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Review Nikon J3 (Nikon 1); small and fast

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The Nikon J3 is one of the smallest cameras in the world with an interchangeable lens. The compactness of the body is due to the relatively small sensor (ca 13 x 9 mm). Nikon calls this the CX format. The AF is at least as fast as a DSLR, and this also applies to the image quality. If you do not have to resort to the highest ISO settings, the image quality is very good.

Despite the small size, there is still a fold-out flash. There is no accessory shoe for, say, a push-up-GPS, and also no built-in Wi-Fi. The J3 (which used the same sensor as the Nikon 1 V2) excels with a fast AF, an extremely short shutter lag, a very fast shutter (1/16,000 second) and a high continuous speed at 60 frames per second.

It works best on the automated settings.

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Nikon J3 versus Nikon J2

The differences between the J3 and its predecessor, the J2, are only apparent under close examination. The biggest advancement is in the sensor, which is now 14 megapixel (was 10). The pixel number is 3456 x 2304, with the classic length/width ratio of 3:2. The built-in flash now pops up automatically when the camera calls for it, but the mechanism has changed: no longer the beautiful 'column' but a somewhat simpler hinge. The flash also pops up far less often than on the J2, which could lead to some more red-eye.

Also the ergonomics are somewhat improved. The turntable was at on the back of the camera for the J2 is and now on top. Furthermore, the J3 has one more setting in the continuous mode: 5 fps is added.

Remarkably, the J3 is smaller and lighter than the J2: 101 x 60 x 29 mm and a weight of 244 g. Ready to shoot, that was 280 for the J2.

The competition

Each respectable brand has a series of interchangeable lens compact cameras these days. Competitors of the Nikon 1 J3 include models with a micro four thirds (FT) or an APS-C sensor, such as the Panasonic GM1 or the Sony NEX series. The sensors of those cameras are larger. The FT format is twice as big in square millimeters, and the APS-C format is even three times as big as the CX-format. It's inevitable: you are going to notice the difference under certain circumstances. On the other hand, those cameras themselves are also larger and heavier that the J3.

The J3 has fewer features than the already-mentioned cameras, but it's also cheaper. In fact, the Nikon J3 is one of the lowest-priced system cameras with an interchangeable lens.

A disadvantage of the Nikon 1 system is that it is not, like the Micro Four Thirds, an 'open' system. With lenses, you're limited to the range from Nikon's own brand.

nikon-j3 back

Design and operation

The design of the Nikon 1 series has undoubtedly contributed to its success. It is one of the best-selling system cameras. Especially in the white version, the camera looks breathtaking, but even in traditional black, it's a beauty. Most lenses are both available in both black and white in order to match. The body feels solid and rough.

Due to the compact size, there is little room for buttons beside the LCD screen, and the operation is handled largely through menus. On the back, you'll find a four-way switch and buttons for display, menu and the Recycle Bin. On top of the camera, we find the shutter release button, a separately housed start/stop button for the movie function, and a control wheel, which manages, for example, your preferred mode, but not shutter speed or aperture priority. Curiously enough, you find these in the 'creative' menu. Even more exceptional is the place for changing the ISO setting: in the 'image processing' menu! You have to go find it there. This shows that this camera especially designed for the photographer who does not want to bother with technical details. The camera works best on automatic, and with that it is very seldom topped. The techno-freak who wants to try out all the settings can, but will have to go to some trouble to do it.

A number of menu modes appear on the LCD screen with 'tiles', but the screen is not a touch screen: you have to scroll through the pictures with the four-way switch and press OK. We like the panorama mode, which lets you easily create 180-degree panoramas.

nikon-j3 lcd info

NikonJ3700

Speed and shutter lag

Nikon brags about the speed of the 1 series. And rightly so. The startup delay is minor, but bear in mind that the lens must first be 'unfolded'. That takes a few seconds. With the camera turned on and in focus, the shutter lag about 0.04 seconds. That is exceptionally low. Even with the delay, focusing takes no more than 0.2 seconds.

That is among other things the result of a very advanced autofocus system. There are 'left-looking' and 'right-looking' pixels (for a technical explanation, see our article on phase detection AF), which, along with the classic contrast detection system, ensure not only fast but also reliable focus. It's also very convenient that the autofocus when filming continues to work well and quickly. There are a lot of SLR cameras that cannot match the Nikon J3 on this point.

