Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Nikon's 1-Series CX Cameras: the Best Thing to Ever Fit into a Pocket Since the Wallet

Nikon's V1 mirrorless compact with the 10-100mm lens.

Today, Nikon announced a completely new type of camera, its mirrorless 'CX' format Nikon 1-series cameras, which are designed to go head-to-head with the already successful Olympus Pen, Panasonic GF, and Sony NEX lines. The current lineup: an entry-level J1 and a tougher, slightly more capable V1. For some, the decision to go with a whole new mount and sensor seemed a bit odd but, when one looks deeper, it makes good sense.

First of all, Nikon has not made its new cameras incompatible with F-mount lenses. According to Nikon, there will be a F-mount adapter coming to market soon, in addition to its 4 CX format lenses, a 10-30, 10-100 (video only), 30-110, and a 10mm pancake. This way, current Nikonians can buy the cameras without needing to invest more money in CX lenses, only the adapter. So far, there's no word on whether the adapter will allow for AF or not.

Second, the decision to use a 10Mp, 2.7x crop factor seemed a bit odd as nothing like this had ever been used before. Until Nikon's announcement, it was a 2x crop factor Four Thirds chip or a tiny P&S camera sensor, nothing in between. However, by going smaller and keeping the pixel count reasonable (the new sensors are only 10Mp vs. the current 16Mp APS-C Nikon chips), Nikon made a move that serious photographers will appreciate while living up to the promise of a compact system, too.

By using a small sensor, that means that the imaging circle of a given lens can be smaller, which can make for a small lens, which is good. Ever since the dawn of the modern digital era with the Nikon D1, the promise with smaller than film sensor digital cameras has been that small sensor equals smaller cameras and smaller lenses. Now, by picking up, say, a Nikon D300, Canon 7D, or Olympus E-5, one can see that small sensor does not equate to small gear. When Olympus launched its first Digital Pen, the promise of a small camera with small lenses was closer to being fulfilled.

With Nikon's 1-series, the promise is at its closest to being kept.

At a truly diminutive 4.2 x 1.2 inches, Nikon's J1 model is, by far, the smallest, large sensor interchangeable lens camera around, as the body is about the size of a large cell phone, which means that it is easily pocketable in of itself. Naturally, with the zoom lenses attached, the cameras will lose some of their portability but, on the other hand, they are still appreciably smaller that the competition, which is good for IQ-hungry photographers on the go. For anyone content to use a prime lens, either camera, the J1 or slightly larger V1, easily fits into a pocket. In fact, the body of the J1 is about the same size as that of my Olympus pocket cam.

The small size, combined with the modest Mp count and the hybrid AF system could, quite possibly, make Nikon's 1-series cameras the best thing around for serious photographers on the go. The cameras are slated to ship around October 20 at a cost of $650 for the J1/10-30 kit and $850 for the V1/10-30 kit. As for differences, the V1 has magnesium alloy body, a viewfinder, and an extra accessory port, other than that, the cameras are essentially identical.

Personally, I think shooting with one of these cameras could be a lot of fun.

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