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]

Gadling Gear Review: Booq Python Courier Camera Bag

The Booq Python courer bagAs digital SLR cameras continue to grow in popularity, new buyers will inevitably be looking to purchase a good travel bag to protect their investment. A high-quality camera bag not only allows them to tote their gear around safely, but also keeps it well organized and close at hand. It doesn’t hurt if that bag provides a healthy dose of versatility and happens to look great too.

The Python courier from Booq certainly meets that description and then some. This sling bag is made of high-quality ballistic nylon that is both water resistant and incredibly durable. In fact, everything about this pack screams quality, including the thick interior padding, rugged buckles and seat-belt style nylon shoulder strap. The result is a camera bag that should securely and comfortably carry all of your camera gear for many years to come.

While the Python’s exterior is certainly impressive, Booq hasn’t skimped in any way on the interior either. The cavernous main pocket has plenty of room for a digital SLR body with an attached lens, as well as up to four more additional lenses. Adjustable padded panels give the pocket a measure of customizability to accommodate a variety of different equipment sizes. A second internal organizational pocket keeps other items, such as spare batteries, memory cards and pens, neatly in place, while a handy clip ensures you won’t misplace your keys while traveling either.

A third pocket on the back of the bag features a water-repellant zipper and is large enough to comfortably carry an iPad, MacBook Air or other tablet or small laptop. Those devices have become indispensable tools for professional photographers and travelers alike and the inclusion of this well-padded, extra pocket is a nice touch on the part of Booq. I found that while testing this pack, having this extra pocket actually made it possible for the Python to serve as my carry-on bag. With plenty of room not only for my camera gear and iPad, but also an iPod, smartphone, earbuds and just about everything else I needed for a trip, I generally didn’t see the need to carry anything else.The Booq PythonBooq’s attention to design extends to the look of the Python as well. At first glance you wouldn’t suspect that this is a camera pack at all, as its general outward appearance resembles that of any traditional messenger bag. In fact, the Python can actually become a full-blown courier pack when needed. The inner padding that serves to protect and organize camera bodies and lenses can actually be completely removed to allow other items to be stored inside. That means that this pack can pull double duty, acting as a workbag for day-to-day use and a tough camera bag when on the road.

I found the Python to simply be a joy to use. It is as comfortable and durable as any camera bag I’ve ever put to the test and far more organized than simply throwing your lenses and SLR body into a daypack, which is often my typical modus operandi. Booq has a legendary reputation for creating high-quality products and this bag more than lived up to that reputation. Not only have they created a bag that looks great and provides plenty of versatility, but it is also logically designed for ease of use as well. While I personally prefer a backpack for most of my travels, this is a sling pack that definitely won me over and has me reconsidering my options for future trips.

I’d be remiss in writing this review if I didn’t mention Booq’s Terralinq program. Each of the company’s bags comes with its own unique serial number ID and bar code displayed on a metal label somewhere on the pack. When the bag is registered with Booq, that serial number can be used to connect an owner with his or her gear in the event that it becomes lost or stolen in the future. Of course, we all hope that we never need such service, but it is nice to know it is available just in case.

If there is a knock on any of the products offered by Booq it is likely their price. The Python retails for $179.95, which definitely puts it at the higher end of most camera bags on the market. But much like the various options for buying luggage for your travels, you often get what you pay for. Anyone who has ever purchased cheap luggage knows that it typically doesn’t last long and you end up replacing it sooner rather than later. The same holds true for a bag like this one. The Python is likely to last you a lifetime, while a less expensive bag will show the wear and tear of travel much sooner. Besides, after spending hundreds, if not thousands, of dollars on your camera equipment, don’t you want to protect it with the best bag possible? Yes, the Python by Booq is more expensive than some of its competitors, but it is also worth it in every way.

