Nikon’s new compact cameras: interchangeable lenses, ultra-fast shooting, Full HD

A year before Nikon celebrates its 95th anniversary, the company has announced a new type of that takes advantage of an ultra-small format and offers some hot new features.

Marketed under the “Nikon 1” brand, the new V1 and J1 cameras take advantage of a small sensor similar to what we’ve seen in mirror-less interchangeable lens cameras from Panasonic, Olympus, Sony, and Samsung.

Both cameras feature identical technology on the inside, but are distinguished by physical differences. For instance, everything in the Nikon1 range features a 10.1 megapixel sensor, ISO range from 100-6400, Full HD video, a slow motion movie mode capable of recording an ultra-fast 1200fps (think bullet-time in “The Matrix”), and full manual shooting modes with up to 60 frames per second on offer.

Common to both models is the new  “Smart Photo Selector” mode: using what Nikon calls “pre-post technology”, the camera fires 20 full resolution shots from the time your finger presses the shutter to auto-focus, press down to take the shot, and then lift it off of the shutter. Out of these 20 images, the best five photos are saved, essentially giving you five images for each one shot you take.

Another new feature, “Motion Snapshot” takes a small video and a photo simultaneously and then merges them together, making what is essentially a tiny animated movie.

The differences in the two camera models are small, but important depending on your needs.

Nikon's V1 features an electronic viewfinder in a magnesium alloy body.

At the high end, the Nikon V1 features a magnesium alloy body that feels incredibly strong in the hands. A 1,440k dot electronic viewfinder offers solid framing if you prefer looking down a viewfinder to the back LCD panel, with a hot-shoe accessory mount found on top. Finishes will be available in black and white for this model.

The step-down Nikon J1 loses the high quality magnesium alloy and viewfinder, but throws in a pop-up flash and several colours to choose from, including white, black, red, silver, and hot pink. Despite the lack of magnesium alloy in the build, our impression from the short time we had with this camera was that it felt exceedingly well built.

With a new camera format comes a new lens system – the Nikon CX. Unlike the format found inside most of Nikon’s digital SLR cameras, which features a crop factor of 1.5x, the CX format uses a crop factor of 2.7x, effectively translating a 10-30mm lens into a 27-81mm, a similar length to what’s found in kit lenses on full-size 35mm cameras.

From launch, the lenses will include three zooms and one prime, with all three zooms supporting Nikon’s Vibration Reduction (VR) technology. The lenses include a 10-30mm, 30-110mm, 10-100mm designed for video capture, and a 10mm. If you’re wondering what each of these would equal on a regular camera, just multiply the numbers by 2.7.

Movie stills photographer Jasin Boland shows us the high speed shooting of the new cameras.

Accessories will also fly out at launch, with a GPS and speedlight flash available for use with the Nikon V1, and a Nikon F-mount adapter designed to let you use regular Nikon SLR and DSLR lenses with the new cameras.

No word on pricing, but Nikon Australia tells us that these cameras should land some time in October 2011.