Can the Nikon J1 Swing a Die Hard Canon Fan

Nikon J1

It should come as no surprise that the Canon brand of cameras has been my chosen system….and has been for quite some time now.  What may come as a surprise though is that I look at a lot of other brands all the time.  I’ve looked at Sigma, Pentax, Olympus, Sony, and yes…even Nikon!  In fact, that’s the subject for today’s post!  I take an in-depth look at the Nikon mirrorless camera – specifically the J1.  Believe it or not, I actually liked quite a bit about it.  Let’s dig right in and see how things fared!

Nikon J1

I like to keep reviews as objective as possible, so when looking at cameras, I consider four main areas:

Form Factor:

The first question I asked myself is: “Does the camera  feel good in my hand?”  Personally, I felt the form factor to be a little box-y.  The mirrorless lineups are great, but being used to an SLR, this thing felt like I was mauling it and my traditional gripping techniques quickly had to change.  The lack of a viewfinder also made some accommodations required in how I composed my shots.  I guess this would be an adjustment that needs to happen regardless of which brand though, as all mirrorless cameras are by design, a lot smaller, and most are moving away from the viewfinder mechanism.  So – here the answer is a neutral “meh”.

The next question I asked was “How are buttons and menus placed and positioned for access?  Is it intuitive and make sense on where to find different functions?”  The answer here is a heartfelt Yes!  While I may be something of a technophile, the menus were very easy to navigate and each and every button was easy to identify the function with only one minor exception.  When shooting in manual mode, the dial controls the shutter, but the aperture is controlled by a separate toggle above that.  In other small form factor cameras, a single dial controls both, and alternates from a function button.  It took me a bit of reading the manual to figure that out (and who ever reads the manual?).  I’d actually count this as a con just because I found everything else so well-laid out.  The bottom line for the look and feel of the camera is a +1 for me!

Accessory items:  Next up, I asked myself if this would be easier to pack than my SLR?  With an SLR also comes a spare battery, charger, tripod (or or gorilla pod), at least one if not to additional lenses, and memory cards.  The space ads up, and especially for someone who travels a lot for both work and pleasure – the accessory factor is a substantial one.  I was able to take the entire camera and lens, and stuff it in my cargo pocket of my pants.  So, any additional lenses, SD cards or anything else I’d like to bring (like a Gorilla Pod) could easily fit in my other pants pockets.  In fact, when I was working with the cumbersome EOS SLR, the J1 was tucked nicely in one cargo pocket, the gorilla pod in the other, and the Canon occupied all my attention.  When I had the J1 out and shooting, I had to always keep half my eye on the SLR to keep it from swinging all over the place, crashing into a pole, the ground, or a passerby.  An SLR is not easy to pack away, but this J1 sure was!

Image Quality:  The most important consideration for me was image quality.  Here, I was quite happy as well.  I could shoot in full manual, shutter priority, aperture priority, or any of the custom modes one would expect in an SLR.  I could also shoot in raw.  And while newer SLR’s are also incorporating video, the video funtion of the mirrorless was quite impressive as well, shooting in full HD – 1920×1024!  Let’s take a look at some sample shots from the J1 that I took when I was out shooting with a friend recently in Portland OR!

Let’s not forget the video quality too.  Here’s a fun short snippet I took as a train rolled literally two feet past our photo walk!

Cost:  After image quality, the next biggest consideration most people have is that of cost.  How much to buy into the system?  My additional questions here are the cost of accessory items.  After all, a new camera system ultimately means you are going to get new lenses, new media cards, and all sorts of other accessories.  With mirrorless cameras coming of age, I think this is going to be a huge consideration.  So, the base price for the J1 is $500!  You can get a traditional SLR for that price these days!  The trade-offs?  Well, let’s see…the mirrorless is smaller, has fewer accessories, and…what else?  The only accessory item that kind of made my eyes bulge out was the 10-100 lens at a whopping $750!  That’s on par with SLR lenses.  I wish the vendors would just make a converter mount for their SLR lenses to mount on these…and in all likelihood, if the vendor doesn’t, some third party supplier will ultimately fill the void.


The final verdict?  I could be swayed into this as a second system… 🙂  I’ll never give up the SLR, but as far as travel cameras go…the Nikon J1 really packs a punch!  Thanks Ashton! 🙂

Wordless Wednesday #027: Boulder Tulips

Wordless Wednesday #027: Boulder Tulips

Wordless Wednesday #027: Boulder Tulips

I’m coming out of silence for Wordless Wednesdays…primarily because so many people are asking me questions via email, Twitter, and FB to share details about the composition, post production, and other details.  Instead of just spitting out metadata and other information, I’ve got questions and answers from now on:

#1 – What rule of composition did I use and why?

