As someone who loves taking pictures, I try to have a camera whenever possible. It’s not always convenient to carry an SLR, though, and point-and-shoots can be disappointing. So I was happy to hear that Nikon was entering the “small camera with larger sensor” market. And after using the J1 for a couple of weeks, I’ve become an ardent fan.
You can read all the press releases and reviews, so I won’t go into lots of details and features. The sensor is larger than those used in point-and-shoots (and smaller than in DSLRs), there are two models (J1 and V1), and they both have 10MP of resolution and use interchangeable lenses. That’s it in a nutshell. If you read the reviews and blog posts on the camera, you’ll hear occasional concerns that the sensor isn’t as large as some folks would like, or doesn’t have the resolution that others want. Whatever. I try to remind people when they ask about cameras that what’s really important is the quality of the image the camera delivers. And in that area, the J1 doesn’t disappoint.
In most situations, these cameras will give great quality with very little fuss – comparable to an entry-level DSLR with consumer zooms. In a very, very small package. And that’s the key here. I’ve got a DSLR and lenses. Actually, many DSLRs and many lenses. But this is the first camera I’ve had where I can get the kind of photos I want, while carrying very little. In fact, it’s the first “real” camera I’ve had that I don’t even notice having around my neck. And I like to joke that my camera bag is now my pocket. The two lenses that came with my J1 are the 10-30 and 30-110. With the camera’s 2.7X “crop” factor, that gives me an equivalent of 27-300mm. The lenses aren’t particularly “fast” (f/3.5-5.6 and f/3.8-5.6), but they both have very good image stabilization (what Nikon calls VR).
I’ve been traveling much of the past month, and so had the chance to shoot this camera in Baltimore, DC and Boston. I also had a D7000 with me, and the first two times out shooting I carried them both. But once I found out how much I liked the J1, I left the D7000 behind. I love the size and weight. The AF is fast and accurate, the camera’s very quick to shoot when I want. The Continuous rate of 5 frames per second is a blast (and up to about 18-frames when shooting NEF (RAW) + JPEG Fine mode). I’ve found I really like the Auto ISO setting of 100-3200, because it uses the lower settings whenever it can but doesn’t hesitate to boost them when the light gets low. Just like I would. And the high ISO quality is very impressive. Yes, there’s noise at 3200, but very reasonable and usable. When shooting video (full HD), I can also press the shutter button and get a nearly full-rez JPEG (I’m shooting video in full HD, 16:9 aspect ratio instead of 3:2) without any interruption in the video. Nice. And Nikon’s announced a whole bunch of new lenses on the way, plus an adapter that will let me use my current F-mount lenses on this tiny camera. Can’t wait to put my 800mm on it!
Dislikes? Yes, a couple. In Single mode it pops up a preview of the image just shot, briefly, whether you want it or not. And that delays taking a second shot. That’s the main reason I switched the camera to Continuous, so I can fire a burst without pausing. And I’m not a fan of LCD-only as a viewfinder. I’m old-fashioned – I like putting my eye up to a viewfinder. Outside on a sunny day it can be challenging to frame carefully, and using a long telephoto is tough while holding the camera out from your face. So that has me looking forward to getting my hands on a V1, with its built in electronic viewfinder.
Bottom line? Image quality is excellent, considering the size of the camera, lenses and sensor. Feature set is strong, camera’s easy to use. And that means I’ll have a real camera (not a crappy cell phone camera) with me more often. This is the camera I’ve been waiting years for. Good times ahead!