The tiny Nikon 1 J1 is said to be one of the fastest-focusing cameras on the planet and is video ready. We take a closer look at this beginner-oriented interchangeable-lens compact.
When Nikon designed the Nikon 1 J1, they were clearly going for a minimalist look and feel that would appeal to snapshooters, smartphone users and really anybody who might be intimidated by the many buttons, dials and knobs typically found on more advanced digital cameras. Small and light, it's also fast and responsive—a little sports coup of a camera—and is ready to shoot movies and quick video snippets at the press of a button.
If you're an advanced photographer you may not immediately see how to get to the manual controls, but they're in there. These features are accessed via menus, and the camera's default is auto-everything in deference to the camera's main intended audience, which is snapshooters who want the flexibility of an interchangeable-lens camera.
The Nikon 1 system is built around a 10MP 8.8x13mm sensor and an all new ecosystem of small, compact lenses. The Nikon 1 J1 is the easiest of the lineup to master, and delivers image quality that's surprisingly good considering its small sensor size. In this Guided Tour, written exclusively for the Adorama Learning Center, I'll show you how to get the most out of this camera.
The Nikon 1 Lineup at a Glance
How is the Nikon 1 J1 different from its sibling 1’s? Here’s a quick cheat sheet:
Nikon 1 J3: Latest basic J-series camera has 14MP sensor, ISO range up to 6400, 15fps continuous shooting, controls repositioned.
Nikon 1 AW1: Similar to 1 J 1, but is waterproof and can be submerged to nearly 50 feet. Also offers special effects mode such as Miniature, Selective color, etc. Altitude indicator, depth gauge, virtual horizon, underwater white balance also included.
Nikon 1 V2: Has advanced features, 1,440k dot EVF, hot shoe and ability to control Nikon Speedlight system flash units wirelessly, and can accommodate external mic for videos.
Nikon 1 S1: 10MP sensor, simplified control layout—even simpler than J1 and available for under $300 as of this writing.
Unboxing: What's In The Box And What it's For
When you open the box you will find the camera body and lens packed separately, as well as a battery, battery charger, shoulder strap, USB cable, a printed User's Manual and an expanded version of the user's manual on an included CD-ROM. A second CD-ROM features Nikon ViewNX 2, Short Movie Creator, and Reference Manual. Not included: A memory card. Be sure to get at least one that's a Class 10 speed, with at least 16GB of storage, such as the Lexar 16GB Class 10. See all class 10 SD cards at Adorama. If you plan on shooting lots of video, get a higher-capacity card in the 32-64GB range. I strongly suggest investing in a second card, just in case. Memory cards are inexpensive—don't skimp here! Also I suggest buying a second Nikon EN-EL20 Lithium-ion battery and keep it charged so you're not caught with a dead battery while traveling with the camera, for instance.
Setting Up The Nikon 1 J1
Mount the lens to the camera body. Remove the lens and body caps. Align the raised metal line on the lens barrel with the white dot at the top of the camera, and turn the lens to the right until it locks in. Press the button in the zoom ring and zoom the lens out so it is ready for use. After charging the battery, press the on/off button and you're ready to go.
Shortcuts for Snapshooters
By default, the camera is ready for still photos right out of the box. The big round button on the top of the camera is the shutter release, and the smaller round button with the red dot is the video button. Press it once to start shooting video, again to stop. It's that easy!
For simple no-guesswork shooting select the Smart Photo Selector, which is the white camera icon on the dial in the back near the top. The camera will automatically choose the best exposure for the scene at hand, and will automatically turn on the flash only if needed. By default it will choose a higher ISO in low light to avoid the use of flash whenever possible, resulting in more natural lighting. Want to tell the camera to use the flash? Move the dial to the green camera Still Picture mode and move the switch with the lightning icon to flip up and activate the flash. (You can, of course, select red-eye reduction, and slow-sync flash if you want even more control and to balance the flash with ambient light by pressing the flash icon on the four-way control button on the bottom right of the camera back.)
