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! 🙂

Canon Custom Functions: Shutter and Focus

Shutter Programming on the Canon DSLR Line

That’s right – two videos in two days…quite exciting for me – the blogger of 3x/week!  I’ve got a lot of content forthcoming and for some of it, am so excited I just don’t want to wait anymore.  Some people call me crazy – they say “Hold off…space it out, pace your posts and give people information piecemeal.”  I say, “No way, the audience always wants more than what I am giving…”  So, that’s what I am doing – a second video tutorial in as many days – this one:  How to adjust the Custom Functions in your Canon SLR!


One of the least understood areas of any SLR is that of custom functions.  Once you start getting into customizing the configuration of something already as complex as a DSLR, people quickly lose interest in the minutia.  The problem is that some of the configuration settings can be made to really help you improve your photography.  One of these is moving the focusing mechanism off your shutter release.  The shutter release really does quite a few things – it opens the sensor to the light, thus letting an exposure actually happen.  It also programatically tells the camera to immediately meter the scene to evaluate exposure values, and also by default starts to search for a focusing point.

That’s a lot to ask from one button, and often times when composing for an image, many photographers find that focusing for one item in the scene, then composing for another is very useful in getting a creative vision to life.  To do this normally, you have to press the shutter only halfway down, recompose while holding that delicate balance, and recomposing.  Yes, there are other ways to do this by picking a single focusing point, but why even do that when you can make focusing its own dedicated function?  Most DSLR’s these days actually have a spare button built in for you to program to one of many different options.

Nevertheless, people still fear the custom functions.  Something about the words “custom”…”function…”program”…makes people cringe and run quickly in the opposite direction.  It’s really not that difficult though, and easy to adapt to.  Once the adjustment is made, you can now use your thumb to focus and your finger to capture!  It’s such a seamless transition, many photographers don’t even bat an eye, and they almost always notice a greater sense of creative control – which is why we buy SLR’s in the first place.  Want to see how it’s done?  Watch my short 2 minute video here on the process.  You’ll be amazed at how easy it is!

For RSS readers, visit the blog – it’s a YouTube embedded one this go around!

Raquette Lake, 2012


In what has become an annual tradition for the Anderson family, the men reconvened for our annual canoe trip to “re-connect with nature”.  I use quotations because the older we get, the less removed from society we are.  Now granted, there is no internet, no wifi, and no cellular service for many miles around, but when coolers of beverages, grilling foods, eggs, and yes – ice cream, make the trip, we’re are hardly roughing it anymore.

So, how does this relate to photography?  As luck would have it, the Canon G12 was still with me for the duration of this trip.  I did have an SLR with me as well, in case I started butting up against the limitations of the poster boy of the Powershot series camera.  Suffice to say, I did hit the limits, but only once, and that was during some flash testing.

What I liked

1.  Shutter Speed:  The bane of P&S cameras historically is response or lag time on shutter release.  The G12 was no slouch, offering a very quick response time.  Granted, it was not always milliseconds away from a great capture, leaving me with several shots that had to be thrown out due to blur, but otherwise, I was successful about 95% of the time.

2.  Image Quality:  I tried to reproduce several similar composition of years past (see those galleries here and here), and think the G12 stood its ground quite well.  While I could have shot in raw, the advantage of P&S cameras is to click and go, so I kept my settings to jpg for the duration of the trip.

3.  Video:  Let’s not kid ourselves, video is where things are headed, and the G12 was able to really stand shoulder-to-shoulder with any portable camcorder in the market today.

4.  Hot Shoe: A big reason why I had chosen the G12 to review is because of its ability to accommodate the Canon Speedlight series.  I took a 580EX II with me, and much to my delight, I was able to fire off several shots with both the flash mounted to the hot shoe, and using my wireless trigger set (more on that in a future post)

5.  Inter-valometer:  An inter-valometer lets you take shots at intervals, say every 5 seconds, 10 seconds, one minute, etc.  I liked that the G12 had a setting where you could set it up to take photos at several intervals over a specified period of time.  While I didn’t get a chance to use it on this short trip, it was something I learned about afterwards that made me think, “Cool!”

What I didn’t like

1.  Menus:  I know, I need to get over it, but the menu structure is different from the trusty rusty days of the 20D, 30D, and even 40D setups.  It took me about 5 more minutes to get the menus down because things were in different locations!  A small nit, I know, but I certainly know my 40D and 5D better than the G12!

2.  Lenses:  The other bane of P&S cameras is that you only have one lens to choose from.  This is why the SLR (and now the newest 3rd generation of cameras – mirrorless lenses) give more creative options.  I was limited to the focal range offered on the G12, which is equivalent to about a 28mm – 140mm range on an SLR (verified on several sources, but here’s a site I should be plugging more, Camera Source)

3.  Price Point:  Sorry Canon, but a price point of $500+ for a P&S camera?  I can get an SLR for only $100 more which opens up many more options, not only for lenses, but filters and many other acouterments like flash accessories as well.  $450 was the average price point and this just seems inordinately high for this breed of camera.  Now maybe the folks at Canon are trying to position themselves for moving into the mirrorless market with the announcement of their first in that line with the EOS-M series at $799, but that’s a nut I can’t crack! (More to come on the EOS-M line as well…)


I could wax on endlessly, but you undoubtedly want to see the shots I came away with more than read my own prattling about the camera and all its features, so let’s just get to the goods: