Nikon ‘don’t fear a Canon mirrorless’

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Nikon J1 in pink

In a soundbite session with Amateur Photographer today Ken Kusakari, product planning manager at Nikon UK has said the company ‘does not fear a Canon mirrorless’. Of course it would be foolish for Nikon to admit that other manufacturers have better prospects… Not least because it is true.

Principally Nikon should fear Sony.

At the moment Sony’s mirrorless cameras are just plain better specified – and cheaper – yet for all practical intents and purposes just as small. Nikon’s mirrorless V1 costs £850 with the standard kit lens.

Panasonic have larger range of lenses and every single one the lenses are better specified than Nikon’s CX range.

Olympus have better built bodies and again are part of the Micro Four Thirds stable. As for a fashion camera, Olympus have that base covered off too. Which looks more stylish?

Olympus E PM1
Above: Nikon J1 (left) and Olympus E-PM1 – Photo by ePhotoMagazine

Hipsters would have to be truly blind to choose the Nikon, and they are the same price.

Let’s look at some of the V1’s rivals. The V1 is the higher end of the two Nikon 1 series cameras. Rival number 1 for enthusiasts – The Fuji X100. It is unique on the market. It has a cutting edge hybrid EVF optical viewfinder is far more stylish, feels better to use and takes better pictures. But before someone point out that the V1 and X100 are aimed at totally different markets – remember that the X100 is only £50 more than the Nikon V1. That doesn’t look like a different market to me.

The Sony NEX C3 is as small and as cheap as the Nikon J1 yet has a sensor 3 times larger. The Canon S100 compact has image quality on par with the Nikon J1 but with a faster zoom lens at the wide end by 2 stops for £200 less, and you can pocket it.

Speaking of pricing there’s a massive £350 price gap between the price of the mainstream Nikon J1 and enthusiast V1 despite them being essentially the same cameras but for a built in flash – which is replaced with an accessory port on the V1, mercifully, have you seen the build of it?

Nikon J1 Flash

My toothbrush is better designed and I have seen higher grade plastic on a disposable razor. It is literally a 40 cent part on a $600 camera. How is this acceptable?

There are additional build issues… The plastic on the zoom barrel of the lenses for instance.

Remind you of anything?

Nikon J1 from 2011 and IX Nikkor from the 90's

The body of the J1 itself has the ugly rounded tubby edges of the old Samsung NX100, which Samsung recently admitted they got wrong. They have now come up with the lovely Samsung NX200 which has an OLED screen, a hip retro design, and it is lighter than the J1. And this is Samsung versus Nikon we’re talking about. 3 years ago Samsung weren’t even in the enthusiast camera business and even the most undemanding of compact users considered them bottom of the pile.

Competition in the market that Nikon has positioned its mirrorless in is so fierce even phones are in on the act. The iPhone and Android smartphones, which almost everyone who will buy the J1 or V1 already have, are pocketable and have apps which are connected to social networking sites at the press of a button. The industrial design of the iPhone and its user interface puts Nikon’s cameras to shame not to mention the quality of materials used in its build.

It is sad to see Nikon put the force of their technology behind such a shoddy mainstream product that is so clearly inferior to ALL its immediate competition at the same price point in the consumer electronics market.

Since I started EOSHD nearly 2 years ago I have been a huge believer in mirrorless cameras.

Cinematographers don’t need a mirror and a optical viewfinder. Mirrorless cameras have brought improvements to live view and live view is the reason we have DSLR video in the first place. A happy accident.

Sony, Panasonic and Olympus get mirrorless and they are heavily invested in it. Now here’s the kicker – although they are like Nikon addicted to the mass market with low end offerings like the NEX C3 and GF3 – they have innovated. Panasonic with their video optimised lenses, fast contrast detect AF and the GH series with an emphasis on hybrid stills / video; Sony with the quality of their sensors, an OLED EVF, the complete abolition of an optical viewfinder on their Alphas and the sheer ambition of a their high end mirrorless NEX 7.

Nikon have innovated with a fast image processor but it is a dog of a camera.

Then they spent almost all of their launch events saying that the size of the camera was its main selling point.

Relative to what? The V1 is bigger than the GF3 in every dimension and heavier.

