Nikon reveals svelte mirrorless ILCs

Nikon's long-awaited mirrorless interchangeable-lens cameras debut as the Nikon 1 series.

Lori Grunin Senior Editor / Advice
I've been reviewing hardware and software, devising testing methodology and handed out buying advice for what seems like forever; I'm currently absorbed by computers and gaming hardware, but previously spent many years concentrating on cameras. I've also volunteered with a cat rescue for over 15 years doing adoptions, designing marketing materials, managing volunteers and, of course, photographing cats.
Expertise Photography, PCs and laptops, gaming and gaming accessories
Lori Grunin
5 min read
Nikon 1 V1 Nikon USA

After much waiting, and lots o' leaks, Nikon finally unveiled its mirrorless interchangeable-lens camera line. But while you'd think the veteran Nikon would debut to an audience with pent-up demand for its product, signs point to Nikon fans greeting the Nikon 1 series J1 and V1 with less enthusiasm than expected. For example, Nikon Rumors ran a poll with more than 30,000 respondents--most likely Nikon fans--who indicate as of just before the announcement, almost two-thirds of them aren't planning to buy the camera(s). And that was before they'd even seen or had final specs for it.

Nikon 1 J1 Nikon USA

That may be due in part to the sensor, dubbed "CX" to match the company's DX and FX mount/sensor systems, which turns out to be a surprisingly small, low-resolution version with a magnification factor of 2.7x, putting it between Olympus/Panasonic's Four Thirds sensor and Pentax's extra-small model.

While Nikon will likely be able to keep the photo quality up thanks to the relatively low resolution and support for 12-bit raw files, the smaller sensor negatively impacts the ability to get a nice shallow depth-of-field at a wide aperture, even with old Nikon lenses mounted via an adapter.

On one hand, it sounds like Nikon's pulling out all the stops with respect to autofocus, introducing a hybrid system that automatically determines whether to use contrast or phase-detection autofocus. Both Olympus and Panasonic have pushed contrast AF pretty far, though, so it remains to be seen how much of an advantage this confers on the cameras' performance.

Nikon has also done some interesting things with motion/movies, including a Motion Snapshot mode, which records a still image and about a 1-second clip, then plays it back at about 0.4x speed (slow motion) with music. There's also Smart Photo Selector, a 20-shot burst mode that saves the camera-determined best five photo.

Here are the camera specs in their competitive landscape:

(Update September 21, 2011: Had to drop the NEX-7 from the table to fit in Firefox.)