A Quick Guide to Shooting Movies
If all you want to do is shoot a quick movie, press the movie button (red dot) atop the camera to start, again to stop. Want to dig deeper? Move the shooting mode dial to the movie camera icon, then hit Menu to see what your options are. For instance, you can set to shoot slow motion by pressing the Frame Rate, and can change resolution and frame. You can also adjust the built-in microphone's sensitivity, switch to black-and-white, etc. And if you've decided you want to go back to the camera's default auto-everything setting (which includes exposure and quietly focusing during video shooting) simply go to the top menu item and select “Reset shooting options.”
What Do The External Controls Do?
The main controls are in the back of the camera, located to the right of the LCD monitor, which is dominated by the Mode dial and the Multi Selector. The Mode Dial (upper right corner of the camera) has four choices: Motion Snapshot, Smart Photo Selector, Still Image, and Movie. Motion Snapshot records a 1-second video clip that plays back in slow-motion. This is a great feature for shooting city street life, for example. Smart Photo Selector is the best choice for snapshooters, since it tells the camera to choose the best exposure and other settings based on the scene in front of the camera. More advanced users will want to explore Still Image, which activates all of the manual exposure and focus controls in the menu hierarchy. Finally the Movie setting lets you fine-tune your video shooting setting as described above.
Use the Multi Selector to navigate through menu items and when not in the menus, it is used to adjust focus and exposure, timer/burst rate, exposure compensation, and flash settings. A ring around the Multi Selector is also used for navigation purposes, and the “OK” button chooses whatever setting you've highlighted.
Buttons: There are 7 buttons and switches on the camera back. They are:
Flash switch: This pops up the flash and turns it on.
F button: This button is used with the multi-selector to choose specific settings, such as single frame, hi-speed capture, and continuous focus. It also selects slow-motion modes in video, and selects background music for motion snapshots.
Playback Zoom button lets you enlarge images in preview mode, or to view multiple images on screen as thumbnails.
Disp button controls what you see in the display. Press it and it will display more or less information above or below the image.
Playback button lets you view still images and watch videos; the camera's on-board speaker lets you hear the sound.
The Menu button opens the camera's menu options. Since there are over 60 menu items (each with at least two options), and almost none of these items are controlled via a physical button or dial, this button is your best friend on this camera.
The garbage pail is the delete button, of course. Use with care.
The Nikon 1 J1's 7 Most Important Menu Items
There are over 60 different features controlled via the menu. I've chosen ten that you may want to explore first, but be sure to check the manual and try others out.
1. Image quality: This lets you choose to shoot JPEG image files (the default) or RAW, or both. If you have access to Photoshop Elements you may want to shoot in RAW+JPEG, which gives you the most options in post-processing. Yes, this will take up more room on your memory card, but you'll be able to get more shadow and highlight details using RAW editing tools than you can in JPEG. This is very useful in tricky light and high contrast scenes.
2. Movie settings: By default the camera will shot 1080p videos at 60i. You can change that to 1080/30p or 720/60p in this setting.
3. Vibration reduction: Keep it on the Active default, but turn it off when mounting the camera on a tripod.
4. Picture Control: You can choose neutral or several variations of high-contrast and saturated color images, as well as black-and-white, via this control. Even better: You can apply virtual filters and customize each setting. Want a sepia-toned black-and-white that looks like it was shot with a red filter to accentuate the blue sky? You can do that!
5. Focus mode: There are 3 flavors of autofocus: Auto-select AF (the default setting), AF-S Single AF, MF-C Continuous AF, and manual focus. You will most likely leave the default setting but if you want to focus manually, hit that setting, then hit the OK button and the center of the screen will be enlarged. Use the dial around the multi-selector to focus.
6. Active D Lighting: This is a Nikon exclusive. Keep this on and the camera will automatically brighten shadow areas to bring out details. That's great, but the tradeoff is that it also increases digital noise in the shadow areas. If you are shooting at a high ISO, you might want to turn this feature off.
