Gadling Gear Review: Nikon 1 J2 Digital Camera

Over 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.

Much 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]

On Traveling Without The Big DSLR Camera

I own a Nikon D200 with some extra stuff, including a 28-300 telephoto lens that weighs a ton. I have a Panasonic Lumix (that’s what I used to shoot this picture of dusk in the Serengeti), and an iPhone. I have a video camera, too (the only thing on my list of gear that I did not pay for – I got the video camera in a promotional scheme two years ago). I’ve traveled with all of this stuff and used it all, though I’ll confess that I never did fall in love with the video camera.

I have some formal training in photography, some hardcore classroom time combined with some unofficial apprenticeship with an architectural photographer in the San Francisco Bay Area. I am no stranger to the darkroom (oh, I just gave away my age). I used to shoot, develop and print my own work, though I don’t miss the darkroom. Digital photography has made me love the art even more, though I decried the clumsiness of my first 3-megapixel camera – the metering was bad, the battery life atrocious and the optics, second rate. Digital gear has eaten film now; the quality is just as good and the optics in my phone are 97 times better than that of my first digital camera.

And while I’m not sorry I hauled my full kit to Antarctica and the Serengeti, I am dead tired of carrying all that weight around. A day behind that heavy SLR with the telephoto, and my arm aches. I hate the hassle of carrying around a pack full of lenses, batteries, maybe a flash, a tripod, and whatever extras I’ve packed in preparation. Sometimes, a full pack of photo gear is what keeps me from traveling carryon only. And there’s the added concern about the value of all that gear – a need to keep it safe and under my watch.

I’ve been shooting with my iPhone 4s for about six months now, and with a Panasonic Lumix for maybe two years. When I headed overseas last month, I decided to make a leap of faith and leave behind the big guns and travel with gear that I could fit in my pockets or the little Swiss Army shoulder bag I like to carry when I travel.

%Gallery-160397%Did I miss having my DSLR? Not at all. I felt surprisingly light and taking pictures was easy – easier than on any trip I’ve ever taken. I split my use about 50/50 between my new Lumix and my iPhone, and the work I got was as good as on any trip that I took with my DSLR. Here are some of the reasons I loved shooting light:

  • Low light: I don’t own the lenses for my DSLR to shoot in low light without a tripod. Night shots – I could never get them right before. My phone and my pocket camera handle low light much better than my SLR.
  • Point-and-shoot: Good photography is about the eye, not about the gear, and my point-and-shoot lets me do just that, fast. Read a little Cartier-Bresson on the decisive moment, and you’ll see what I mean.
  • Super smart settings: Yes, you can tweak the settings like crazy, but you can also shoot in auto. Go ahead, call me lazy – whatever. I’m using the brain inside the camera to enable my eye. I like being able to do that.
  • Display over viewfinder: With my SLR, I was always stopping, steadying, framing – with a camera stuck to my face. It interrupts the conversation. Shooting from my solar plexus allows me to watch and listen and shoot at the same time.
  • Ease of access and use: My camera was always right there, not zipped away so it was padded and protected, so I simply shot more pictures. It fits in my back pocket; it’s about the same size as my wallet, so it’s easy to take anywhere.
  • Serious zoom: The 20x optical zoom on my Lumix is rated as equivalent to a 35-500 lens. That’s some range for optics that fit in a camera that’s the size of my wallet and weighs about the same.

The downside?

  • Bright light: It’s hard to see the viewfinder in brightly lit settings. At a few locations, I wished for a viewfinder and this camera does not have one.
  • The menus are insane: Sure, I’ll figure them out. But I know all the controls and what they do on my DSLR and I can tweak them fast. The navigation system viewfinder-based pocket cameras are basically a computer and you navigate through it as such. This is a learning curve issue that I’m sure I’ll master.

Lots of companies are making higher-end pocket cameras – my favorite is Lumix by Panasonic, but Olympus makes them, and Nikon and Canon too, as well as a number of other electronics brands. We’ve upgraded the Lumix three times at our house – not because it was broken, but because we wanted the improvements. I can’t speak to the other brands, I simply don’t know them, but I can say that yes, it is possible to get thoroughly satisfying shots with only a pocket camera. I loved traveling that much lighter, and what did I sacrifice? Not much. Not much at all.