I chose the Rule of Thirds for this shot, and specifically chose the lower left third to be the grabber.  I didn’t want this to be an overpowering shot, for the eye to just enjoy the plethora of tulips…but the little tiny yellow and red amongst the larger red ones struck me for some reason, so I framed it to the lower left – thus giving more space for the eye to expand out from there to the rest of the scene.

#2 – Are any rules of composition broken?

Here, I don’t think so – in general, the Rule of Thirds applies, and the Golden K also applies if you look at it for more than a second or two…see the K lines appear in the red tulips?  Kinda neat, eh?

#3 – What camera/lens combo did I use?

For this shot, I was on my trusty Canon 40D, and the lens mount was none other than the Canon kit 18-55mm (nonIS)!  I went with the 18-55 mm lens because this is a very good lens for approximating the equivalent of what the human eye sees, and for this photo shoot, I wanted that effect.

#4 – What lighting did I use?

Here, there were no lights…it was au naturale:  S=1/60th, f7.1, focal length = 50mm, and an ISO of 1250!  (Yep, ISO 1250 – I was hand holding and wanted to keep it bright!  The scene was actually much darker, because the sun was going down, and I really wanted the colors to pop!  Depth of field was also important to me, because all the flowers needed to stay relatively sharp. Since I was shooting light and on the fly (no tripod or monopod), my only option for getting the brightness in the scene that I wanted was to push the ISO settings up to maintain correct exposure.  

#5 – How did I process it?

I processed this in Lightroom 4, using just a few tweaks on the right panel:  I had under-exposed a little (especially given the fading lighting conditions), so upped that by .76.  I also set Clarity, Vibrance and Saturation to 50, +10, and +10 accordingly.  These settings helped bring out more of the color and vibrance that I was seeing but was not in the default raw file.  My sharpening and noise levels were also set to  +73 and +50…the sharpening was up that high because,w ell, we always have to sharpen at least a little, and a went a little higher to help define that depth of field.  Lastly, the noise levels were pushed up to help counter the impact of the ISO when I was shooting.

Hopefully this will help those of you who are interested in learning what I see with my eye and why I capture certain images.  If you have more questions, or thoughts on improvement, feel free to share those in the comments!

How Long Should Copyright Last?

Copyright law - Parody Video

As I train school districts around the country on how to digitize everything into computer libraries, the attendees always start asking about Fair Use, Copyright, and Licensing questions.  While we can easily figure out what the current laws are, often times, there are vagaries and questions that surround legal concepts that have no easy answers.  When cautioning a school recently to stay away from digitizing any of their Disney content, one of them shared a video with me that is something of a parody on Disney – and brings up an interesting question for discussion:

So, while the video was masterfully compiled of all these snippets from Disney movies, and brings up good points about the current laws, the overall message is that copyright has gone overboard!  They say through the compilation that Copyright used to last only 14 years.  More recently, copyright has been extended to the lifetime of the owner +70 years and companies retain copyright for over 100 years.  The message given here is that “there seems to be no limitation on how long copyright can last.”  Instead, the message is that converting work to the public domain (free for use and derivative works) is an important .  A couple lines are rather interesting:

1.  Having to pay someone for use of their copyright protected work is all about money…”I prefer to think of it as capitalism”

2.  Hear that sound?  It’s the sound of your freedom fluttering out the window…

3.  The Public Domain is necessary for a living, thriving society

4.  Copyright seems to be getting longer and there seems to be no limitation on how long copyright lasts

I started shifting in my stance a little – because initially I was laughing quite a bit at the parody (and at the skill/time it took to produce the video), to realizing that some of the sentiments meant I would lose ownership of my own work if some of these ideas were to come to pass.  Conversely, it also struck me that I use a lot of Public Domain and Open Sourced content myself.  Is it fair/right to sit on both sides of this debate?  Something in me says no.  So, I asked myself the question?  How long should someone retain copyright over their work before it becomes available for public use without compensation?  Wow!  I’d never really thought about the number.  A couple numbers came to mind:  Does 14 sound long enough?  What about that other one – the lifetime + 70 rule?  Maybe something in the middle?  The lifetime of the owner?  Perhaps 50 years?  75 years? 25 years?  There’s no easy answer, is there?  What do you think?  How long should  copyright last?

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