4) 1 NIKKOR Lenses
While I will soon be publishing reviews on Nikon 1 system lenses, I decided to share my general thoughts on the lenses and provide some feedback on each lens individually. For all CX lens line-up, Nikon is using a “1 NIKKOR” name, so the 10mm f/2.8 pancake lens is officially called “1 NIKKOR 10mm f/2.8”. Here are the lenses that Nikon released together with Nikon 1 system:
- 1 NIKKOR 10mm f/2.8
- 1 NIKKOR VR 10-30mm f/3.5-5.6
- 1 NIKKOR VR 30-110mm f/3.8-5.6
- 1 NIKKOR VR 10-100mm f/4.5-5.6 PD-ZOOM
In general, the above 1 NIKKOR lenses have very good performance characteristics with great sharpness and colors, something I expected from Nikkor optics. The CX mount has been completely redesigned with more lens contacts, allowing lenses to exchange more data with the camera. For example, both the 1 NIKKOR 10-30mm and the 1 NIKKOR 30-110mm collapsible lenses automatically turn on the camera when the zoom ring is rotated to the zoom range position. The manual focus ring has been eliminated from all CX lenses. Nikon’s implementation of manual focus is rather poor, as discussed further down in the review.
With the sensor crop factor of 2.7x, you have to multiply the focal length of each lens by 2.7 to get an equivalent field of view of a full-frame camera. For example, the 10-30mm lens is equivalent to a 27-81mm lens, while the 10mm pancake is equivalent to a 27mm lens.
Unlike Sony and some other manufacturers, Nikon stays away from image stabilized camera bodies and prefers to integrate VR into lenses instead, which has been working great for many years now. The Nikon 1 system is no exception here, so image stabilization is again done on lenses. VR can be switched from Normal to Active to Off from the camera menu, unlike the rest of the DSLR VR-enabled Nikon lenses that have a VR on/off switch on the lens. Nikon initially had a problem with VR on 1 NIKKOR lenses, which would result in occasional blurry images with VR turned on. This issue has been identified and corrected through firmware updates for each VR lens (see links below). The 1 NIKKOR lenses, by the way, are the first Nikon lenses with upgradeable firmware.
The 1 NIKKOR 10mm f/2.8 pancake lens is a very compact and sharp lens, which is a great fit for the Nikon 1 system. I wish it was an f/2.0 lens (or faster) though, which would have made it a more useful lens for low-light photography. It has two big weaknesses – lack of VR and obviously inability to zoom, so I do not think it will be that popular among first time buyers. The 1 NIKKOR VR 10-35mm, on the other hand is perfect for the Nikon 1 system. It is compact when collapsed, has a great zoom range of 10-30mm (27-81mm equivalent), has VR and good performance characteristics.
I used the 30-110mm telephoto lens (81mm-297mm) the least, mainly because I felt that its starting range was too long for everyday photography. Lastly, the 1 NIKKOR VR 10-100mm is just a monster that is bigger than many Nikon DSLR zoom lenses. While it is a more or less specialized lens, especially for videography (due to its ability to silently zoom via a dedicated zoom button on the lens), it is just too darn big and bulky for the Nikon 1 cameras in my opinion. As for VR in general, I found it to be very effective on 1 NIKKOR lenses and I would recommend to leave it on when shooting hand-held.
If you already own Nikon F mount DSLR lenses, you can use them on the J1 with a special FT1 mount adapter (must be purchased separately). The adapter is attached to the Nikon 1 J1 and the F Mount Nikkor lens is then attached to the adapter. The FT1 will add an angle of view of 2.7 times that of the F Mount Nikkor lens’ focal length. For example, the Nikon 50mm f/1.8G will have an effective field of view of a 135mm lens.
Nikon did not hide the fact that it is working on some specialized fixed focal length lenses for portraiture and other needs, so we soon might see something like 1 NIKKOR 18mm f/1.4, which is equivalent to a 50mm lens. Nikon needs to make fast glass for the Nikon 1 cameras quickly, because that’s exactly what it lacks at the moment.
