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Nikon 1 J2 Digital Compact System Camera Expert Review

Nikon 1 J2

Rating: ★★★½☆

Nikon was one of the last manufacturers to enter the compact system camera (CSC) market, launching the Nikon 1 system in September 2011. Unlike other systems, Nikon uses a smaller, 1-inch CX format sensor in the Nikon 1 J1 and Nikon 1 J2, which enables a smaller overall body size.

Although it perhaps wasn’t the system many were expecting from the company, it – or rather the Nikon 1 J1 – has performed exceptionally well, topping the CSC sales charts at several points in its 12 month history.

In the intervening time since the Nikon 1′s launch, we’ve finally seen what biggest rival Canon has to offer, in the shape of the Canon EOS M. Unlike Nikon, Canon has chosen to use a large APS-C sensor, the same device found in the Canon 650D, one of its entry-level DSLRs.

Perhaps Nikon is keen to avoid cannibalising its already successful lineup of beginner and enthusiast-level DSLRs, but the Nikon 1 system is so far straying pretty far away from the full manual control, advanced bodies we’re currently seeing from the likes of Panasonic, Fujifilm and Olympus.

Less than a year after the launch, Nikon has already refreshed the J1 with the J2. It’s more of a tweaked upgrade than a full-scale refresh, but still features a couple of notable improvements.

Firstly, it uses the same screen as found on the higher end Nikon 1 V1, bringing it up to 920,000 dots, where the Nikon 1 J1 included a 460k device. Secondly, it’s now much easier to access those all-important creative and manual modes, thanks to a new Creative mode that can be accessed from the mode dial.

As of yet, we haven’t seen an upgrade offered for the Nikon 1 V1. Since the compact system camera was not as successful as it had been hoped, it’s a possibility that the camera will be discontinued altogether, perhaps to be replaced by a much more advanced model.

Cosmetically, the Nikon 1 J2 remains pretty much identical. There are, however, some extra colour variations, with a couple of them featuring brushed metal and textured surfaces. The basic colours, such as black and white, remain exactly the same.

Inside, you’ll find the same 10.1 million pixel CX format sensor, which measures 13.2 x 8.8mm. This format means that mounted lenses have a 2.7x focal length magnification factor. Bundled as standard is the 10-30mm kit optic, which is 27-81mm in 35mm equivalent terms.

Also exactly the same is the processor, sensitivity (ISO) range, and a high continuous shooting rate. A hybrid autofocusing system also returns, which uses both phase and contrast detection. Unlike DSLRs that use a dedicated AF sensor, the Nikon 1 J2 (and Nikon 1 J1 and Nikon 1 V1) use 73 pixels on the imaging sensor as phase detection AF sensors.

Both contrast and phase detection is used, because although phase detection is generally quicker, contract detection is usually more accurate.

Thanks to an electronic shutter, the Nikon 1 J2′s continuous shooting rate, like the Nikon 1 J1′s, can be pushed as high as 60fps, while 30fps and 10fps options are also available.

Nikon continues to aim this camera – priced at around £550/$550 – at family and beginner photographers, emphasising the fully automatic modes and other appealing features. But P,A,S,M modes are still accessible.

Build quality and handling

Since the Nikon 1 J2 is more or less identical to its predecessor, the Nikon 1 J1, many of the same points apply with regards to build quality and handling.

The Nikon 1 J2 is a pretty small compact system camera, and the design is minimalist. Unlike some other CSCs on the market, Nikon has chosen to keep the amount of dials and buttons to a minimum, with just one mode dial on the back.

On the mode dial you’ll find the option to choose between fully Auto, Motion Snapshot, Smart Photo Selector and movie mode. Newly added for this version of the camera is Creative Mode, which enables quicker access to full manual and semi-automatic camera controls, as well as creative options such as Panorama and selective colour.

There’s no grip on the Nikon 1 J2, though selected models will come with a textured finish that helps to provide a little extra purchase. Having said that, holding the camera feels quite natural, even when using it one-handed. A thumb rest at the back of the camera also enables you to maintain a sturdy grip.

