The Nikon 1 V3 takes another step towards offering a truly enthusiast-friendly 1 Series camera, yet still I find it hard to make sense of the company's Mirrorless strategy.
When it was launched, the 1 System appeared to be aimed at what would, in the US, be called the 'Soccer Mom' crowd. It's a slightly awkward piece of demographic shorthand but it's an evocative image - someone who perhaps doesn't have the time or the interest to learn about cameras and wants to get photos of fast-moving kids (playing Association Football, perhaps). The 1 J1 did a good job of offering something unique to that market: a camera that offered much better image quality than a conventional compact or smartphone, with unmatched autofocus capabilities. Some of the initial implementation was a bit odd but it showed tremendous promise.
|Nikon's latest 1 System model, the V3, is its most convincingly enthusiast targeted. And yet...|
What didn't seem quite so convincing was the more expensive 1 V1 model, whose price suggested it was gunning for a more committed photographic audience. It added a mechanical shutter, electronic viewfinder and, rather oddly, removed the flash. What it didn't do is add any control points over and above the very point-and-shoot-friendly J1 model. The V2 improved in this respect, and the V3 gets a bit closer to finally offering the levels of control you might reasonably expect from an enthusiast compact.
Just how enthusiastic?
However, despite this move further towards the enthusiast market - and presumably this is what the company means by saying it plans to 'reconsider product planning of Nikon 1' - the V3 still doesn't seem particularly focused on enthusiast use. It may have gained two full command dials, but neither controls exposure compensation. Instead that's relegated to the awkward four-way dial on the back of the camera. This dial is better than most - with a good amount of resistance allowing it to be turned with precision - but it's an odd way to do things, especially when there's such an obviously better way of working.
This could be a cultural difference, of course. Mirrorless cameras have been much more successful in Japan and Asia, so it's possible those markets have differing expectations from those I recognize - it just seems odd to me that virtually every twin-dial camera on the market (including Nikon's DSLRs) uses one of its main dials to control exposure comp, yet the V3 doesn't.
|Not only does the V3 offer two control dials, it also has the option of an additional grip, which duplicates the front dial and adds an extra function button.|
In addition to the V3's controls, a lot of the interesting new modes it gains, such as automatically capturing and selecting stills during movie shooting, don't seem like they've been developed with keen photographers in mind: they sound like Nikon's still thinking about Soccer Moms. Sadly, all the market data we've seen says Soccer Moms simply aren't buying 1 Series cameras (or any mirrorless cameras, really).
"Just two enthusiast lenses"
Perhaps I'm inferring a confused message from the company's Nikkor 1 lens line-up: a range of light-sapping consumer grade F3.5-5.6 zooms, a fairly modest 27mm equivalent F2.8, a useful 50mm equiv F1.8 and an 85mm equivalent F1.2. That's just two serious enthusiast-targeted lensed, and one of them costs $900. On the plus side, this doesn't compare too shabbily with the number of dedicated primes Nikon has made for its DX shooters (three, in the nearly 15 years since the launch of the company's first DX format camera, since you ask), but it doesn't give a clear picture of who 'CX' is for.
Yes, you can put a mount adapter on a 1 System camera and shoot full F-mount Nikkor lenses, but it rarely makes sense to do so - the 2.7x crop factor means anything longer than a 16mm lens ends up as a telephoto and, other than a 50mm making a 135mm equivalent longish portrait lens. Rarely is using lenses designed for other formats much of a substitute for having access to the focal lengths you want.
"The technology put into the 1 System cameras is incredible"
I suppose my point is this: the 1"-type sensor format can offer something for enthusiasts. Sony's RX100, despite my personal reservations about it, is an exciting camera for keen photographers, thanks in no small part to its F1.8-4.9, 28-100mm lens and its tiny form-factor. I'd be even more interested if the lens remained a bit brighter, even if it did mean the camera got a little larger and more expensive, but it is clearly possible to make a 1"-type camera attractive.
|The Nikon 1 V3 has a removable electronic viewfinder. But in the US, at least, it's not optional - the only kit being promoted requires that you buy the EVF.|
The technology Nikon and Aptina have put into the 1 System cameras is incredible - impressive tracking AF, huge potential for good quality video, and really solid image quality should result in some really interesting cameras. Yet the V3 still leaves me confused about what Nikon is doing with the 1 System. The camera doesn't feel like a wholeheartedly enthusiast design, and the lenses don't yet exist to let it work to its full potential (and, if the camera costs over $1000, I'm not sure many people will be willing to pay the extra money to buy them, even if they did). Is this just about protecting DSLR sales? I don't think so. But then again, this is a model with an optional viewfinder so that people who don't want a viewfinder don't have to pay for it, that Nikon US plans only to sell in bundles with the viewfinder. At which point, I'm beginning to wonder whether any of this makes sense.
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