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Reflections On Nikon's New Mirrorless World

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The Nikon 1 is the their first new camera system in six decades. Who will buy it?

September 21, 2011

With the announcement of the V1 and J1 this morning, Nikon enters the Mirrorless Interchangeable-Lens Compact (MILC) Camera world with its eyes on enthusiasts and snapshooters.


Note: Adorama is now accepting pre-orders for the Nikon 1 and will ship them when they arrive on a first-come, first-served basis. Your credit card will not be charged until the order is shipped. Click on any "Related Products" link on the right column of this page to order —>>>


 

 

It was a brash move. Nikon dubbed its first new camera system since the Nikon F, introduced today, the 1. The V1, with its high-resolution EVF and new accessory and lens ecosystem, and the more budget-minded and simpler J1 (which shares some of the V1's coolest features), were not designed for professionals and are unlikely to cannibalize Nikon DSLR sales except, perhaps, among lower-end models. Most advanced photographers and professionals, knowing the cameras feature a small 16mm (measured diagonally) sensor, will probably take a pass.

So if Nikon didn't design the 1 for its core pro/advanced DSLR users (Nikon and Canon together split over 90% of the DSLR market equally), who will buy the Nikon 1?  What was Nikon thinking?

 

 

Not your father's Nikon

 

It is clear that Nikon studied the market very carefully and especially who would buy a MILC, and chose to go downmarket, and appeal to an audience for whom image quality is a lower priority than convenience and flexibility. Indeed, in introducing the Nikon 1, Nobuyosi Gokyu, President and CEO Nikon Inc, said, “today’s consumers constantly share images and video to express who they are....they share their life with others through images...we understand that it is very important to fit into the lifestyle of consumers.” So there you have it: It's a consumer line.


With smart phones encroaching on compact camera sales, Nikon was motivated  to make a splash with lots of added features that a smart phone couldn't provide. In other words, with the 1, Nikon is attempting to make a compelling argument that yes, Mr. and Mrs. Hipster, you really do need a stand-alone camera.

 

 

Some key attractions
 
Interchangeable lenses: Nikon announced 4 lenses, including a 30-110mm (35mm equivalent) model that, combined with the camera's blazingly-fast 10 frames per second burst rate, may appeal to soccer moms who want to capture Junior in action. The 28mm (equivalent) pancake lens is a half-inch thick. Yes, the current lenses are on the slow side, and everything will be in focus, but at the announcement Nikon showed some concept lenses under glass that indicate there may be wider f/stop lenses in the future.

 

The shape of lenses to come? Thes mock-ups of possible future lenses were on display at Nikon's press conference last night. Yes, there are only 4 lens now, but that apparently will change...

 

Sensor size and image quality: This is not based on actual images but if the sensor measures 16mm diagonally (resulting in a 2.7x magnification factor) and resolution is a reasonable 10MP, image quality should fall somewhere between a Micro Four Thirds camera and a high-end compact, and noise should be well controlled through at least ISO 400. If Nikon has applied the same technology to its new sensor that it is using it its low-noise high-ISO DSLRs, image quality even at higher speeds should be more than sufficient for the target audience.

Image Capture: Nikon is making some pretty impressive image-capture speed claims, and according to Russell Hart, who attended last night's Nikon press conference and tried both cameras, reports that focus was fast and inaudible, and there was very little lag time, and no lag time if you prefocus—which is good news. In addition, Nikon's Smart Photo Selector mode captures 20 shots at 30 frames per second, then selects the best one plus four “runners-up” which you can choose.

Video: With the ability to capture full 1080p video at up to 60fps interlaced and a lens specifically designed for video use, Nikon is positioning the V1 and J1 as being strong contenders as video cameras. The samples captured at the press conference were impressive.

Motion Snapshot: This is unique: While shooting a still, the camera simultaneously records a brief video clip at 60fps designed to play back at 24fps for slow motion. Cool.

The cameras will come with a host of accessories and in several colors, further indicating that Nikon is going after more casual users.

 

Many colorful options: Fashionista-types can start drooling over the many color possibilities for the J1. Note how the lens is matched to the camera color!

 

A stand-alone system

The Nikon 1 system will exist within its own ecosystem: The lens mount is not compatible with F-mount lenses (although an adapter is in the works); there is a single flash for the V1, and attaches via a proprietary shoe that will not accept Nikon Speedlites. (The flash won't even have its own power source; instead, it will run off the camera's battery.) There will be accessories—straps, cases, and underwater housing, and more—that will be designed for the 1 system alone.

What about high-end users?

It is understandable for more advanced Nikon users to feel they've been passed by with the Nikon 1. (A look at comments being posted on Nikon user forums today makes it clear that the proceeding sentence is an understatement.) After all, many a Nikon user's pipe dream was for an F-mounted, full-frame competitor to the Leica M—or something along those lines—to be introduced. But that would have eaten into Nikon's DSLR sales, a costly proposition given Nikon's over 40% share of the market. It would have been a specialty camera, and from a business perspective made little sense. Nikon stock spiked today on the news of the Nikon 1, so stockholders are obviously pleased with this direction even as the volume of online protestations is high.

Initial reaction? Based on early online comments, the target audience—including soccer moms, socially-connected hipsters, and travelers—seem to be intrigued. High-end users, understandably, are disappointed. “We're waiting for a new D700—why are you wasting your time on this?” is the kind of sentiment we're seeing a lot of. But the bottom line is that Nikon has entered the fray with a product they feel will appeal to a wide audience.

Furthermore, all major camera makers...except one...are now in the interchangeable-lens compact game.

What say you, Canon?

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