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.

The camera is nicely kitted out with unique features, and a few of them piqued my interest.

Perhaps one of the most interesting, and potentially useful, functions is the ability to take stills while shooting video — without any breaks in the video. The camera’s high-definition video mode maxes out at a 1920-by-1080-pixel resolution at 60 interlaced fields per second (1080i/60fps), saving the results as MOV files.

Another still/video combo mode is Motion Snapshot, which produces a hybrid file. In Motion Snapshot, the camera buffers video and saves about 1 second of 1920-by-1080 video captured just before the shutter snaps. In this mode, video plays back in slow motion (so the clip is a little over 2 seconds long) and fades out, upon which the accompanying still image displays, with one of four themed music soundtracks.

Since I have no chance of ever owning a high-speed Phantom camera, I was happy to see the slow-motion video options on the J1, with frame-rate choices of 400 frames per second at 640-by-240 resolution or 1200 frames per second at 320-by-120 resolution. Yes, the files are physically small and low resolution, but they are fun. In fact, the models at the Nikon shoot — who were having as much, if not more, fun than the photographers using the J1 — conducted a few impromptu shoots of their own using the slow-motion video option, with great enthusiasm and some creative results.

During the test shoot, I switched between the camera’s 10mm and 10-30mm lenses. With the camera’s 2.7X crop factor (10mm=27mm, 10mm-30mm=27mm-81mm), I elected to leave the 30mm-110mm in my camera bag since it was too long for the studio setup. The 10mm-30mm zoom lens, although small when retracted, extends out farther than I anticipated, but it’s lightweight and it zooms smoothly.

The only drawback is that I found it too easy to lock the lens when trying to zoom to its widest field of view. Like the lenses of Olympus Pen cameras, the Nikon lens locks when it is retracted, and you must unlock it again before the camera will operate. If you don’t get the hang of the procedure, it may make you miss a shot.

Unlike the V1, the J1 doesn’t accommodate an external flash, although it should operate as a master and trigger a small third-party flash attached via the tripod mount. Unfortunately, I didn’t discover the J1’s flash-compensation option until after I tried to use the tiny pop-up flash as a fill flash. The specs indicate that the flash can reach up to 16 feet at ISO 100, but that didn’t seem to be the case in my trials. Next time I’ll bump up the flash intensity via the menu.

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