The Nikon 1 J1 doesn’t offer as many features as its sibling camera the Nikon 1 V1, but as a result it is a mite more compact. These two cameras make up a new category for Nikon under the name "Nikon 1" and we managed to get our hands on both cameras at the London launch.
The Nikon 1 J1 differs from the V1 in that it lacks the electronic viewfinder, has a slightly smaller battery, doesn’t offer you a mechanical shutter and lacks the hotshoe for adding accessories.
What it does offer you, however, is a built-in flash. Deployed using a release catch on the upper left-hand shoulder of the camera, the flash pops-up on a surprisingly long stalk. This might look odd, but has been designed to ensure it can clear the lens, providing better light coverage and reducing the risk of throwing a shadow from the lens on the front.
Of course that lens is interchangeable and we tried a couple of different lenses on the camera, including the 10mm "pancake" lens (27mm equiv), the 10-30mm zoom, and the colour-matched 30-110mm zoom. The zooms are compact when locked down, a small button on the barrel of the lens releasing it for deployment, similar to the arrangement for the kit zoom lens on the Olympus micro four thirds cameras.
In the hand the camera is perhaps a little larger than we first expected. It isn’t as obviously skinny as the smaller Pen cameras from Olympus or the Sony NEX cameras. But there is something of a toy-like charm to the J1 which we like. The range of colours makes it a little more playful and fun, and it feels like a nice camera to hold.
Around the back of the camera you’ll find a 3-inch display but there is no viewfinder. There isn’t the option to add a viewfinder either, so if you feel that is important, you’ll probably be more interested in the Nikon 1 V1 instead, but the screen is vibrant and sharp with plenty of brightness.
The main control is the mode dial which offers four settings: Movie, Auto, Smart Photo Selector and Motion Snapshot. To access options within these shooting modes, the F button throws up a quick on-screen menu, although the majority of options have to be accessed through the traditional menu button.
Given the range of features that the camera offers, the limited options of the mode dial leaves us a little unconvinced about control overall. If you want to access any of the manual controls, you’ll have to root through the menu to get them, which is a bit of a pain for those who know what setting they want to change.
The two modes that Nikon has promoted to the mode dial are interesting. Smart Photo Selector takes a run of 20 full resolution photos, selects the best 5 (based on criteria such as face focus) and then presents them to you. The idea is that you never miss the perfect shot, making it easy to capture a moving subject.
The second mode, Motion Snapshot, combines a short movie with a photo, so you get a sort of moving picture as the end result. This seems an odd choice as, although it looked good on the back of the camera, we’d rather have something like aperture priority readily to hand.
However, if you’re looking for a camera that offers the flexibility of being able to change lenses, but doesn’t overwhelm you with settings like a DSLR might, then perhaps this approach to compact system cameras will be for you. But if you're looking for direct controls then you might find yourself left wanting.
Of course the real deciding factor for these new Nikon cameras will be the quality of the results. We love the quality and we love the fact that Nikon have produced a full run of accessories and lenses to go with its new category of camera, but we need to live with it for a little longer to make a final decision. As is often the case, we weren’t allowed to take away any of the test shots, so you’ll have to wait for our Nikon 1 J1 review for a definitive verdict.
Has Nikon got the J1 right? Let us know in the comments below…