Nikon 1 J1 Nikon 1 V1 Olympus E-PL3 Olympus E-P3 Panasonic Lumix DMC-GF3 Sony Alpha NEX-5N
Sensor (effective resolution) 10-megapixel CMOS 10-megapixel CMOS 12.3-megapixel Live MOS 12.3-megapixel Live MOS 12.1-megapixel Live MOS 16.1-megapixel Exmor HD CMOS
13.2 x 8.8 mm 13.2 x 8.8 mm 17.3mm x 13mm 17.3mm x 13mm 17.3 x 13.0mm 23.5mm x 15.6mm
Focal-length multiplier 2.7x 2.7x 2.0x 2.0x 2.0x 1.5x
Sensitivity range ISO 100 - ISO 3200/6400 (expanded) ISO 100 - ISO 3200/6400 (expanded) ISO 200 - ISO 12,800 ISO 200 - ISO 12,800 ISO 100 - ISO 6400 ISO 100 - ISO 25,600
Continuous shooting 5fps
(60fps with fixed AF and electronic shutter)
(60fps with fixed AF and electronic shutter)
4.1 fps
(5.5fps without image stabilization)
3.0 fps
unlimited (LN) JPEG/17 raw
unlimited JPEG/7 raw
3 fps
unlimited 10 JPEG/6 raw
(10fps with fixed exposure)
mag/ effective magnification
None 0.47-inch
1.44 million dots
100% coverage
Optional Optional None Optional
Autofocus 73-point
phase detection, 135-area contrast AF
phase detection, 135-area contrast AF
35-area contrast AF 35-area contrast AF 23-area contrast AF 25-area contrast AF
Shutter speed 30 - 1/16,000; bulb; 1/60 sec x-sync 30 - 1/16,000; bulb; 1/60 sec x-sync 60-1/4000 sec; bulb to 30 minutes; 1/4000 FP sync 60-1/4000 sec; bulb to 30 minutes; 1/4000 FP sync 60-1/4000 sec; 1/160 sec x-sync 30-1/4000 sec.; bulb; 1/160 sec x-sync
Metering n/a n/a 324 area 324 area 144 zone 1200 zone
Flash Yes Included optional Included optional Yes Yes Included optional
Image stabilization Optical Optical Sensor shift Sensor shift Optical Optical
Video 1080/60i /30p, 720/60p H.264 MPEG-4 QuickTime MOV 1080/60/ 30pi; 720/60p H.264 MPEG-4 QuickTime MOV 1080/60i AVCHD @ 20, 17Mbps; 720/60p @ 13Mbps 1080/60i AVCHD @ 20, 17Mbps; 720/60p @ 13Mbps 1080/60i/ 50i @ 17 Mbps
720/60p @17 Mbps AVCHD or Motion JPEG QuickTime MOV
AVCHD 1080/60p @ 28, 24Mbps, 1080/24p @ 24, 17Mbps, 1080/60i @ 17Mbps; H.264 MPEG-4
Audio Stereo Stereo; mic input Stereo; mic input Stereo; mic input Mono Stereo; mic input
LCD size 3-inch fixed 460,000 dots 3-inch fixed
921,600 dots
3-inch tilting
460,000 dots
3-inch fixed OLED
614,000 dots
3-inch fixed touch screen
460,000 dots
3-inch tilting
921,600 dots
Battery life (CIPA rating) 230 shots 350 shots 300 shots 330 shots 320 shots 430 shots
Dimensions (inches, WHD) 4.2 x 2.4 x 1.2 4.4 x 3.0 x 1.7 4.3 x 2.5 x 1.5 4.8 x 2.7 x 1.4 4.2 x 2.6 x 1.3 4.4 x 2.4 x 1.6
Body operating weight (ounces) 9.8 (est) 12 (est) 11 (est) 13.0 9.3 9.3 (without flash)
Mfr. Price n/a n/a n/a n/a $499.95 (body only, est) $599.99 (body only)
$649.95 (with 10-30mm lens) $899.95 (with 10-30mm lens) $699.99 (with 14-42mm lens) $899.99 (with 14-42mm lens) $599.95 (with 14-42mm lens) $699.99 (with 18-55mm lens)
$899.95 (dual lens kit) $1,149.95 (dual lens kit) $699.99 (est, with 17mm lens) $899.99 (with 17mm f2.8 lens) $699.95 (with 14mm f2.5 lens) n/a
Ship date October 2011 October 2011 September 2011 August 2011 July 2011 September 2011

Compared with the J1, the V1 has an accessory port for flash and a proprietary GPS unit, as well as a built-in EVF.

At launch, Nikon will have four Nikon 1-mount lenses available: A main kit lens at 10-30mm f3.5-5.6 (27-81mm equivalent), a 30-110mm f3.8-5.6 (81-297mm equivalent), 10-100mm f4.5-5.6 (27-270mm equivalent) and 10mm f2.8 (27mm equivalent). All but the fixed focal length lens use Nikon's VR optical image stabilization.

I have mixed feelings about this duo. Though they have some novel sounding features, I don't think they're particularly compelling. And while I'm not a member of the more-pixels-at-any-cost club, I do think 10-megapixels is a bit low for the price and class of camera. And the battery life for the J1 looks terrible. Had Nikon come out with this system a couple of years ago--even last year--it might have been more of a no-brainer. Much will be riding on the shooting experience, performance, and photo and video quality. Even more than usual.