To turn on the camera you can of course use the on/off switch at the top, but another handy feature is the ability to switch on the Nikon 1 J2 via the lens itself. Holding down the button on the side of the lens and twisting the lens barrel activates the camera, while holding the button down again and twisting the lens back in on itself powers down the camera. This is particularly useful for moments when you want to quickly grab a shot.

When shooting in aperture or shutter priority, you can set the aperture/shutter speed by using the small switch (marked by a magnifying glass) on the top-right of the camera.

It’s not the most obvious thing to do, and would perhaps have been served better by the scroll dial on the back of the Nikon 1 J2 instead. If shooting in fully manual mode, the zoom switch is used for shutter speed, while the scroll dial is used for aperture.

Using Creative Mode transforms the F button at the top of the back of the camera into a shortcut for choosing between different creative modes.

Unfortunately, choosing between P/A/S/M modes can be a little bit of a chore, because they’re all lumped together under one selection. So, after you’ve selected PASM, you still need to go in to the main menu to choose between the four modes.

It is, however, now much easier to get to modes such as panorama, while new creative digital filters can also be accessed from the F button.

When using other modes, the F button either has no function at all, or can be used to make selections between normal and slow motion movie (under video mode) and the different sounds that Motion Snapshot makes.

Other buttons on the back of the Nikon 1 J2 include a display button, a playback button, menu and delete button. The scroll dial also incorporates the four directional keys, each of which also have a specific function, such as timer or exposure compensation.

The 73-point hybrid autofocus system first seen in the Nikon 1 J1 and Nikon 1 V1 has also been maintained here in the Nikon 1 J2. You can elect to have the camera choose an autofocus point for you, or if you’d prefer more flexibility, subject tracking and single point options are also available.

If you select single point, hitting the OK button brings up the focus point selection, which you can then change via the arrow keys. It’s a shame that the screen isn’t a touchscreen, because this would have really sped up this operation.

Unlike the Nikon 1 V1, the Nikon 1 J2 (and Nikon 1 J1) has an inbuilt flash, which pops out of the top-left of the camera on a relatively long stalk to take it fully clear of the lens. This feels a little flimsy, and as if it may snap off if you were very vigorous with it.

That said, it’s useful to have a flash at all, since many CSCs (including the Canon EOS M) have decided not to include one on the body of the camera itself.

A dedicated movie record button is conveniently located next to the shutter release. However, it can only be activated when the camera is set to movie mode, which seems like a bit of an oversight. The shutter release itself is a nice sturdy button, which is easy to half-press to focus without accidentally pushing it all the way in.


Once again, because the Nikon 1 J2 uses the same sensor and processor as the Nikon 1 J1, comments on its image quality are pretty much exactly the same.

Images straight from the camera are generally good, with a decent amount of colour saturation and detail captured by the 10.1 million pixel sensor.

Nikon 1 J2 review   Nikon 1 J2 review

Nikon has added new creative filters to the Nikon 1 J2, presumably in a bid to compete with the likes of smartphone apps such as Instagram. Unfortunately, the selection it has added leaves a little to be desired, certainly being beaten by other competitors in this market.

Those new filters are Selective Colour, Soft, and Miniature mode. While they are relatively easy to use, the lack of customisation is a little bit of a disappointment, especially with regard to Miniature mode. It’s also a little disappointing that shooting in raw format when using the filters is not available, so that if you decide you don’t like the filter down the line you are stuck with it anyway.

Nikon 1 J2 review   Nikon 1 J2 review

However, one much more flexible option if you want to get more creative is altering Picture Styles when shooting in semi-automatic or fully manual modes. Here you’ll find lots of fine control over each style, especially in monochrome. Options to shoot in sepia, cyanotype and other variations of black and white are available, and are good fun to play with.

Other Picture Styles, such as Landscape and Portrait, can also be adjusted as necessary. It’s also worth pointing out that images shot here can be shot in raw, enabling post-capture recovery of the “standard” colour if necessary.

