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Nikon Mirrorless J1 Digital Camera Review$649.99
The Nikon J1 didn't do particularly well in our color accuracy test, rendering dull yellows and inaccurate blues even in the most accurate color mode. Some of the blame might lie with the troublesome custom white balance, but even when we managed to achieve pure whites, the rest of the colors were still skewed. Unsurprisingly, the most accurate color mode was Neutral, which registered a color error of 3.21 and a saturation of 100.6%. More on how we test color.
NOTE: Because of the way computer monitors reproduce colors, the images above do not exactly match the originals found on the chart or in the captured images. The chart should be used to judge the relative color shift, not the absolute captured colors.
While the J1's color accuracy isn't as bad as you might find on a Nikon point-and-shoot, we were disappointed that the camera couldn't achieve results on par with Nikon's DSLR line. That's the same mixture of disappointment and relief that we felt when comparing the J1 to other mirrorless cameras. Nikon's offering didn't fare as poorly as the competition from Sony or Samsung, but it also didn't impress us the way Olympus and Panasonic did. It was just... average.
The J1 is equipped with six different color modes, called "Picture Control," as well as the ability to set a custom picture control. These options have been ported from the Nikon DSLR lineup, so they'll be no surprise to long-time Nikon users. The options are standard, neutral, vivid, monochrome, portrait, and landscape.
With custom picture controls, you can start with one of the preset modes and tweak it according to sharpness, contrast, brightness, saturation, and hue. Each adjustment is made on a simple three to seven-increment scale (depending on the setting you're adjusting). There are several custom slots if you want to save your modifications for future use.
Unfortunately, white balance performance on the J1 was incredibly disappointing, with the camera struggling in both auto and custom white balance. Daylight conditions were the least offensive, but indoor lighting wreaked havoc with the J1's ability to achieve an accurate white balance.
Automatic White Balance ()
In auto mode, the J1 struggled with indoor lighting—both incandescent and fluorescent. This is the case for the automatic white balance modes of many cameras, though Nikon's DSLR line usually fares much better. Shots taken under regular indoor lighting confirmed what we saw in our testing labs: the usual "warm glow" of incandescent lights is exaggerated by the J1's poor white balance system.
Custom White Balance ()
The most disappointing numbers we saw came from the J1's custom white balance results. We expect to be able to get good clean whites from any interchangeable lens camera—no matter what the perceived demographic is. Given the mediocre effectiveness of the auto white balance system, the custom white balance needs to work well. Unfortunately, that's not the case with the J1; the custom white balance overcompensated for indoor lighting, causing whites and colors alike to appear too cool.
Of the cameras we selected for comparison, the only one that really blew us away what the Panasonic GF3, which rendered incredibly good whites under many lighting conditions using both auto white balance and custom white balance. The other cameras in the group displayed average performance—mostly as a result of somewhat disappointing custom white balance performance. Nothing, however, performed as poorly in this department as the J1.
White Balance Options
Like other Nikon interchangeable lens cameras, taking a custom white balance measurement requires going into the menu to the white balance setting, and taking a photo of a white or gray object that should "fill the viewfinder." Unfortunately, this cumbersome process doesn't tend to yield superb results and only one custom measurement can be saved at a time.
The J1's long exposure performance was underwhelming at best. The camera really struggled with color accuracy and noise—regardless of whether we activated the long exposure noise reduction system. More on how we test long exposure.
Color accuracy was the real disappointment here, with incredibly high color error despite setting a custom white balance. Color error was over 4.5 at just one-second exposures and increased to as high as 5.67 once we switched to long exposure noise reduction. The noise reduction did help mitigate noise—especially during our 15-second exposure testing. Unfortunately, even the improvements did not extend to exposures of thirty seconds and longer.
Most interchangeable lens cameras we've tested fared much better in this test than the Nikon J1. We attribute this to the camera's comparatively small sensor, which evidently can't keep up with the competition from Samsung and Panasonic.