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Nikon Mirrorless J1 Digital Camera Review$649.99
It's pretty clear Nikon was going for a sleek, point-and-shoot feel with their J1 design. The camera has an attractive, minimalist look, and is free of anything that would interrupt its smooth, clean lines. Unfortunately, that also includes anything that might be remotely confused for a grip. The J1 has a smooth plastic front with nothing that offers any sort of handle for the user. The rear of the camera has a nice patch of textured rubber that is just the kind of material that would be perfectly at home on the front of the camera. Unfortunately, there is nothing of the sort to be found.
The handling is less of an issue with the small lenses such as the 10-30mm or 10mm kit lenses. However, when using the 30-110mm telephoto lens, the extra weight really makes one-handed shooting a bit of an unstable procedure. In general the J1 doesn't handle poorly, it's just that despite its design's clear point-and-shoot origins, a camera as good (and expensive) as this should offer secure handling commensurate with a higher end Nikon camera.
Buttons & Dials
Handling aside, the controls on the J1 are actually very responsive and offer a great amount of tactile feel. It certainly doesn't compare to an entry-level DSLR, but we can say the J1's buttons are as good as anything we've used on other mirrorless models. The only gripe we have is the use of a two-way level (doubling as the zoom in/out lever in playback) for controlling aperture and shutter speed in the respective priority modes. There is a rear control wheel, but it generally is restricted to navigation, making quick swings in either aperture or shutter speed a more difficult proposition.
The one thing that is noticeably lacking from the J1's control scheme versus other compact mirrorless system cameras is customization. There is a context-sensitive "F" button that occasionally changes function, and the "OK" button on the rear control pad often accesses mode-specific functions such as manual focus, but there's nothing really programmable on the J1. This isn't a deal-breaker, but it's another sign that the J1 is aimed squarely at those stepping up from point-and-shoots, eschewing the trappings of enthusiast cameras that have so far defined the mirrorless system market.
The J1 does not feature a viewfinder, forcing users to rely on just the rear display. As a camera designed with entry-level customers in mind, this isn't totally surprising, as the camera is designed to be as familiar to point-and-shoot users as possible. The rear 3-inch TFT-LCD has a display resolution of 460k dots, and it's a very attractive screen, right on par with the Sony NEX-5 and just behind the Olympus E-P3's OLED screen for quality. It's easily accurate enough to make fine focus judgements on, and it was quite visible in daylight on an overcast day. In direct sunlight it's plagued by the typical LCD issues, going nearly black.
In both high and low shake testing, we found the J1's vibration reduction image stabilization technology worked quite well, able to produce approximately a 13% improvement in the number of sharp images across a range of shutter speeds. The improvement was most dramatic at slower shutter speeds (under 1/250 of a second), which is typical for successful stabilization systems. We recommend turning stabilization off at higher shutter speeds, as it tends to overcorrect for shake when shooting continuous shots, resulting in fewer sharp images.