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Nikon 1 J1 review

Our Rating :
Price when reviewed : £479
inc VAT

A gorgeous design and stunning videos are the highlights, but photo quality is up to scratch too. Despite some reservations, this is an excellent debut for the Nikon 1 system


13.2×8.8mm 10.0-megapixel sensor, 3.0x zoom (27-81mm equivalent), 342g

The Nikon 1 J1’s video mode is the best we’ve ever seen from a stills camera – or video camera, for that matter. Details were sharp, colours were rich and noise was incredibly low, even beating our Panasonic GH11 for low-light image quality. It was faster to focus, too, and although some clicks from the autofocus system appeared on the soundtrack, they were barely audible.

There’s a choice of 1080/30p, 1080/60i or 720/60p capture, with AVC encoding at 24Mbit/s with stereo AAC audio. We’d have liked support for the European standards – 25p and 50i – too, but in this age of online sharing it isn’t much of a problem. The 20-minute clip limit is annoying but it’s only a little worse than Panasonic and Sony’s 30-minute limit.

There’s full control over video exposure, including the ability to make manual adjustments while recording – crucial features for keen videographers. The 1/100s minimum shutter speed is surprising as 1/60s is the textbook speed for 30fps video, and would capture more light, but we can live with this minor compromise.

Nikon 1 J1 detail shot 3
There’s a hint of noise in the shadows of this ISO 200 shot, but image quality is firmly in SLR rather than compact camera territory.

Photos were, for the most part, just as impressive as videos (click on Gallery at the top of the page for more information). Brightly lit shots were smooth and natural looking, and Nikon’s usual knack for flattering skin tones was clearly evident. Noise levels were remarkably low, allaying our worries about the sensor’s relatively small size. At ISO 3200, shadows were scruffy and noise reduction glossed over details but image quality was significantly better than from the Panasonic GF3. It couldn’t quite match the Sony NEX-C3 but the difference was much less than we expected. The modest 10-megapixel resolution plays a part in keeping noise at bay, and we applaud Nikon’s resolve to strive for quality rather than headline-grabbing megapixel ratings.

Nikon 1 J1 sensor
The sensor size is smaller than on competing cameras, but the lower megapixel count helps maintain low-light performance.

We did notice a few problems with the Nikon 1 J1’s images, though. We can live with the barrel distortion at wide-angle settings, but the low success rate of the fully automatic mode was more disappointing. When we used the flash, the ISO speed was set too high, over-exposing nearby subjects and introducing unnecessary noise when the camera could simply have increased the flash power to keep the ISO speed down. In low light without the flash, it refused to venture beyond ISO 800, which often led to excessively long shutter speeds. Switching to Program mode let us set the ISO speed manually, and also unlocked an Auto ISO mode with a 100-3200 range.

Nikon 1 J1 detail shot 1
Blurry shots were worryingly common in our tests – it appears that the Active stabilisation mode is largely to blame.

More worryingly, blurry shots were common when shooting outdoors in overcast weather at shutter speeds of around 1/60s. Some photos were seriously sharp but many were a little soft, and a good 20 per cent were woefully blurred. We contacted Nikon about this, and were advised that the Active stabilisation option is best reserved for very bumpy situations such as shooting while walking or on a boat, and that we should switch to the Normal stabilisation mode. That proved to be good advice – after doing so, blurry shots were much rarer – but it’s worrying that Active is the default setting for this camera.

While most image quality problems could be avoided by delving into the menu, that really shouldn’t be necessary on a camera that’s explicitly designed for point-and-shoot operation. Even so, we can’t bring ourselves to mark the J1 down too heavily. With a couple of simple tweaks, it’s a great little camera that has lots of charm. We’d happily pay £500 for the video mode alone, and on that basis, it’s unfair to award it anything less than four stars.

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Basic Specifications

Rating ****
CCD effective megapixels 10.0 megapixels
CCD size 13.2×8.8mm
Viewfinder none
Viewfinder magnification, coverage N/A
LCD screen size 3.0in
LCD screen resolution 460,000 pixels
Articulated screen No
Live view Yes
Optical zoom 3.0x
Zoom 35mm equivalent 27-81mm
Image stabilisation optical, in kit lens
Maximum image resolution 3,872×2,592
Maximum movie resolution 1920×1080
Movie frame rate at max quality 30fps
File formats JPEG, RAW; QuickTime (AVC)


Memory slot SDXC
Mermory supplied none
Battery type Li-ion
Battery Life (tested) 230 shots
Connectivity USB, mini HDMI
HDMI output resolution 1080i
Body material aluminium
Lens mount Nikon 1
Focal length multiplier 2.7x
Kit lens model name 1 NIKKOR VR 10-30mm f/3.5-5.6
Accessories USB cable, nect strap
Weight 342g
Size 61x107x77mm

Buying Information

Warranty one-year RTB
Price £479

Camera Controls

Exposure modes program, shutter priority, aperture priority, manual
Shutter speed 30 to 1/16,000 seconds
Aperture range f/3.5-16 (wide), f/5.6-16 (tele)
ISO range (at full resolution) 100 to 3200
Exposure compensation +/-3 EV
White balance auto, 6 presets with fine tuning, manual
Additional image controls Active D Lighting, noise reduction, contrast, saturation, sharpness, brightness, hue, colour space
Manual focus Yes
Closest macro focus 20cm
Auto-focus modes multi, centre, flexible spot, face detect, tracking
Metering modes multi, centre-weighted, centre, face detect
Flash auto, forced, suppressed, slow synchro, rear curtain, red-eye reduction
Drive modes single, continuous, self-timer, Motion Snapshot, Smart Photo Selector