Nikon 1 series: The tests

Thursday September 29 2011

Sensor Review
Interchangeable Lens cameras by Nikon | Nikon J1: a small camera with a great sensor? | Nikon V1: review of the high-end Nikon 1
Nikon 1 series: The tests

It’s rare in the world of photography for a manufacturer to come up with an entirely new product line from scratch, and it’s equally rare for a famous manufacturer such as Nikon (the world market leader) to offer a new lens mount (Nikon CX). This makes the launch of the Nikon 1 line (Nikon J1 and Nikon V1) a major event in photography this fall.

Interchangeable Lens Cameras? Which cameras? Used how?

The appearance of the Nikon 1 confirms how interested manufacturers have become in new camera models that use interchangeable lenses. Panasonic and Olympus were the first to take their places in this market, with models based on their standard micro 4/3 sensors, and as such, they’ve enjoyed  quite a bit of success. Sony then followed with its NEX series. Nikon is thus the first top-rated brand in the world of DSLRs to enter a market in which the first ones to arrive have achieved dominance.

Canon, second place in the world of DSLRs, still hasn’t shown any indication that it will produce its own line for this market.

The technologies and design choices for Interchangeable Lens cameras differ depending on the manufacturer. This said, we can describe several points that they all have in common. They all—

  • Retain the simplicity of compact cameras
  • Have a minimal footprint
  • Achieve image quality that approaches that of reflex cameras

In summary, Interchangeable Lens cameras can be of interest to you if —

  • You own a high-end bridge camera such as a Canon G12 or Nikon P7000, and while you’re satisfied with the size of your camera, you find that the image quality isn’t good enough.
  • You own a DSLR, but you are looking for a lighter and smaller camera that you can take with you anywhere.

Why is Nikon changing the game?

Finding a compromise between a small footprint and image quality sometimes requires “squaring the circle”: To achieve the same kind of image quality as an SLR, one needs the best possible sensor... and one with the biggest possible surface area. But a large sensor also means bulkiness, because the larger the sensor surface, the larger and more cumbersome the lenses tend to be.

Interchangeable Lens cameras attempt to achieve this compromise between footprint and image quality, all while retaining a size close to that of compact cameras. In this race of millimeters, the only point all manufacturers have in common is that of abandoning the reflex mechanism, since getting rid of the mirror (the “reflex” in the term ”SLR”) saves a significant amount of space, particularly in terms of physical depth.

Beyond this, the manufacturers have made different choices:

  • Panasonic and Olympus offer a 4/3-format sensor (which Olympus also uses in its professional cameras). This choice allows for a relatively small footprint while providing satisfactory image quality.
  • Sony offers the same very good sensors for its NEX cameras as it uses for its reflex APS-Cs, but as we have frequently indicated previously, the lenses on these APS-C sensor models are often very cumbersome. Unless they choose pancake lenses such as the Sony E16mm f/2.8, photographers can end up with a camera that is as bulky as a traditional DSLR.

Thus with its Nikon 1 line, Nikon is the only brand that offers a completely new system with a new line of small-sized lenses and a new type of sensor. This last is even smaller than the 4/3 sensors found in the Panasonic G3 and the Olympus PEN EP3.