77 x 124 x 44 mm / 482 g for the V1
-vs-
67 x 108 x 33 mm / 320 g for the GF3

So the small sensor is for nothing on the V1. What about the J1?

61 x 106 x 30 mm / 334 g

That’s less than half a centimetre smaller in each direction than the GF3. It is basically the same but with a horrible small sensor for no significant handling gain. So what about the lenses? Surely a small sensor allows far smaller lenses? It gets worse…

Nikon 10-100mm lens
Photo by ePhotoMagazine

The 10-100 is bigger than both the Sony 18-200mm E-mount and Panasonic 14-140mm despite having a shorter telephoto end and a slower F4.5 wide end.

The average consumers like a long zoom, compacts are packed with super zoom lenses and they’re pocketable.

In short, long zooms are important in this market. What is the point of having a small camera you can’t pocket with the lens attached? The only pocketable compact system camera zoom lens is the Lumix 14-42mm X PZ and that is far better than anything Nikon has to offer.

Why side with Nikon? If Nikon were a person would you want to hang out? I’ve constantly got Nikon’s advertising people telling me what kind of lifestyle I should have in the company of my Nikon mirrorless camera so let’s reverse this and see what kind of person Nikon aspires to be.

Nikon remind me of a stick in the mud ageing photography traditionalist. This is part of their strength – only Nikon could come up with something as fine for photography pros as the D3.

But they are slow to recognise change and they don’t get consumer electronics like Sony or Apple do. It took Nikon a good few years longer than the competition to produce a full frame digital sensor because they believed APS-C was going to be the ultimate standard and full frame wasn’t needed.

They also passed up the opportunity to buy the rights to Adobe Photoshop because they believed it was a fad.

Maybe Nikon just wanted to get this thing out of the door, and do so quickly. It is designed for maximum profit, not necessarily to compete. I expect it puts some clear water between mirrorless and the F-mount too. For example I think Nikon will skip Expeed 4 (since 4 means ‘death’ in Japanese) and put an Expeed 5 chip in their next high end F-mount camera. A clear generation up from the mirrorless processor despite being based on similar technology. Maybe the best part of the V1 Nikon’s R&D team got out of it was the processor. Maybe it was a development test bed for that. It is certainly fast and when paired with a proper buffer and dual card slots will give us a very nice F-mount D5.

But I don’t see Nikon’s mirrorless endeavours as making that much sense! No, in 2011 they stuffed up their future mount by designing it for a small sensor that nobody will see the benefit of. Because remember that mirrorless is the future.

They will have to redesign this mirrorless mount and the cameras from scratch when the high end and pro DSLRs go completely electronic, which they will do as sure as there is progress in the field of technology.

Nikon are experts in their field of photography but it is a field that has broadened to include consumer electronics and it is here where Nikon seem to be completely out of their depth but for some marketing gimmicks suggested by the focus groups. High speed shooting! Slow mo! Best shot! Pink cameras!

Add the marketing gimmicks to uninspired engineering and you get the Nikon 1 series. But there is something else in the mix here. A half hearted laziness and a lack of conviction in the concept.

Nikon J1
More images at Rob-1.fr

Now look at the positives of the system.

We have always lusted after a global shutter. A camera without a mechanical shutter. The Nikon J1 and V1 are that camera.

For the first time in the history of photography they don’t have a curtain, a leaf, or a mechanical shutter of any kind. They are completely silent when taking a photo and use an electronic shutter. I have no idea why Nikon didn’t make a bigger deal of this in their marketing rather than size and high speed shooting modes. I suppose because a silent camera is a bit creepy.

Although this is not achieved with a global shutter as far as I believe  (just a very fast rolling one which risks rolling shutter artefacts in stills) the outcome of this that matters for filmmakers is that the Nikon 1 series is almost certain to have the least jello of all video capable DSLRs and interchangeable lens cameras even the FS100.

The other strong point is that Expeed 3 is a very fast image processor and is capable of taking a very clean image from the sensor. Whether this is reflected in the actual video quality is yet to be seen, but early samples do show a high level of detail hobbled by a low bitrate. Whether this heavy compression is from the uploader or from the camera itself we won’t know until a video expert gets their hands on one. Nikon have been very poor at giving out review samples to filmmakers, as have Sony.

