October 11, 2011
With the likes of Sony, Olympus, Panasonic and Samsung all building mirrorless cameras as credible alternatives to DSLRs, Nikon has finally decided it’s time to show its hand. The company recently announced the launch of their first-ever mirrorless cameras, part of the new “Nikon 1” series. The first two models, called the J1 and V1, claim to be the world’s smallest and lightest mirrorless camera systems with an interchangeable lens. The system will soon include an adapter to allow the use of Nikon F-Mount SLR lenses.
The New CX Sensor
Currently including two cameras and four lenses, the ‘”1″ series is built around a new sensor format that Nikon calls “CX.” Sizing in at 13.2 x 8.8 mm, the system’s new CMOS sensor is about a third of the area of the DX sensor used in the company’s SLRs – and Nikon is hyping up the incredibly fast shooting speeds. Full resolution images can be captured at an astonishing 60 frames per second. Combine this with a Hybrid autofocus system that employs both Phase and Contrast Detection focus methods, and the result is the “fastest autofocus of any camera Nikon has ever made.” But just hold that thought for a moment – we’ll come back to this.
The sensor also has impressive video capabilities, capable of recording full HD movies (1920 x 1080 resolution) at 60i or 30p (for camera newbs out there, the choice between 60i and 30p = getting to choose how the video output is packaged; whether you want to just view the footage or edit it).
The downside: With the smaller, 10.1MP one-inch sensor in the ‘1’ system, you’re not going to get the great shallow depth of field – pictures where the subject is sharp and the background blurred, for example – that large sensors are capable of.
The J1 vs. the V1
There are two bodies, the smaller J1 and the fancier V1. The J1 is tiny, but shoots stills at 10 fps, video at 1080p, and has a maximum ISO of 3200. The V1 packs a lot more punch. Its electronic, 1.4 million dot viewfinder works with an optional flash, microphone, or GPS unit, and the camera sports a hybrid AF mode for high speed and good low-light accuracy. With the V1, full-resolution stills can be captured with a press of the shutter button without interrupting recording. The V1 achieves a flash sync speed of 1/250th seconds, versus the J1’s 1/60th limit.
Cliffnotes: the J1 is aimed at users who want an LCD-only, compact camera experience, while the V1 is aimed at the higher-level user.
Fast Sensor, Slow Lenses?
According to experienced photographers, the ‘1’ series lens lineup leaves much to be desired. The available lenses include a 10mm (27 mm equivalent) f2.8 pancake, a 10-30mm (27-81mm equivalent) f 3.5-5.6 and a 30-100mm (81-297mm equivalent) f3.8-5.6. These are slow. Even when the F-mount adapter arrives, with a crop factor of 2.7x, a super-fast 50mm f1.4 SLR lens will turn into an almost useless 135mm f1.4. Something to think about.
With the 10-30mm lens, the J1 will cost $650 and the V1 $900.
With their small sensors and slow lenses, it’s hard to see the real appeal of Nikon’s new ‘1’ series. Although the new system seems like a good fit for compact camera users who want to upgrade, the Nikon 1 cameras are way overpriced compared to other options. The price to value ratio is just strange. Although a step up from the Canon G12, the Lumix LX5, and the Nikon P7100, the Nikon 1 series leaves us a little disappointed. If you still have to buy a whole new range of lenses anyway, other options like the already established Micro Four Thirds system or APS-C sensor Sony NEX cameras might be the way to go. The data throughput advancements do seem promising, though – perhaps we’ll see a lot more from Nikon in terms of fps and resolution with its next release.
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