Nikon 1 J2 review   Nikon 1 J2 review

One of the most fun features of the Nikon 1 system in the Nikon 1 J2 is Motion Snapshot. This takes a one-second-long, slow-motion video, combining it with a still photo to produce a “living image” effect. It’s a great mode to play around with, but is best watched back on the camera screen itself. The resulting video and still are saved as two separate files on the memory card, and sound doesn’t seem to be brought across.

Smart Photo Selector is the key feature Nikon has used to market this camera. It works by shooting 20 high resolution images before the shutter button has even been fully pressed. The camera then automatically chooses the best five images, from which you can choose your favourite. This mode works pretty well, and is especially handy for those people wanting to photograph kids or pets, since these subjects tend to be a little harder to capture.

Nikon 1 J2 review   Nikon 1 J2 review

Examining images at 100% on the screen does reveal that fine detail is a little soft, but at standard printing sizes this shouldn’t be a problem at all.

Multi-purpose Matrix metering does a good job, even with mixed lighting conditions. When shooting in P/A/S/M mode, you can also alter metering modes to choose from Center-weighted and Spot metering if you find that Matrix isn’t doing a good enough job.

Nikon 1 J2 review   Nikon 1 J2 review

Considering the Nikon 1 system houses a small sensor, it does a decent job of capturing detail, although our tests have revealed that it doesn’t compete with Micro Four Thirds cameras, which user a bigger sensor.

As already mentioned, the screen is the biggest noticeable improvement on the Nikon 1 J2. Now boasting a resolution of 920,000 dots, it is a much more enjoyable device to use when compared with its predecessor, the Nikon 1 J1.

Nikon 1 J2 review

Images appear bright and crisp, and it is viewable from a wide number of angles in all but the brightest of sunlight.

Image quality and resolution

As part of our image quality testing for the Nikon 1 J2, we’ve shot our resolution chart.

If you view our crops of the resolution chart’s central section at 100% (or Actual Pixels) you will see that, for example, at ISO 100 the Nikon 1 J2 is capable of resolving up to around 18 (line widths per picture height x100) in its highest quality JPEG files.

For a full explanation of what our resolution charts mean, and how to read them, check out our full explanation of our camera testing resolution charts.

Examining images of the chart taken at each sensitivity setting reveals the following resolution scores in line widths per picture height x100:

JPEG images

Nikon 1 J2 review

Nikon 1 J2 review   Nikon 1 J2 review

Nikon 1 J2 review   Nikon 1 J2 review

Nikon 1 J2 review   Nikon 1 J2 review

Raw images

Nikon 1 J2 review   Nikon 1 J2 review

Nikon 1 J2 review   Nikon 1 J2 review

Nikon 1 J2 review   Nikon 1 J2 review

Noise and dynamic

We shoot a specially designed chart in carefully controlled conditions and the resulting images are analysed using DXO Analyzer software to generate the data to produce the graphs below.

A high signal to noise ratio (SNR) indicates a cleaner and better quality image.

For more more details on how to interpret our test data, check out our full explanation of our noise and dynamic range tests.

Nikon 1 J2 review

JPEG images from the Nikon 1 J2 show better signal to noise ratio results than the original Nikon 1 J1 throughout the whole sensitivity range, but sit below those of the Sony NEX-5R at every sensitivity setting but ISO 1600. The Panasonic GF5 starts of with a greater signal to noise ratio than the Nikon 1 J2 at lower ISOs, but falls below its results at ISO 800, where the Nikon 1 J2′s results improve for a while, as the other cameras’ all steadily fall.

Raw signal to noise ratio

Nikon 1 J2 review

TIFF images (after conversion from raw) from the Nikon 1 J2 show a more uniform picture, with the Nikon 1 J1 again beating the original Nikon 1 J1 for signal to noise ratio, but sitting below the Sony NEX-5R. The Panasonic GF5 is again better at ISO 200, but produces worse results after that.

Dynamic range

Nikon 1 J2 review

This chart indicates that dynamic range in the Nikon 1 J2′s JPEGs is better than the Nikon 1 J1, Sony NEX-5R and Panasonic GF5 at most sensitivities. It falls below the Panasonic GF5 at ISO 400, and matches the Sony NEX-5R at ISO 100, but otherwise outperforms them.

