Recently the Nikon J1 dropped in price to the $400 – $450 range. So with this new street pricing, is the Nikon J1 now worth it?
There is a lot of competition these days in the mirrorless system camera market as well as unexpected competition from premium point and shoots like the Sony RX100 (see Did the Sony RX100 just trump the Nikon J1 and J2?). I aways thought that the Nikon J1 (the original price was $649) and its bigger brother the V1 were over priced at introduction. Nikon seemed a bit too proud of their latest 1 series. Sure these cameras have a revolutionary hybrid focusing system, But there was not much else that distinguished the line. Its small 1 inch sensor did not equate to a noticeably smaller body and you ended up with lower quality photographs, especially at high ISOs.
With a price drop of $150 to $200, is the J1 now worth it? Yes, I think so but only for a certain type of photographer. Consider the competition. For the same price or lower you can get the Olympus E-PM1 or the Panasonic Lumix GF3. Both of these cameras are part of the micro 4/3 standard which offers the largest selection of lenses for any mirrorless system format. They both have larger sensors and superior image quality. For about $450 or so you can get a Sony NEX-5n which is a fantastic camera with even better image quality.
So what does the Nikon J1 offer that the other cameras don’t have? A hybrid focusing system. There are two types of focusing systems used in cameras these days (not including the old-fashioned manual focus). Phase detect is used in DSLRs and are fast and particularly good at focusing on moving objects. They also hunt less, locking in without having the focus move in and out first. Their downside? Certain lens and body combinations may focus less accurately. That is why higher end DSLRs offer a feature called micro focus adjustment which allows a user to tweak a lens’ focusing. Contrast detect focusing is used in point and shoots and most mirrorless system cameras. They focus the image based on what is at the sensor. The focus accuracy is a lot higher and some of the newest cameras focus even faster than phase detect for still objects. However, contrast detect does not work as well when you are shooting action that is typical in sports. It also may hunt, a quick in and out motion, to see which way it need to go to focus on an object.
The Nikon J1 and VI were the first cameras that I know of that combined these two focusing technologies. The advantages are two-fold. For still photographs, in theory, you get the speed and accuracy of focus in all situations. The other mirrorless cameras are not as good for sports. The other advantage is for movies. You should get a quicker and smoother focused video. The bottom line? These small Nikons are excellent for sports and videos. Oh did I tell you, these cameras also shot at an amazing 60 frames per second too.
With the white, pink and red bodies, Nikon is clearly going after women. Perhaps the soccer mom that wants a small camera they can pack in a handbag but can still take great shots on the sports field. The image quality is certainly a large step up from the point and shoots and they don’t have to contend with the bulky, black plastic DSLRs. I think the typical guy likes big cameras with big lenses, especially on the sports field (Yes, I’m guilty of this too). For them taking out a big DSLR with a large zoom lens adds to the sense of manliness. Extra points if you have a pro level DLSR or at least the optional battery grip that increases the apparent bulk.
I give more credit to women. They care about capturing the moment and they don’t care about showing off with a large camera. Men are the equipment geeks and the pixel peepers. For people who have transcended the need to impress with their equipment and want a high performance, compact camera, the Nikon J1 is for them.
The simple and limited controls on the Nikon are clearly aimed at novice users. I have my share of small cameras but I still like more control in my physical user interface. The Nikon 1 is clearly not designed for me and that’s fine. It can be fantastic high performance camera for sports and video. Now at a new lower price, the J1 maybe perfect for that particular person. Someone that desires the speed but doesn’t want the bulk or have the need to look like a pro photographer.