The continuous mode allows up to 20 pictures (JPEG Large/Fine) to be taken. In the fastest setting, the camera does that in 0.3 seconds, so that's 60 frames/second, a very high continuous speed. Much more practical is a bit slower frame rate (the camera has four: 5, 15, 30 and 60 fps), because then you can cover a larger time period. The shortest shutter speed is 1/16,000 second (see picture at right).

In the 'best shot' mode, accessible via the control wheel, the camera makes 20 pictures at 30 fps, which lets you play back, select and store the best pictures by pressing the shutter release button – a convenient way to use the continuous mode. In the 'smart' mode, you can leave the selection to the camera itself, but it's unclear exactly what criteria that selection is based on.

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Sharpness: resolution Nikon J3

The resolution of the Nikon J3 is determined by the sensor, which is identical to that of the V2. Anyone who wants complete information about that, please consult our test of that camera. That a larger sensor in most cases leads to the highest detail sharpness, you see below, where we have made identical pictures with the J3 (left) and with the Four Thirds Panasonic GM1 (right). The ISO was 200. Of course these are pictures outcroppings, in this case 10% of the full image size. If this picture were printed at 100% it would be in poster format. The picture quality is thus very good.

L Nikon 1J3 R PanaGM1 700px

Dynamic range Nikon J3

The Nikon 1 cameras have a much larger sensor than compact cameras. That has a positive effect on the dynamic range. Compared to compact cameras, the usable dynamic range of the Nikon J3 is nice and big. The following practice shot shows very high contrast, but on the histogram you can see that there is virtually no underexposure of shadow areas or highlight overexposure that occurs. Lightroom marks the overexposed areas with red, and in RAW they're quite easy to repair. With a compact camera that is not certain.

dynamicrange

Dynamic range in practice. On this picture, the sun is fully in frame. There is a small green spot visible at the bottom due to lens-flare; that is under these circumstances certainly no scandal. However, both the shadows of the ships and the clouds are still detailed. Everything was set to automatic.

ISO-sensitivity

 

The highest ISO sensitivity is 6400. This is a 'real' ISO, not 'extended', as you often find with SLRs. At that setting a smaller sensor such as the J3, of course, is not at its best. Making landscape images at ISO 6400 is not advisable. But to show the difference, we made two pictures of the exact same position with ISO 6400 (left) and ISO 400 (right). The ISO 6400 shot is woolly, shows noise, and the original colors have lost their vitality. Such a setting exists only for emergencies. Lower ISOs are possible, of course, but the image doesn't get better.

 

Click (2x) on the image to the right.

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Color reproduction Nikon J3

The color reproduction of modern cameras these days is extremely similar. Also the Nikon J3 delivers in daylight footage good color reproduction. The color deviation (Delta E 94) is small for both a converted RAW file in Lightroom and a jpg file (neutral) straight out of the camera. The auto white balance of the Nikon J3 does its job just as well as an SLR camera. In artificial light pictures, the deviation of both RAW and jpg files is clearly visible, as with all other cameras.

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Conclusion Nikon J3 review

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Look in our list of tested cameras for specifications and to compare this performance with that of other cameras.

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Advantages

Disadvantages

  • super compact and lightweight
  • fast in every way
  • great looks
  • well suited to those who do not want to get into technical matters
  • good price/quality ratio
  • highest ISO settings only for emergencies
  • shutter and aperture settings run through a menu
  • ISO setting difficult to access
  • No WiFi, no accessory shoe
The Nikon 1 J3 is a camera for family use, a super small companion you can always keep with you. Turn it on, prepare the lens and shoot. If you're a serious photographer who wants to exercise influence over the image itself, then the V-series from Nikon with electronic viewfinder is a better choice. With the Nikon J3 is not so easy to set for things like shutter speed and aperture manually. The sensor of a Nikon 1 camera is larger than the sensor of a compact camera, making the image quality is better than that of a compact camera. In comparison with an SLR, however, the sensor is smaller. The disadvantage of the small sensor size is that the image quality compared to SLRs at high ISOs lags somewhat.
Ivo Freriks
Author: Ivo Freriks
With Camera Review Stuff I hope to make a modest contribution to the pleasure that you get from photography. By testing cameras and lenses in the same way, evluating the results and weighing up the pros and cons, I hope to help you find the right camera or lens.

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