Gadling Gear Review: Nikon 1 J2 Digital Camera

The Nikon 1 J2 Compact Interchangeable Lens SystemOver the past couple of years, one of the fastest growing segments of the digital camera market has been the compact interchangeable lens systems. These cameras feature the small bodies of a traditional point-and-shoot with the ability to swap lenses like a DSLR, giving them plenty of versatility without adding undue size or weight. Options from Sony, Panasonic and Samsung have been extremely popular, but it was Nikon’s first entry, the 1 J1, that really caught the attention of the mainstream market. Now, a year later, the company has updated the diminutive shooter, making some minor but welcome changes to an already impressive and fun camera.

The Nikon 1 J2 retains its predecessor’s small body and classic good looks, while upgrading the built-in screen with a much higher resolution display. Considering the camera doesn’t have a viewfinder of any kind, this revamped screen is definitely a nice addition. Featuring richer colors and a higher level of illumination, the new display gives a better indication of what your photos will look like, while also performing better in bright, outdoor conditions. Other improvements include a new metallic body available in several colors, and updates to the 1 system’s internal software that gives photographers more creative control over their images.

When the J1, and its big brother the V1, were released last year, they were soundly criticized for Nikon’s choice of sensor. While most of its competitors used sensors with sizes ranging from 12 to 16 megapixels, Nikon elected to employ a smaller 10.1 MP option. That hasn’t changed at all in the J2, even as competitors have continued to improve their sensors. But the smaller CX-format that Nikon uses still takes excellent photos with great color reproduction, even if the resulting images aren’t as large as those captured by other ILS cameras. The smaller sensor allows for the more compact body found on the 1 system and any photographer will tell you that the number of megapixels is a bit overrated anyway. Smaller sensors do suffer poorer performance in low light conditions, however, so keep that in mind when deciding which camera best fits your needs.If there is one area that all of the Nikon 1 cameras excel, it is in their speed. They are amazingly fast at focusing on subjects and they are capable of shooting in bursts of 5 fps on their quickest settings. That performance isn’t matched by the competition just yet and comes in handy when shooting travel photos, particularly when you want to quickly capture those oh so fleeting moments. While using the J2, I was continually impressed with how fast it performed, never failing to capture the image I was hoping for. It even does a fantastic job at shooting photos of wildlife and fast moving sporting events, two subjects that can put demands on even the best cameras.

The Nikon 1 J2 Camera in a variety of colorsMuch like the camera body itself, the lenses designed for the Nikon 1 system are compact, lightweight and perform well. Nikon has long been known for making excellent lenses and that heritage shines through here. I tested both the 10-30mm kit lens and the 30-110mm telephoto zoom. Both take great photos, focus exceedingly quickly and have built-in vibration reduction, which helps in keeping images sharp even when at full zoom. Both lenses cleverly incorporate a small button on the focus ring that allows you to turn the camera on simply by twisting them into position. This comes in very handy when trying to quickly capture shots without fumbling for the tiny power button on the top of the camera.

Nikon has designed the 1 system to be incredibly easy to use and as such, those advancing from a point-and-shoot camera are likely to feel right at home. But if you’re a DSLR user who enjoys the full control that those cameras offer, you may feel a bit frustrated with the options for controlling shutter speeds or aperture priority offered here. Those controls are available of course, but they aren’t on a mode dial as you might expect. You’ll find them instead buried on menus and you’ll have to use the screen to access them. It can be a bit ponderous to change those settings at times, particularly if you’re doing it often or have to do it quickly. It seems clear that Nikon saw this camera as an upgrade for those who are use to shooting in automatic mode rather than fiddling with the settings. But those of us who have been using a DSLR for awhile, and simply want a good option that can shave weight from our packs without sacrificing control, will find these limitations a bit challenging at first.

I’d be remiss in writing a review of the J2 if I didn’t mention that it is an excellent option for shooting video as well. The camera is capable of capturing 1080p HD video at 30 fps or 1080i at 60 fps. Quality is excellent and when used with the variety of lenses available for the 1 system, the camera provides performance that exceeds that of a dedicated video camera, allowing us to save further room in our bags. Just make sure you have extra memory cards along on your trip, as HD video can eat up storage space very quickly.

As someone who likes to travel light, and is always looking for ways to save weight in my bags, the thought of a small and lightweight camera system with interchangeable lenses has always been intriguing. The Nikon 1 V2 definitely lives up to my hopes for the category, making it one of the best travel cameras I have ever used. I love that it is fast, takes beautiful photos and is actually fun to use. The fact that it tips the scale at about a half-pound, with the battery and kit lens installed, doesn’t hurt either. While that is obviously considerably more than your average point-and-shoot, it is also a lot less than a DSLR.

