Nikon 1 J3 Review
Performance - How well does it take pictures?
NOTE While the Nikon 1 J3 shares the same sensor and processing pipeline as the recently reviewed 1 V2
Nikon 1 V2, results differ with greater softness for the J3, mostly due to stronger noise-reduction. Color tones are slightly warmer too, probably to produce more consumer-appealing results. Most of this section and the next one is taken from the V2's review.
Performance starts with image quality, which is the criteria used as the foundation of our digital camera ratings. Ergonomic issues may get in the way, but in the end, image quality counts the most. For an ILC, image quality greatly depends on the lens used. While color, noise, exposure and dynamic-range are properties of a camera, distortion, vignetting and chromatic aberrations are properties of the lens. Sharpness and contrast depend on the weakest link. That is, a camera cannot capture more details than a lens lets through. Conversely, it is quite possible for a lens to transmit more details than a sensor can capture.
Image Noise & Details
The Nikon 1 J3 shows reasonable image quality with relatively low image noise up to ISO 800. Noise is barely noticeable at ISO 1600. ISO 3200 shows obvious color-noise. Still, that sensitivity remains usable which is very good for a camera this small.
Noise-reduction on the J3 is rather aggressive and increases in intensity quickly with longer shutter-speeds. As a result, usable print sizes vary with mid-size prints possible at ISO 1600 in good light but should be limited to ISO 800 in low-light. At ISO 3200 and 6400, noise becomes visibly more pronounced and even more fine details disappear. At this point, only small prints are possible.
While this is a similar performance in terms of noise compared to other SLDs which use larger sensors, the weakness of this 2.7X crop sensor comes in the form of reduced dynamic range. Still, this is much better than most compact cameras, showing that this form-factor provides a good compromise in terms of image quality. Sharpness is a quite soft at the default setting of 2 but 4 improves things without artifacts. Setting sharpness to 5 makes things look better while introducing minimal sharpening artifacts.
Color & White Balance
This digital camera does generally well in terms of colors. Standard mode provides the most accurate. There is a warm tone by default which is easily corrected by adding +1 to Hue. The default Contrast level is a little strong and clips abruptly. Setting it to -1 produces images with more details without making them dull.
The J3 has an average automatic white-balance system. AWB is tuned to produce slightly warm colors. It does occasionally fail to correct the strong color-cast of artificial light but not more than most. Custom while balance is good but not entirely perfect.
The Nikon Matrix metering system used by the Nikon 1 J3 is exceptionally good. Exposure is quite consistent and accurate. Highlights are not blown out very often while results are generally bright enough to be usable as is. There is no Live-Histogram to preview exposure, nor is there an Exposure-Priority preview, but a luminance histogram is available during image playback.
The Nikon 1 J3 uses a fast hybrid autofocus system with both Phase-Detection and Contrast-Detection. Phase-Detection is done with 73 points right on the sensor, while Contrast-Detection is measured at 135 points. This digital camera decides which one to use depending on available light.
Phase-Detection has the advantage of being faster and not needing back and forth lens movements to confirm focus. The latter point is particularly important during video which gets recorded as the camera focuses. When light is too low, the camera switches to Contrast-detection.
Autofocus speeds, because of the hybrid system, are variable. When light is good to moderately low, this Nikon focuses extremely quickly. Even under typical household lighting, this camera manages to lock focus faster than any mirrorless. As light levels drop and the camera switches to Contrast-Detection, things slow down gradually. When light is low, it still manages impressively well.
The Nikon 1 J3 is an extremely speedy camera in general. Every button, dial and menu gets an almost instance response. With Phase-Detection it compares well to advanced DSLRs in terms of autofocus speed. This is an amazing performance for a mirrorless camera. These measurements characterize the performance of the J3:
- Power-On: 1½ seconds. Average.
- Power-On to First-Shot: 2 seconds. Good.
- Autofocus: Under ½s in good to moderate light. Rarely exceeds ¾s except in very low light. Very good. This is somewhat slower then our measurements for the V2 which is probably due to a heaver lens with dimmer aperture. The 10-100mm F/4-5.6 lens performs much more back-and-forth movements while focusing than the 10-30mm or 30-100mm used on the V2.