The Sardine Can Camera from Lomography

When I first started taking photos, I used this stuff called “film.” You loaded it into your camera, fiddled with a bunch of settings and then pressed the shutter and prayed. You didn’t get to look at your pictures right away or tweet them to your friends or post them to your blog – oh ho ho no, you first had to take the film to a place that knew what to do with it. In the ’90s, you could get your pictures on a CD, making them a zillion times more portable, but before that, you got prints and negatives or maybe slides. Hey, I still have a box full of yellow envelopes stuffed with fading memories of trips past.

Now I shoot primarily with my iPhone 4s, a device to which I am enslaved for all kinds of reasons, though I also shoot a Pansonic Lumix, which is a tiny pocketful of awesome, and sometimes, a Nikon D200 if I’m feeling like I want a lot of control. I LOVE my digital kit, I think digital photography is nothing short of voodoo magic and if you’re addicted to over-processing and HDR, well, I’m not that into you but I get where you’re coming from.

La Sardina (The Sardine Can) Camera from Lomography takes all that away from you and puts you right back to 1979 when you weren’t at all sure what you were going to end up with, when you had a film safe bag for the X-ray machine and every now and then you posted those little black plastic canisters back home. Godspeed, little memories, I’ll see you when my Eurail pass expires.

I absolutely love the look of this little camera. It’s nothing short of adorable. It comes in a bunch of different patterns, there’s one that’s kind of steam punky and another with reptile scales and it’s cute as a bug. Everything that comes with it is designed to make your eyeballs happy – the big fold out instructions and the book that teaches (or re-teaches) you “lomography,” aka lo-fi photography. The packaging is gorgeous and the design work is inspired. I loved unpacking the camera; it was a joy.All that is grand, but that’s not what a camera is about for me. A camera is a tool for making pictures. I tossed the little sardine can camera and three rolls of film into my bag for a fall trip to Hawaii. I’ll experiment, I thought. After all, I already have a zillion pictures of the islands so what’s the risk?

I didn’t shoot a single photo. I was too attached to the results to give up the control that digital photography gives me. Oops.

A few months later, I tried the same thing. Only this time, I left my DSLR at home and opted for just my phone. I shot a roll of high color saturation film while on the Washington Coast. I used the camera wrong for about the first half of the roll, something I learned while rereading the instructions after a day of shooting at the beach. The second roll came out… well, I don’t know yet, do I? See, I haven’t taken the film in for development yet.

I’ll repeat something I said earlier: I LOVE photography. In college, I learned how to develop my own film and how to print my own pictures. I had a photography mentor – a cranky old architectural photographer who shot an 8×10 and let me use his immaculate home darkroom for my own projects. I have inhaled my share of toner while losing hours under the red lights. I have a box full of film camera gear in the basement and for a while, I had all the stuff to set up a home darkroom.

I am no less devoted to the weird combination of magic and science that happens when you substitute a camera for your eye. But I am content to leave the chemistry out of the process. I like the instant review, of knowing that an image sucks and I need to retake it. I’m addicted to the instantaneousness of modern digital photography and I don’t want to give it up. You can’t teach a new dog old tricks – or something like that.

I wanted to fall in love with film again. Everything about how the camera is presented is designed to make you do that, to fall in love with film and the process. It’s just so COOL (in all caps). The sample images look awesome and there are whole communities sharing their lomo work (in a digital environment, ironically). You might totally dig going lomo; people are doing great work with lomo gear. But it’s not for me. I don’t want to go back.

You should decide for yourself, though. La Sardina cameras start at about $59. Add a flash for $69, or get a kit that includes one for $109. For inspiration, check out the La Sardina galleries or those on

Gadling Gear Review: Quiksilver Shutter Speed Camera Pack

In 2011, I had the spectacular good fortune to go on two trips that fit the “once in a lifetime” category. One was to Antarctica, the other to Tanzania. Both were the kind of trips where you want to take your best photo gear, weight be damned, because, dude, how likely are you to be twice in Penguinistan or Elephantlandia? So schlep my gear I did, my heavy Nikon, the big telephoto, a video camera, a pocket camera, a zillion miles of cable, pockets full of camera memory and spare batters and oh, yeah the laptop for additional storage and backup.