Not that there isn’t room for improvement in the J2. The 10.1 MP sensor is very good, but a larger sensor would improve performance in a variety of key areas. The built-in flash is also rather flimsy and feels fragile as well and I would have preferred better overall battery life. The J2′s battery isn’t necessarily terrible, but when you’re used to using a DSLR, it was a bit disappointing. I’d also prefer an actual viewfinder of some type, but we’ll need to jump up to the larger and more expensive V1, or the newly announced V2, for that option.

Travelers looking for a great option for capturing their latest adventures are likely to love the Nikon 1 J2. Its combination of image quality, ease of use and compact size makes it a perfect choice for those trips in which you want to travel light without compromising your photography. The options for choosing different lenses gives this camera a level of versatility that can’t be found in a point-and-shoot, while its light weight is a huge plus over bulkier DSLRs. The camera even comes with a lightweight price tag. Nikon starts the J2 out at just $549.95 including the 10-30mm lens. That is a competitive price for a camera that will accompany you on many fantastic trips ahead.

[Photos credit: Nikon]

Ultra-zoom in a travel friendly package – Gadling reviews the new Nikon Coolpix P100

This is a great time to be in the market for a new travel friendly camera. Almost weekly, new cameras are revealed that add more of the stuff travelers can benefit from.

In this review, I’ll introduce you to the newest from Nikon – the Coolpix P100. The P100 is an “ultra zoom” – which means its zoom lens packs quite a punch.

The basics are all pretty impressive too – 10.3 megapixels, 1080p HD video, high-speed video (up to 240 frames per second), tilting screen, pop-up flash and an electronic viewfinder. But perhaps the best feature in the P100 is its 26x optical zoom.

Operating the Nikon is simple – its startup time is quick, and you can start shooting your first photo in about 2 seconds (more if you need the flash). Subsequent photos are equally fast – also about 2 seconds. On the top of the camera is the mode selector (auto, sports, scene favorite scene, subject tracking, user settings, manual, aperture priority, shutter priority and programmed auto). Next to the mode selector is the power switch and zoom button.

On the rear of the camera is the viewfinder button, display option button, a selector knob for high-definition or high-speed video, video record button, play button, menu button, erase button and of course a d-pad control for menu operation and quick access to flash, timer, macro and exposure.

The tilting display is a fantastic feature – the entire 3″ display swivels up or down, and because it is mounted on an arm, you can angle it in all kinds of ways. This makes it perfect for shooting above or below you without having to get down on your knees or hurting your neck. Angling the display also makes it easier to move it out of the glare from the sun, because the anti-glare coating isn’t always efficient.

Photos are good, not great – obviously you won’t get professional digital SLR results from a camera with a small(ish) sensor, but for most people, the results will be perfect for travel photos. Video clips are acceptable, but I found the colors to be a little washed out. Even though you are shooting in 1080p, the results are about the same as most HD cameras in this price range. Bottom line is that if you want “real” HD video, you’ll need a “real” HD camcorder.

Here are two examples of what the lens in the P100 can do for you:

Zoomed out…

And zoomed in… Both photos were taken from the same spot. Obviously, the 26x zoom and optical image stabilizer help make photos like this.

The menus are very easy to navigate and you can make things as simple or complicated as you want – amateurs (like myself) will want to stick to the scene or auto mode settings, but if you are little more demanding, you’ll find plenty of other settings to tweak.

Videos and photos can be viewed on a TV using the included composite video/audio cable. but you’ll probably want to invest in a miniHDMI to HDMI cable which allows you to connect the camera to your HDTV. On the side of the camera are the proprietary USB/video connector and the miniHDMI plug. Using a proprietary USB connector means you’ll always want to carry the included USB cable – I wish Nikon would switch to MiniUSB (like Canon uses). Thankfully, the P100 can be charged over USB, which means you can leave the charger at home.

The P100 uses SD and SDHC memory cards – no card is included, but it does offer 43MB of internal memory – which is enough for just a couple of pictures.

The P100 is not a compact camera – but it is quite a bit smaller than a dSLR with a comparable lens. Of course, many people with a dSLR wouldn’t want to be seen in public with a “point and shooter” – but sometimes you just want to turn your camera on and start shooting, without having to worry about the settings on your $2000 camera.

