A Viewfinder Darkly

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Nikon J1 and V1 Mirrorless Interchangeable Lens Digital Cameras

October 6 2011

by Philip Northeast

Nikon joins the latest trend in photography of compact cameras with interchangeable lenses but no reflex mirror for a Through The Lens optical viewfinder.

Nikon are late comers to the class of mirrorless cameras with interchangeable lenses. The new Nikon V1 and J1 cameras make the wait worthwhile with a carefully conceived blend of photo quality and carrying convenience.

This positions the Nikon 1 system cameras for photographers moving up from ordinary compact point and shoot cameras, who want better quality photos without sacrificing the convenience of a slim compact camera design.

The Nikon 1 family of cameras and accessories

Nikon have come up with a unique mid size sensor, unlike other contenders in this class. Nikon chose a new size sensor rather than squeezing in a larger DSLR sensor into a compact camera body. Nikon’s new CX size sensor is about twice the size of sensors found in most compact digital cameras, and has a 2.7 crop factor.

“The needs of the consumer are changing and the world is becoming one of visual conversation, which paves the way for the next chapter in image capture devices. The new Nikon 1 system is the culmination of more than 75 years of optical excellence and relentless pursuit to the unrivaled technological advancements in camera technology,” said Bo Kajiwara, Director of Marketing, Nikon Inc. “Nikon’s new 1 J1 camera allows consumers to have confidence in a new way to express themselves, with amazing speed, versatility, ease of use and portability.”

Nikon J1 with 10-30mm kit lens

The important difference between the Nikon V1 and J1 Nikon 1 digital cameras is the V1‘s electronic viewfinder.

Nikon V1 with Electronic viewfinder bump on top

Nikkor 1 System Lenses

The standard lens for both cameras is the new 1 NIKKOR VR 10-30mm f/3.5-5.6 (equivalent to a 27-81mm in 35mm format).

Lens size is on the quality side of the compromise. They are larger and protrude more than the lenses on normal compact digital point and shoot cameras making the new Nikons bulkier and less convenient to slip in or out of pockets and handbags.  Keeping the sensor smaller than a DSLR sensor allows for smaller diameter lenses than DLSR equivalents.

Carrying convenience is influenced by lens choice and there is a compact prime lens, with a good general purpose focal length, in the new Nikkor 1 range of interchangeable lenses. This is a pancake style 10mm wide angle prime with a wide f2.8 maximum aperture.

Nikkor 1 10mm wide angle lens is a compact pancake prime

There are occasions when a longer focal length lens is the only way to get in close and Nikon have a 10-100mm zoom (27-270mm in 35mm format) for this system.

All the Nikkor 1 lenses come with image stabilisation (VR in Nikon speak) and quiet autofocus motors in the lens. In such a compact designs there is no room for the older style body mounted focus motor.

Nikon widened the range of lenses by promising in the future to make available the FT-1 F-mount adaptor so the J1 and V1 can use current NIKKOR DSLR lenses. Typically with adaptors not all the metering and autofocus functions are available, but the DSLR lenses should be worthwhile for occasional uses.

Accessories

The V1 camera shows its more serious side with a new accessory port for the new SB-N5 compact speedlight, or the GP-N100 GPS module. For making movies, the V1 also has the option of using an external a stereo microphone higher quality audio recording.

Compact Speedlight for the Nikon V1

The J1 comes in a range of colours for the body and lenses, where the V1 is the more purposeful looking plain black.  Both have an inbuilt flash that hides away to preserve the camera’s smooth exterior lines.

In The Lab

The DxOMark lab tests compares Nikon’s P7000, their top performing compact digital camera, and the D3100 entry level DSLR.  The results are for the V1 as it shares the same sensor and lenses with the J1 cameras.

Three way test summary by DxOMark

 

The DxOMark results confirm the Nikon V1 and J1 provide better image quality than compact digital cameras. The design compromises necessary for compact size means they do not match the performance of the cheaper, but bulkier, D3100 DSLR.

Three way noise comparison from DxOMark

 

Digital noise is present in all digital photos to some extent giving them a speckled effect. It becomes more noticeable in dark areas of photos taken at higher ISO settings.  The Nikon V1 produces less noise than the Nikon P7000 but more than the entry level DSLR the Nikon 3100.  The results graph shows the difference between the noise and legitimate image data. In this test higher readings mean better performance.

 

Three way dynamic range comparison by DxOMark

 

Even though the DxOMark score summary shows similar overall results in the landscape category, based mainly on the dynamic range performance, the full detail test results are interesting.  The dynamic range of the three cameras is similar at low ISO settings, but diverges markedly as the ISO setting gets higher. The performance at low ISO is the most important area.

Dynamic range is a measure of the difference in light levels from the darkest to the brightest a sensor can capture. When the sensor runs out of dynamic range everything darker or lighter become solid black or white, no delicate shades or detail.  This is most likely in brightly lit scenes where a low ISO setting would be used, making the dynamic range at low ISO far more important than at higher ISO settings.

 

V1 P7000 D3100
Adorama Prices with kit lens $899.95 $390.18 $646.95
Megapixels 10.1 10.1 14.2
Sensor Size( mm) 8.8 x 13.2 5.7 x 7.6 15.4 x 23.1
Focal Length Multiplier 2.7 4.5 1.5
ISO 100-6400 100-6400 100-12800
W x H x D   (mm) 113 x 76 x43.5 114 x 77 x 44.8 124.5 x 96.5 x 73.7

 

HD Movies

The JI and V1 offer a range of features for shooting video.  Photographers can shoot HD movies at 1080p (30 fps) or a rapid 60 fps (1080i). For super slow motion effects there are additional 30/60/400 and 1200 fps modes.

Nikon say the J1 and V1 can shoot a still image without stopping video recording. For those one off moments there is no need to choose either video or high quality still images, with these cameras you can take both.

Price and Availability

Nikon say the J1 and V1 will be available throughout the United States beginning October 20th. The Nikon J1 camera with 10-30mm lens kit will have a suggested retail price of $US649.95. The Nikon V1 camera with 10-30mm lens kit will have a suggested retail price of $US899.95 from retailers such as Adorama.

 

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