The Nikon 1 line has always been the more compact of the mirrorless options, but the camera giant is now claiming the smallest interchangeable lens camera on the market with the 2013 introduction of the 1 J3. With a body as tall and wide as a point and shoot, even the depth rivals some bulkier models, coming in at just under 29 mm.
But the Nikon 1 J3 packs quite a bit of punch in its tiny package, particularly when it comes to speed. The tech specs boast a 15 fps continuous burst using tracking focus and a whopping 60 fps without. The feature lists also adds a Slow View option for slowing down the action to take the shot at the perfect moment, plus manual settings for video as well as stills.
Can big performance co-exist with a small body? When put to the test, the Nikon 1 J3 proved it is not only possible, but seriously entertaining.
Nikon 1 J3: Body & Design
The Nikon 1 J3 immediately draws the eye with the sleek yet compact design. The body has the look and feel of a point and shoot with no bulky grips or controls (but also no optical viewfinder). In numbers, the body comes in at 101 mm wide, 60.5 mm tall and just under 29 mm deep.
The kit lens continues the look with a nice texturized grip ring edged in silver. Closed, it adds about another 1 ¾ inches to the body when attached.
The top of the J3 houses a pop-up flash, on/off, shutter release and video record button, as well as the mode dial. Interestingly, Nikon didn't use up all the available space on the mode dial. All of the scene modes and manual modes are under the creative icon and are changed though the function shortcut button or menu, which is somewhat annoying, but manageable.
|The back of the Nikon 1 J3 has a large LCD screen and a two-in-one menu button with control wheel.|
At the back is the LCD screen, which is fairly bright and gets the job done, but like any electronic viewfinder, isn't quite as nice as an optical viewfinder in bright sunlight. A rather intuitive feature is the fact that the menu buttons double as a control wheel; click for the usual settings or twist to adjust options like shutter speed. The double function saves space without sacrificing the control wheels (which DLSR users will appreciate).
Many of the functions on the 1 J3 aren't where Nikon users would typically expect them, so there's a bit of an adjustment even to users familiar with the brand. The mode dial doesn't have all the available options, additional modes are found in the menu or function button shortcut. ISO adjustments are not in a shooting menu, but under image processing.
But, the most used shortcuts are in their usual spot, including burst mode, flash mode and exposure. All the remaining options are in one of six subcategories in the menu, which is well organized and easy to look through.
Nikon 1 J3: User Experience & Performance
|The 15 fps burst speed on the Nikon 1 J3 is excellent for taking a series of action shots.|
The first thing that consumers will notice right out of the box about the Nikon 1 J3 is the size—but the second thing users will notice after powering it up is the speed. The 1 J3 burst mode hits 15 fps with all the usual function and resolution—that's three times the burst rate of most entry-level DSLRs. Don't need tracking autofocus? The 1 J3 can hit up to 60 fps.
Burst capture isn't the only thing that's snappy on the 1 J3 either. Start-up is relatively quick, about three seconds, though the lens has to be unlocked first (which saves quite a bit of space when storing). There's little lag in the autofocus. RAW shooters will appreciate the recording speed—in fact, we didn't notice a difference between normal JPEG and RAW + JPEG processing speeds. The burst modes are available in RAW as well, though it doesn't take as many images at once.
It's not all about speed though; the 1 J3 includes a new best moment capture feature, which plays the action as a slow motion video on the LCD screen, so the user can snap the photo at the right moment. Watching a slow motion video while the action continues at it's regular pace, however, can mean missing later moments. It's a nice, interesting feature, but the 15 fps burst is by far the nicer option.
Nikon didn't include as many scene modes on the J3 as in their other models. But the most challenging type of shots are well covered. The scene modes include night landscape, night portrait, backlighting and panorama, as well as a few creative effects, like miniature and selective color.
The remaining creative modes are the manual, P/S/A/M options, which offer a little more than the usual gamut of customizing shots. Under image processing, the user can go even further and adjust hue, saturation, sharpness or choose presets like vibrant and monochrome. Nikon then went one step further and added the manual modes to the video.
The included 10-30mm kit lens lends a nice depth of field to the images, with a f-stop range of 3.5-5.6. The speed of the lens compliments the camera's speed. Zoom was smooth and efficient.
Battery life isn't the greatest, rated at 220 shots. It gets the job done and lasted through a few testing events, but isn't quite as extensive as most consumers will expect.
Nikon 1 J3: Image Quality
Low light shots varied on noise levels—the programed auto resulted in much clearer shots than the regular auto, with much less noise. Though even left on auto, the camera performed pretty well in challenging scenarios. The camera did well outdoors at sunset, picking up the nice orange glow from the ambient lighting with no noticeable grain. At higher ISOs, colors are not quite as vibrant, but the noise levels were surprisingly low.
With the speed of the camera and autofocus, images were clear and well focused. The burst options made action photos free of blur. The backlighting mode also worked well in lieu of using a fill flash, though the processing time is noticeably longer.
Hue and saturation can all be adjusted under the image processing menu, but seemed pretty true-to-life when left on standard. The vibrant color processing option lent a nice effect to photos of children or for creating a more dramatic blue skyline.
With manual options for video, the quality and versatility is nice for a camera. Sounds were picked up well, and footage is as sharp as the still images. The camera didn't adjust to glare from the sun as well as a camcorder would, and the image stabilization was also a bit behind the quality inside a camcorder, but for a dedicated camera, the 1 J3 records video fairly well.
Nikon 1 J3: Conclusion
The speed and size make the 1 J3 a serious contender in the mirrorless category—it's truly a fun little camera with some pretty big performance. The battery life could see some improvement and some (though probably few) users will notice a few scene modes missing, but the speed and size is hard to come by.
|Images from the Nikon 1 J3 are sharp and detailed, with a nice depth of field.|
Compared to similarly priced models, the 1 J3 fares pretty well. The Olympus PEN Lite E-PL5 has a bigger sensor, better battery life and hot shoe slot, but a slower burst mode and larger body. The NX300 includes wi-fi (instead of as an extra add on) in the price, but doesn't have the speed of the J3. The Fujifilm XM-1 is feature packed with wi-fi, GPS and a larger sensor, but again can't match the burst speed or size and retails for about $100 more.
The Nikon 1 J3 is an ideal fit for an on-the-go action shooter. Competing models may offer more features and larger sensors, but can't compete with the burst speed and smaller size.