The next strong point is slow motion video.

Whilst it is a shame 720p doesn’t record at 120fps the Nikon does have the best slow-mo video features of any DSLR. It can even do 10MP 60fps (greater than 4K video) off the sensor. Huge speed and datarates. But the memory (buffer) and processor cannot sustain it for longer than a ridiculous 0.5 seconds and 30 frames – this is what we lose on by Nikon spending all their time courting the low end of the mass market.

For $1000 more we could have had a 2/3″ 4K 60p sensor here capable of rivalling the RED Scarlet. Another reason it cannot sustain 4K at 60fps is heat, the small packaging and consumer focussed design leaves no room for proper heat dispersion and cooling.

I am under no illusions on who Nikon have aimed their innovative technology at. I understand exactly why the J1 needs to be dumbed down to sell for £550. I understand marketing. It’s a fashion accessory, a sleek lifestyle gadget for those with little time and lots of money. It’s just such a shame that Nikon have chosen to squander so much time on people who don’t give one jot about photography and filmmaking.

Instead the true Nikon customers are wondering where their high end mirrorless is and where the D800 had got to. Their mid-range sucks – the D5100 is clunky and feels dated next to a Sony NEX 5N.

The V1 at £850 is just completely unforgivable though. For that money you’d expect far better image quality and at least a fast pancake. Other manufacturers give us those for £450 let alone £850. For Nikon not to is inexcusable and it the approach is destined to fail.

Disclaimer: This article is written purely from the perspective of my personal opinion and should be treated as such. My statements here are statements of opinion. Whilst I always base my opinions on the facts, some differences may be present between my world view and reality. EOSHD cannot be held responsible for statements expressed as a personal opinion.

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About Author

British filmmaker and editor of EOSHD, Andrew works in Berlin on his own self funded filmmaking and video projects.

25 Comments

  1. You missed the rest of the quote:

    “Nikon does not fear a Canon mirrorless, we realized how big of a mistake it was for us to even make the 1 series cameras and will likely not continue pursuing that market”.

    :D

  2. Great article..
    I love when someone really tells the truth about a crap, overpriced product..

    To answer your question above, I prefer the almost retro look of the Nikon… :) But would not consider buying one..

  3. Thom Hogan at bythom.com stated Sept 21 “One additional difference is that the V1 has a mechanical (100k rated) shutter and a shake-it-off dust reduction mechanism; the J1 is solely electronic shutter and uses a dust shield.”

    Thanks for a good post. A Nikon shooter I had really hoped for something better. Thanks for the “toothbrush” pic – you just gotta love that one.

  4. That’s interesting – thanks. The fact they felt the need to put a mechanical shutter in the higher end V1 doesn’t bode well for the electronic one in the J1 does it? The upshot of this is that the cheaper J1 has jello in stills, something the V1 needed a old fashioned mechanical shutter to prevent… Crazy considering the high speed action / sports orientation of the overall camera.

    Jello or a noisy shutter like other DSLRs… take your pick.

  5. Looks nice if you just want something to shoot video with. If you are talking about using it for filmmaking, that’s a loaded question. The picture profile being used in that video was punchy, with high contrast and very compressed dynamic range. It also was digitally sharpened, and all of those add up to a video-like image, not a cinematic image. Not knowing what other settings it has for picture styles I couldn’t begin to tell you what it can achieve toward the cinema end, but if you are looking for a video cam it looks acceptable…”nice” :)

  6. Andrew, one note about the heat buildup, I’m not sure that’s so much of an issue, I really think one reason they went with a sensor that size is so heat wouldn’t be such a factor. The smart photo mode seems to run similar to burst mode in the old Casio F1, you could set it up to take a shot BEFORE you press the shutter. For this to work that means the sensor basically has to operate at full speed for an indefinite time period, constantly flushing (full frame) shots in and out of the buffer while it waits for you to press the shutter. It then needs to be able to select shots before the shutter was pressed, which means it is has to be in a “constant on” mode when doing this. If heat buildup were a problem I don’t think it would such a mode would be possible (which is present on motion snapshot too)

  7. LOL: “Nikon ‘don’t fear a Canon mirrorless”. They are loosing to Samsung, they will be the Nokia of photography soon. The main plus for me would be to use some small and bright C-mount lenses, but apparently Nikon will not let this happen.

