Photography Reviews

That “Other” Camera May Have a Red Circle, But Nikon Cameras Have Earned the Red Dot

Photographers everywhere know Canon EF lenses by the red line encircling the barrel; however, Nikon may have a more compelling identification for 5 of its camera models. The Nikon D4 DSLR; the Nikon 1 V2, 1 J3 and 1 S1 compact camera systems (CSC) (mirrorless/interchangeable lens cameras); and the CoolPix S01 have received the prestigious Red Dot Award: Product Design 2013, which Germany’s Design Zentrum Nordrhein Westfalen sponsors.

The 5 Nikon cameras competed against more than 4,600 products from more than 1,860 companies in 54 countries and were judged according to 9 criteria, including innovation, functionality, ergonomics, ecology and durability.

This PhotographyTalk review takes a closer look at the 1 J3 and 1 S1 compact system cameras, which share many interesting features and capabilities, and provide photographers with 2 alternatives in an affordable compact, interchangeable-lens camera.

Nikon and Canon were the last of the major manufacturers to enter the compact, interchangeable-lens market. As of April 2013, Canon’s selection was still limited to its EOS M EF-M, while Nikon has introduced 3 lines of compact camera systems and has already updated 2 of them with new models. The 1 V series includes the 1 V1 and 1 V2 and the 1 J series offers the 1 J1, 1 J2 and now the new 1 J3. The other new Nikon CSC, the 1 S1, may or may not be considered a new series, but it does have a different letter designation.

Like most compact camera systems, the Nikon 1 J3 and 1 S1 appeal to that segment of digital camera-buying consumers who want more than the camera in their smartphones and the traditional compact camera with a fixed lens. They are serious enough about photography to appreciate how feature-rich the 1 J3 and 1 S1 are, including a selection of interchangeable lenses, but not so serious as to be attracted to DSLRs…especially their prices.

A compact camera system is a great first step for anyone who’s enthusiastic about becoming a photographer, and then can use it as an initial learning experience before taking a bigger step to a DSLR. The 1 J3 and 1 S1 are also among the excellent choices of second cameras for serious amateurs and professionals. They are happy to leave their large, heavy DSLRs, lenses and shooting accessories at home and photograph their kids, family events and vacations with a smaller, lighter, but fully capable, camera, such as these 2 Nikon models.

Until the introduction of the 1 S1, the 1 J series has been the low-cost choice for photographers who wanted to buy their first mirrorless camera. Nikon released the 1 J3 during January 2013 (with the 1 S1), which is just 4 months after it had introduced the 1 J2, as the first upgrade in the 1 J series. Some reviewers and photographers found the 1 J2 to be wanting, which may have been evident to Nikon too.

With the 1 J3, Nikon appears to be trying to serve 2 consumer wishes: it has the smallest body of any CSC built with a CX format (1-inch CMOS) sensor and it has a bigger sensor, in terms of pixels, than the 1 J2, 14 versus 10. Keep in mind, however, that only Nikon makes CX-format sensors, but the 14-MP count on the 1 J3’s sensor is the same as the Nikon 1 V2, which is the top dog among all Nikon mirrorless cameras. Just for you spec freaks, the dimensions of the 1 J3 are 4.0 x 2.4 x 1.1 inches (102 x 60.5 x 28.8mm) and the body weighs only 7.1 oz. (201g).

By comparison, the new Nikon 1 S1 contains a 10.1-MP CX-format CMOS sensor. It definitely identifies 1 S1 as Nikon’s new entry-level CSC, since the sensor size splits the difference between the smaller 1/2.3-inch of “traditional” compacts and the 1-inch in many Micro Four Thirds. The 1 S1 is barely bigger than the J3, at 4.0 x 2.4 x 1.2 inches (102 x 60.5 x 29.7mm), and is actually lighter, at 6.9 oz. (197g).

Both cameras are equipped with Nikon’s Expeed 3A processor. The processing engine gives both cameras some nice continuous shooting specs. On the J3, this mode records approximately 22 images at 15 fps with AF tracking. Select the much faster 60 fps and you’ll capture approximately 20 images, but without the use of AF tracking. The 1 S1’s continuous shooting mode doesn’t quite match the J3’s. At 60 fps (and without AF), the burst is limited to 15 images. If you need continuous AF, then the burst mode is the slower 15 fps, and just 15 images.

The 1 J3 bundle includes a 10–30mm optic lens with a 35mm-format equivalent focal length range of 27–81mm, with a maximum aperture range of f/3.5–5.6. Even at f/3.5, the lens will render a pleasing shallow depth-of-field. The wide-angle end of the range is what you need for landscapes and street photography and the narrower focal length is just about perfect for portraits. This kit lens includes Nikon’s Vibration Reduction (VR) technology and the lens barrel retracts to keep the total camera/lens depth size small, so it’s easier to carry.

The Nikon 1 S1’s kit lens is 11–27.5mm, or 30–74mm in terms of 35mm format, and the same f/3.5–5.6 maximum aperture range as the 1 J3. Not quite the focal length range of the 1 J3, but it still provides the same versatility when it comes to photo subjects and types. You’ll also have similar control of shallow depth-of-field; however, the 1 S1’s kit lens does not have VR anti-shake technology, although image stabilization has been designed into the body.

Capabilities that make Nikon’s new mirrorless camera models a bit more than entry-level CSCs (although first-time buyers are certainly the target audience) are complete RAW capture and “standard” PASM shooting modes. For beginners, the 1 S1 has the typical Auto mode, so they can start shooting great images immediately, as they learn how to use other exposure modes.

Nikon was able to give both these “entry-level” mirrorless cameras 3 features that have proven to be very popular among buyers of any of the Nikon 1 system cameras. Motion Snapshot records a one-second slow-motion video segment and a matching still photo that makes the combined images come “alive.” Smart Photo Selector captures 20 high-resolution images prior to and after the shutter is fully released from which the camera automatically selects the best 5, giving you the option of picking the one you like the best. The Slow View mode works similarly. With the shutter half depressed, a group of frames are recorded, which you can then view in a loop on the LCD, with the shutter button still pressed halfway. When you find a keeper, fully press the shutter and that is the image saved to the card. On the 1 S1, Smart Photo Selector and Slow View are combined into a single mode known as Best Moment Capture.

The Nikon 1 J3 has a 3.0-inch, 921,000-dot LCD as compared to the 1 S1’s 3.0-inch, 460,000-dot display. Both shoot 1080/60i Full HD video and several other recording speeds.

The Nikon 1 J3 Compact Camera System with the 10–30mm f/3.5–5.6 kit lens is available from Amazon for $546.95.  

The Nikon 1 S1 Compact Camera System with the 11–27.5mm f/3.5–5.6 kit lens is available from Amazon for $446.95.

 

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