Nikon 1 J2 review
The Nikon 1 J2 refreshes the original J1 - a compact system camera that had a tepid reception from photo enthusiasts, but succeeded among more casual snappers on the back of a strong advertising campaign - with an updated mode dial, new creative modes and a higher resolution LCD screen. Add a new textured front, some extra colours and cut back the original’s price and that’s the sum of the differences. Is the Nikon 1 J2 a worthy successor?
There’s little more to add to the above paragraph about what’s new in the J2, but for those new to compact system cameras as a whole, including Nikon’s 1-series range, take a read of our which mirrorless system camera is right for me article for a better understanding of every manufacturers’ range.
The core of the J2’s design is focused on ease of use, or, more appropriately, ease of use for novices.
The mode dial on the back of the camera spans motion snapshot, smart photo selector, auto, movie and a new creative option. There aren’t the more standard manual options - also known as Programme Auto (P), Shutter Priority (S), Aperture Priority (A), and Manual (M) - as might be found on a DSLR camera; instead you’ll need to dig deeper into the menus for those controls.
Nikon has added a “P, S, A, M” option within the F menu but, for starters, many entry-level users won’t know what such letters mean, let alone what the “F” stands for (and, no, it has nothing to do with aperture). Secondly the camera defaults to Programme Auto - you’ll still need to dig into the full menu to change that to a different mode, which is just as cumbersome as the original J1’s controls were for more demanding users. It would have made far more sense to include all four manual modes individually within the F menu if they’re not going to appear on the main mode dial.
Furthermore, and despite a rear rotational d-pad, controlling the aperture and shutter is handled using a rear toggle-like control that’s slow to jump between settings. As the ISO sensitivity is also in the menus it’s difficult to take command of the base manual controls efficiently.
Ignore those outlined blips and it’s clear that the Nikon 1 J2 isn’t out to mimic those other interchangeable lens cameras also on the market. It tries to do things differently, and this is why the predominant focus is on some of its less-traditional shooting modes.
For example, smart photo selector will shoot a batch of images at up to 60 frames per second (so you’ll barely notice it’s taken more than one) and auto-selects the best of the bunch. It puts a bit of added ease, or at least some backup, into the hands of the novice snapper.
Creative modes such as soft focus, miniature and new additions including panorama also offer a bunch of ways to enhance images - but this is nothing new considering what other manufacturers have had on offer for some time now. We’re glad it’s here and has been updated though, as it’s a key area for the market this camera is aimed at.
So the basics are that, well, the J2 is rather basic on the face of it. There’s a lot of tech nestled into this camera body though, but it's hidden under the guise of a more compact-camera-esque feel. That’ll work for some, but more serious shooters aren’t going to find this an easy to navigate camera.
The J2’s “CX” 1-inch size sensor - which is smaller than those found in Micro Four Thirds and APS-C competitor cameras - is loaded with 10.1-megapixels of resolution. That’s the very same sensor as found in the camera’s predecessor, so there's no change to components, processing and, therefore, image quality is the same.
The size of the sensor is crucial to this camera. It’s the reason the 1-series has smaller lenses than all other serious compact system cameras, which makes for a more compact - yet not too small - overall system.
But the fact the sensor is fairly small has some impact on overall image quality. The difference between the J2 and a Micro Four Thirds camera such as the Panasonic G3 may not be as significant as you might think, but the Nikon does come out a whisker behind its larger-sensor competitors.
As it is the J2’s images are decent at the lower ISO settings, with enough detail from ISO 100-400, though this can be scene-dependent. For example, a deep green shade in the background of an ISO 400 shot shows a level of luminance noise that the camera has partially processed out - it doesn’t look bad by any means, but it’s certainly there. As many compact system cameras’ prime purpose is to be the best of the best when it comes to image quality the J2 is a little on the back foot in this regard.
The J2 has an ISO sensitivity that ranges from ISO 100 through to ISO 3200, thus avoiding the super-high sensitivities of some cameras out there (the likes of ISO 25,600 tend to be best avoided whatever camera you’re using though). Again, on account of the sensor size, this is probably best as image noise, processing and colour drop-off become noticeable at ISO 1600-3200. That’s not to say that these shots aren’t useable however, as even ISO 3200 will have its uses, particularly for in-camera black and white shots.
The J2’s metering is accurate for the most part and, should it not be, then exposure compensation can be accessed through the d-pad on the rear. That's one of the few options that's quickly available for adjustment.
White balance, however, seemed a little off to our eyes in certain shots. Some morning light turned green bushes more turquoise, while the fruits on a market stall shifted to a paler, greener tone than they appeared to the eyes.
Performance & Handling
Despite a more entry-level target user, the J2 doesn’t hold back on including some advanced technology that sees it perform very well for the most part.
It was the first compact system camera series to introduce a hybrid autofocus sensor that combined both contrast-detection and phase-detection autofocus systems. The focus method isn’t controlled by the user, instead the J2 will automatically combine its focus types depending on shooting conditions. It's fast whether shooting in daylight, following moving subjects or snapping in dim conditions.
Whether relying on the camera’s multi-area autofocus, using the single-point option or focus tracking, the J2 won’t let you down. The single-point selection is particularly good because it allows for full edge-to-edge selection that’s an unusual find in most cameras.
It’s the J2’s performance that helps the camera to keep its head above water. Although the shutter is electronic only - there’s no mechanical shutter in this model, though this has little to no impact in combination with a CMOS type sensor - the ability to shoot full resolution at 60 frames per second (60fps) is untouched by the nearest competition. In our tests it was possible to capture 11 JPEG Fine frames in the blink of an eye before the camera cuts out to buffer all the data to the SD card.
But despite decent performance the J2 sticks to its entry-level guns when it comes to accessories. There’s no hotshoe or accessory port, so there’s no way to add an electronic viewfinder or an extra flash. Arguably the target audience of this camera wouldn’t want that kind of stuff - but if Nikon’s releasing a £750 waterproof housing for the J1 and J2 then, well, that adds to the confusion, non?
The Nikon 1 J2 is a subtle reworking of the original J1. A year has gone by since the original’s launch, but this latest model isn’t a big enough leap forward to warrant a brand new release.
The J2 still has its good points though: there’s the hybrid autofocus system and fast burst mode; but the lack of an intuitive menu system for more demanding users and still no accessory port or hotshoe for flash or a viewfinder will limit the appeal for more demanding users.
Image quality is good enough, but it’s still a whisker behind the competition in this regard too. The small sensor and low resolution are now matched (arguably out-performed) by the likes of Sony’s RX100 fixed-lens compact camera, so that adds an extra dimension of competition for Nikon’s 1-series.
The J2 isn’t a bad camera, but against other interchangeable lens models it's just not the best of them. If it was put up against many of the high-end compacts out there then it'd likely be the better choice, and perhaps some users will want to think about it that way.
There's definitely a market for the J2, and we get what it's trying to do. But overall there’s just not enough new on offer and it’s not ticked all our techy boxes either.