5) The new EXPEED 3 Processor
The Nikon 1 line is the first to get the new dual-core EXPEED 3 image processor. The new processor can handle a lot more throughput than the previous EXPEED 2 processor, which translates to faster frames per second, faster in-camera image processing, faster video and allows for extra features such as Slow Motion video, Smart Photo Selector and Motion Snapshot (discussed in more detail below). In fact, the Nikon 1 is currently the fastest Nikon camera for capturing images and video. When used in Electornic Shutter (HI) mode, it is capable of capturing 10 FPS while tracking a subject and up to 60 FPS in full resolution without subject tracking, which is pretty impressive. The good news for the DSLR community, is that we will be seeing some of these nice features in the upcoming Nikon DSLRs.
6) Camera Menu, Features and Responsiveness
Before I started testing all these mirrorless cameras, I decided not to touch camera manuals. I wanted to see how easy it is to operate these cameras for a person that is not familiar with them. The Nikon 1 J1 camera menu is very intuitive and easy to use. Depending on which mode you are in, the camera will only display what you should be seeing and switching between playback, mode menu and setup is super easy with the rotating dial on the bottom right side of the camera. Out of the four mirrorless cameras I tested, the Nikon 1 J1 has the best menu system in my opinion.
The Sony NEX-5n menu is also pretty good, but has a lot more options in comparison, which is not necessarily good for most people out there. The worst of the bunch is the Olympus E-PL3. It has a horrid menu system. It sure is packed with a boatload of options and sub-menus, making it very hard to operate the camera. It just sucks in comparison. I will elaborate more on this in a separate E-PL3 review, but I hated the Olympus E-PL3 for this reason alone, despite the fact that its image quality is very good.
On the other hand, the simplistic menu approach of the J1 is missing some serious functions that should be there. For example, image review after a photo is taken cannot be turned off. When shooting a time lapse in very cold temperatures (see more on time lapse below), I wanted to prolong the battery life by turning off image preview and could not find a way to do it. In-camera editing options are also very limited to cropping and resizing, which is surprising, since JPEG shooters would probably find those features useful. No HDR options that Nikon has been bundling on the latest DSLRs. Exposure bracketing is also missing, but that’s understandable, since Nikon does not provide bracketing features on its entry-level DSLRs either. By contrast, the Sony NEX-5n has all of these integrated in its firmware, including in-camera panorama and 3D image processing (and much more).
Camera responsiveness is a mixed bag. The startup and shutdown time take about 1.5 seconds, which is not bad. When the camera goes to sleep mode, however, the wake-up time is about 2 seconds, which is way too long. While you can regulate the sleep timer through “Auto power off” menu setting, you cannot change the timer to completely shut off the camera – another important feature that is missing from the camera menu.
One welcome addition, on the other hand, is a built-in intervalometer for time lapse photography. Sony DSLRs and NEX cameras are notoriously bad for time lapse photography, because they miss an intervalometer and the only option is to buy an accessory to shoot images in sequences. You can put the Nikon 1 J1 on a tripod, set camera parameters, set the interval and the total number of shots (up to 999 shots allowed) and start the sequence. I have shot a number of time lapses and the result came out great. Just remember to set the exposure and white balance manually when shooting in JPEG format.
The great Auto ISO feature we normally see on Nikon DSLRs is replaced by a much more simplified Auto ISO capability. There are three pre-defined Auto ISO modes to choose from – A3200 Auto (100-3200), A800 Auto (100-800) and A400 Auto (100-400). Neither of these options allow setting a minimum shutter speed, which is a huge drawback. There is no way to tell when camera decides to use which ISO and having no control over this threshold is very unfortunate.
The Smart Photo Selector and the Motion Snapshot modes (on the exposure mode dial) are interesting innovations, but not very useful/practical, in my opinion. The Smart Photo Selector works by firing 20 images in electronic shutter mode before and after the shutter button is pressed (starts when the shutter-button is half-pressed). It then analyzes these twenty images and picks the best 4-5 images automatically for you based on a number of factors, including image blur.
To be honest, I am not sold on this feature – but that’s most probably because I am an advanced user and do not like some electronic algorithm to pick an image for me. I would rather do that myself. If a situation is critically important, I would rather set the camera to 60 FPS and spray and pray. As for the Motion Snapshot feature, it feels to be incomplete. The sound effects are limited to a few boring ones and worst of all, the movie files that are produced do not have these sounds embedded into them. You have to use a special Short Movie Creator software to convert it to what you would see on the camera. The movie is saved in MOV format, while the snapshot is saved in JPEG format, separate files. Motion snapshot is too short as well – the 60 FPS capture rate is played back in slow motion at 24 FPS or 2.5 seconds total.