Gadling Gear Review: Eye-Fi Mobile X2 Wireless Memory Card

The Eye-Fi SD memory card adds wifi features to any cameraOne of the features that has been appearing on new camera models with increased frequency is built-in Wi-Fi functionality. Wireless capabilities on the camera allows users to sync with their computer and upload images to Flickr, Facebook or other photo sharing services without ever using a cable. It is incredibly convenient and fun, particularly for travelers who may want to share photos from their adventures while on the road. But did you know that you could add Wi-Fi capabilities to any camera? The Eye-Fi series of memory cards can actually turn even your old digital shooter into a high-tech, wireless wonder, giving you the same capabilities as newer cameras without forking out a lot of money for a new device.

We first took a look at the Eye-Fi two years ago when the cards were still relatively new. Much has changed since then as technology has continued to evolve, but a lot has also stayed the same. At the time we were impressed with how easy the Eye-Fi was to set up and use, and once configured it worked as advertised, automatically uploading photos, geotagging locations and sharing images on Facebook and other sites. I’m happy to say all of that has remained the same and the memory card is still a breeze to get working. The included Eye-Fi Center software takes all of the guesswork out of configuring the card and you’ll have Wi-Fi working on your camera in a matter of minutes. It’s so easy in fact that you’ll probably be surprised at how simple it is.

Since that initial review, the Eye-Fi memory card has learned a few new tricks that make it an even better travel companion. For example, new apps for both iOS and Android devices makes it possible for your camera to wirelessly transfer images to your iPhone, iPad or other tablet. This is great for photographers in the field as it allows them to back up their images to another device or clear space off the card by transferring the files. By utilizing the Eye-Fi in this way, a relatively small 4 or 8GB memory card can be used to take a lot more photos than its size would imply.Transferring the files is quick and easy, and it is great to review your shots from throughout the day on a much larger screen. The images are added to your device’s main photo app, which means they are available system wide. That makes it a breeze to share them on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest or just about any other social network. It also means that if you use an app like iPhoto or Photoshop Express you’ll be able to edit your shots on the go. That is something professional photographers will absolutely love and amateur shutterbugs will appreciate too.

The Eye-Fi memory cardSyncing with other devices isn’t the only new feature for the Eye-Fi. Since we first took a look at the tiny device a few years back, it has also gained the ability to sync to the cloud. That means that when connected to a wireless network the images are also automatically backed up to the Eye-Fi website and can be accessed there for up to seven days. An Eye-Fi premium account, which costs $50 per year, gives users unlimited access beyond that initial week, but even if you simply use the free account, it’s good to know that you have a “just in case” backup, even if it is for a limited time.

The Eye-Fi card line-up has been simplified and made more affordable over the past two years as well. There are now just three options to choose from with the entry-level “Connect X2” model offering 4GB of storage while the “Mobile X2” has 8GB. Those cards cost $39.99 and $79.99 respectively. The “Pro X2” model also has 8GB of memory but includes the ability to geotag images and upload professional level RAW files, a format that most amateur photographers don’t use. It carries a price tag of $99.99.

If you find you love your current camera but wish it had the ability to share images more easily, then the Eye-Fi is definitely a great option. Not only do each of the models provide plenty of storage, but they also add Wi-Fi capabilities to any device. Considering how much we enjoy sharing our photos these days, I think that is functionality that a lot of travelers will be interested in. The Eye-Fi was already simple to configure and worked great; Android and iOS compatibility is simply icing on the cake – icing that gadget-loving travelers will certainly benefit from.


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.

Photo Of The Day: Amateur Photographers At Big Sur

How often do you arrive at a famous monument or stunning vista and encounter a line of amateur photographers peering through camera lenses and iPhone screens? It seems that as a culture we’ve become more intent on capturing the perfect shot than on taking a moment to be still and appreciate the beauty of what’s in front of us. In today’s Photo of the Day, Flickr user David Lytle trains his camera on the photographers instead of the view at Big Sur, California, perhaps to make us more aware of how photography can both add to and detract from the experience of traveling.

Do you have your own travel photo that doubles as a commentary? Upload your travel shots to the Gadling Flickr Pool and your image could be selected as our Photo of the Day.