/1 so shooting in low light is a pain

Comment edited 42 seconds after posting
0 upvotes
Total comments: 2