Hands on with the Nikon 1

We get a hands on quick review of the new Nikon 1 camera system

The Nikon 1 J1 with a 10-100mm f3.5-5.6 VR lens.

The Nikon 1 J1 with a 10-100mm f3.5-5.6 VR lens.

In addition to the J1’s 71-point autofocus system, Nikon touts very fast autofocus, thanks to a hybrid autofocus system that switches between phase-detection and contrast-detection AF, depending on the lighting conditions. In low light, the camera uses contrast detection, because it activates an AF illuminator lamp.

True to Nikon’s claims, the autofocus is generally pretty fast. Unfortunately, during the test shoot it sometimes locked AF in the wrong place, but I have to say that most of my shots were sharply focused. Face detection worked fairly well when I stepped closer to the models, and it kept the face-detection brackets on a model’s face even when I moved the camera.

Continuous shooting starts at 5 frames per second at full resolution, and can zip along as fast as 60 frames per second when you use the camera’s Electronic Hi mode. The Smart Photo Selector, similar to Nikon’s Best Shot Selector, captures a burst of up to 20 frames and then saves the five best based on various criteria, including exposure and facial recognition.

The bottom line, as always, is image quality. During the studio session, I alternated between the Nikon J1 and my Nikon D3s DSLR (with a 70-200mm VR II lens). Of course, it’s not fair to compare images between the two — we all know which camera would win — but I did see some shots from the J1 that exhibited the same spot-on exposure and rich, vibrant colors when the lighting was good.

I kept the J1’s ISO as low as possible, pushing it only to around ISO 400 on a few occasions, with noise reduction turned off. Again, judging from a quick look, some shadowy areas exhibited image noise, even at lower ISOs. That isn't surprising considering the camera’s physically small sensor, but according to PCWorld’s chart of the best point-and-shoots for image quality, Nikon does know how to make a small-sensored camera that performs well.

I found the Nikon 1 J1 a lot of fun to shoot with, and I think the J1 has the potential to be more than just a cute camera for snapshots. The real deal-sweetener for existing Nikon owners will be when the FT-1 F mount adapter comes out in the coming months, allowing those with a selection of Nikkor lenses to use their existing DSLR lenses with the Nikon 1-series cameras.

As for formal results, we’ll tell you what we find out in the upcoming full review.

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PC World Staff

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