  8. JohnnyMossville on

    At least in black, they have an almost militaristic look to them, which is kinda cool, but the chintzy plastic bits (Toothbrush!!) really are a turn-off.

    Nikon, WTF? Thank goodness for the D3.

  9. Sony. Panasonic and Olympus are innovating in order to get market share away from Canon and Nikon. They might also be creating a new market on their way to grabbing market share. From what we have seen from Nikon instead of hitting back by out innovating everyone they are now trying to wrestle back the share in smaller cameras with a compromise with a few innovations like global shutter and slo mo and some copycat/marketing strategies like small size and many colors. If we wait long enough and CaNikon lose enough share they will innovate like crazy too. Or die. It will be the same as now only in reverse.

  10. “The Sony NEX C3 is as small and as cheap as the Nikon J1 yet has a sensor 3 times larger. The Canon S100 compact has image quality on par with the Nikon J1 but with a faster zoom lens at the wide end by 2 stops for £200 less, and you can pocket it.”

    Nex =3x Nikon1
    Nikon1 = 3x Canon S100

    mmm so the s100 has image quality on par with nikon1, but nikon1 does not have image quality on par with Nex?

  11. The S100 compensates for the smaller sensor (which by the way is the biggest on a compact) with a much faster lens than Nikon are offering. ISO performance is also a strong suit and the sensor is BSI whilst on the Nikon it is not. Most importantly it is £200 cheaper and pocketable whilst the Nikon is not £200 cheaper than a NEX and not pocketable.

  12. Canon don’t have to innovative partly because Rebel sales are still strong. Dear uneducated masses stop buying the wrong cameras.

  13. I think rather than “fearing a Canon mirrorless” Nikon should be fearing the exodus of long time Nikon users.
    I have been (im)patiently waiting for the update of the D700 with true 1080/24p video. Yet, once again, Nikon has created another camera/lens line, and expects us to spend $300 on the adaptor so that we can use our older G and AF-S lenses. I think the better investment is the NEX-5N and the MTF Nikon-G to Sony-E adaptor – higher quality for less money.

  14. tuliocampregher on

    by Thom Hogan’s:
    “The C Mount Dilemma
    Sept 23 (commentary)–Most of the complaints about lenses is easily solved: create a C-mount adapter and use C mount lenses. The imaging circle is almost perfect for CX. The problem is that Nikon doesn’t want you to do that. C mount lenses are manual focus, and we don’t have the abilities in the Nikon 1 that we’d want for manual focus, like peaking.
    Neverthless, the smart enthusiasts are going to see an opportunity with C mount lenses on the Nikon 1: really small lenses. Wide lenses. Fast lenses. I’ve had a small handful in my closet for a long time now. Like a 6mm f/1.2 that’s less than 2″ long, which would be a 16mm equivalent. In a word: wow. But Nikon won’t want to encourage C-mounting. So it remains to be seen whether the camera will even shoot with a non-automatic lens, let alone be usable in manual focus.”

  15. Read that, he is not saying Nikon won’t allow you to do it, he is saying they won’t want you to do it because they prefer you buy their lenses.

    If the camera can shoot with F-mount lenses I am sure there will be adapters for other lenses and a ‘shoot without lens’ option in the menus.

  16. There are a lot of loyal Nikon users out there who want video on a camera the calibre of the D700 and they have been very badly let down. The D7000 and D5100 don’t really cut it for video, so yes I recommend jumping ship to a GH2 or NEX 5N with Nikon G adapter until they get their act together sometime in 2046.

