Motion Snapshot

Motion Snapshot is one of the 1 System's unique shooting modes and is elevated to prominence as one of the four shooting modes on the camera's mode dial. In this mode, the J1 and V1 capture 2.5 seconds of slow-motion video, followed by a lingering shot of a single still image. This 'Motion Snapshot' is soundtracked by one of the cameras' four 'theme' musical clips.

It's an interesting idea, aimed very squarely the point-and-shoot user wanting to capture 'memories' rather than just photos. It works by buffering video footage as soon as you half-press the shutter button. When you finally press the shutter, one second of video is recorded in addition to your photo (running from half a second before you grabbed your shot, through to half a second afterwards).

The selection of theme is performed before taking the shot, using the 'F' button. This need to pre-empt the mood of the Snapshot might sound problematic, until you realize you have the choice of Beauty, Waves, Relaxation or Tenderness - there's little diversity in the actual sound, so correspondingly, little danger of choosing the 'wrong' option.

It's an interesting feature, but if you try to download your Motion Snapshot, you'll find you actually have separate movie and stills files (a MOV and a 'widescreen' style 16:9 8MP JPG), and no music. The camera itself doesn't combine the video, still and music into a single file that can be taken off the device. To do this, you must use the supplied View NX2 software to create a .mov file which can then be exported and played on any compatible device, or uploaded to YouTube for all the world to admire.

Smart Photo Selector

Smart Photo Selector mode is a kind of 'super' auto mode which takes 20 images at 60 fps. It then selects, based on composition and sharpness, the five 'best' and saves them on the memory card. The very best image (in the camera's opinion) is displayed in review mode, and by pressing the OK button you can view the other four saved images, and change your favorite if you disagree with the camera's judgement.

In practice the system works well but is far from perfect. Often the image that is displayed in review mode is not necessarily the one that we would have chosen. It appears the system prioritizes image sharpness over a subject's open eyes while often it's probably easier to live with a small amount of blur than a subject with closed eyes. That said, in reality this is not much of a problem as you can manually review the four additional images which have been saved by the camera and pick the one you like best.

To test the system we took pictures of a subject who is continuously turning their head and opening and closing their eyes at the same time. You can see the results below:

The camera's selection process does not always work perfectly. In the example above the image on the left was chosen by the camera over the one on the right. The latter shows some minor motion blur but most users would arguably prefer that over a subject with closed eyes. It's only a minor problem though as the Smart Photo selector allows you to pick the best image manually.
In this instance the system did a great job. The picture on the left was the only one with the subject's eyes open, all other images in the series looked similar to the one on the right with the subject's eyes closed.

We repeated the same test in low light and again found the system to prioritize sharpness over open eyes. But of course having the option to choose from 5 images greatly increases your chances of finding an acceptable one. The good news is that in low light the Smart Photo Selector mode increases ISO to a level that allows for acceptable shutter speeds. In PASM shooting modes with Auto-ISO enabled on the other hand, light levels have to get very low before the cameras will reach for the highest available ISO sensitivity setting of 3200.

These images were taken in low light. The one on the left is a tad sharper than the one on the right and was chosen by the camera which indicates that the system somewhat prioritizes sharpness over composition. Again though, that's not much of a problem given that you can manually select your favorite image.
Because the series of images is taken at a speed of 60 frames per second the minimum shutter speed is 1/60 sec. If it's too dark even this minimum shutter speed in combination with the highest sensitivity selected by the mode (ISO 3200) results in underexposure.

One problem with this mode is illustrated above - underexposure in poor light. Smart Photo Selector mode is locked to 60 fps capture, which means a minimum shutter speed of 1/60sec. Even at ISO 3200, this isn't always enough to ensure accurate exposure in dim lighting conditions, and is asking for trouble, of course, if you're shooting at a moderate telephoto focal length.

Slow Motion movie mode

The Nikon 1 J1 and V1 both feature a slow motion movie mode that is similar to what we've previously seen on some Ricoh and Nikon compact cameras with CMOS sensor technology. The videos are recorded at either 400 fps (13.2 times speed, 640 x 240 pixels) or 1200 fps (40 times speed, 320 x 120 pixels), then played back at 30 fps. The aspect ratio is a rather non-standard 8:3. The maximum recording time for both modes is five seconds which results in 1:06 min or 3:20 min playback time respectively.

To access the slow motion movie mode, turn the mode dial to movie mode, then press the 'F'-button to select slow motion. You can set the frame rate, 400 or 1200 fps, in the menu. You don't have any control over shutter speed, aperture or ISO but you can apply exposure compensation. These modes are great for slowing down and analyzing fast motion such as a golf swing or things smashing into pieces. However, as you can see in the samples below they are rather low resolution with a lot of compression. The unusual 8:3 aspect ratio also requires some getting used to.

Below you can see the slow motion video modes in action. At 400 fps the resolution is reduced to 640 x 240 pixels but the slow motion is smooth and the video compression is still at acceptable levels, making this mode fun to shoot with and watch.

400 fps, 640x240, .MOV, 18 sec, 7.6 MB Click here to download original file

At 1200 fps the slow motion effect is impressive but resolution and video size are further reduced, resulting in image quality that is only really suitable for very specialist applications.

1200 fps, 320x120, .MOV, 49 sec, 3.6 MB Click here to download original file

Electronic (Hi) shooting

The V1 and J1's electronic shutter allows for near silent shooting but also for another of the cameras' special features: the ability to shoot at 60 frames per second for 30-shot bursts.

The easiest way to engage the mode on both cameras is by pressing the 'F'-button and then selecting Electronic (Hi). If you want the change the speed of the mode (10, 30 or 60fps) you have to dive into the shooting menu ('Shutter type' on the V1 and 'Continuous' on the J1). At any of these speeds both the focus and exposure are locked at the point of the first shot. In 60fps the V1's buffer will allow it to capture up to 30 frames (J1: 24) and, unbelievably, it can continue to do this in Raw+JPEG mode.

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There are some payoffs, naturally. Exposure (including ISO sensitivity) is fully automatic, and depending on the lighting conditions the cameras' rather oddly-chosen program-line can limit the feature's usefulness. During our time experimenting with the J1 and V1's highest-speed capture mode we found that just as in normal still image shooting, when set to their high-speed modes they still prefer to set a shutter speed of 1/60sec and a relatively low ISO setting rather than faster shutter speeds at higher ISO settings. Depending on the subject, this risks motion blur due to subject movement, as can clearly be seen in the example above.