Nikon Mirrorless Camera Announcement – Nikon 1 J1 & 1 V1

September 21, 2011

Announcements, Cameras

Nikon 1 Series - Mirrorless Cameras

Today Nikon has announced their first two mirrorless cameras: Nikon 1 J1 and Nikon 1 V1. You can read the official press release here.

They also announced four lenses, a dedicated flash, a stereo microphone, a wireless remote, a GPS unit and a mount adapter (to use F mount lenses).

This represents a very big investment to the company and a big step to enter a market segment which is growing up very fast since about two years ago, but wasn’t exploited by Nikon yet.

It also implies some risks, because it’s not just a new camera or lens announcement, but a whole line of products instead.

This new line of cameras, lenses and accessories is indeed something that may impact Nikon’ strategies and finances (positively or not), mostly depending on the success it will get, which at the same time will depend on multiple factors (product quality, customers’ loyalty, impact of the brand name to potential customers, competitor’s options, price, etc.).

The new Mirror-less Nikon Line

Nikon has named their mirrorless camera system as “Advanced Camera with Interchangeable Lens“.

It looks like a nice, very minimalist and very compact camera. Not what we had expected in several aspects though (very small sensor/too high crop factor, no articulated LCD screen at least on these two models, no full manual control on video, etc.).

Nikon new mirrorless system offers a very compact interchangeable lens camera, with a crop factor of 2.7x (compared to traditional 35mm film or full frame DSLR cameras). The new line uses “Nikon CX-format” CMOS image sensor.

The sensor size chosen is a key point because it determines the core of the system that won’t be changed easily (if ever).

In our opinion, considering other manufacturer’s current options, this sensor is too small, and a crop factor of 2.7x is simply too high to use with most current Nikon F lenses. Of course, that’s one of the reasons why it is “the world’s smallest and lightest interchangeable lens digital camera”. But is it really important to be “the world’s smallest” if it compromises quality, performance and compatibility? Japanese people like things small, but what about the rest of the world?

It will probably outperform all Point & Shoot compact cameras which use even smaller sensor, but it’s still uncertain how well it will compare to other current mirrorless cameras like those made by Panasonic and Sony using bigger sensors (and selling for almost the same price, even offering articulated and touch-screens, etc.)

Panasonic mirrorless GH series with their micro 4/3 mount use bigger sensor with a 2.0x crop factor. That is much more convenient when using other options of lenses and can gather more light at the same time.

Another important aspect is the depth of field. The smaller the sensor, the bigger depth of field (more subjects in focus, loosing the ability to “isolate” your main subject from the unfocused, “blurry”, backgrounds).

One very relevant capability of DSLR cameras (applicable to the mirrorless ones as well) is the ability to get pictures with shallow depth of field, especially when using “fast” lenses. The problem of using small sensors is that they won’t give you shallow depth of field even when using fast lenses.

But as with every product, the manufacturer aims it to a specific market segment. If Nikon reach the market segment of those who don’t care about shallow depth of field, but want an interchangeable lens system camera, then it may be successful. Although we think there are some points that do not help Nikon in this regard (like the mentioned small sensor, and the high price these cameras and lenses will have). We seriously doubt if this is a good move from Nikon.

You can find more details about the new Nikon product on this page.

Price & Availability:

Nikon 1 J1 with one-lens kit will cost $650. Nikon 1 V1 with one-lens kit will cost $900. They will be available in one month.

If you compare the options on the market, you will realize that there is no much difference in price between Nikon and other manufacturers mirrorless systems, but there are many differences regarding specifications and features…

Nikon vs Canon

Of course, Nikon and Canon keep neck to neck, and often make announcements in the same quarter of the year (sometimes even in the same month or week). So you can expect Canon to announce a mirrorless camera (or something different) soon as well.

If Canon is smart enough, they will go for a different approach, with a bigger sensor, full compatibility with existing Canon EF and EF-S lenses (something that Nikon also offers for their lenses), but also retaining some of the features and accessories compatibility of current DSLR cameras. Not to mention an articulated LCD screen and the capability to record Full HD video with the option of full manual control (neither of these features has been introduced by Nikon in the J1 and V1).

Another option to Canon (smarter in our opinion) would be to simply skip the launch of a new whole camera system, but introduce a DSLR camera without mirror instead. That would make it lot more compact and wouldn’t put them on risk of such a big investment. It may be a very successful product if they can keep image quality and avoid overheating, considering the sensor will be gathering and processing light all the time.

To compensate this later approach and the missing of a specific dedicated mirrorless line, and to compete with Nikon, Canon could launch a new line of Point and Shoot cameras with fixed zoom lenses featuring bigger sensors than those they currently have. Price-wise, this would be more competitive and wouldn’t involve big investments and risks.

Suggestions to Canon

If Canon releases a whole new line of mirror-less cameras, we hope Canon makes them with a bigger sensor than Nikon, that will provide a smaller crop factor (shallower depth of field with better low light capabilities), so we could all use current Canon EF lenses with more flexibility (assuming Canon will make an adapter available, of course). Also giving the almost “standard” articulated LCD screen that can be found even in high-end P&S cameras, and the essential full manual control in video mode.

Canon, please don’t make the same mistake!

But again, we think it may be smarter to approach the mirrorless system implementing them in DSLR cameras, as mentioned above. Yes, we know that technically, DSLR without a mirror shouldn’t be called “DSLR” (digital single lens reflex), but the concept is clear.

Future Announcements from Canon

Canon has recently sent a survey to many customers, asking about a mirrorless camera. That confirms they are seriously considering it and may put more resources on it.

We don’t currently have specific information, but we are sure Canon has already been working on the development of this kind of systems. Why? Well, because it’s a matter of fact that they were going to enter the market sooner or later with something similar (or something more innovative), and everything was indicating it was going to be soon. Especially now that Nikon has announced their new line.

According to our experience, big manufacturers do have LOT more than what they release; they just wait until the appropriate moment, mainly depending on marketing decisions (which sometimes happen in a sudden). Also, sometimes some prototypes never reach the production line either and end without public knowledge.

Canon has scheduled some announcements for October and November. We will be announcing some news from Canon soon, so stay tuned!

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Image credits: snapshot from Nikon Corporation website.

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