Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Nikon unveils Nikon 1 EVIL cameras

Nikon finally entered the small-form-factor interchangeable lens camera (sometimes called EVIL) market with a new system, called Nikon 1. The first two members of the Nikon 1 family are the J1 and V1. Both models use a new 1" 10MP CX sensor developed by Nikon (hence the "Nikon 1" name). Both the size and the resolution of the sensor are substantially smaller than the sensors used by Panasonic and Olympus in their Micro Four-Thirds cameras, or by Sony in its NEX-series cameras. The smaller sensor gives the Nikon cameras a larger crop factor (2.7x) than its competition (for example, a 100mm lens on a Nikon 1 camera would be comparable to 270mm.)

The J1 is the entry-level model in the Nikon 1 line. It has an electronic shutter that limits sync speed to 1/60th of a second, but that operates at up to 1/16,000th of a second. It's got a 73-point autofocus system that switches between phase- and contrast-detection to get the best focus under current lighting conditions, and a 3", 460,000 pixel resolution LCD. Its burst rate with adaptive autofocus is 10 fps, and a blazing 60 fps when focus is locked. In video mode, it can record at 1080i60 and 1080p30. It's got lower-resolution slo-mo modes at 400 and 1,200 fps, as well as a somewhat confusing Motion Snapshot mode that records brief clips at 1080p60 but plays them back at 1080p24 for a slow-motion effect. The J1 will ship in the U.S. on October 20th with a 10-30mm lens for $649.95.

The V1 is the "enthusiast" Nikon 1 model. It's positioned by Nikon as the world's smallest camera with both an .47', 1.44MP resolution electronic viewfinder and interchangeable lenses. It has both an electronic and mechanical shutter; the electronic shutter is the same as in the J1, and the mechanical shutter supports sync speeds of up to 1/250th of a second and can operate up to 1/4000th of a second. The V1 also has connections for stereo microphones and a "multi-accessory" port for attaching a speedlight or GPS module. Other than these features, the V1 is functionally identical to the J1. The V1 will also ship in the U.S. on October 20th with a 10-30mm lens for $899.95.

Nikon also announced a range of lenses for the Nikon 1 cameras: The 10-30mm zoom included with the two new cameras, a 30-110mm f3.5/5.6 zoom lens, a 10-100mm f4.5/5.6 power zoom for movies, and a 10mm f2.8 pancake lens. Nikon will also offer the FT-1 F-mount adapter for using conventional Nikkor lenses with Nikon 1 cameras. Prices and availability have not yet been announced.

I have to admit that I'm underwhelmed by the Nikon 1 cameras and lenses, based at least on their specifications. The 1" CX sensor is both substantially smaller and lower-resolution than either the Micro Four-Thirds or APS-C sensors. Nikon compensates to a degree with the camera's hybrid autofocus system and very fast burst rate (up to 60 fps with focus locked), but I doubt that's going to be enough to save these cameras. Nikon says that it's pursuing consumers who want better cameras than point & shoot models, and who want interchangeable lenses without the complexity of DSLRs. The problem is that the new Nikon models don't appear to be significantly smaller, cheaper or easier to use than competitive cameras that take better pictures and are more flexible (although the new hybrid autofocus system is a significant advance). In addition, the big plus of the Nikon 1s, their fast burst rate, is of most use in applications such as sports photography, where image quality is a paramount consideration.

Nikon's new lenses are also fairly slow, especially the power zoom, which negates some of the cameras' depth-of-field advantages. On paper, at least, there's not much about the Nikons that would cause anyone other than a devoted Nikon customer to buy them, rather than buying a Sony, Panasonic or Olympus model.

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