Now we come to what I consider the weakest aspect of the camera: the design, and, to a certain extent, the feature set. A hair smaller than models like the Panasonic Lumix DMC-GF3 and the Olympus E-PM1, it looks like an overgrown point-and-shoot with rounded sides and a rather featureless front view. One thing Nikon didn't seem to learn from its competitors' predecessors was the need for a grip. Though I wouldn't go so far as to call the glossy body slippery, there's nothing to use for leverage on the front. On top are the small power button, large, flat shutter and movie record buttons, and a pop-up flash that one of my coworkers likened to an old-fashioned mailbox flag.
The back looks quite busy, given how few direct-access controls it has. The four-way navigation dial controls exposure compensation, self-timer, flash, and AE/AF lock; an F button pulls up some context-sensitive options, such as continuous shooting (single, continuous, and electronic shutter) or movie (HD movie or slow motion); next to it is a vertical rocker labeled for playback zoom but which controls shutter speed; there are display, playback, menu, and delete buttons; and a small, partly filled mode dial takes you into Motion Snapshot, Smart Photo Selector, standard still options (where you choose from auto and PASM), and movie mode.
Most of the settings are in the menu system, though the menus themselves are relatively short and don't go more than a couple levels deep, so that didn't bother me too much. But for a camera targeted at newbies and point-and-shoot upgraders, I think the J1 can get somewhat confusing, such as by surfacing the Electronic shutter as a burst option, or not using the dial for changing shutter speed in shutter-priority mode. The F button, rather than bringing up a quick menu. is hardwired to a couple of options that you may use less frequently than others in the menus.
Nikon has adopted the collapsible-lens design that's become common for ILCs, and the initial lens offerings are pretty compact. But to achieve that, Nikon has jettisoned a manual focus ring. Instead, you have to use the awkward and imprecise dial and screen scale from point-and-shoots. Though the camera has a metal lens mount, it feels like the lenses use silver plastic.
The J1 simultaneously has one of the larger and yet more limited feature sets I've seen in this class of camera. On the plus side, there's a time-lapse mode, which few cameras offer. Nikon introduces a few novelty modes. Motion Snapshot records a still image and a 60fps 1-second video clip, which it then combines, adds music, and saves as 24fps for a 0.4x slow-motion playback. It would be really cool...if it could do more than 1 second.
Smart Photo Selector is a point-and-shoot staple, which bursts 20 shots and then saves the best 5 as determined by your camera. I'm not sure anyone uses this feature, and I don't think I want the camera deciding which shots to toss and which to keep. In the electronic shutter mode, you can shoot 10, 30, or 60fps at full resolution but for a limited burst; I always find the burst lengths too short to be useful in these types of modes, but at least the camera doesn't get bogged down in the file saving so that you can burst again pretty quickly.
For some reason, you can't use the flash with shutter speeds above 1/60 second, and when you pop up the flash it automatically drops to 1/60 if you're set higher (it automatically switches back to your previous setting when you close the flash). I think that's really going to frustrate some people trying to freeze action. There's also no exposure bracketing, a feature that Nikon has dropped from its entry-level dSLRs as well. Nor are there any special effects, which is odd given how hot they are these days. But bizarrely, the camera does allow you to save your image settings (Picture Control) and copy them to an SD card for use with another camera, a high-end feature that doesn't really fit here. Finally, there's no option for an EVF.
The J1 is a fine camera, but there's nothing here that screams out "must buy" compared with similar competitors. It's on the expensive side for a point-and-shoot upgrader, and has drawbacks for the more advanced among you, including having to commit to a completely new lens mount that's years behind Micro Four Thirds when it comes to variety.
(Shorter bars indicate better performance)
|Time to first shot||Raw shot-to-shot time||Typical shot-to-shot time||Shutter lag (dim)||Shutter lag (typical)|
(Longer bars indicate better performance)