Raw dynamic range

Nikon 1 J2 review

TIFF/raw images from the Nikon 1 J2 show a greater variation in dynamic range scores, but are still ahead of those from the Nikon 1 J1 and Panasonic GF5. The Sony NEX-5R produces superior dynamic range in its raw images. There’s no overlap between the Nikon 1 J2 and any of the other cameras in this chart.

Sample images

Nikon 1 J2 review   Nikon 1 J2 review

Left – Click here to see the full resolution image

A number of lenses are available for the Nikon 1 system, such as the 30-110mm lens which can be bought as part of a twin lens kit. This image was shot at 110mm, and shows the Nikon 1 J2′s image stabilisation has done a decent job of keeping the image blur free.

Right – Click here to see the full resolution image

Partial colour is one of the new digital filters available on the Nikon 1 J2. Here, as you can see, purple has been selected as the colour, rendering the rest of the scene as monochrome.

Nikon 1 J2 review   Nikon 1 J2 review

Left – Click here to see the full resolution image

Black and white images can be captured when shooting in P/A/S/M modes by changing the Picture Styles in the menu. Here we can also see the Nikon 1 J2 has done well coping with the bright sky behind the statue to provide a good exposure.

Right – Click here to see the full resolution image

Cyanotype is one of the customisable settings you can choose in monochrome shooting mode, along with sepia and tinted monochrome.

Nikon 1 J2 review   Nikon 1 J2 review

Left – Click here to see the full resolution image

Despite the fact the J2 has a small sensor, you can still achieve pleasing shallow depth of field effects. This image was shot at 10mm (27mm equivalent) at f/3.5 using the 10-30mm kit lens.

Right – Click here to see the full resolution image

Colours are represented well by the Nikon 1 J2, straight from the camera. They aren’t overly vibrant but have enough pop to give a pleasing effect.

Nikon 1 J2 review

Click here to see the full resolution image

To create a panorama using the J2, simply sweep the camera across the scene while holding down the shutter release. The image is then stitched together in camera.

Nikon 1 J2 review   Nikon 1 J2 review

Left – Click here to see the full resolution image

The Nikon J2 makes a good every day camera, while its small size is likely to appeal to holiday makers.

Right – Click here to see the full resolution image

A good amount of detail is captured by the J2, but if you examine the image at 100% parts of the image can look a little soft.

Sensitivity and noise

Nikon 1 J2 review

Full ISO image, see the cropped (100%) versions below.

Nikon 1 J2 review   Nikon 1 J2 review

Nikon 1 J2 review   Nikon 1 J2 review

Nikon 1 J2 review   Nikon 1 J2 review

Final thoughts

It’s fair to say that although the Nikon 1 J1 was incredibly popular, it wasn’t met with a huge amount of critical success. Many Nikon users were left disappointed by the choice of the smaller sensor than those seen on other CSCs, and this update obviously won’t do anything to change their minds.

More of a tweak here and there than a full-blown upgrade, the Nikon 1 J2 nevertheless is a good camera that is more than fit for purpose. The extra resolution on the screen is a welcome addition, as is the ability to more quickly access creative modes.

It’s a shame that digital filters couldn’t be a little better, or more varied, but perhaps Nikon is holding something a little more advanced up its sleeve.

We liked

The new screen is wonderful to use, even in bright light, while also showing off stored images in the best possible way.

We disliked

It’s not a huge upgrade from its predecessor, and if we’re completely honest, we’d still like to see more in the way of direct manual controls on a Nikon 1 camera.

Here’s some more articles you might like:


  • Good screen
  • Quick start-up
  • Smart Photo Selector


  • Small sensor
  • No viewfinder
  • Poor art filters


The Nikon 1 J2 is likely to capitalise on the success of its predecessor, but it’s certainly not worth existing users upgrading.

For those looking for their first compact system camera, the Nikon 1 is a good investment, while those who already own DSLRs may like to consider it for a second camera.

Nikon 1 J2 Digital Compact System Camera Expert Review


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