Nikon 1 J1 review
13.2x8.8mm 10.0-megapixel sensor, 3.0x zoom (27-81mm equivalent), 342g
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The compact system camera (CSC) market is gathering momentum now, with exciting new models arriving virtually every week. It's Nikon's turn in the limelight with a brand new system called Nikon 1.
The system currently comprises two camera bodies – the J1 and the more upmarket V1 – plus four lenses: a 3x zoom, a wide-angle pancake, a telephoto and a 10x ultra-zoom model. Nikon also sells the FT1 adaptor (£230 including VAT) to attach its SLR lenses, although autofocus will only work with AF-S and AF-I lenses.
There are four 1 lenses available, although the FT1 adaptor lets you use existing Nikon SLR lenses.
So far, so familiar, but there is one surprising detail to the Nikon 1 system: the sensor measures one inch from corner to corner. While this gives it over four times the surface area of conventional compact camera sensors, it's only half the size of a Micro Four Thirds sensor and less than a third that of the Sony NEX range and most SLRs. In our experience, nothing affects image quality more than sensor size, so Nikon's decision is surprising. We'd understand if the J1 was smaller and lighter than rival cameras, but it's only around 30g lighter than the Panasonic GF3 and a little heavier than the Sony NEX-C3.
This sensor is also unusual in that it integrates a phase-detect autofocus system, which is usually much quicker than contrast-detect systems used on compact cameras. While consumer SLRs typically have a dozen or so phase-detect autofocus points, housed in a separate unit to the main sensor, the J1 and V1 integrate 73 points directly onto the sensor. They must be extremely small to nestle in among the light-measuring photosites, which would explain why the camera switches to a slower contrast-detect system in low light.
We tested the Nikon 1 J1 with the 10-30mm kit lens, which gives a 35mm-equivalent focal length range of 27-81mm and an f/3.5-5.6 aperture – typical stats for a kit lens. It's lighter and smaller than its rivals, though, and can be retracted for storage and transit. This gives a 77mm depth when not in use, which is impressively slim but still too big for most pockets. There's room on the lens for a zoom ring but not a focus ring, and manual focusing is via the wheel on the back of the camera.
The lens has a zoom ring, but manual focusing is via the wheel on the back of the camera.
The lens and camera body are housed in aluminium and look extremely smart and luxurious, especially in the blood-red finish we were sent for testing. We'd normally have reservations about the shiny finish and lack of any kind of handgrip on the front of the camera, but the base of the lens barrel sat comfortably on our middle finger and a small, sculpted thumb grip on the back helped us keep a firm grip.