- Shutter-lag: Nearly instant with virtually no black out other than for slow shutter-speeds. Absolutely superb.
- Shot-to-shot: Just under ¾s. Very good.
- Playback: Instant to enter, ¼ to exit. Excellent.
- Power-Off: Under ½s. Excellent.
- Video: ¾s start delay. Instant stopping. Slow to start, good to stop.
The Nikon 1 J3 is one clearly the fastest mirrorless camera reviewed to date. It improves upon the V1 in all respects except for video recording. Autofocus - as mentioned earlier - is extremely fast. The shutter-lag is spectacular and, considering how quiet the electronic-shutter is, makes the camera so fast it does not even seem to take a picture! Shot-to-shot speed is also twice as fast as on the predecessor which makes it even more usable for action photography.
The Nikon 1 J3 is powered by a proprietary Lithium-Ion battery which provides 220-shots per charge. This is noticeably below average and a second battery is highly recommended.
Performance - How well does it shoot video?
The Nikon 1 J3 is a nice video performer. It can shoot full HD video at 1080p and 1080i with continuous Phase-Detect autofocus and stereo sound. There is also 720p video at 60 FPS and high-speed video modes at 400 and 1200 FPS. Full PASM exposure-modes are available for video.
Video is saved in Quicktime format using the efficient H.264 codec. This provides good compression and video quality without obvious artifacts. Motion appears smooth with minimal distortion. The autofocus system keeps up reasonably but can be heard in the audio track.
The only drawback is a ¾s delay when video recording starts. Despite having a dedicated Video mode, which is the only way to correctly see what is being filmed, the sensor does not appear ready.
Fast continuous autofocus is possible during video as is manual focus. Unfortunately the internal microphone records the movement of the control-dial used to focus manually. It is therefore highly recommended to use a separate audio recording device when filming with the J3.
The Nikon 1 J3 is an impressive mirrorless camera that delivers a unique performance compromise. Image quality is good, considerably better than the majority of compact cameras, while not matching that of state-of-the-art mirrorless models. In terms of speed though, which is a big concern with mirrorless cameras, it truly excels.
This digital camera shows some very low image noise until ISO 800 yet provides usable results up to ISO 6400, albeit only for the smallest prints. Metering is excellent and it shows good color-accuracy and reasonable white-balance. Dynamic-range also falls closer to the majority mirrorless than to most compact cameras.
The hybrid autofocus brings top focusing speeds to mirrorless ILCs thanks to Phase-Detection which is also extremely advantageous for video recording. The J3 always remains responsive and keeps up the pace better than most digital cameras, similarly. With 60 FPS shooting and a top-shutter-speed of 1/16000, it also exceeds the speeds of all DSLRs.
The downsides of the Nikon 1 J3 are few but worth understanding. In low light, it switches to Contrast-Detect AF. which takes away its ability to focus as fast as an entry-level DSLR disappears in dim environments. Still, when compared to most mirrorless cameras is remains just as good in low-light. The other important limitation is the number of Nikon 1 lenses available. This is obviously the biggest limitation but should gradually improve while Nikon introduces new lenses.
In the end, the Nikon 1 J3 packs impressive image quality for its very compact body. It manages to do so while delivering one of the fastest performance of its class, particularly for continuous shooting and autofocus. While it offers photographic controls, its minimal interface means it should be mostly treated as an easy-to-use point-and-shoot with big image quality and less as a creative tool.
Nikon J3 Highlights
Sensor-Size: 13 x 9mm
Actual size when viewed at 100 DPI
|14 Megapixels Mirrorless||ISO 100-6400|
|Nikon 1 Mount|
|Built-in Dust Reduction||Full manual controls, including Manual Focus|
|60 FPS Drive, 60 Images||Custom white-balance with 2 axis fine-tuning|
|1920x1080 @ 30 FPS Video Recording||Spot-Metering|
|3" LCD 920K Pixels||Lithium-Ion Battery|
|Secure Digital Extended Capacity|
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