Most "credible" rumors about a Nikon EVIL (Electronic Viewfinder Interchangeable Lens) system have been making the rounds online since early 2010. However, it wasn't until just a few months ago that many of these rumors seemed to have a bit more behind them, and the photo community has become more and more excited for a compact, interchangeable lens system. Yesterday the rumors ended with the introduction of the Nikon 1 system, an extremely compact, interchangeable lens system that will allow Nikon to compete with Sony, Olympus, Panasonic, and other early adopters of the format. I have not been able to see or play with the cameras yet, but based on info we have been given by Nikon, we have some first impressions to share.
Design - The first thing that comes to mind when looking at these cameras is the size. These guys look small. From the pictures I would estimate that the J1 is approximately the same size as the popular Olympus XZ-1. The V1 looks to be a bit larger, perhaps closer to the P7000. Both should be significantly smaller than any of the current DSLR's that Nikon offers. The lenses appear to have a much smaller footprint than their SLR counterparts as well. It is nice to see the FT1 Mount Adapter will allow current Nikon lens users to keep their existing inventory of lenses in their work flow, rather than forcing them to use only the new, smaller ones.
Technology - Along with the 1 Series, Nikon is introducing a new sensor format, called CX. Smaller than the DX sensors used in entry level DSLR's, the lens magnification is 2.7x. Most of the rumors that swirled around predicted a DX sensor in Nikon's first EVIL camera, so the new format was a bit of a surprise for me. However, surprise number two was the introduction of the Expeed 3 processor. This new processor, combined with a smaller sensor and no mirror means the camera is capable of shooting a blistering 10 frames per second. Some early commentators have expressed concern that the smaller sensor size will mean a sacrifice in high ISO performance. We really won't be able to say for sure until we have a camera to test, but I am optimistic. By not going overkill on the resolution, Nikon has given themselves a bit of breathing room. I think that with the likely advances that the new Expeed 3 processor will bring in terms of noise reduction will also help, so while it will certainly get noisier at high ISO's, I think this will be a much smaller issue than it looks like on paper.
Accessories - Nikon is clearly aiming this camera at a different user than their SLR's and point and shoots. That being said, it is nice to see that they haven't completely closed this new system down to the point that users who want a bit more customizing will be limited. Some of their existing accessories will work with the new system, others are new introductions. The SB-N5 Speedlight is a great, small addition to the lineup. It doesn't appear to give a ton of manual control, but Nikon's iTTL flash system is so dialed in that all most users will be concerned with is the ability to bounce or swivel. The fact that the flash is powered by the camera battery is a first for Nikon, but nice not to have to carry around the extra weight of a second set of batteries. Because the V1 uses the same battery as the popular D7000 SLR I don't think battery power or life will be a problem, even when using the flash.
New Features - There are a few things that I've not seen in a camera from Nikon before that the 1 system is incorporating. The Advanced Hybrid Auto Focus is probably the one that has me most intrigued. Essentially Nikon is combining the speed of phase detection with the low light and live view performance of contrast detection systems. The result should be an extremely fast, and accurate auto focus system that works equally well with video and stills. Their SLR's already have the option of both types, but require the mirror to be down for phase detection, so the difference here is live view 100% of the time. Again, as with the high ISO performance, we will have to wait until the cameras start showing up before the final verdict can be dealt. A new version of their "BSS" or Best Shot Selector, now called Smart Photo Selector, promises to give you a stream of photos taken in the blink of an eye. The camera then analyzes each shot for sharpness, composition, exposure, etc. and makes a decision which will keep only the best shots in the series (up to five).
It's safe to say that Nikon turned quite a few heads with the announcement of the J1 and V1 cameras and their new system. I think that in order for them to set themselves apart from the more established competition (in this particular genre) they will need to rely on speed and high ISO performance. If these cameras can out perform the competition it will be a profitable venture for them. From the sounds of it, they are confident that they have done that. We are all very excited to see if they do (let's be honest, they probably will).
Be sure to let us know in the comments what you think of the new system. Are there things you absolutely love about this system? How about things you don't? We can't confirm yet with 100% certainty, but we are hopeful that our Nikon rep will have some samples available for everyone to get their hands on at this year's DiGiTALFEST.