Can the Nikon J1 Swing a Die Hard Canon Fan

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! :-)