Product Review: Nikon J1 with Nikon AI-S manual focus lenses

When I inherited several of my dad's old Nikon lenses and a Nikon F3 film camera, I knew that I didn't have the patience to learn to shoot with film but that I could use the lenses on a DSLR. Dad told me that these Nikon lenses would fit any Nikon body - that's why he preferred the Nikon F mount system. So I set out to find a used, cheap Nikon DSLR, but I learned that the only ones that could meter with the old AI and AI-S lenses where the kind of DSLRs that start at $2k - way out of my price range. Nikon now makes mirror-less interchangeable-lens cameras for much cheaper, so that's what I got. A Nikon 1 J1 off ebay for $180, including the adapter for the Nikon F lens to Nikon 1 mount (it was only after the purchase that I realized that, if I have to use an adapter, then I could have selected from any mirror-less camera maker). This review will focus on the camera's ability to use old manual focus lenses. The adapter I got is a "dumb" adapter, i.e. the camera body cannot electronically connect to the lens like it needs to for Auto Focus and to set the aperture. Nikon does make adapters for that, but they're expensive and the manual focus lenses don't have any electronics so it wouldn't do any good.

So this means that the camera will only operate in Manual mode: you have to set the shutter speed, aperture, and ISO–the three pillars of exposure–ALL MANUALLY. The camera provides NO assistance. It also provides NO assistance for focusing, like the Sony NEX cameras do. The J series doesn't have a viewfinder (the much more expensive V series does, however) so focusing by looking at the screen is very difficult, especially in bright sunlight. And, last but not least, the image you see on the screen is NOT the image you will record. It automatically adjusts the exposure for the screen, but not for the photo, so you have no idea if the exposure will be correct until after you take the photo and look at the histogram.

On top of all of this, the feature set is extremely minimal–no manual focus peaking or assist, no digital zoom, no bracketing, no HDR, no lens correction, tiny sensor, zero ergonomics, cheap plastic feel, etc. Frankly, this camera is trash. Get a Sony NEX instead. That's what I did and I'm very happy with it.

Bonus! Here's some shots taken with the $24 cheapo TV lens. This lens IS a good lens for the J1 because it actually lets you get bokeh and because the J1's sensor is so small, you don't get a black ring around the image like you do with DSLRs.