Battery life is pretty basic – the battery pack is a mere 1150mAH, which is rated for about 250 shots – I got just under 230 before I had to swap out the battery. Thankfully, Nikon has not made the switch to authenticated battery packs, so I was able to order a non-Nikon spare for under $10.

The P100 weighs just over one pound (with SD card and battery). Of course, because it is mostly made of plastic, the weight can be kept to a minimum.

Included in the (rather large) box is the camera itself, a lens cap, USB and video cables, a battery with charger, a stack of manuals and an installation CD with transfer software, a panorama maker and more.

All in all a solid ultra-zoom shooter with decent photos. Colors in the video clips are a bit disappointing, and there is no denying that you’ll get better shots from a more expensive camera – still, the quality is perfect for those of us that are still firmly stuck in the point and shoot world. Being able to charge the camera using USB is a huge plus.

The tilting display and ultra-zoom are what make this camera stand out in the crowd – but perhaps its best feature is its price. The MSRP is $399.99, but I was able to pick one up at the local electronics superstore for just $349.99. This makes it a fantastic bargain. Later this year, other companies will be releasing their own ultra-zooms, so the Nikon is in for some decent competition.

PROS: huge 26x optical zoom, charges over USB, tilting display

CONS: washed out colors in HD video clips, images are only “acceptable”, not outstanding

Product page: Nikon USA Coolpix P100
Shopping prices: Google price search

In the photo gallery below, you’ll find more photos, along with hi-res version of the zoom lens demo (large photos!)

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New Samsung digital cameras make “say cheese” a lot more fun

Samsung just announced 2 new cameras for their 2009 lineup. Now, new cameras are launched virtually every day, so it takes some creativity from the manufacturer to grab my attention. Which is exactly what Samsung managed to achieve.

The first camera, the CL65 (above on the left) is packed full of smart features. It has Bluetooth, WiFi and GPS. The Bluetooth allows you to send photos to other Bluetooth devices, like printers or mobile phones. The WiFi allows for direct uploads to Facebook, Picasa and Youtube. And finally, the GPS geotags your photos, storing the location you took it. The camera also offers HD video recording. HDMI output and oh yeah, it also takes 12.2 megapixel photos.

The second newcomer is the TL220/TL225. For the first time in any point-and-shoot camera, someone added a display to the front of the device. Sounds stupid? Well, I for one think it is brilliant. Anyone who has ever tried to grab the attention of an infant knows how hard it can be to photograph them. But imagine a clown or smiley face on the front! In addition to this, it can also help with self portraits or couples photos, for those times you don’t want to ask a stranger to help with your photos.

You can learn more about these new cameras (including pricing) over at Engadget (CL65 and TL220/TL225)
Update: Engadget has posted a hands-on with both cameras

Daily deal – Kodak EasyShare C813 Pink digital camera for $82

Yes – it is that time of year again. Retailers suddenly have the urge to sell pink Valentines day gadgets. My daily deal for today takes advantage of the nice discounts on pink stuff.

The Kodak C813 EasyShare digital camera takes photos in 8.2 megapixels, and features a 3X optical zoom, 5X digital zoom and image stabilization.

The camera comes runs off regular AA batteries, but you’ll have to provide your own batteries if you want rechargeables. Included in the box is a wrist strap, USB cable, CD, manual and a set of Alkaline AA batteries.

You’ll find the camera on sale at Amazon, who’ll ship it to you for free. Of course, if you or your loved one are not big fans of pink, you can also buy it in silver – for $3 less!

No memory card is included, so be sure to order an SD memory card when you place your order!

Eye-Fi wireless memory card adds support for Youtube video uploads

To me, the best travel gadgets are those that continue to get better, the longer you use them. The Eye-Fi wireless SD memory card is such a device.

Eye-Fi was recently featured as one of our top 25 travel technology products of 2008 thanks to its ability to upload photos directly from your camera to a large number of photo hosting sites (or your home PC), any time you are in range of a wireless network. In 2008 Eye-Fi added options for wireless hotspot access (through the Wayport network), as well as photo Geotagging.

The newest feature for 2009 enables the card to directly upload video clips from your camera to Youtube.

No word yet on when the new feature will actually be available, but Eye-Fi VP of business development Ziv Gillat let us know that the card would even support uploads of HD video like that made with the new Nikon D90 (and the Kodak Zi6 we recently reviewed).

Being able to shoot some video on your next vacation, and have the clips appear automatically on Youtube without any interaction is a brilliant solution, and a fantastic addition to the card. Just remember to swap out the Eye-Fi card for a normal card if you plan to shoot some steamy video in the boudoir…