  17. Wow, good thing you state that this is an opinion piece…
    because none of the article was based on available facts; or facts presented were completely obscured.
    The J1 and V1 is a smaller system than any of the Sony Nex offerings, once you take the total system into account. Interestingly you compared bodies and not bodies with lenses (system).
    You “opine” that the J1 and V1 are basically the same except for the built in flash. Actually the V1 is magnesium alloy build, has a much bigger buffer and built in EVF making it the smallest built in EVF camera on the market, and it also has a mechanical shutter.
    When someone points out your lack of fact checking about the shutter, your answer is, “The fact they felt the need to put a mechanical shutter in the higher end V1 doesn’t bode well for the electronic one in the J1 does it” LOL, instead of realizing you haven’t even held the camera much less looked at the specs, you immediately deflect.
    You mentioned the size of the 10-100 zoom lens as proof of the systems size, but failed to mention that this lens is made with video in mind (you know the stuff you write about).
    The 10-100 has a Voice Coil AF motor for silent camera panning, and 3 adjustable zoom speeds for very smooth zooming in video mode vs manual jumpy zoom, oh and did you see the MTF charts on this lens against the competitions offerings…. maybe that is why the lens is bigger.
    you are also under the opinion that the S100 has equal image quality the Nikon 1 system, despite all the photos and test sites that have actually used the camera that show that the image quality is significantly better.
    The system has the fastest focusing of any other camera on the market including any Canon or Nikon pro models.
    the system also has the fastest processing time in the market, etc, etc…
    It’s great to have an opinion something, but when facts that are readily available are ignored, it makes one wonder if this is an opinion piece or an agenda piece.
    What happened, did you not get NDA’d for the launch?

  18. I know, we’re all disappointed that the 1-series is so consumer oriented. But let’s not spread misinformation, shall we?

    Let’s start with the build. The J1 uses a aluminium frame, while the V1 uses a magnesium/aluminum frame. This is what the V1 looks like under it’s skin: http://bit.ly/pBB2Fh
    Quite similar to lets say this, the D3, no?:http://bit.ly/oH8qJV
    Compared to the polycarbonate frames with aluminium shells of the PENs its in a different league, and only the NEX5 and NEX7 approach it. As for looks, that’s up to the viewer. I don’t particularly like the cams, but my girlfriend the graphic-artist does.

    Then there’s the sensor size issue. The difference between 1″ and m43 is as large as the difference between m43 and APS-C. The difference between the S100 and 1″ is a factor of 3. If the 1″ sensor is horribly small, then the m43 must also be compared to APS-C and especially FF. Or is there some arbitrary line that 1″ crosses? Now consider that m43 mainly uses the 12mp Panasonic released in 2008. Three years of technological progress is more than enough to make up for the one stop performance difference caused by the difference in sensor area.

    As for size, the J1 is smaller than the GF3, yet it offer one control-dial, one mode dial and one control-rocker in addition to 3 other buttons missing on the GF3. No handling advantages you say? You must be a firm believer of touchscreens. And the V1 again is smaller than either the G3 or G1/2/GH1/2, its true competitor. Yet it offers two direct adjustment methods instead of 1.

    The 10-100mm is motorized. It’s internally focusing. And it’s internally zooming. Even the Canon 28-300mm L, the holy grail of super-zooms, can only one of those. It the highest end superzoom I’ve seen, and it’s one of 3 superzoom patents Nikon has filed. It also took Panasonic 3 years to announce the X series, and this is what Nikon showed at the launch: http://bit.ly/pU5Al3. Pretty small for a normal zoom, no? Oh, and Panasonic 45-175mm X is 3 centimeters longer than the bog standard 30-110mm that ships as a kit with the 1-series.

    And last but not least, no innovation? The 1 series have some of the highest data-readouts I’ve ever seen, and that’s not even the main trick up their sleeve. They’ve got 73 *Phase-detect* auto-focus point, on the main sensor! That’s a revolution if there ever was one, as up until now, PD-AF always required a mirror outside of the 1 point implementation by Fuji. Consider that the D3s, the best Nikon has to offer, has 51 points. Do you not get what that means? High-end DSLR level tracking on a mirrorless body, as well as full support of all AF-S nikon lenses with the FT-1 adapter. No painfully slow AF as with adapted 43 lenses, or expensive, lightgobbling adapters with separate AF sensors as with the NEX. And as the points are on the main sensor, there’s no focusing-error.

  19. BSI doesn’t matter nearly as much on larger sensors, as the sensing area lost to electronics is proportionally much, much smaller. But more importantly, the 2011 era Nikon 1″ sensor is half the size of the 2008 era Panasonic 12mp most m43 cams use. Half the size equals about one stop in sensor performance. 3 years of sensor-advanced should have no trouble winning that back.

  20. Opinions are like ***holes: everybody has one. On the same note, why is the VF not in the corner and flush with body on V1?

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