Hauling that much electronica across the planet and back has its challenges — before I had a decent camera pack, I used a standard day pack which plunged, before my very eyes, from a hook on the back of a door in Bangkok to a hard tile floor. The result? An irreparable 200 lens and a somewhat depressed traveler. Thankfully, it was the end of the trip.

I now use a pack especially designed for camera gear. I’m partial to my Kata Digital Backpack. I tried the Timbuk2 messenger bag — it’s nice but it doesn’t really fit my geometry. Quiksilver — yeah, that surf brand — now makes the Shutter Speed pack, a bag designed to get your gear from the top to the the bottom of the planet in safety. The short wrap? This is a great bag for transit, but I’m not sure it makes the cut for regular use.

To find out if this is the bag for me, I gathered my usual kit and stowed it in the Shutter Speed. There are loads of pockets, internal, external, zippered, mesh, I had no trouble getting my complete kit, flash included, into the bag. And it was all very well organized. I moved the Velcro secured pads around so they held my gear in place and zipped the bag shut. Nice. My stuff didn’t rattle around, it was very secure. I didn’t drop test it, I’m just too traumatized by the last time that happened, but I feel like the camera would survive the fall.

I also put in a binder, a laptop, a water bottle, and a few other odds and ends. Everything was beautifully organized. There’s a security pocket at the small of the back for your stealables (I mean beyond your equipment stealables) — you’re not going to have your wallet or passport lifted if you stow them there. There’s a stowable rain cover, some lashing straps on the outside for your coat, and did I mention the zillions of pockets? All good.I also really like what I’m going to call the chassis on this pack. It’s got fat padded straps and a padded waist belt. It’s all very adjustable and once you’ve got it cinched to fit, the pack feels secure and close to your body — it’s just not going anywhere. You can race for a bus with this thing on and it’s not going to be swinging around. You could take your gear on a long hike and the weight would be where you want it to be. All good.

But I’m not crazy about how you get your gear in and out of the Shutter Speed. You have to place the pack on its front — think suitcase with straps attached to the top. The back opens up to reveal all your gear. You can’t have your pal pull the camera out of the pack while you’re in it, you will have to take the pack off and then open it up.

Some of the Velcro pads are sewn into place, making the gear bucket a little less customizable than I’d like it to be. I wanted to place my camera, with the big lens mounted to it, at the bottom of the pack. No go. It needs to sit in the center because I can’t move the pads to accommodate the camera body. Furthermore, there’s no obvious place to lash on a tripod. This seems like a big oversight. You can use the straps on the front, but I couldn’t figure out a really efficient way to do this. It could be just a matter of trying a few different things, but for a pro gear pack, it seems like this should be more intuitive.

My final issue is that the bag is, for my kind of use, a little too specialized. There’s no great place to stow my lunch, the front pockets are just too small and flat for much more than a power bar or two. I travel with a roller bag and a day pack, and when I’m in transit, the day pack carries my camera, snacks, my travel documents, a clean shirt, a toothbrush… the kind of stuff you need should your trip go wrong or should you be compelled to check your bag. I imagined what a hassle it would be to have to extract stuff from the main body of the pack on a crowded airplane. That scenario didn’t go well.

I’m not dissing the pack at all. As I said, it seems like a great way to haul all that gear from point A to point B and to have the gear be secure in transit. But you need to think about what you’re doing with your gear at your destination. If you think you’re going to be continually packing and unpacking it as you shoot your way across the Serengeti or the ice, well, I’d want a day use bag, too. Your mileage may vary.

The Shutter Speed pack retails for 175.00 directly from Quiksilver. Expensive, but not as expensive as replacing that telephoto that got sacrificed to gravity in Bangkok.

Win a Nikon CoolPix AW100 digital camera

Now that you’ve read our review of the Nikon’s rugged new CoolPix AW100 digital camera, you have the chance to win one for yourself. We think you’ll love this waterproof, shockproof, and freezeproof camera, that also happens to come packed with all kinds of great technology.

The contest is open to legal residents of the 50 United States, the District of Columbia and Canada (excluding Quebec) who are 18 and older.

To enter, leave a comment below.

The comment must be left before 5PM Eastern Time on February 10th, 2012.

You may enter only once

One winner will be selected in a random drawing.

One Grand Prize Winner will receive an Nikon CoolPix AW100 digital camera (valued at $300).

Click Here for complete Official Rules.