Best budget compact system camera: 6 tested

Nikon 1 J1, 10-30mm - £450

A late arrival on the scene, Nikon has finally introduced its CSCs more than three years after the Panasonic G1 made the first splash. But Nikon is more than dipping its toe in the pool with the J1 and pricier V1. They launched with four new '1 Nikkor' format lenses, plus an adaptor that can be used to attach regular Nikon-fit DSLR lenses.

The new CX-format image sensor is the smallest of any camera in this group and also has the lowest resolution of 10.1MP. However, it's coupled to a super-fast EXPEED 3 image processor. Featuring dual engines, it enables some crafty trickery when it comes to shooting modes. For example, the camera can start taking pictures before you even fully press the shutter button, firing off a burst of shots then whittling them down to just a handful of best images for you to select.

There's also super-slow-motion video shooting at up to 1,200fps, and the ability to combine short video clips with a still image in a Motion Snapshot file. If you can live with autofocus being fixed throughout a burst of shots, the maximum drive rate is a blistering 60fps (or 10fps with focus tracking).

Performance

The Nikon J1 is the slimmest camera in the group at just 30mm thick but it lacks a viewfinder (only fitted to the Nikon V1) or sculpted hand grip. Handling can be a challenge, and you need to resort to long-winded menus to adjust shooting parameters like ISO and white balance. This makes the J1 feel more of a point-and-shoot camera than a tool for advanced photographers.

Typical of Nikon's current cameras, image quality is crisp, vibrant and richly saturated. Outright resolution is limited by the 10.1MP sensor, but shots look sharp enough even in large prints. Noise is fairly restrained too, especially if you don't push sensitivity above ISO 1600.

Outdoor image test

Best budget compact system camera: 6 tested

Colours are well saturated and there's plenty of detail in the highlights of the sky, despite the overall brightness of the exposure.

Resolution test

Best budget compact system camera: 6 tested

ISO 200

Best budget compact system cameras: 6 tested

ISO 200 at 100%

Despite its small-format, relatively low pixel-count sensor, resolution holds up fairly well in raw mode but is bottom of the group for JPEGs.

Noise

Best budget compact system cameras: 6 tested

ISO 200

Best budget compact system cameras: 6 tested

ISO 200 at 100%

Best budget compact system cameras: 6 tested

ISO 1600 at 100%

Image noise is slightly noticeable even at ISO 200, but good in-camera smoothing makes for acceptable results right up to ISO 1600.

Colour error

Best budget compact system cameras: 6 tested

The J1 seems to aim for bright and breezy images and, while colour accuracy is pretty good, blues and greens can be a little pale.

Image test verdict

Typical of Nikon's current cameras, image quality is bright and vibrant. Dynamic range is impressive and noise levels reasonable in low light.

Read the full Nikon 1 J1 review