It’s taken a while but Nikon has, at long last, joined the compact system camera (CSC) market with the launch of the Nikon 1 system. There are two models in the Nikon 1 range at present; the consumer-targeted J1 that we have here, and the more enthusiast-orientated V1.
Given the £250-odd price gap between the two models, the differences between them are actually rather less pronounced than you might expect. The Nikon J1 doesn’t get the 1.4million-dot EVF of the V1, but does sport its own built-in flash (the V1 requires the optional Nikon SB-N5 flash unit to be attached to its proprietary hotshoe). The 3inch LCD monitor on the back of the J1 displays at 460k-dots too, whereas the £850 V1 gets a 921k-dot monitor. Lastly, the Nikon J1’s 1020mAh Li-ion battery is smaller than the cell inside the V1 and consequently offers fewer shots on a single charge.
Inside, however, both Nikon cameras are both very similar, although the J1's sibling does distinguish itself on account of offering a mechanical shutter that provides a bit more flexibility than the J1’s electronic-only shutter, along with a faster maximum flash synch speed of 1/250sec as opposed to the J1’s maximum 1/60sec.
Both models are built around a 10.1-megapixel CMOS sensor measuring 13.2 x 8.8mm, a size Nikon is calling CX. While this is approximately four times the size of a regular 1/2.3in chip as used in the vast majority of compact cameras, it’s only around a third of the size of a regular APS-C sensor (as used in most DSLRs), with Micro Four Thirds sensors sitting neatly in the middle between CX and APS-C. Of all the CSC models currently on the market only the Pentax Q, with its 1/2.3in chip, uses a smaller sensor than the Nikon 1 system.
In theory the smaller CX sensor puts the Nikon 1 at a disadvantage when it comes to low-light performance and also limits how shallow depth-of-field can be. And while limiting the J1's resolution to 10.1MP should have a positive impact on image quality by ensuring the sensor isn’t overpopulated, it’s still going to be a hard sell for Nikon – even in these supposedly post megapixel-arms-race days – when the J1 is compared against it’s nearest competitors, all of which offer higher overall resolutions to go with their larger sensors. Most of the Micro Four Thirds models, for instance, offer around 14megapixels.
The decision to go with CX rather than going with something closer to APS-C has been the source of much debate in photography circles, with some critics even going as far as to suggest that it’s a cynical move aimed more at protecting the Nikon’s vested DSLR interests than in launching a groundbreaking new CSC standard.
Nikon refute all this, of course, insisting instead that the Nikon 1 range has been painstakingly designed from the ground up as a complete system, in which all of the constituent parts work together to produce the best possible image quality in the smallest possible package.
While the choice of sensor size has certainly raised some eyebrows, there are no such misgivings about Nikon’s latest generation of EXPEED 3 image processor. Utilising dual processors it’s a super speedy chip that enables the J1 (and V1) to reach some impressive shooting speeds, including a class-leading 60fps at full-resolution.
Irrespective of sensor size and processor abilities, what might well prove far more crucial to the success or failure of the J1 is the launch price. In this respect the decision to launch the J1 with a £550 price tag could be a problem for Nikon as it makes the camera look pretty expensive against some of its main competitors.
Given that the J1 and 10-30mm f/3.5-5.6 kit zoom package can now be bought for around £500 if you shop around online, it’s nearest rivals in terms of price and design would have be the Panasonic Lumix GF3 (£300 with 14-42mm), Olympus E-PL3 (£490 with 14-42mm), Sony NEX-C3 (£400 with 18-55mm). The newer Sony NEX-5N is slightly more expensive at £590 with 18-55mm, while the Samsung NX200 will cost you around £200 extra.
That’s some pretty tough competition. Does the J1 measure up? Without further ado, let’s take a closer look and find out…