Nikon 1 system – designed for soccer moms?

Nikon announced its much-leaked mirrorless interchangable lens camera (MILC) system, Nikon 1, on Wednesday September 21. Here is a link to the press release and product pages.

There are two models, J1 and V1. When announced the prices where USD 650 for the J1 kit, and USD 900 for the V1 kit.

Check prices: Nikon J1 kit: Adorama, B&H; Nikon V1 kit: Adorama, B&H.

Both models use the with the same 10.1 Mpx CMOS sensor measuring 13.2 x 8.8 mm (2.7x crop factor). Nikon refers to the new sensor format as CX format. With the new CX format, Nikon has added a new imaging format to its existing Nikon FX and DX formats for digital-SLR cameras. The RAW format will be 12 bit.

Frames show relative sensor sizes and crop factors for FX, DX, Four-thirds and CX.

The J1 features a built-in flash, the V1 a “multi accessory port” for attaching the Nikon Speedlight SB-N5 or the GPS unit GP N100. The SB-5 flash is a joke with a guide number of 8.5 (ISO 100, meters). That is half the power of the pop-up flash found on a Nikon DSLR. It can bounce and swivel, but really has not the power to do so. Neither body has a standard ISO hot-shoe or pc/jack trigger port.

The J1 is without a viewfinder (just a live view 460000 dots LCD at the back), an aluminium body, and an electronic shutter. What makes its bigger brother, the Nikon V1, stand out, is that it is probably the ugliest camera ever designed. The specs of the V1 look slightly more up-market than the J1, with a 921000 dots rear LCD, an EVF with a 1440k dots, an aluminium-magnesium alloy body, and a mechanical shutter.

The Nikon J1 is available in a variety of colours, including pink.
Here with Nikkor 10-30mm f/3.5-5.6 VR standard zoom. Photo: Nikon.

Both cameras are capable of extremely high shooting speeds. Full resolution images can be captured at 60 frames per second with an electronic shuter and without focus tracking, and 10 frames per second with. They also incorporates a hybrid autofocus system that employs both phase and contrast detection. This makes the V1 and J1 able to shoot at 10 frames per second while keeping a moving subject in focus. The phase-detection AF system means the cameras can also track a moving subject during video shooting. The V1 is a better tool for fast action photography though (especially panning shots up to 10 fps) since its mechanical shutter avoids the characteristic rolling shutter distortion caused by an electronic shutter.

All of the conventional control dials and buttons, including one to select the standard PASM exposure modes, are gone. Instead, the camera mode dial just has the following four positions: Smart Photo Selector, Motion Snapshot, Still and Movie. In the “Smart Photo Selector” mode the camera takes 20 pictures, and then uses image analysis and artificial intelligence to pick the best five ones and throws away the rest. The “Motion Snapshot” mode captures a one-second slow-motion movie and adds cheesy music to it. The “Still” and “Movie” modes do what you expect.

Announced along with the camera is a dedicated a Nikkor 10-30mm f/3.5-5.6 VR standard zoom, Nikkor 30-110mm f/3.8-5.6 VR telephoto zoom, Nikkor 10mm f/2.8 pancake and Nikkor 10-100mm f/4.5-5.6 VR PD-ZOOM Nikon 1-mount interchangeable lenses. An F-mount adapter, FT1, will let you mount almost any F-mount lens manufactured since 1959. The adapter will auto-focus with most AF-S and AF-I lenses, and also supports VR. There is also two special grips, the GR-N1000 for the V1, and GR-N2000 for the J1.

The Nikon 1 system (2.7x crop) will be the fifth MILC system to hit the market, following µFourThirds (2.0x), Sony NEX (1.5x), Samsung NX (1.5x) and Pentax Q (5.7x).

The back of the Nikon V1, showing the lack of sensible controls.

After seeing and handling these cameras, some people has wondered what audience Nikon has in mind for the Nikon 1 system. I think that is pretty obvious. The Nikon 1 system is the world's first camera system designed from the ground up specifically for soccer moms. The evidence:

  1. Both cameras have a blinding fast auto-focus and shooting speed in order to capture erratically moving kids.
  2. The user interface is devoid of any sensible photographic controls.
  3. It has a spray & pray mode, dubbed “Smart Photo Selector” mode by Nikon, where the camera capture 20 frames machine-gun style and then itself pick the best one.
  4. The Nikon J1 body is available in at least five different colours, including pink.

Nikon pundit Thom Hogan also seems to subscribe to the soccer mom theory. Here's a quote from his blog: “If you're a guy (and most of you are), you weren't really the target (especially for the J1). Complaining about the product just confirms that Nikon didn't accidentally hit innocent bystanders while aiming at their target.”

He's right, of course.

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