Thursday, September 22, 2011

Is the Nikon 1 the one?

Sorry, I couldn't resist the pun. Nikon's joined the mirrorless crowd with its Nikon 1 System. This is potentially HUGE. The big two -- Canon and Nikon -- have been championing and dominating the DSLR world. With the recent boom in popularity of mirrorless interchangeable lens cameras like the Micro Four Thirds system and Sony's NEX system, mirrorless cameras are no longer something that Canon and Nikon can ignore. Nikon's answer is the 1 System. Prepare to be disappointed.

Looks-wise, it reminds me of the Sigma DP-1.

As for specs, it's a 10-megapixel shooter with a 1" sensor. That'll give you a 2.7x crop factor. For more specs, check out the full press release here.

On the video front, it shoots HD video at 1080i, 60fps.

The V1 has a magnesium alloy body, just like pro cameras, a viewfinder, and a hotshoe an accessory port. The J1 is $650. The V1 is a hefty $900. Disappointed yet?

Alright, maybe I'm being a little unfair. We haven't seen the pictures this camera can make. Maybe they've made an amazing sensor. Maybe they've engineered some new image processing magic. Maybe they have have fantastic lenses. Maybe they've found a way to break the laws of physics. From what we know of cameras (and physics) though, the 1 System doesn't look so hot. Why? The sensor is probably too small.

Don't get me wrong. It looks like a sensible decision for Nikon. Dpreview even wrote an article justifying Nikon's decision here. I think it's the wrong decision. But first some tech talk, and a rant:

What's a mirrorless camera?

Chuck out the mirror from a DSLR camera, and you've got an interesting camera -- and an interesting problem. Losing the mirror means you can make the camera smaller while maintaining the same image quality. In fact, this is basically Sony's NEX system, which uses the same sensor as entry-level DSLRs, called an APS-C sensor, but in a camera that is ridiculously small because there's no mirrorbox inside.

(The interesting problem is you lose the optical viewfinder, as SLR cameras look through the lens. The solution so far has been to create a fully electronic viewfinder, or just use the LCD.)


This small camera can get smaller though. Change that APS-C sensor into a smaller sensor, and two things happen. One, you can make an even smaller camera -- as well as smaller lenses. Two, image quality goes down a little bit because smaller sensors mean lower quality. This is basically the Micro Four Thirds System, which pioneered the whole mirrorless craze. Quality is not as good as an SLR, but who cares? It's close enough. And everything is nice and small!

Here comes Nikon

So along comes Nikon (and Pentax's Q System too) with a mirrorless interchangeable lens camera with an even smaller sensor, and the drop in image quality that this entails. 

SLR geeks and pixel counters already complain about the Micro Four Thirds' relatively inferior ISO performance, dynamic range, cropping factor and bokeh. This camera by Nikon has little chance of being better in those areas. Finally, we Micro Four Thirds users will have a system to make fun of!

What has Nikon done here? They've made a camera that makes sense for THEM instead of one that makes sense for the consumer. It's a camera that won't eat into the profits of their DSLRs. It won't kill any of their precious products. But it won't tempt mirrorless camera buyers like me, or other enthusiasts who know their way around a spec sheet. At those prices, the Sony NEX will win every time. And it looks like the lens and bodies aren't significantly smaller than Micro Four Thirds cameras and lenses. Super fast shooting? Olympus does great there too.

Frankly, the 1 System looks like it's for point-and-shoot peeps who don't know what's good for them and can be easily bamboozled by the grand heritage of Nikon.

Oh well. Maybe I'm speaking too early. The proof is in the pudding, as they say, and I would love to see the images from the Nikon 1 System prove me wrong.

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