7. ISO Sensitivity: You can limit the ISO range that is chosen automatically. For instance, you can tell the camera to choose within the range of ISO 100-400. Why? This will give you the best image quality—although it means you'd either need flash or a tripod in low light. Alternatively, you can let the camera choose any light sensitivity from ISO 100-3200 if you are OK with sacrificing overall quality in order to handhold the camera in low light without flash. The choice is yours.
Did You Know...
The Nikon 1 J1 has one of the fastest autofocus systems available? Press the shutter release and watch images snap into focus!
The Nikon 1 J1 focuses while shooting video? Many cameras don't do this but the J1's focus is smooth and decisive, which is great. Also, since the zoom lens has a manual zoom ring, you can also zoom while shooting video.
You can play slideshows on your TV from this camera? Go into the “Settings” menu. Go to the slide show menu item and select what you want to show. Use the HDMI port (and a separate cable, not included) to attach your camera to your TV and you're ready for viewing.
Accessorize Your Nikon 1 J1: Products that expand your picture-taking abilities
Lenses: One of the great things about the Nikon 1 J1 is that it is an inexpensive way to get into interchangeable lenses. Here are several Nikon lenses. Keep in mind that there's a 2.7x crop factor, so a 10mm lens (for example) covers the same angle of view as a 27mm lens on a 35mm camera.
Zoom lenses: Complete the range from 6.7-110mm (19-308mm)!
Nikon 6.7-13mm f/3.5-5.6VR is a wide-angle zoom, equivalent to a 19-35mm lens on a 35mm sensor camera. Get up close for dramatic viewpoints, great for architecture and travel shooting and a nice companion that expands the visual options beyond what the kit lens will capture.
Nikon 30-110mm f/3.8-5.6 VR is great for sports and wildlife photographers, thanks to its 35mm equivalent range of 78-308mm and also further extends your focal range as a companion to the kit lens.
Prime lenses: Fast glass for great photography
Nikon 10mm f/2.8, equivalent to a 28mm lens, the charm of this one is that it's a pancake lens, meaning it extends about half an inch from the camera body, making it unobtrusive and pocketable. Great for street photography and other candid situations where you don't want to be noticed. (Tip: Turn off all of the camera's sounds so it doesn't call attention to itself.)
Nikon 18.5mm f/1.8 is the 1 series “Normal” lens with a 50mm 35mm equivalent view and fast widest aperture. This is great for general photography but more likely something you'll buy as a second (or third) lens after you get to know your mid-range kit zoom.
Nikon 32mm f/1.2 is a premium lens designed for portrait photography (and is the only Nikkor designated lens for the Nikon 1 series). Its super-wide aperture might be hard to tame thanks to its narrow focus depth, but with practice you will be able to produce stunning images with flattering focus fall-off. Definitely for more advanced users.
Want to do astrophotography? Use the Pro Optic Adapter to attach any Nikon F-mount lens to the Nikon 1; a long telephoto lens such as a 400mm, thanks to the 2.7x crop factor, becomes the equivalent of a 1080mm lens, practically a telescope!
Exploring new lenses is a key part of the experience of owning a Nikon 1 J1 (or, in fact, any Nikon 1 series camera) but there are other useful accessories that will help you maintain the camera and get better quality images. A tripod, for instance, lets you choose a lower ISO and therefore gives you better overall image quality. Consider the 3Pod P5CRH tripod (head included), which weighs just 3 pounds, folds up to a travel-friendly 12 inches and extends to 56 inches as a good compliment to Nikon's smallest cameras.
While the Nikon CB-N2000 Leather Body Case may seem like a small extravagance, it serves a practical purpose, since the leather adds a more textured and therefore more grippable surface where you hold the camera.
Between shoots, take care of your optics by cleaning them with the Adorama 1863A cleaning kit, and be sure all of your lenses have their own protective UV/skylight filter to prevent the front element from being damaged. Check your lens's specs for filter size but most take a 40.5mm filter.
Enjoy your Nikon 1 J1!