Nikon 1 ILC cameras unveiled: V1 sports small sensor, big price

Nikon's flagship interchangeable lens compact camera, the new Nikon 1 V1, has a smaller sensor and lower resolution than similarly high-priced rivals, but packs the features into a small package.

Nikon has finally plunged into the exploding interchangeable lens compact (ILC) camera market, announcing two cameras in its new Nikon 1 line: the flagship Nikon 1 V1 and its smaller and cheaper sibling, the Nikon 1 J1.  The Nikon 1 system has been rumored and leaked for years, so most of the specs won't be news to die-hard Nikon fans. But for everyone else, the most surprising aspect of the camera will likely be the relatively small sensor and low resolution compared to most of the competition.

Nikon is referring to the new sensor size as its CX format, to distinguish it from its APS-C-size DX and full-frame FX sensors. The new CX format sensor falls somewhere in size between the sensors in Micro Four Thirds cameras (such as the Olympus PEN and Panasonic Lumix G series cameras) and that of the tiny Pentax Q (which has a sensor comparable in size to a compact point-and-shoot). By opting for a 10-megapixel CMOS sensor -- compared with 12 megapixels in Olympus, Panasonic, and Pentax models (not to mention the even higher-resolution ILCs from Sony, which have much larger sensors as well) -- Nikon may be able to mitigate the loss of image quality it might suffer by going with a smaller sensor. But image quality aside, the other big issue that a smaller sensor raises is crop factor (or focal length multiplier).

Nikon's CX sensors have a crop factor of 2.7x, which means it needs a wider-angle lens to achieve the same field of view than the Micro Four Thirds cameras (which have a multiplier of 2.0x) or the Sonys (with 1.5x), and that ultimately can limit your ability to achieve selective focus effects with a narrow depth of field at wide apertures. (In laymen's terms, you won't be able to get those nice dSLR-like shots where your subject is in focus but the background is soft.)

Still, neither of the Nikon 1 cameras looks like a slouch in terms of features. Of particular note is the new "advanced hybrid autofocus system" which delivers a whopping 73 focus points and lets you automatically switch between contrast-detect autofocus (for better performance in low light) or phase-detection autofocus (for better performance with moving subjects), depending on what your scene calls for.

Other key features include:

  • Continuous mode shooting up to 5fps in most modes; 10, 30, or 60 fps in Electronic (Hi) mode
  • Motion Snapshot mode automatically records a short video clip with your still shot and plays it back in slow-motion accompanied with music, ending with your actual still image.
  • Smart Photo Selector mode initiates continuous mode shooting and automatically selects the best five frames captured based on factors such as exposure, composition, focus, and facial recognition
  • Simultaneous capture of still images and 1080p HD video
  • 1,440,000-dot electronic viewfinder (V1 only)
  • 3-inch, 921,000-dot LCD (460,000-dot for J1)
  • ISO sensitivity range: 100-6400
  • Stereo microphone input (V1 only)
  • Accessory port for optional external flash or GPS module (V1 only)

The Nikon 1 V1 will start shipping on October 20 and sell for $899.95 with a 10-30mm f/3.5-5.6 kit lens or $1,149.95 for a two-lens kit (the 10-30mm lens plus a 10mm f/2.8 wide-angle lens or a 30-110mm f/3.8-5.6 zoom).

The Nikon 1 J1, V1's smaller, cheaper, and arguably hipper sibling has most of the same features as the V1, but has a lower-resolution LCD and doesn't have an accessories hotshoe or EVF. It's a couple of ounces lighter and a touch trimmer (including the lack of a bump-out for the V1's EVF) and will also ship on October 20 with the same lens options.  Pricing is set at $649.95 for the one-lens kit and $899.95 for each of the two-lens kits. The J1 comes in black, white, red, and pink body color options (with matching lenses), though you can only get the wide angle two-lens kit in white or red and the zoom two-lens kit in white, red, or pink. Also, you'll pay an extra $30 for the pink kit which also comes with pink lens hoods, a pink leather hand strap, and a pink wrapping cloth.

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