Top critical review
140 people found this helpful
good image quality, bad user interface
on December 25, 2013
Here is how I came to buy the Nikon 1 J3:
During a recent trip, I discovered that my new Moto X phone took amazing photos and my old digital SLR was just too big & heavy for most occasions. So I started a mission to find something smaller and lighter which would partly or completely replace my SLR and take better photos than my phone. Note that most point-and-shoot cameras do not take better photos than the recent generation of phones, and in fact have the same sensors if not worse. Some sort of mirrorless large-sensor system seemed to be the answer, and I tried the Nikon 1 and others.
In a nutshell, the Nikon 1 J3 is an outstanding camera with a terrible user interface.
- Takes good photos in all types of light. Press the shutter and it takes a photo right away, freezing the moment. No second guessing. Can't say that about most other cameras.
- Super fast autofocus. It may well be quicker than most SLRs even. This camera is probably better suited for kids and sports photos than anything else you can buy.
- Very high frame-per-second rate for full-sized photos. 15 fps with autofocus, 60 fps without! This is better than practically all other cameras on the market right now. I personally prefer the more sedate 5 fps which is still better than entry level SLRs :)
- Good auto white balance. The photos come out looking natural, with good skin tones, etc.
- Small and light. The kit lens has an interesting folding design to make itself more compact. This camera is smaller than all other interchangeable-lens mirrorless systems, as far as I can tell.
- You can get some decent bokeh (blurry background for portraits etc) with the kit 10-30mm lens with big aperture plus remote
background. Not as easy as APS-C or full frame sensors, but at least doable.
- Clever "unlock the lens and turn the camera on" feature. No need to press the on/off button. Hard to describe but very handy. I wish other manufacturers did this too.
- Even when noisy, the photos have an "optically fuzzy," instead of "digitally smeared" look when viewed 1:1, which is a better and more pleasing noise reduction than many other manufacturers and cameras offer.
- Instant access to HD video. Press the smaller button with a red dot on it from any camera mode.
- Although it is small and light, and fits in a jacket pocket, this camera is bulky. The kit lens protrudes enough to make it look like you are carrying a good old rock in your pocket. I wish it were flatter. Still, much smaller than any SLR.
- The mode selector wheel on top is useless. Normally you expect to find Auto mode + PASM. Here you get Auto + 4 weird and semi-useless modes which were probably conceived for the Japanese market. PASM is hidden under the menus of one of them. The other ones are "automatic selection of the best photo", "take a slow motion 1 second clip before snapping a photo" (WTF?) and advanced movie mode (which is useless since you can record HD from any mode with a dedicated button).
- The camera is too menu driven for what it is. See above - PASM and scene modes are buried under menus. I like changing between P, A, and S. (On this camera, S is the most useful mode in my opinion.) HDR is hard enough to get to that I never really use it.
- You can't hold this thing one-handed. It is very smooth and there is no finger hold on the right. Why? Even basic point-and-shoots have some little ridge, and SLRs have a big bulge for your right hand to grab.
- Auto ISO tends to pick the highest allowed ISO (in my case, 3200) too often when indoors. I wish it would instead try to take a lower-exposure photo instead and let you handle it in post-processing.
- No automatic orientation for photos and videos. Are you kidding? I had to flip all my vertical (portrait) orientation photos by hand in Picasa or Lightroom. Good luck flipping a video file. Any smart phone can do better. My 5+ year-old cameras can do better than this.
- Lens cap. Annoying. I like using hoods on my SLR lenses so the lens is protected when open but this is not an option here. Given the puny zoom range, I wish this were a fixed lens self-capping design (like any point-and-shoot).
- Noisy raw photos. I tried taking a few indoor shots in NEF, Nikon's raw format. The luminance and chroma noise were shocking. I will stick to JPEG since the image processor does a good job taming the noise in a visually pleasing way. I do not want to waste my time in Lightroom or some other software on this issue.
- High frames per second are a bit of a waste of time and storage space. 15fps produces a flood of nearly identical photos that take a while to wade through, and can clog up your storage card. I find it impossible to take a single photo in 15fps mode, while it is doable in 5fps. In 15fps mode, the camera occasionally loses focus (it autofocuses in between frames) and then finds it again. I am sure 15fps and 60fps have their use, but they don't appeal to me yet.
- Short battery life. 300 photos maybe? You may last a daytrip if you don't do bit multi-frame-per-second bursts or video.
- Image quality is visibly below SLR level. My 5+ year-old APS-C sensor DSLR with the 50mm 1.4 Canon lens (and half the megapixels) utterly destroys this Nikon 1. Better sharpness, color, noise, bokeh, level of control over the camera, etc. That said, that lens alone costs more than what I paid for this Nikon package on sale. Still, it is good to keep things in perspective. The Samsung NX series has equal or worse image quality compared to Nikon 1 (with kit lenses), so it is not just the sensor at play here but every element in the imaging chain.
- Great for kids, sports, and low light situations. Better than an ordinary point-and-shoot camera in terms of speed and image quality. The responsiveness, fast focus and frames per second are on par if not better than an SLR at a fraction of the weight and size.
- If the camera were more compact, like the Sony RX100 (which has the same sized sensor and is very fast too), I would be in love with it. As it is, it is too bulky to be pocketable and my daily companion, and I am still not sure if I want to keep it.
UPDATE JANUARY 2014:
- I returned this camera to the store. Instead, I got a Sony NEX 3N and I love it. It is lighter and yet is has a larger sensor, flip screen, wider angle kit lens, and vastly better ergonomics (plus it costs less). Feel free to check that camera out. It also does 4 frames per second, which is not as fast as the Nikon but enough to capture sports or kids in motion.